Monday, 10 December 2012

Most Promising Trends in Gaming 2012

Hwaet and welcome back, apologies for the quiet weekend but had an anniversary and other shenanigans to get up to that didn't involve a computer. For the opener this week I thought I should probably do a post on gaming, something about this blog being the Viking Gamer after all.

When you think Gaming Article at this time of year the first thing that comes to mind is the ubiquitous Top 5/10 lists and their corresponding numbers in the Bottom section. If you don't believe me then have a look for yourself. Now, being the difficult sort who used to get sent out of classrooms alot I have opted to do something a bit different and instead of listing Games that I liked in 2012 I want to look at the most promising trends I'm seeing in Games this year.

To do this I'll use some game releases to illustrate my points, some of them are terrible games in practice but all of them had something special behind them that could flower in the future. Don't worry, tomorrow I'll come back and highlight some of the worst trends in gaming that showed themselves again this year before attempting to right them...preferably with an Axe.

3) Role Playing made a Comeback

I should probably quantify this one before I leap in, since Role-Playing Games haven't exactly disappeared after all in recent years we've had Dragon Age:Origins and its sequel, a couple Mass Effects and any number of other hacky-slashy level-uppy titles.

However, compare that to a few years ago when Baldurs Gate and it's sequels were the biggest names in gaming, or years before that when almost ever game barring your Wolfensteins and your Dooms was  some variation of a tabletop RPG and you can see the genre has had some hard times of late.

This blew peoples minds in 1994Source
That being said, this year for me saw a slight reversal in this trend with some big name releases all coming out in 2012. There was Kingdoms of Amalur, Mass Effect 3, Two Skyrim DLCs (That added gameplay rather then houses), Dragons Dogma and Diablo 3 all encouraging us to jump into stat-building, looting and general heroics.

Why does a resurgence like this matter? Well because at their heart, all games are Role-Playing Games. You take on the role of a character and try to help them get through a particularly difficult (or often, bullet-riddled) section of their lives. The best games of any genre are those that put time and effort into world-building so that you not only enjoy the visual stimulation of blowing up chunks of scenery but can appreciate what that destruction does to the world your character inhabits.

The best example of this exercise in world-building is probably looking at something like Halo vs. Call of Duty. I'm not going to go into which game is better because I don't want to receive hate mail from either side but what I will say is that the Halo games have the more fleshed-out world. The background details, expanded universe fiction and other detailed touches create a game world that feels very 'real' and alive whereas Call of Duties emphasis on set-pieces and over the top action means that it leaves world building at 'it's the real world and Nazis/Terrorists are bad'. This approach however leads you into the uncanny valley of storylines, where the real world you're seeing is so skewed that it comes across as more fictional then an entirely made up one.

Geopolitical consequences be damned, let's teabag some Rushkies! Source  
 It's always worth remembering that Games are big business, and business will always go where the money is. With RPGs starting to have some serious market potential again we will hopefully see more games incorporate elements like world-building and characterisation in a positive way.

2) Games are taking Risks

Here's some plotlines from actual games released this year (Warning: Mild spoilers ahead):
  • An orc and his goblin companion rise up against an oppressive human regime in an attempt to end the genocide against the greenskin races (Of Orcs and Men) 


  • An American military intervention in Dubai escalates as repeated atrocities spur the protagonist into a mental collapse as he plunges into the Heart of Darkness (Spec Ops: The Line).

  • Taking place after a zombie apocalypse has decimated the planet, a lone woman must care for a child, Amy, and lead her safely through the infected hordes without weapons or backup (Amy)

Each of the above storylines show some departure, sometimes a radical one, from the tropes of normal games. Now they didn't always work due to limitations in Gameplay (I'm looking at you Amy) or other problems but the fact that companies are willing to take risks on new ideas after several years of the same sorts of games being released (enough to get sections on TV Tropes) is incredibly encouraging and hopefully we'll see some more off the wall ideas in the coming months.

1) 2012:The Year of Kickstarter

Kickstarter, the group-funding website that helps creators get funding for their work from the public rather then from big companies has been around since 2009 but it unquestionably made the biggest splash in the Gaming community in 2012.

Through Kickstarter big fan-favourite projects like Double Fine Adventure, Dead State and The Banner Saga all surpassing their stated funding goals, sometimes in record time.

For some reason, The Viking Gamer is very excited about this game...

If you can't see why this is a good sign in the industry then let me spell it out. Games occupy a strange position on the creative spectrum. They are works of Art that combine aspects of visual design, storytelling and drama with more technical skills like programming and modelling. To make this mish-mash of skill sets work at the level modern Gamers expect costs alot of money and that's why the majority of releases come under the banners of the powerhouse publishers like EA, THQ or Blizzard. 

For why this can be a bad thing look at it this way. I'm a writer, to get my writing out into the world all I needed to do was come to blogger and hit a few buttons. Imagine if instead I had to go to Penguin and pitch a combination of Game Discussion and Viking history. Chances are, I'd of been laughed out of the room.

However, if I wanted to be a Game Designer that's exactly what I would have to do, roll up to one of the big publishers with my idea and whatever team I had put together and if they said no keep trying until either someone says yes or I run out of independent funds.

But with Kickstarter the aspiring game creators of the world can, if they have the talent and the drive, get their project completely funded independent of a big studio and with a ready-made list of customers to distribute to.

This, to my mind, is the future and it's glorious...

Seriously, so Excited!Source
Until next time, let us say Skål! and drink together...

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