This post is a response to Game Informer magazine’s Top Ten Dying Videogame Trends article in the January 09 issue (released late November).
1: System Exclusives
Games developed exclusively for one console may seem to be a dying trend to those who have to review games that are released simultaneously for the XB360 and PS3 all the time, but this is by no means an absolute trend.
First of all: can we say “Super Mario Galaxy”? Can we say “Most of the games on the Wii”? Can we say “Most of the games on the PC”? Can you say “Gee, I don’t think FF13 is coming out on the XB.” Yeah, I knew you could.
Although the current XBox and Playstation are competing fiercely for the same spot in the market, that is one of just two major reasons for all the games that are exactly the same on XB3 and PS3. The only other major reason is the relative ease of porting between the two consoles compared to (for example) porting a Wii game to the PC. Other than that, I bet the developers are looking forward to a winner being decisively decided this generation so they don’t have to keep spending twice the resources to make one game.
Console Exclusivity is desirable in terms of development cost. If a game is successful on one platform, then you can port it without worrying about the costs. It has always worked this way since the beginning of videogames. The whole Sony/Microsoft, love-hate, never-give-in relationship is going to start hurting developers too much if and when the game-buying public hits a recession. When gas goes up to $4.50 a gallon, there will be a reckoning.
It would have been better for Microsoft and Sony to simply team up like Nintendo and Sega have, because whichever one of them falls, it’s going to hurt when they do.
2: High Difficulty
The assertion that developers are dumbing down games is ridiculous. High Difficulty is alive and healthier than ever, you just have to specifically pick “Nightmare” instead of the default “Easy” option. Maybe the Game Informer folks should check all of the menu screens of the games they are reviewing more often.
“Points” are merely an abstract, nonspecific, and obsolete form of Achievements. Like High Difficulty, points are alive and well if you pay attention. I don’t just mean Achievements in the sense of unlockable trophies, but things like money (spendable points), Experience Points (duh.), special rewards like unique items, and various other minor and major rewards for minor and major tasks. Points are everywhere, they’re just measured differently.
4: Extra Lives
Who needs Extra Lives when you have savable games in single player and spawn points in multiplayer? Extra Lives started in the arcade and are now archaic & pointless anywhere else. (With the possible exception of games that don’t have “hit/health points” or a “life bar/meter”.) Good riddance.
5: Cheat Codes
These are being replaced by console commands, mods, and hacks. Like extra lives, cheat codes are obsolete due to advances in hardware and developer sophistication.
6: Save Points
Save Points are still around. They’re just called different things: autosaves, “only saving in town”, and various other things. Some are horribly implemented: I witnessed someone playing Medal of Honor 4 which autosaved him right next to a Nazi soldier who kept killing him the instant MoH4 autoloaded. But most are done just right.
Of course, there are still a few games that do have abstract save points: Metroid Prime 3, for example. When done well, it’s easy to forget them.
In a world where you can bookmark any web page, it’s unacceptable to create arbitrary Save Points in games that don’t take advantage of them, but sensible and often automated save points are more than welcome.
Genres have always been loosely defined and “blurry”. There are games that imitate previous games and thus appear to form genres, but it’s really always been about “trends”. Trends are what is really going on and there never were true genres in the first place.
8: Arcade Ports
Yes, the lack of arcade ports is simply because there are hardly any new or different arcade games being made anymore. Nothing to argue about here. Moving on…
9: Complex HUDs
This is just another benefit of what happens when developers make increasingly sophisticated games. A cluttered screen is a distracting screen. Distraction leads to lack of focus. Lack of focus leads to boredom. Boredom leads to suffering…
10: Split Screen
Online and/or networked and/or taking turns has generally been the superior option to split-screen. (In fact: networked games existed long before split-screen on the old mainframes.)
Now if I can just get the dang Wii to interface with the wireless hotspots in our neighborhood, I won’t need to have split-screen any longer!
In summary: The game elements that are gone or disappearing are going away for good reasons. Either thay are archaic or redundant and either way I say good riddance to them. Some still have a place in the design of games made to take advantage of those elements, but those games are fewer and farther between.
Keeping what works is a good idea, and getting rid of what doesn’t is an even better idea. That is simply how things are and will be for the foreseeable future.