I have changed as a game designer and as a game player.
As a game player, I find myself enjoying single player action adventure games more than I have since I was a kid. I get immersed in them more, get more wrapped up in the stories (even the ones told thru cutscenes), and feel like I am living the adventure.
As of late, I’ve been enjoying the new SYPHON FILTER and TOMB RAIDER (on PSP), OBLIVION (on 360), and PREY (on PC). All of these have provided me with hours of immersive, single player gaming.
But as a guy who has DESIGNED one of these damn epic things, I can tell you that I no longer have any interest in making these kinds of games.
Is this forever? Or just for now?
I don’t know.
But I do know that it took making an action adventure game to realize that making one and playing one are different things.
When you play one, you get- if you are playing an excellent action/adventure- one cool scenario after the next, one neat idea followed by a cool story twist followed by some jaw-dropping art and level design. If done right, it’s a fantastic roller coaster ride that you never want to end.
But when you make one, you struggle for days, working alone and with the team, to create ONE of those cool moments; just ONE of those ‘oh sweet’ events. And then, when it’s done, you have to get back to work and make another one and then another one.
And the thing is, once you have the IDEA, your fun- as a designer- is over. If you are working in the single player action-adventure genre, and are fortunate enough to be working with a team that can execute the crap out of what you think is a fantastic idea, you don’t get much out of actually seeing your idea implemented. You get a little, sure. You get the little tingles and such. It’s a neat moment to look at your idea brought to life. But you already saw the design, already experienced the fantastic moment...but it was in your head months ago. Now it’s just a slog to execute the damn thing so OTHERS- the PLAYERS- can enjoy what you’ve already finished enjoying.
So this thinking- and it's been brewing since God Of War I ended- has affected my day to day work.
Since God Of War, I have lost interest in the genre of single-player action/adventure games. I’ve lost interest in making any game that does not fully and only embrace interactivity in the purest sense.
I don’t want to tell stories about my games anymore.
As I player, while I love the action-adventure genre, I also find myself spending more time playing classic games. Sports games, multiplayer games, racing games, hell...these days, a good 30% of my game playing time is spent on casual game sites like YAHOO, FACEBOOK and ADDICTING GAMES.COM.
I think somewhere in the last year, and I realized that electronic games have always had a fantastic ability to evoke emotion. They are not the emotions that many of us- including me- have been pursuing. But they are emotions nevertheless; they feel that the best classic games can always evoke. Feelings of tension and release, feelings of fear and anxiety, feelings of triumph and defeat, feelings of confusion followed- sometimes- by joy at having overcome the challenge.
These are REAL emotions, and they are not to be denied or ignored or belittled. They are to be- as game makers- embraced and enhanced and held up as one- if not the only- real path for game makers to follow.
Well, wait a sec...it’s the path for me. For now. It’s wrong for me to try and deny teams that make games that are more of a multimedia mix (like MGS and TOMB RAIDER and even our GOD OF WAR). Those games- for me as a player- ARE fun and DO work.
But I think even the best ones feel forced like they are not speaking the exact language of video games.
I am terrible at analogies, as many will tell you. But here’s a shot:
To me, most (all?) story based games are like taking a trumpet and playing it a little but also using the brass exterior of the horn to carve a story onto a wall. Sure you can do it, and you may even have an excellent tale scratched onto the wall when you are done. But it’s not really what the trumpet is for, and there is a hell of a lot easier ways to write a story. Plus, you’ve got this beautiful, shiny trumpet- which is now all scratched up- just sitting there, begging to be played, begging to be used as it was intended.
So this thinking is affecting my work, to be sure. I’m not telling the GOD OF WAR team to change things up or anything. As I said, I love single player games now more than ever.
But for the stuff I am directly working on, I am trying to take steps towards more pure game experiences and see what I can do with those.
I have to say, and I’m having a blast so far.
This last week I spent 3 days in Utah tweaking the crap out of the game with Scott and the guys and man, it was such a joy to be working on the pure-play aspect of the thing; it felt like we were communicating with the game- and the player- on the most fundamental of levels. And the beautiful thing is, besides the game is a blast to work on (whereas God Of War was a slog), it's also a game that I am enjoying playing. That is something I can’t do with the single player, action-adventure stuff I work on.
And that’s a great feeling. Because I can’t play God Of War. It holds no joy or surprise for me because it’s all planned out; because I already enjoyed all of the elements of God Of War on the day me or the team thought them up, way before they were executed.
So is this a permanent change? I don’t know. It feels like it is, but I’m just going to have to see. I mean, I certainly want to keep making commercial games and keep doing things that game players love. As much as I respect game gurus like Chris Crawford, it's not like I think the biz is dead and don't care about commercial success within the current field. I do not want to work on dinky little mechanic based games that have no thematic resonance. But now I just want to do it in a way that celebrates what makes video games great, versus taking elements from other media and trying to squish those elements into a product that- if you do everything right- MIGHT just have one-tenth the emotional impact as what you can get from more traditional media (like film, tv, or books).
But for now, this is my path. I've always gone with my gut on this kind of stuff and right now, my stomach is having a ball.
Ps. There ARE a handful of great adventure games that also seem ONLY to embrace interactive...Zelda comes to mind. Not cutscenes, not attempt at the deep story... PLAY. But even those games don't look like they would be fun to work on so much as the play since they are so planned out (at least I assume they are).