It’s interesting how much franchises evolve over the years. Company bigwigs keep trying to come up with “new” and “fresh” ways to keep up with the next generation of gamers. I am from an era where the pixelated dots on the screen accompanied by the bleeps and bloops emanating from my TV speakers kept capturing my heart. It had charm. No story or background was needed, what you saw on the screen was what you got. So simple, yet so inspired. You had to use your imagination to make sense of what you were looking at and listening to. Measured in single digit kilobytes, the games left so much to the imagination and, looking back on it now, seems such an incredible feat.
Fast-forward to the 21st century, where heart-pounding stories, flawless graphics, and spine-chilling sounds/music are harshly graded to keep up with the demand. Developers toil, sweat and bleed to bring to light their vision of what the next generation of gaming should be. Gamers meanwhile critique the results, either complimenting or condemning them to the public. But what is it that they are looking for? I can count hundreds of games where story has been prioritized over visuals and have come out on top. On the other hand, lots of games are highly anticipated for their action, never paying mind to the lackluster character development. What is it that gamers are TRULY looking for? You can never make everyone happy, it’s impossible. I do believe, however, I know what everyone has in common. The imagination aspect I mentioned before is no longer a factor. It has been replaced by immersion.
Why try to grasp the concept of a game when you can subconsciously believe you are IN the game? Whether it’s an RPG, FPS or RTS, immersion is the key to modern games. Gameplay is the biggest factor, I agree, but it’s subjective. A lot of people love the way GTA 4 plays. Personally I prefer Saints Row The Third (or more recently IV). GTA 4 got much better ratings, but again, it’s all personal preference. Same with story. I really love the story in Heavy Rain, but I’ve had long arguments with my friends over the merits of it along with its numerous plot holes. Immersion is the key. It’s the same reason why we turn off the lights when we watch a movie, especially a scary one. We want to be part of that universe. We want to feel the protagonist’s terror from the abomination hunting them down in the woods, or their adrenaline as they try to turn the tides in their direction in a shootout, or even their passion as they explain why they are so in love. This is the true essence of what we are all looking for.
Having said that, I know this is not EVERYONE’S opinion on the matter, but I believe it is relevant to the majority of the gamer demographic, especially the newer generation. Long gone are the days where the charms of the 8-bit era would suffice not only the $50 price point or the one-to-two hour gameplay length, but also its lack of truly feeling as the character we wished to be. Kids go watch the new superhero movie then go home and want to play the new game that released along with it. I guarantee you won’t see them begging their parents to dust off the NES from the closet to play the awesome Batman game from that generation. They want their Arkham City. There’s nothing wrong with this sentiment; Arkham City is open world with dozens of missions and classic Batman enemies. Heck, it’s even 3D as opposed to the NES flat planescape.
One could argue that retro games are making a comeback with the likes of Mega Man, Duck Tales and Mickey Mouse Castle of Illusion or that 8-bit like games are still around, such as Sword and Sworcery and Minecraft. While these points do hold a lot of truth, they aren’t big sellers (with the obvious exception of Minecraft). Corporate CEOs want to ‘Michael Bay’ their games to the point where they will not only sell these iterations but craft franchises out of their products. This way they now have the main groundwork covered and have to spend less money for upgrades yet charge the same price as the original (sometimes higher). Sad to say sentimentality does not do very well in this industry.
A lot has changed since the NES came into the market 30 years ago. It’s mind-boggling just to consider the advances we’ve had since then in gaming: 2D to 3D, cartridge to blu-ray, 2 controller buttons to 17. Imagine how in another 30 years people (you included) will look back on Bioshock Infinite, GTA V and The Last of Us.