Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Is there a goal for videogames to reach?

In these modern times, there are a plethora of different tools videogame developers can use; from motion controls to voice control, and everything in between. Graphics have practically reached their peak in terms of how much detail they can display, music can be orchestrated and each fine sound can be heard, and gamers can play each other from across the planet. In the past, the development of consoles focused on making them more powerful on a technical level and getting the controller to be perfect for ease-of-use alongside providing options for play, and yet it seems we've reached all that we can do with the advent of motion control, as shown by the big companies all resorting to copying one another. At this point, due to the strength of consoles reaching their near peak, the gaming industry has become a more business-driven market trying to latch onto gimmicks and trends in order to get big sales numbers. However, underneath all of the ads, imitation, and big explosions, I believe a process is still slowly going through its motions, albeit not nearly as obvious as in previous generations: the goal of making videogames reach their peak.

While more obvious in the past, videogame developers are continuing to work hard in making videogames the best they can be, and I mean this in terms of quality and experience. Sure, it's always fun to sit back and enjoy a nice straight-forward fun title like Mario Kart, but as an entertainment medium, videogames need to fine-tune themselves and become stronger so to be a stronger experience for the audience. This is a process we have seen in the past with games like Final Fantasy VI, Soulcalibur, Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty, and Kingdom Hearts. Games that really strived to push their respective genres to the next level of entertainment and experience by showing new levels of quality and execution. However, the question lies: are the game developers of these game trying to reach a goal, or are they simply creating what they can with the technology of their respective console generation and yet remaining short of their desired goal? Is there truly a finish-line to be found in the art of videogame development?

Looking at other art mediums, one would probably say "no", for mediums such as art (painting, drawing, etc.), music, dance, and theater, have lasted for centuries, and I doubt anyone would say any of them have reached their "goal". Afterall, reaching this "goal" would insinuate that the respective medium would stop any more practice of the medium, for it has reached its goal. However, as an argument against that, one can see how many art mediums go through many eras, each of them ending and bringing about a new era.

So how does all of this link back into videogames? Well, videogames are a very young genre; only seeing its true beginnings in the 1980s. Therefore its hard to see if videogames will be like other artforms and go through different eras, or if videogames are its own era within a larger medium of interactive entertainment. With the videogame industry unsure of how it will develop, or basically unsure of what the future holds for it (motion control, Kinect, 3D?), it would appear that this "era" may be ready to collapse and bring about a new era; perhaps one where controllers aren't even used.

But all of this speaking of the end of eras is implying that videogames do not not have a goal, and is simple an ever-changing entity at the hands of time just like other art mediums. Let us say videogames do indeed have a goal, what then is that goal? Is it reaching the ultimate state of satisfaction from playing a game? Is it reaching the peak of what technology can provide in the expression of the graphics, music, and gameplay; or, simply put, squeezing everything you can out of a gaming system? Such claims may seem to be too far-fetched, but in the industry today, we can see examples of games that may represent this "goal" of videogames. Look at the the Super Mario Galaxy games, there are virtually no other 3D platformers being made outside of Nintendo's 3D Mario games; are we to imply that Super Mario has reached this "goal", and because of that no other game developer bothers to try and make a 3D platformer; or is it simply about business, and nobody wants to compete with Super Mario? Another Nintendo series has a similar position in the action-adventure genre: The Legend of Zelda. However, Zelda did recieve a competitor in its genre: Okami. A game I truly believe to be superior to the Zelda series, for Okami increased the quality of each central aspect of a Zelda game to a level not seen in Zelda games. As a result, we can see that Zelda had not, in fact, reached the goal of the action-adventure genre, it simply took a developer to challenge what many believed to be the "finish-line" and run past it; our own PlatinumGames (formerly Clover Studios).

So, where am I going with all of this? Is there a goal for videogames to reach? In my opinion, there is indeed a "goal"? However, it is in the minds of the game developers. Videogames, like novels, art, and music, have so many options available to them, that what they can accomplish is practically infinite. Unfortunately, like novels, art, and music, videogames can fall into a rut; a time when the people behind these art mediums simply are not sure of what path to take and are too caught up in the wants of others that they've forgotten their own personal goals. As a result, I find this generation to have the least amount of games striving to reach the "goal" of videogames. Last generation brought the public so many masterpieces that strived to be something so much more than the rest; games like Kingdom Hearts I and II, ICO, Shadow of the Colossus, Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty, Odin Sphere, The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, Okami, Viewtfiul Joe, and Resident Evil 4. Whether these games were great is in the eye of the beholder, but its hard to doubt that these games strived to be more than their brothers and sisters, and I believe it was the dream of reaching this "goal" that fueled the development of these amazing games. The "goal" may not be real, but the fruits it bears are; we play them afterall.

This generation, however, disappoints in the number of games that push past the finish-line set by the previous generation. Sure, there are gems like Bioshock, Dead Space, Metroid: Other M (I know what you're thinking, but remember this is my opinion), and Vanquish. But, it seems the necessity for reaching the goal has changed. In previous generations, it was about creativity, story execution, and gameplay that linked everything together; nowadays, it feels like developers think all they need is the best graphics and tech (motion control, 3D displays, etc) to reach the goal. Tech is all fina and good, but you can't forge an experience just on nice tech (see El Shaddai). It's like comparing a human's creative mind to the processing power of a computer. Watson may have won at Jeopardy, but he'll never write a beautiful work like Mary Shelley's Frankenstein.

I am just a simple guy from a simple place; I don't know how game developers think, I don't know how hard it is for them, or the intricacies that go into each factor of game development. All I have to go by are the products they make for me to purchase and experience. And as a result of playing many games, I can tell that there are many passionate game developers out there who truly have a "goal" that they want to achieve. Whether they achieve it or not is all simply in their mind, just as whether their work is appreciated or not is all in our minds. I simply hope that as time goes on, game developers do not try and understand the public's mind-set in order to make a game tailored for the public. Yes, I know, that is the cornerstone of business, and, yes, I know videogames are a business now more than ever (thanks a lot Call of Duty), but I hope game developers understand that what the public views as the "goal" for videogames can be far from what they themselves view as the "goal". I ask that game developers simply remember that they are the artists, and we, the public, are simply the dreamers of dreams.

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