THE FUTURE OF GAMES

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I think it's been clear since at least the beginning of last gen that "better graphics" is a well of rapidly diminishing returns, and that for a game to stand out graphically, it has to have stellar art direction.

american primitive stylophone (zchyrs), Monday, 1 February 2021 17:15 (eight months ago) link

the main bottleneck with the PS4 generation was the CPU rather than the GPU. now that that's been fixed i don't think there's any conceivable game worth making that you couldn't make. blockbuster AAA games will continue to chase fidelity but it's felt like since 2017 the enthusiasm levels are much higher in spaces like low- to mid-budget "indie" games and japanese games.

i was interested in the whole cloud streaming thing as a way to make more elaborate and dynamic MMOs, but it seems like the main business idea google & others came up with for it instead is "attempt to compete against the console market" which has obviously crashed and burned and probably set the whole idea back 5 years

ciderpress, Monday, 1 February 2021 17:42 (eight months ago) link

Since buying a PS4 just over a year ago, and thereby joining the modern gaming world, I was awestruck at what was achievable.

Playing Witcher 3 for the first time was dazzling. I couldn't believe the level of detail, not just graphically, but how fully-formed the whole world felt. Throughout the game and the DLCs, it felt like a thrill-ride. I wanted to do little else. I mean, why watch a movie when you can BE IN and CONTROL the movie?

But of course as with all things, the flaws and diminishing returns start to become apparent. While the main quest and a lot of the side-quests were exciting, a sense of repetition started to set in: Follow the indicator to the location, receive mission, follow indicator to another location, kill monster, go back, receive bounty, repeat. Playing Witcher could sometimes feel like a hypnotic succession of fetch-quests which I could carry out almost without thinking.

Death Stranding was the next big game I played. It really appealed to me as a AAA game with avantgarde, often postmodern elements. It played on the idea that games can feel like work sometimes: Bewildering, overwhelming, arduous, even tedious. It was as though it was acknowledging the aforementioned tedium of all those Witcher fetch-quests and turning that into the central focus of the game, wrapping it up in an arcane speculative fiction really quite different from most games I'd heard of.

Control, again, used surrealistic, occult, office-punk elements to convey an original story. But by now I was getting used to how these games work: You receive missions, you navigate the map to get to where you're going, usually having to hack/slash/shoot waves of monsters/soldiers along the way.

It's fair to say that really the majority of big games that come out take this form in some way. You could get Death Stranding and re-skin it to make Control or RDR2 or Witcher 3. What's interesting is the story. But there's something else.

In the other thread, I was thinking about how quickly it takes to get used to the way a game works. When I started playing Witcher and looting houses, lairs and catacombs, I half-expected an enemy or NPC to burst into the room and stop me doing this. Soon I learnt that this never happens, and I could usually spend all day looting riches without being stopped.

A review of RDR2 observed that the sheer amount of choice of things you could do in the game highlighted all the things you CAN'T do. This enormous, sprawling game that lets you run around all day at will, but also one that forces you to participate in the way it chooses. You can roam all over the map, but really nothing remotely interesting will happen unless you carry out a pre-arranged sequence of actions (your game will even fail you if you don't do these missions exactly right).

So there is this illusion of free will that is totally false. You can do what you like within reason, but you are ultimately an observer in a performance. In fact RDR2 is very bad for this. If you hang around in one place, maybe to loot bodies after a gunfight, the other characters will start shouting at you to get on your horse and join them. Your actions have very little consequence in affecting the story. The Witcher is a bit better for this - certain decisions will affect the way the story unfolds - but it is still surprisingly limited.

So we have these big open worlds where you carry-out fetch quests and hack/shoot away at waves of bad guys. Is that it? I feel like I'm already a bit over this idea. The world of cinema, literature, the worlds of other artforms, seem to be a bit wider than this. Even Death Stranding, which was supposed to be an attempt at a more considered, more cerebral and less aggressive style of game, still involves a fair bit of shooting and slashing.

It seems that bigger games are still being developed with younger, male audiences in mind. Early games on the Nintendo were aimed at children, Sega came in and swept-up the teen market, and later Sony ended up marketing towards adults. But still, while games got grittier and less cartoonish, there's an overall lack of diversity and imagination on offer when it comes to the bigger developments. And while smaller indie developers might come up with a groundbreaking storyline or concept, these tend to be limited and often just funnel the player down a set path.

I'd really like to see a break out from this. With open worlds, I'm less interested in vast landscapes and more interested in being able to interact with the people and things around me in a realistic sense: If there's a building, I should be able to break into it, but the chances of getting caught should also be palpable. I'd like to feel like I am truly in control of my story. I want my actions to have consequences. I don't want to feel like I'm following the same path as a million other users before. If that's not the case, then what is a game other than a playable movie with a few stats thrown-in?

Thematically I'd like to see more interesting approaches to games beyond "defeat this wave of mutants to progress to the next fetch quest". So many games either land in either a standard-issue fantasy, horror or sci-fi universe with a few stylistic parameters applied, and while I enjoy all that, it can be hard to tell one title from another on first glance. Also it assumes that the sights are always set at an average market of 16-30 year old male gamers who ultimately want action-based thrills above all else. The backlash against Death Stranding is a case in point, but also the fact a lot of people found it cerebral and refreshing means that perhaps there is an appetite for something new.

Ultimately we're arguably still playing the same game we've been playing forever, just dressed-up in new raiments: Space Invaders is Streets of Rage is Dark Souls - you move through waves of enemies, and that's about it.

What about the video game equivalent of (to quickly browse the various books and films next to me), say, Middlemarch, or Hard To Be A God, or My Brilliant Friend, or Children of Men, or a Ligotti short story, or Mad Men, or the Netflix show Dark, or John Crowley's Engine Summer, or UKLG's Hainish Cycle, or a game that teaches about modern Western philosophy or the way physics actually works...

With some of these examples, you might think either it wouldn't work or that it has already been done (often badly), or that it would be plain boring. I'm not saying "turn these into games", but is there more that could be done in terms of creative scope?

Compare video games to European-style board games like Catan, Carcassone and Ticket To Ride - there's a world of difference in subject matter. I'm playing Azul at the moment, a game about Moorish decorative tiles. There's very little gunfire in these types of modern boardgames, and yet they're still a lot of fun.

Sorry for the word-spew there, but it's been something that's been on my mind for a while. Again, I'm a relatively new(ish) gamer who hadn't really played until my old SNES got out of date. But even back then, games like Earthbound hinted at a way that gaming tropes could be subverted in subtle ways: How you feel during the section where you lose all your friends, how you feel when your dad calls you from a payphone etc...

Ultimately, I wnt developers to get even more creative, damnit. And also to recognise that gaming is opening up to ever-increasing audiences with tastes wider than ever before, so they should be able to take chances on an industry that is still doing insanely well instead of just releasing sequels, remakes and Cyberpunk 2077.

Party With A Jagger Ban (dog latin), Monday, 1 February 2021 18:12 (eight months ago) link

i just want bigger, cooler-looking entries in my fave RPG serieses to come out every few years, forever

Scampi reggae party (Noodle Vague), Monday, 1 February 2021 18:28 (eight months ago) link

i'm going to assume you're invoking Poe's Law there, so yeah, that and incrementally better-looking soccer and car racing games too.

fuck it, I still haven't seen a single thing on PS5 that's made me want to drop my chips and run off to buy one.

Party With A Jagger Ban (dog latin), Monday, 1 February 2021 18:38 (eight months ago) link

I'm mostly okay with what we have now - the indies with lower budgets have more freedom to explore things both creatively and ludology, and AAA games go for the equivalent of blockbuster films. Would all industries be better if we had a broad array of these things and the money to go with projects from top-to-bottom? Sure! But that entire world is moving away from the direction, and stuff like The Last of Us II, Death Stranding and Control is likely the weirdest we'll get from games that cost $100M+ to make.

Highly recommend you look into the PC/interactive fiction/itch.io space for stuff pushing the envelope, though of course low-to-no-budget. We talked about the game Family in one of the other threads, I think that's a great example and free. Also the blog Buried Treasure.

Nhex, Monday, 1 February 2021 18:39 (eight months ago) link

very tenuously, but has there ever been much written about video games and how they relate to concepts in Western philosophy: ideas of free will, self-determination, mind-body dualism, social contracts etc? i'd happily read something about that. or even play a "Good Place" type of game that does this

Party With A Jagger Ban (dog latin), Monday, 1 February 2021 18:41 (eight months ago) link

Cheers Nhex, will check this - it's a relatively new world to me, so some of my arguments/complaints might not really stand up to scrutiny. I'm just a bit underwhelmed by what's out there now that I've played through Control and Death Stranding - there isn't much that appeals to me. And yet with movies a lot of money can be poured into, for example, a Coen brothers film - it doesn't have to be Michael Bay all the way

Party With A Jagger Ban (dog latin), Monday, 1 February 2021 18:44 (eight months ago) link

xps maybe what i need is to be more involved in PC gaming perhaps? itch.io looks interesting but I'm not keen to sit at my work desk playing these

Party With A Jagger Ban (dog latin), Monday, 1 February 2021 18:59 (eight months ago) link

Highly recommend you look into the PC/interactive fiction/itch.io space for stuff pushing the envelope, though of course low-to-no-budget.

I echo this. Lots of IF about the relationship of the player-character to the player and what that means for free will, for example. Also stuff like Undertale has a philosophical bent, as well as being very cute.

emil.y, Monday, 1 February 2021 19:04 (eight months ago) link

I love Undertale. Especially love what happens once you complete it and start over. I will never properly complete all three routes though as the ultraviolent route is impossible

Party With A Jagger Ban (dog latin), Monday, 1 February 2021 19:08 (eight months ago) link

That Buried Treasure blog is great! Shame there isn't much on the PS4. Good to see a lot of these games appearing on Switch though.

Party With A Jagger Ban (dog latin), Monday, 1 February 2021 19:09 (eight months ago) link

i'm going to assume you're invoking Poe's Law there

nope, deadly serious, don't much care for novelties, just want more better versions of stuff i love

Scampi reggae party (Noodle Vague), Monday, 1 February 2021 19:16 (eight months ago) link

Yeah, you definitely need to move more to indie gaming, you will find *a lot* of what you want. I guess the question then is why none of these things end up being produced by bigger studios with more budget, as they're obviously popular in their own spheres, and some become huge. That's something I can't answer at all, I don't really get the whys and wherefores of the music industry, never mind the gaming industry.

xp

emil.y, Monday, 1 February 2021 19:16 (eight months ago) link

I think it comes down to AAA studios being incredibly risk-averse

american primitive stylophone (zchyrs), Monday, 1 February 2021 19:20 (eight months ago) link

which of course also applies to major film studios, etc.

american primitive stylophone (zchyrs), Monday, 1 February 2021 19:20 (eight months ago) link

There's kind of a contradiction at work, from my relatively limited experience. As the "better" games get top-notch writing, top-notch graphics, top notch scores and voice acting, they become closer and closer to actual movies, yet the gameplay itself doesn't seem to be evolving at the same pace. There's always just a relatively limited menu of things to do - jump, shoot, steer, etc. - and replicating quotidian acts (like brushing your teeth, say) seems more novelty or distraction than a particular advance. Then again, I'm not sure games need to reach some new level to be compelling. I don't really mind where there are right now, and even a relatively simple game like "Thumper" is still pretty strange, cool, challenging and engrossing to me.

If there were to be a big development, I think there's a lot to be done with time, for example. You see it on a relatively modest scale already, and maybe there is more than that out there, but I like the idea of time progressing within a game even when you're not playing it - NPCs dying/disappearing, plants growing, things being built, and so on. Just the idea that every time you return to the game, even if it is telling a story, or "on rails" or solving a puzzle or whatever, the game you're playing is fundamentally different every time you play it. Not in a random rogue-like sense but in an AI-directed generative-with-purpose sense. Like, I'm almost done the second "Ori." What if, in the week or so between plays, a new character has popped up somewhere, or a new roadblock has developed, or some other challenging element now needs to be addressed before I reach the end? That seems to be the sort of thing more powerful machines and chips could bring about. Again, assuming it doesn't exist already.

Josh in Chicago, Monday, 1 February 2021 19:26 (eight months ago) link

emil.y otm.

i get that there has to be a pool of experimental maverick developers out there making mind-bending little games for a relatively small audience.

but yes, there does seem to be a sense of risk aversion with the bigger developers. gamers are likely to blame too: Many were very quick to dismiss Death Stranding as a boring "walking simulator" and go back to COD or what have you.

Party With A Jagger Ban (dog latin), Monday, 1 February 2021 19:27 (eight months ago) link

As the "better" games get top-notch writing, top-notch graphics, top notch scores and voice acting, they become closer and closer to actual movies, yet the gameplay itself doesn't seem to be evolving at the same pace.

YES. This. It's great that these qualitative steps are being taken, and I'm not saying I want big-budget experimental games, but we should be at a stage where games are more than linear playable movies.

and replicating quotidian acts (like brushing your teeth, say) seems more novelty or distraction than a particular advance

100. These are novel, but they add nothing to the game. They certainly don't make it more realistic or enjoyable. There's a thing in RDR2 where you carry out chores around the campsite (literally moving bails of hay from one place to another) which is neither fun nor challenging. You get a bit of stat increase, but what's the point?

That said, I liked how you could go for a crap in Death Stranding and how they turned your waste into piss missiles.

Party With A Jagger Ban (dog latin), Monday, 1 February 2021 19:33 (eight months ago) link

If there were to be a big development, I think there's a lot to be done with time, for example. You see it on a relatively modest scale already, and maybe there is more than that out there, but I like the idea of time progressing within a game even when you're not playing it - NPCs dying/disappearing, plants growing, things being built, and so on. Just the idea that every time you return to the game, even if it is telling a story, or "on rails" or solving a puzzle or whatever, the game you're playing is fundamentally different every time you play it. Not in a random rogue-like sense but in an AI-directed generative-with-purpose sense. Like, I'm almost done the second "Ori." What if, in the week or so between plays, a new character has popped up somewhere, or a new roadblock has developed, or some other challenging element now needs to be addressed before I reach the end? That seems to be the sort of thing more powerful machines and chips could bring about. Again, assuming it doesn't exist already.

― Josh in Chicago, Monday, February 1, 2021 2:26 PM (twenty-seven minutes ago) bookmarkflaglink


this is along the same lines as what i mean when i talk about cloud streaming eventually enabling MMOs that are much more elaborate and dynamic than can run on an average gaming PC or console. instead of having to patch every little change to the game world into everyone's client you can just throw stuff in in real time

ciderpress, Monday, 1 February 2021 20:04 (eight months ago) link

I think Twitch & YouTube & other streaming platforms will have a more pronounced influence on video games in the short-term future

real muthaphuckkin jeez (crüt), Monday, 1 February 2021 20:21 (eight months ago) link

xpost It would also encourage "events" and large-scale real-time interaction, a la, I dunno, what they apparently do or have done in "Fortnite" and other games like that? I've blown a couple of minds relaying that "Red Dead Redemption 2" was apparently the highest grossing weekend entertainment release of all time, but of course, the average person doesn't know that as well as they know what, say, the number one movie in the world is. But if RDR2 is the starting point - that is to say, a massive release nonetheless and counterintuitively not quite as well known as the rest of consumed pop culture (music, movies, etc.) - imagine the incentives for a studio developing and fostering a huge, even bigger constantly changing game community. Like a blockbuster movie that just keeps ... blockbusting. Not that the game play would necessarily be any better, but tif the quality stayed high, like several seasons of an esteemed TV series, the world of that gameplay could be more interesting and immersive than ever before, especially as more and more people (potentially) are drawn to it as a monocultural event (which, covid and quarantines aside, are few and far between these days). And again, maybe something this exists already?

Of course, knowing the world we live in it would inevitably become an ungovernable dystopian cesspool like everything else.

Josh in Chicago, Monday, 1 February 2021 20:30 (eight months ago) link

xp its definitely already had a huge impact on what sorts of multiplayer games publishers are funding the past few years

ciderpress, Monday, 1 February 2021 20:41 (eight months ago) link

xps to DL: gamers are risk averse too, because games cost money, and typically a lot more than a movie ticket/album/modest concert ticket. It's possible that the economics of game pass and the like could help foster innovation as it becomes possible to cheaply sample lots of different experiences.

american primitive stylophone (zchyrs), Monday, 1 February 2021 20:57 (eight months ago) link

I for sure would definitely try a lot more weird/niche games that way

american primitive stylophone (zchyrs), Monday, 1 February 2021 21:02 (eight months ago) link


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