Nearly 16 years ago there was a revolution in the gaming industry. This revolution was led by a plump, red-overall clad plumber with a penchant for dinosaur slavery. It was in 1996 that Super Mario 64 was released and introduced the world at large to polygons and three-dimensional gaming (the good 3D, not the Star Wars Phantom Menace re-re-re-release 3D). Other genres followed suit with digitized 2D fighters becoming arena running “ballistics” enhanced slug fests and RPGs learning that gravity has no place in hair physics. Sixteen years is a long time though, and through it we’ve seen the evolution of genres and consoles, but these evolutions can only bring the industry so far; we’re overdue for another revolution.
What’s the difference between evolution and revolution in terms of gaming? Let me break it down with a game-related example. Evolution is about perfecting a genre, combining the good, discarding the bad, maybe throwing in some new tricks to push forward. Think Charmander becoming Charmeleon becoming Charizard. The Pokemon isn’t changing drastically, just becoming a “better” version of itself. Now as for revolution, let’s look at Magikarp, flopping around seemingly worthless to anyone. But stick with it and gut out the innards of this fish to create Gyrados, a Pokemon you never want to frak with. That is a revolution, breaking down and rebuilding, rather than building upon.
Evolution can be a good thing, there is no doubt about that. Resident Evil evolved between Code Veronica and Resident Evil 4 into an immensely entertaining adventure that aimed to strike a balance between action and horror. Final Fantasy XIII evolved to XIII-2 by focusing on ridding the previous game of perceived flaws for a more complete experience, much like allowing cookie dough to bake a bit longer for a more finished dessert.
On the other hand, evolution is not always a good thing. Resident Evil 4 evolved into 5 which is evolving into Resident Evil 6, a blockbuster adventure starring Mary Sue characters who can take on countless monsters. Wait… isn’t that why we have the Milla Jovovich Oscar-vehicle Resident Evil film series? The games are no longer survival horror, unless you happen to be one of the infected hoping not to get punched by a juiced-up former cop. Meanwhile the Call of Duty series has seen no reason for true evolution, instead delivering gamers exactly what they want, not pushing the envelope, but instead making the most of the present day gaming tastes. Can’t argue with their strategy when you look at sales, but how long until fatigue sets in among the fickle gaming community?
So evolution is fine and dandy, but I’m talking revolution here. The industry has flirted with revolution during this generation of consoles, handhelds, and smart phones, but many of these innovations have been around since the beginning of the industry. Motion controlled gaming, throwing your body around to control your on-screen characters, all old news if you remember the Power Pad or Eye Toy. There was even a terrible motion-sensing ring that let you act out your favorite fighting games for the Sega Genesis. It didn’t really sell, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t exist. Hell, even the 3DS is really just a Virtual Boy complete with migraines and a lack of true portability (looking at you, Kid Icarus). The rise of casual gaming isn’t new to cell phone games. We all know the casual game Minesweeper was invented as a training program for Princess Diana well before cell phones were invented. Casual games themselves are an oddity. Ask anyone who was around for the original NES and they’ll tell you all games today are casual games. There’s a reason TVtropes has an entire entry dedicated to “Nintendo Hard” games.
So what do I propose for a revolution? Simple, look to the community. Gamers are connected to each other in ways nobody thought possible twenty years ago both in game and all over the web. It is time to harness that community to truly revolutionize the gaming industry. Double Fine has started the trend utilizing the community to fund a new project, a Kickstarter campaign that as of this writing has earned over 1.6 million dollars. The community has spoken with their wallets, and now it is up to Double Fine to make good on their promise. A successful game release by Double Fine may give other developers the opportunity to take risks knowing they have the full backing of their consumers.
More than just asking us gamers for money, developers need to ask us for our input. Remember when Mass Effect was going to have loads of planets and galaxies to explore? That didn’t quite work out as planned but imagine if BioWare harnessed the power of Minecraft to allow users to create their own planets for gamers around the world to explore. Take this concept and apply it to Castlevania, a game based on the very notion that Dracula’s residence was ever changing. Change the industry by making games that literally never end. As much as Skyrim boasts quests to last you until the PS3 version becomes playable, these all exist within a large, but largely unchanging world.
My challenge for developers; open up your worlds. Allow them to change, not based on your whims, but using your community to drive the change. Let the community truly dictate the experience. In essence, allow each game to evolve in and of itself and not just between iterations. That would be a true revolution.