Monday, January 25, 2010

Personality to make Identity

After some relaxing and listening to several videogame OSTs, I’ve come to realize another reason why I am so disappointed with most modern games: they lack personality. Personality, by which I mean, a form of identity that seperates a single game from all other games. In the past, the gaming world was full of these games, and, no, it is not because the industry was a less crowded market. There were as many games 10 and 20 years ago as there are now, it is simply that videogames have simply become too streamlines. Everyone is essentially copying off of one another with every 3rd-person shooter following the RE4 formula now, and 50% of games made being Halo clones. When one picks up a game nowadays, it’s almost instantly playable because of how familiar it is. In the past, games all had their own identity. Sonic was the super fast platformer, Mario was the bright and colorful plat former, Metal Slug was the super-fun and violent shooter, Street Fighter, King of Fighters, Super Metroid, Ristar, Donkey Kong Country, and Megaman. These games all have platforming and action as part of their gameplay foundation, however, one can never say that one game is a clone of another, because each has such different music, graphics, atmosphere, and ‘feel’ to them. Sure, one who has played Megaman can have a general feel of how Super Metroid plays, but they are far from clones.

I blame technology for this lack of personality in games these days, mainly voice acting. Developers these days, mainly western developers, put so much focus on making their games ‘Hollywood’ that they forget their making a game. In the past, when voice acting wasn’t possible in games, far more emotion and personality was received from games. For example, Sonic 1, 2, and 3 are fantastic games, and they presented a story without any dialouge, and showed progression without any cut scenes. Sonic games were also ‘epic’ before the word had become tossed all over the place in the videogame world. Sonic would start his adventure in grassy field, but eventually make his way into space and fight a giant mechanical monster! All of this was truly epic and exciting, all without a single piece of dialouge.

I don’t mean to say that dialouge is bad for videogames, as it has benefited many games, especially RPGs, in the presentation of story telling. It is mainly action games that utilize voice acting in the wrong way. Look at Uncharted 2, the game had a huge script and tons of cut scenes, so much so that one could forget their playing a game and feel more like they are playing an interactive movie. I suppose that it isn’t such a bad thing, since Uncharted 2 is a very good game, it is simply that I wonder if Uncharted 2 didn’t get sucked into the Hollywood style of games these days, it could’ve been more like a next-gen 3D Metal Slug type of game, that had just one great action sequence after another. If I were to play Uncharted 2 without any cut scenes, I would still get the same feeling of progression, and I feel that I would get a greater attatchment to Drake as a character, for it would feel more-so like I’m controlling him, rather than simply directing where he should go. The games that always pull of cinematic direction so well in action games are the Metroid games. Metroid games have no voice acting, yet the present the character of Samus extremely well, by utilizing the fact that there is no dialouge to provide the feeling of isolation to the Metroid games.

But, back to personality and identity, something that troubles me about modern videogames is how western developers utilize realistic graphics. This causes games to feel ‘real’ and make the characters look like actual people. While it’s understandable why people like this graphic style, I do not. Utilizing realistic graphics makes games feel to serious and grounded. If I wanted to see what people look like, I can just walk outside. Videogames should be used to show fantasy; something I can’t see in my own backyard. Basing character design on realism isn’t a bad thing, but the world itself should not be ‘human’, nor the character themselves. An example being Bayonetta, who is mostly realistically proportioned, but her powers and actions are something unrealistic, afterall, her clothes are made of her own hair.

Games in the past that have had fantastic identity are:

-Donkey Kong Country 2 ~ just an incredible atmosphere that was made by the game’s fantastic graphics, diverse level design, and incredible soundtrack. The soundtrack is what truly stands out in this gem to make it a prime example of individuality, particularly the track Stickerbrush Symphony.

- Kirby series ~ the Kirby videogame series is incredible, for Kirby games truly have their own identity as a happy and cheerful dream in which you fight nightmares. This contrast is what makes Kirby games so endearing. The art style is simple yet excellent in presenting itself, and Jun Ishikawa’s incredible soundtracks help bring the Kirby world alive.

- Odin Sphere ~ here’s a game that became the epitome of personality and atmosphere. In the past, game designers had to take their concept art and transfer them into game graphics, well, Vanillaware took the concept art and used it as the backgrounds, the character spirites, and the effects. The result was a game that felt like playing a moving piece of art. The presentation also aided in presenting the incredible story, which was further emphasized by the fantastic soundtrack. Odin Sphere was poetry in motion.

- Klonoa 2: Lunatea’s Veil ~ this game was a true piece of personality. The graphics used cel-shading to create great character models and a beautiful world, the story itself revolved around the world and the characters, thus making the story feel even more involved in the gameplay. Then there’s the fantastic soundtrack, which complemented each stage, boss battle, and cutscene very well.

Of course, those are only a few examples. The Megaman games, Kingdom Hearts, Final Fantasy VI, SoulCalibur, Okami, and so many more can be mentioned.

Videogames have come to have a very dull identity, mainly due to how western developers are dominating right now, and how they mainly utilize realistic graphics and portray realistic things. This causes out market to be strewn with war games, GTA games, and sports games. It just gives gaming this dull look like it’s some real life simulator. Games should take us to far away places, not put us in a real life situation. Many argue that it isn’t a real life situation because where else can you walk down street and shoot a cop and hijack a car. Well, that’s not true, because you absolutely could do that in real life, it’s just that you shouldn’t. I want to experience things that are impossible in real life, like playing as a supersonic hedgehog, or riding a mototrcycle into space to fight a god.

Why is it that games of fantasy are so rare these days, but were persistant in the past? It is simply because the games that delve into fantasy and have fantastic style and personality all come from Japan, and now that Japanese developers are shrinking, we are getting less games from them. It really sucks. Because every game I buy is from a Japanese developer, I find Japanese developers love to do what they do and are never afraid to dwelve into the deepest realms of fantasy. It is Japan that provides us with incredible adventures such as Kingdom Hearts, Final Fantasy, Dragon Quest, Bayonetta, Okami, Viewtiful Joe, Odin Sphere, Megaman, Super Mario Galaxy, and the Zelda series. So many incredible worlds and ideas have come from Japan. It’s not to say western developers are not creative, that isn’t true at all, but Japanese developers seem to always take more advantage of the freedom that game development gives them to truly create something with an identity all it’s own.

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