Monday, May 07, 2007

Give Me Some New Games, Already!

This is probably a rehash of similar themes throughout this games blog, so hopefully I won't be repeating myself too much. But with a new apartment and dreams of a nice, big, flat-screen tv on the wall, I'm toying with the idea of getting a new games console one of these months. And there's really not much out there that interests me.

I've read about bell curves as they relate to pop trends and cultural movements, how a pop movement will go through definite stages of birth, growth, creative fertility, then a slow regression into irrelevence. In the end, you're only catering to a dwindling number of hardcore supporters who make greater and greater demands. Their demands are pretty simple - don't change anything.

This happens to everything in our culture, from movies to the theatre to literature and the arts and popular music. It even affects videogames.

Think of this bell curve as a flower that grows, blossoms, then wilts and dies. It's all part of the cycle of life, and in order to continue, that flower must spawn offspring and usher in the rebirth. It's the same thing with the creative arts. You need new ideas, new innovations, new blood. Otherwise, everything becomes stale, old, irrelevant.

This is where I think videogames have been for a number of years. Perhaps it's just because I'm now in my thirties, and this really is just a diversion for kids. Perhaps. But, then, I still find myself enjoying the classics, piling up an impressive number of emulators on my computer. There's something about the original Legend of Zelda, MULE, Robotron, and Mario to keep me coming back, and I don't think it's just nostalgia. I still enjoy games, but I'm not finding anything in today's libraries to be compelling.

I often sing the praises of the Sega Dreamcast, and say that was really the last games console worth owning. I think Dreamcast was kind of the final hurrah, the last great concert before Elvis finally left the building. This was the last time we had a good supply of really cool games. You know, the ones that everyone wants to try out, not just the hardcore nerds. My coworkers and I had a lot of fun playing multiplayer rounds of Virtua Tennis and Chu Chu Rocket and Soul Calibur and Ready to Rumble and San Francisco Rush 2049. NFL 2K and NFL 2K1 dominated most of our time.

I'm looking back at the libraries of games for the Xbox and Playstation 2, and, dammit, I can't come up with ten must-play games between the two of them. Out of how many hundred titles? Let's see....there's Halo on Xbox, obviously, and that groovy version of Outrun and NFL 2K5. On the PS2? Hmm....Ico still stands out for me, as does Virtua Fighter 4 Evolution and maybe that last Resident Evil. The fourth one? Can't keep track of all those sequels.

Hah, there's the problem, kiddies. Everything is a franchise now, and these aren't new franchises. We're playing yearly - or nearly yearly - upgrades to games we were playing a decade ago. Tomb Raider, Metal Gear Solid, Final Fantasy, Dragon Quest, Tony Hawk, yadda yadda. I guess Grand Theft Auto 3 could be considered a new game, even though it was really a 3D polygon upgrade to two older sequels from way back. Besides, that train has already run out of steam, its designers drained out of any new ideas to scare or offend us, without coming up with anything, gameplay-wise, that was truly new.

So you can beat up hookers. Good for you. Your parents must be proud. Enjoy your bachelorhood.

As development costs have soared, publishers and developers have relied heavily on the same name-brand titles to bring back the devoted fans. But what about the rest of us? Those of us with lives? I don't want to watch Videogame Puppet Theatre, the latest slog through bad Hollywood cliches. I don't care what happns to the Metal Gear guy. Why not do something about that guard who couldn't talk? You know the one - the "I feel asleep" guy.

So your Barbie Dolls have even more cleavage. Good for you. You're not hiding the fact you're 30-years-old and still a virgin.

Then, of course, there are all the cash-ins, the movie games, the tv show games, the cartoon games, the cereal box games. Don't you just feel used? You paid top dollar for a fim-witted platformer just to hear some cheap audio clips from your favorite show? So they hired some top writers. That's nice. I remember the stuff the writers cooked up for Pac-Man and Asteroids.

Nintendo, I think, seems to have the most games that I want to try out. I'm not saying that the titles on GameCube and DS and Wii are great, but they have a definite hook to them. There's nearly always that level of quality in each title. There's a reason it takes them five years to crank out another Mario or Zelda. But then we come back to that earlier problem with the franchises.

Shouldn't we be looking forward to something besides the next Super Mario, the next Metroid, the next Mario Kart, the next Animal Crossing, the next F-Zero? If this is all the Wii library will offer us by 2010 - name-brand hits, commercial tie-ins, cheap ports from the other machines - it will have failed miserably.

Already on Xbox 360 and PS3, there isn't anything besides the same three existing genres that have been on shelves for years. What is there to look forward to that's new? Show me something that I've never seen before. Give me something that's accessable, that's catchy and original. Don't stick me with yet another 3D platformer. Those just feel like the old overhead games like Gauntlet and Commando and Alien Syndrome. I never liked those.

The 360 has Live Arcade, and Wii has Virtual Console, but doesn't this just reinforce the point? Videogames have run out of steam, and your only real thrill comes from pulling out the old classics. What's stopping anyone from making a new classic? Goodness knows developers have more money than God to spend on these damned things. How many of the "greatest games" were created in some kid's basement or garage for chump change? Warlords cost how much?


Right now, as far as consoles go, I'm leaning heavily towards Wii, which at least is promising some new innovations with the controller. I have no clue whether anyone - even Nintendo - is going to fulfill the promise of that new control scheme. This might end up as another console like Saturn or GameCube or Dreamcast - one that offers ten really great games, then just collects dust. So what if I don't like racing games or movie games or platformers starring plastic dolls? Am I just out of luck?

Where is the new blood going to come from? Where' s the new talent? Where are the new games, already?!

You know, I could just keep spending my money on vinyl records. I could use a set of drums, and a cool girl who plays bass.

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