We Are Turning Videogames Into Sludge

Killzone 3 is out this week, and long-time fans (such as myself) will note a number of tweaks, improvements and overhauls. Chief among these changes is the removal of Killzone 2′s controversial “input lag”, a deliberately slowed response that gave the game a tremendous sense of weight and heft. Following complaints from gamers who didn’t enjoy the sluggish feeling, Guerrilla sped things up. Moving, aiming and running all feel more responsive and fluid, and I think it worked out quite well. However, some gamers are unhappy with the changes, noting that they liked the weight. As someone who had no issue with Killzone 2′s controls and wouldn’t have minded seeing them return, I have to say that I sympathize — in fact, the arguments against Killzone 2′s controls smack of a wider-reaching problem — our desire to have all games be the same.

Somehow, Guerrilla was able to keep the sense of weight and “belonging” to the game’s world with Killzone 3. It’s probably a trick of the animation, but I feel the studio did a tremendous job in compromising between those who liked the meaty feel of the input and those who needed speed. It easily could have been a lot less successful, however, because it seems to me that what a lot of gamers really wanted was another Halo. Personally, I dislike Halo for a variety of reasons, and one of my biggest issues is how “floaty” it feels. A lot of shooters have this problem, where you feel like a disembodied spirit, gliding disconnected from the world around you. The fact that Killzone 2 added some realistic sense of sluggishness to the controls was, in my opinion, rather commendable. You actually felt like a beefy soldier in heavy body armor, lugging a firearm composed largely of thick steel. It felt different, and it actually felt good. However, if all you want to do is play another Halo, you’re not going to appreciate that.

Gamers seem to have a problem with taking games on their own merits, and I can partially understand that. It’s impossible to not compare games, especially within the same genre, and we all have personal yardsticks with which we measure the merits of our entertainment. However, there’s a difference between comparing two games and judging a game based on the fact that it is not exactly like your favorite one.

In the case of Killzone, did you really want a game that felt exactly like Halo? Why not just play Halo? What’s the point of even owning a PlayStation 3 if you just want it to play exact mirrors of Xbox 360 games? I can certainly appreciate different tastes, and I can appreciate that some people just didn’t like the sluggish controls, but I can’t appreciate a game feeling pressured to become just like all the others because a percentage of the fanbase kicked up a stink.

Another example would be co-op. Co-op, both online and off, has become a near mandatory feature in videogames these days. I’ve seen many gamers actively dismissing various games over the past two years, due to a lack of co-op. As a result, at PAX Prime last year, almost every game I saw had some form of co-op injected into it. Portal 2, Gears of War 3, FEAR 3 and Killzone 3 were just some of the games rocking co-op, and it seems to be because gamers demand it in almost every single game now. There are games that are being done a disservice by the inclusion of co-op. The FEAR series is meant to be an isolating, scary experience, with a strong focus on atmosphere and narrative. I don’t know about you guys, but I can’t focus on atmosphere and narrative when I have a voice chattering away in a headset, and I certainly don’t feel scared when I’m too busy focusing on what some other player is doing.

Once again, all these co-op games throw up the question — why do you need it? Who needs that much co-op? Why can’t we let some games be co-op games, and other games be single-player experiences? Every game needs co-op in order to be viewed as worthwhile in some people’s eyes, even if it’s a lazy, slapdash case of “throw in an anonymous second character with no impact on the story.” I just don’t get who these people are that need to play every single game in an identical fashion.

On a much wider scale, we have competitive multiplayer. I’ve been a huge opponent of en masse multiplayer for many years. I like multiplayer games, and I enjoy a few of them. Note, however, that I said a few of them. We demand that every single game boast a multiplayer mode, but how many of us play them all? Are you still playing FEAR 2 online? Or Wolfenstein? Or Overlord, Dark Sector and Streets of Rage XBLA? Of course you’re not. Most of you are likely playing Halo or Call of Duty. Only a very few multiplayer modes command much time and attention from gamers, because gamers have but a finite amount of spare hours with which they can play. Most gamers pick one, maybe two, online games and spend their time getting really good at them. If you’ve picked Call of Duty, you don’t have time to jump into Killzone as well.

It’s sad to see single-player games feel the need to toss in multiplayer, just to meet the unrealistic demands of people who don’t even want what they’re asking for. Dead Space 2 and BioShock 2 are a pair of prime examples — games that had excellent single-player modes with tacked on multiplayer that only made one question how much greater the story campaign could’ve been if they’d focused all their efforts and budget in that direction. The Dead Space 2 multiplayer is incredibly weak and messy when compared to the tight, stylish, thoroughly engrossing single-player. BioShock 2 is just a laggy, chaotic mess and it does an injustice to the quality of the main game.

The patently ludicrous reaction to Sonic the Hedgehog 4 a stellar demonstration of this myopic attitude in action. Conduct a Youtube search for “Sonic 4 physics” and you’ll find a considerable list of videos from self-styled fans complaining about the fact that Sonic 4 feels different from Sonic the Hedgehog 2. They don’t explain why this is a bad thing, they simply compare the two games and arbitrarily rule Sonic 4 to be the worst of the two. Yes, Sonic 4 has a very different feel to Sonic 2, but that’s because IT IS NOT SONIC 2. You can substitute Sonic 4 for Fallout 3 or Diablo 3 and get the same idea. As soon as a game wanders off the beaten path of self-plagiarism, it is hounded by the fanbase as a betrayal and an outrage.

I understand the benefit of one game replicating good ideas. For instance, Gears of War has become the blueprint for cover-based shooters, and I totally appreciate taking what worked from Epic’s game and putting it into another one. Videogames, like everything else, evolve through a selection process — we discard what fails (generally) and keep what works. However, the industry has gone overboard, and it’s all thanks to the audience’s expectations. A game that lacks multiplayer, co-op, and an incredibly familiar control scheme will be written off as incomplete. Similarly, any game that isn’t about burly space marines in the West or spiky-haired pre-teens in the East stand a far greater chance of failure.

This isn’t entirely unique to the game industry. Just watch what happens to special interest channels on cable TV. Either they broaden their focus to include reality shows and auction-themed programming, or they fall by the wayside. This happened to G4TV, in fact — it started as a channel for gamers, then had to show stuff like Cheaters in order to scrape itself an existence. Society as a whole seems to be moving toward a grey, indistinct sludge, where every TV channel, every movie and every videogame is churning out the exact same drivel.

I think it’s sad. In the name of “diversity”, everything has ironically become the same. Everything tries to offer everything, rather than specializing in what it’s good at, and it’s all thanks to the braying audience that expects each piece of software to be a catch-all presentation of every single feature you can find in any other piece of software. Honestly, what’s the point? Once you’ve captured the flag in Halo, do you need to do it again in BioShock? Can’t you just enjoy online modes in games that are built around them, and let those games that want to be single-player campaigns do their thing? Do you need to play every single videogame you have with your best friend? Can’t you play something on your own for once? Does every new game you play need to be a carbon copy of the last game you played?

We might as well just have one videogame for all eternity, if that’s the way we’re doing things. Let’s just release one Halo game for PC, PS3, Xbox 360, Wii and handheld systems and have done with it.

Seems to be what we want.

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12 Comments on We Are Turning Videogames Into Sludge

Ron Whitaker

On February 24, 2011 at 8:43 am

I’ll second the sentiment behind this one. I loved the feel of KZ2, and was sad to hear that they had made changes for the third installment. Thankfully, as Jim says, they managed to retain a similar feel even with the control changes. Why did people want those changes? Why shouldn’t Killzone feel exactly like Guerrilla wants it to?

I love co-op, especially local, but I don’t get all angry when a game is missing it, even when it’s a game that obviously should have it. Killzone 2 should probably have had co-op. It didn’t, but I still loved it.

Maybe the point is just that gamers need to stick to what they do best: playing games. Let the developers handle the design decisions. That’s not to say that we shouldn’t express ourselves when things are bad, but don’t pillory a company that’s trying something different or making a unique product. That’s a recipe for disaster.

Bruce McGee

On February 24, 2011 at 8:44 am

I have the same feelings as you about everything needing a multiplayer. In fact I got so burned out on multiplayer games, I retreated in to an RPG coma for the last couple months. Never thought about that same attitude applying to co-op.

I personally see a tipping point coming in the FPS genre. So many shooters have the same basic multiplayer that I foresee the day when the single player campaign will become a games selling point again. Good article as always.

Thijs

On February 24, 2011 at 12:21 pm

That would be a good thing, cause personally i am getting tired of shooters. Especially war shooters. Apparently this year we’ll see Modern Warfare 3, a new Call of Duty, a new Medal of honor and Operation Flashpoint, i mean…really???!!!!

Singleplayer campaigns which last 4 hours or alittle more, it’s ridiculous. We need long and quality singleplayer campaigns again.

David

On February 24, 2011 at 2:02 pm

I totally agree about the need for great single-player. I would love to see another title along the lines of Far Cry 2, but maybe amped up just a little to capture the more casual shooter fan.

One of the selling points (maybe) I see in a potential CoD MMO-style of business plan is that the multiplayer just exists. The progression doesn’t reset with every yearly iteration. Have separate lobbies for style of shooting (WWII, Vietnam, late Cold War, modern, futuristic?) and then focus on delivering kick-ass SP content that’s not the hyper-linear BS of the last game.

Great writing, Jim, as always.

Big Dick Willy

On February 24, 2011 at 2:50 pm

All I heard from this story was “wahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh”.

jimbonics

On February 24, 2011 at 5:20 pm

I didn’t have to read more than the first paragraph to see where this was going, and for the most part, I concur.

*note: I play PC FPS games, never on console

So, over the years, there have been advancements, but not too many leaps. For the most part, I am OK with this. What bothers me though, is when I buy a game, hop online, and immediately see people complaining how it isn’t as good as X or doesn’t play like Y. GO PLAY THOSE GAMES THEN!

The point this article makes is eerily similar, and ironically a polar opposite of an article posted here a week ago, stating that hardcore gamers are to blame for the staleness of today’s gaming landscape. I agreed with certain points of the article but not others.

For example, I love the fact that I’m on my SEVENTH CoD PC game, and have enjoyed ALL of them. (keeping count? CoD. CoD:UO. CoD2. CoD:MW. CoD:WaW. CoD:MW2. CoD:BO.A) Seven. Loved them all, regardless of what they added or removed.

Unfortunately, I am in the minority. People cry about in EVERY ING ITERATION of a game. In CoD1, people cried about ‘Bunny Hopping” (being a direct port of Q3A, almost understandable) so the nerfed it. In CoD2 people cried about “shottie whores”, so they nerfed it. In Modern Warfare, people cried about ing everything, so they nerfed it. In World at War, they cried about dogs, betties, and ing everything, so a lot of got nerfed. The list goes on.

There are two MAJORLY inherent problems with this and it’s really been my only issue with today’s society.

People rarely go to forums to praise and laud things. They go to forums to cry and whine about what they don’t like or perceive as unfair. Since they are the vocal majority, a lot of times what they cry about gets rectified or implemented. The problem with this, is the vocal minority are a bunch of camping sniper s, or otherwise can’t deal with getting beat on here and there by someone who likes to run and gun. So they cry. And . And moan.

Meanwhile, the people that ENJOY the game, fresh out of the box, with all the perks and attachments and everything as_the_developer_intended, aren’t all over the websites crying. They’re playing the game. Enjoying the out of it. Then the 1.2 patch comes out and utterly S on the very aspects of the game that were appealing to them.

So I guess here is the crux of my issue: Developers are listening to the wrong crowd. Take notes from the people who enjoy the game, not the people who don’t. You will never be able to please those people. They are the ones who ruin it.

I have much more to say on this matter, but this reply is already too long. This is the most energy I’ve spent advocating the people who don’t cry about . What? This game isn’t as realistic as Counter-Strike? Go play ing Counter-Strike then!

omega

On February 24, 2011 at 10:24 pm

I no longer buy games unless they have true lan ( you know local area network , no internet required ) coop. I understand it can cripple in a sense the
original gameplay but hey its software why should it be so hard to have the option there
for those of us that enjoy a get together sometime during the week and slug through a game cooperatively , i only play games at these sessions now anyway.
Dev’s saying its to tough dont inspire me with confidence anyway :)
still have serious sam, joint ops on the pc’s. lost planet 2 was ok found the console type
twitch play hard to get used to very one thing at a time .

In the end i buy to entertain myself, if the dev insists on entertaining in their way, fine , but please pay me :)

AceFlibble

On February 25, 2011 at 3:00 am

Can’t win really. If a game tries to be a little different, it won’t sell (hello, Enslaved!). If a series strays from its roots its hardcore fans get pissed off (hey there, Resident Evil) and if it doesn’t change then only the most hardcore fans will buy it (good to see you, Dynasty Warriors).

The majority of people want a new IP that is an old IP that plays like all existing games while not being like any existing game. They want a game that is like Call Of Duty in every way except not at all like Call Of Duty, with some Uncharted thrown in only not like Uncharted.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pFPLbNtYHyI

This is how I imagine most pitches for games go these days.

UtopiaV1

On February 25, 2011 at 5:01 am

@BigWilly, seconded!

Is Jim here really complaining that games have too many features these days? Is he really complaining that there are too many options in single and multiplayer? Really complaining there’s too much coop?

I get that he’s annoyed that other features like singleplayer are getting watered down for the sake of a token multiplayer, I dislike multiplayer at the best of times too. But here’s an idea – vote with your wallet! Stop buying games with multiplayer if it bothers you so much. Obviously we’ve already made our best MP games with halo and cod, why bother eh? Not like Castle Crashers or Left 4 Dead have interesting and new multiplayer modes, that we’ve already got everyone playing fps online.

I agree though, the control for KZ2 were too sluggish for my liking, although I did appreciate what they were trying to do, more power to them trying a new artistic design (although I suspect the control were sluggish because they were at the bottom of the code when every frame was drawn, in order to have fluid graphics and ai). Still enjoyed the game, but there’s no shame in improving it!

You knew you’d take some flak for this, but you wrote the article anyway. Good for you, voice your opinion, that’s what the internet is for! But ultimately, if you don’t like something in a game… Vote with your wallet. That’s the only way to get a publisher to take notice of us little people.

Great article, it’s really got everyone talking!

N.B. Rogue Trooper was the first game with cover-based combat, and it seemed like GoW copied that rather than the other way around. Maybe every game with third-person cover shooting is trying to copy GoW, I’m just saying GoW copied it off someone else.

RJ

On February 25, 2011 at 11:26 pm

I agree with you for the most part, but I gotta say, I think co-op is a great addition to most games. Co-op is a social kind of gaming, one that you can enjoy with close friends, just play and laugh at. It’s not something that any game really NEEDS, but it’s always a fun way to extend the gameplay.

And while I agree that a game acting just like the prequal before it isn’t something that should be strived for, I’ll be really disappointed if Skyrim becomes a mere shadowy, console port, when compared to Morrowind or Oblivion. I’m going to miss the buggy, crashy, gltichy, awful Gamebryo engine that Oblivion used, because I have so many good memories of it.

Avskygod0

On February 26, 2011 at 10:33 am

Please don’t post useless links (News! I see you!).

Magnus

On April 12, 2011 at 1:21 am

UtopiaV1 – I get what you’re saying about not buying games whose style and gameplay features you don’t like, but you’re ignoring the key problem here – so many gamers still buy every Call of Duty and Halo title that it doesn’t actually MEAN anything. So you don’t buy CoD because it’s got almost no actual content aside from a multiplayer which is barely different from the last – guess how much the developers actually care? Whether or not you bought a copy, whether or not you voted “No” on lazy, low developer standards, they don’t see you. You are nobody.

Voting with your wallet, and indeed, the concept of “voting” in general, only count when people care about your opinion – which implies you’re at least a visible minority. And so many people buy these ty recycled FPS clones that people with a genuine appreciation for quality and innovation really ARE a small, small fraction of players. It’s all about that CoD userbase, man. It’s big enough that there simply is no incentive to actually put a day’s honest work into making the next one a good game.