The Problem With Modern Game Design
April 30, 2013

The Problem With Modern Game Design

It’s been about 35 years since video games became a major form of household entertainment. This form of media has come a long way, but something about today’s video games lacks the wonder and experience that classic games used to give.

When gaming first came about, it was very simple. In most cases, you had a small manual that would tell you that your objective was to shoot all the bad guys, or get to the end of each level by traversing dangerous obstacles in order to save the world. You popped the game in the console, and it gave you a nice little title screen. You press start, and it threw you into the game. From here on out the controller was just an extension of yourself as you controlled the on-screen character, going thru a fun and challenging adventure. Everything that the character felt affected you as a player because you knew that if you died you would have to start all over. It wasn’t exactly immersive, but it was your experience.

Starting around the PlayStation/N64 era, games started to lose the feeling that you were experiencing this adventure, and instead just controlling a character that is dealing with their own conflicts. This came about in the form of cutscenes, where the player loses total control over the game, and animation sequences play out in the form of a movie.

Cutscenes broke the flow of the game, as well as the immersion because you no longer feel like you’re in the adventure because you have to acknowledge and watch the character you control act with their own personality. I like to call this “avatar gaming.” Since while you’re still playing a game, you’re playing someone else’s adventure, instead of your own.

Many modern games in the HD era take avatar gaming to an extreme. Cutscenes are longer, gameplay is less varied and satisfying, and it seems like gameplay is just a small interruption in the story.

One huge culprit of this is the new Tomb Raider by Crystal Dynamics. Much of the game consists of small conflicts, such as short firefights, fighting off wolves, or climbing the side of a cliff as Lara Croft. These gameplay ‘segments’ are usually 4-5 minutes at the most before you’re greeted by another 3-4 minutes of cutscenes.

All the devastating events and tragedies that strike Lara don’t happen as you play the game, they happen in the cutscenes, where you feel no attachment because it doesn’t affect your experience in the game. We can call this an “interactive movie,” because the game just feels like a framework in which to place a story. It’s almost like someone just took a ‘choose your path’ book and made a video game out of it.

A few days ago, I found myself trapped in the YouTube comments section (I know, I got sucked in). But, while I was scrolling through, I saw that someone had made an excellent analogy about how games used to be played, and how they’re played now.

One user said, “If you were to compare playing a game to reading a book, the gameplay would be the words on the book, not how you flip the pages.”

Too many games nowadays feel like you’re watching a story unfold, and then you get to press a few buttons to resume the story. I likened the controller in retro gaming to an extension of you. In modern gaming, the controller is more like a DVD remote with a few more buttons.

What game designers don’t see, that the players do, is that the experience is much more memorable and endearing when you integrate story into the experience of the game. Games like Skyrim, BioShock Infinite, and Shadow of the Colossus are all perfect examples of how these things can be done right.

I understand that there are certain game styles that just won’t work with fully immersive gameplay, and that there are types of games that shouldn’t be designed that way. In my review on Injustice: Gods Among Us, I mention how I like the movie style of the campaign. Fighting games, RPGs, and sometimes FPS’s can prove to exempt themselves from that rule, but too much of the gaming market nowadays is filled with interactive movies.

What do you think of modern game design? Leave a comment, tell me what you think.

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