Games are Games

Something has been bothering me of late and it has a lot to do with games that have just been released and those that are coming soon to various consoles. The games themselves are fine, but the reactions to those games get under my skin somewhat.

There seems to a fairly decent sized group who have decided that the word Indie is a negative and that if a game hasn’t got amazing new graphics that blow things out of the water, then they don’t count as games. In fact, I would go as far as to say, that having a distinction between Indie games and big Triple-A titles needs to stop.

Because of the pure size of a supposed Triple-A game, publishers rightly don’t want to take any major risks. If a game doesn’t check all the boxes, then it is likely never going to see the light of day, which is why we have had many games that have been critical successes, but not commercial ones.

We entered a phase whereby following the format of a Call Of Duty, Gears Of War and the likes became the norm. Publishers saw that success and wanted a piece of the pie, which saw some fantastic games like Singularity, Bulletstorm, etc which tried to do something new within the popular genre, but still failed in the publishers eyes. It is the reason it has taken so long to potentially something like  a new Beyond Good & Evil (please Ubisoft, make my E3 2014), why there have been so many cancelled games.

We have also seen the end of real middle-ware games, because again, if something scores a 6 or 7 out of 10, in the eyes of the public that is seen as a bad game. The PS1 and PS2 era was flooded with games that weren’t perfect, but were still pretty fun to play overall, but towards the end of the 360/Ps3 era, if games were nigh on perfect, the indication was to stay away. So less risks were taken.

Then something happened, digital distribution became something that could be implemented. Because internet speeds were getting better, bigger games could be downloaded and it became less of a risk to put a game out there. Would Trials have gone on to become the success it currently is without Direct Distribution? Would publishers have taken the risk of that as a retail only game?

As much stick as Microsoft get now, there was a time where they could be seen as the heroes of the console generation. Their implementation of XBLA gave a platform to new types of games, riskier games that just wouldn’t be possible as a disc only release, as gamers would unlikely be willing to pay £20-£40 for something that may be small, or not matching the ‘quality’ of a Call Of Duty, GTA and the likes.

The success of promotions such as the Summer Of Arcade and the releases of amazing games like Super Meat Boy, Braid, Fez, Trials, Shadow Complex, ‘Splosion Man, Bastion and much more forced a change in attitude. Sony had no choice but to follow suit and make sure they were getting good games on their system, with the likes of Joe Danger, Journey, the PixelJunk games, etc. Which then lead to a battle of power between the two giants.

Both wanted to own this market, to the ones who had the rights to these games, they saw the figures and the potential profits that could be made and the winners were the consumers…For a while at least. All of a sudden the publishers then got their hands into this new idea and began to influence what was released and where. What this meant for the most part, was that the PC was still the place to go to for some wonderfully creative titles, thanks to Steam.

Then comes the Vita a man called Shahid and the release of the PS4. Sony seemed to know what gamers wanted. They had seen the calls from owners of the Vita for more and more Indie titles on the wonderful little handheld. Shahid Kamal Ahmed loved his Vita and he too wanted more good games to improve what was a pretty sorry looking library at the time. All of a sudden we were able to play some of those amazing games that were previously only for those with a PC, on our PS Vita, with ‘DAT SCREEN’ they were a perfect fit.

It was clear again there was a market for these games and Sony made what could likely be the best business decision they could. They basically said to the Indie community…”You want your games on our system? Then go ahead, no restrictions”. Developers had the control, they could put their games out there, on to a console, without the need for a publisher. They were no longer bound by what publishers would see as ‘safe’ options and could have their own games played by as many people across as many platforms as they wanted.

Sure Microsoft’s [email protected] initiative isn’t ideal, with some of the policies it has, but it too shows that they know there is a market for these games and the Indie movement is riding the crest of a wave right now, so they rightly want a piece of that. But what this means is that we have games like Octodad, Resogun, Don’t Starve, Outlast, Daylight, Stick It To The Man, Stealth Inc and more, available on our PCs, Vita, PS3 and PS4 and that is just for starters.

The Binding Of Issac, N++, Nidhogg, Pavillion, Rime, Hyper Light Drifter, Hotline Miami 2 and so much more, are already on the horizon. For many of us, that is just so exciting, these are fantastic games that are a joy to play and the fact that more and more people will get exposed to them is even better, as it should mean the developers earn the money they deserve to go on and make yet more wonderful games.

However, whenever these games are mentioned, you always here the same comments pop up…”I didn’t buy a PS4, just to play games I could play on a SNES” and other comments which allude to the same thing. As though because a game has a certain style, it doesn’t deserve to be on this system, or that system. It somehow doesn’t deserve to share the same space as the next big-budget extravaganza.

Worse still, some believe that games like the ones mentioned above are somehow stopping the big budget games from even seeing the light of day. That releasing Nidhogg will stop the released of the next Call Of Duty. Having Stick It To The Man on PS+ is stopping Square from making the next Tomb Raider.

That is disappointing, because as a gamer, I am just glad I have the choice. It would be a sad world of we didn’t have choice. It is what makes things interesting and this is just as true in games. The fact I can spend a few hours playing Spelunky, but then move on to Infamous: Second Son, before jumping back to my Vita to play some Luftrausers should be lauded. Every gamer should be celebrating the diversity of games we now have access to.

I think it shows we are now at a stage though, where many of the voices you see on the comments sections of blogs, YouTube, etc have come from an era where their first experiences of games were from the PS2 era, maybe even some whose first experience was a 360 game. They haven’t experienced the joys of an original 2D Mario game, or some of the wonderful titles that came out of a bygone gaming era.

2D gaming is looked down on rather than admired. Titles such as Rayman Origins and Legends showcase what is possible with a simple platformer today and no matter what some will say, this wasn’t possible back in the 16-Bit days of the MegaDrive and SNES. Sure the basic actions aren’t far removed, but just look at the world Rayman is in, it is alive and it looks beautiful, there is so much going on. Now look back and some of the older games and look how lifeless they are in comparison.

That is the major difference now. There are no limits on what an artist can create, or at the very least, minimal limits. Creativity was dialled back in previous generation, simply because hardware would have been unable to allow this rich lavish worlds even in 2D games, but now this has changed and for the better.

You just have to look at Ubisoft’s recently released Child Of Light, or the upcoming Transistor, they are stunning looking games in every sense of the word. Sure they aren’t trying for hyper realistic graphics like DRIVECLUB, Watchdogs and other such games, but then that wouldn’t suit them. But they can now match what a creator originally envisioned, with games able to look much more like the original concept art, rather than something that gets scaled down the further along the development process it goes.

I mentioned Watchdogs above and almost everyone must know the issues that game has had, tons of money thrown at it, but still needing to dial back features and visuals. It is a game that has had a rough time of it, because it cannot match it’s creators original concepts. But with these so called ‘small’ games, that is different. These are games that want to take you out of reality, take you to a whole new place and there is loads of room for games like that, alongside everything else.

It is why I hate the terms Indie, Triple-A and so on, because they pigeonhole games, they almost stop certain gamers from trying them. You get the Call Of Duty crowd who won’t play Indies, because they are ‘for kids’ or ‘crappy old games’ and the elitist Indie gamers who look down on those who love the big blockbuster shooters like they are a cancer on gaming.

The truth is, it is fine to like different genres of games, I myself used to avoid RPGs like the plague when I was younger. Tastes change though and I am having a wonderful time discovering the genre with stuff like Persona 4 Golden, Demon Gaze, Ys, etc. But I still enjoy a good FPS at times, I still play NHL, FIFA, Madden, dip in and out of racing games, and fall head over heels for new Indies, just to see what concepts could be coming out as these developers start to have creative freedom.

There is something else though that  I touched upon that is really sad to see and that is the hatred for mid-tier games and this notion that a game must be perfect, or else it is a failure. This is personified with Knack, a PS4 launch title that was the whipping boy for the media, which carried over to gamers.

Knack was destroyed by the opinion of various critics and also by many vocal gamers who hadn’t played it. It was described as a kids game, but described as that in such a way that it became a derogatory term. Now Knack is the quintessential mid-tier game, it is far from perfect, but it still offered some elements of fun, especially when played in co-op with a member of your family.

Now, whilst it is all well and good to always want fine dining, sometimes it is ok to have a home made Bolognese, it isn’t the greatest food you will ever eat, but it is still fine, it does the job and you enjoy that meal for what it is. The same is true of Knack, it isn’t Super Mario World, or Half Life, but it doesn’t need to be. What it did was offer some nice variation to a launch lineup, making sure there was something for everyone and for many who did play it, they enjoyed it…for what it is.

I can understand the tribal nature of gamers when it comes to the systems they have, why people will defend Microsoft, Sony, Nintendo and Valve to their graves. It is because they invested a lot of money into a system and they want to be justified. What I never understand is, why this carries over into the amazing choice we have in the industry. Why we have to pigeonhole genres, gamers and even specific games so much, why we cannot be happy that there is something for everyone.

If there is one thing I want to see from the games industry over the next few years, is that we start to understand a game is a game, no matter the cost, the size, the genre. No matter what. If you can play it with a controller, a mouse & keyboard, with Kinect, Move, VR, gamepads, Vita, touch-screen, hell even mind control, then it is a game. If you paid 69p, £2, £10, £40, £100 it is still a game. If it is sports, RPG, puzzle, FPS, racing, life sim and god knows what else…IT IS STILL A GAME!

Remember, it all started with a few lines and a dot and look where we are now!