Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Reboots need to do more than surface level assessment

The new Thief game isn't particularly fantastic. In fact, it seems to have a learned very little from it's predecessors other than "thieves steal things" and "supernatural stuff happens". I can see how that might be useful in a sales pitch but when making game, it's pretty important to learn the right lessons from your processors and competitors.

I'm a big defender of IPs, I was a huge fan of Command and Conquer back in the day and I know what can happen when someone buys up an IP and then wrecks it. But an IP, canon, or series cannot stay the same forever. New processors, controllers, sensibilities, and technological advances force games to get better, innovate, or die. So what even are the right lessons to look for?

Well, first a remake, reboot, sequel, or prequel needs to identify what aspects of their processor made them memorable. No one remembered Thief because Thief was a lot like Dishonored (a great game which I love and want more of). They remembered Thief because Dishonored was a lot like Thief. Remaking a game in the style of one of its descendants might make sense from a marketing perspective, but it doesn't really work in terms of gameplay. Don't make Tomb Raider like Uncharted. Don't make Superman games, just don't.

Fallout 3 is a good example of lessons learned from Fallout 1 and 2. Yes, the game ditched the isometric point of view (something I'll be working on later in the week) and went first/third person. Did that change things? Definitely, but isometric didn't define Fallout as much as the post apocalyptic setting and it's particular aesthetic choices. It's really no surprise that Bethesda chose to ditch isometric and go with their point of view, they do make Elder Scrolls after all. But they did not just shallowly extract setting and aesthetic from Fallout, they managed to capture a feel of the game and even figured out a great way to bring VATS into Fallout 3. Do those things automatically make it a Fallout game? No, and a very vocal group wants a more traditional Fallout game but Bethesda invested time and determined what made Fallout and adapted it to modern sensibilities.

Tomb Raider is another lesson in how to do this. It was weird and jarring for me to literally raid a tomb in the new Tomb Raider. It was also weird how much the game played like Uncharted. Sure, Tomb Raider needed to be adapted to modern gameplay aesthetics but Lara Croft shouldn't be aping Nathan Drake, he should be aping her. Many aspects of Tomb Raider, though really enjoyable, feel lifted from other games that followed in Tomb Raider's footsteps or memory. The climbing, the upgrading, much of the systems feel as though they were made for other games and found their home here, not that Tomb Raider is going deep into Lara's roots and exploring how she became the Lara of the future. Not that they don't do this psychologically, but they don't do it with gameplay and that's the greater sin.

It was considered a massive shift to Civilization to switch to hexes. I have no idea why people thought that. Squares are just worse because edges and corners aren't equidistant from the center. However, Civilization V trims the fat on Civ IV and improves on the formula to make, arguably, the best Civ ever.

But what really draws all of this criticism and comparison is branding. Why call your game a reboot or remake of something else? Because it's easier to convince someone to revisit a world they are already familiar with and liked than to risk creating a new one they might not. Fallout 3 deserves to be a Fallout game, same for Tomb Raider, well a Tomb Raider game. Newer Command and Conquer games should probably drop the name and just call themselves generic resource mining game.

Big companies are terrified of new IPs so instead of attempt anything new they simply rehash old games without attempting to discover what some people might call the "soul" (I personally prefer inscape) of a game. Tomb Raider isn't really about raiding tombs, Thief isn't really about stealing. That's a surface level lesson at best, dig a little deeper and try to discover the fan base.

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