Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Ghost's Angry Reviews - Why the Modern FPS is Killing Gaming

OK so maybe that title is a little harsh but it got your attention.  This one isn’t so much a review as it is a discussion about the state of what’s going on in the video game world.  Obviously this is just my opinion.  If you don’t agree with me then that’s perfectly fine; and if you don’t agree with me I’m not going to say that you’re an idiot or any of that bologna.  The reason I state this is because I’ve already mentioned the idea of this one to a friend to which I was (jokingly) given a particular response.
Ghost here, thanks for joining!

Man…. What to do a review on?  I’m running out of Inspiration here and my battery is running low.  I mean my last 3 reviews have been an educational game, a random list of pokémon, and a little girl’s game.  I’m losing it.  I mean this is called Ghost’s Angry Reviews and I haven’t even been that angry.  I just… I don’t know.  What do review, what to review...


… I just want to be loved

That running gag is getting really old….You know, I just gotta get out of this house. The same old stuff is getting old. Maybe something in the outside world will give me inspiration.  Let’s head to Gamestop in the mall.  Maybe I can find something there to talk about that I'm forgetting or something I can buy to talk about that looks intriguing.

Call of Duty?  What part of "heck no" is so hard to understand there?  And it’s taking up a whole window?  UGH… no Ghost… just walk away; no need to get on THAT tangent.  Ok let’s just walk around the mall and see what I can find.  Maybe the T-shirt place will have something.

 OH GOODIE… We have Halo 4 and MORE Call of Duty.  For crying out loud!  OK I know both of those games recently came out but give me a break here.  I … no no just let it lie Ghost.. leave it be.  *sigh* Fine let’s just head to Wal-Mart and rummage through the electronics and just nose around the store for a while.  I need some shampoo anyway.

Please Note this was legitimately found.  I did not plant this item here.
 WHAT?  CALL OF DUTY FOUND ITS WAY INTO THE TAMPON SECTION???!! REALLY??  I’M JUST MINDING MY OWN BUSINESS HEADING TO GET SHAMPOO AND THIS FRANCHISE FINDS IT’S WAY INTO SOMETHING COMPLETELY UNRELATED AND…. No just calm down… you’re supposed to find inspiration not irritation.  Well this was a wasted trip.  Let’s head home and search the internet.  Maybe it can give me some ideas of video games.

 And the first thing I come to is CNBC’s Top Selling video games of this generation…. Which references Halo and the list has 3 Call of Duty games on it while the rest are Guitar Hero, Rock Band, Wii Fit, Wii Play, and Mario Kart Wii?????

Obviously Nature wants me to talk about Modern First Person Shooters so that’s exactly what I’m going to do. 

The video game industry has been incredibly rocky over the past few years to the point that some would probably call it just plain bad and not without reason.  However there still have been a few diamonds in the rough as we go with titles such as Assassin’s Creed 3, Skyrim, and… wait… well despite these being good titles they still fall to some of the pratfalls of games by them being dumbed down versions of their predecessors but I can’t complain about that too much.  So, even the diamonds in that rough aren’t of perfect quality but they’re better than the fossilized dinosaur crap we so often get which is why the gaming industry as a whole leaves me rather malnourished and woozy at the end of the day.  But what is the precise reason for this.  I’m glad you asked!

If you were to bring up the topic of video games to a generalized crowd I guarantee that 7 out of 10 times you will hear the words “Halo”, “Battlefield” or “Call of Duty” somewhere during the conversation.  The fact of the matter is that the First Person Shooter genre has been dominating the world of gaming for the last decade.  People sometimes ask me for my opinion on these games and I’m here to generalize my entire theory.  

They suck.
Now now, put down your sniper rifles, rail guns, energy swords, and noob tubes and allow me to explain what I’m talking about.  Individually I have little doubt that these games are engaging and fun, quite possibly more engaging and more fun than a great number of games that I have tortured myself into playing.  If you truly enjoy these titles then that is up to you; please continue to like them.  I have spent several hours watching a friend of mine play most of these games online while I make commentary on his failures.  I can somewhat see the appeal, however collectively these franchises stand for what I am utterly opposed to at the core of my being: stifling creativity, a continued main focus on casual gaming, oversaturation in the market, and above all, corporations attempting to make a quick profit at the expense of a good and unique experience.

Before I get into those however, let’s explore some of the most commonly cited justifications for the past decade of FPS games being prevalent.

“Every era of gaming has a genre that rises to popularity and dominates the shelves.  This is no different than the Side-scrollers that dominated the 8-bit and early 16-bit eras.” 
Yes, there is a slight point to this comment.  Each era of gaming does have a genre that is more prevalent than others, however there is one major difference now than there was in those days.  During the eras of the 8-bit, 16-bit, and 32-bit times of gaming, the technology and capabilities were expanding rapidly and there were many new ways and avenues to explore development.  So this put games into two categories.  Publishers who had the know-how to expand on the technology and take risks, and publishers who didn’t quite have the budget or knowledge to really continue developing ideas so they had to stick to what was already established.  Even with that knowledge most games during that time took the time required to ensure that they at least felt different or had a different atmosphere; something that is not true of modern FPS but I’ll get to that eventually.  On top of that, for the most part many of these copy-cat games just jumping on the genre bandwagon are completely forgotten and many of them did not turn into franchises that continue to exist (Castlevania 2 is an obvious exception here.)  Most of these games are lost to that obscure section of time where they are only really known either for how infamously terrible they were or because James Rolfe has done a review of it
If it’s not in one of those categories and it’s not an amazing piece of gaming history then there’s little chance you remember or even know about it.

“It’s just supply and demand” / “The fact that these games are selling to a larger number of people will help video games as a whole because more people are interested and investing in the companies.”

First off using “supply and demand” as a reason for anything is garbage; it’s just an answer to give when you don’t really want to think about an actual logical answer to give and goes right alongside with answers like “just because”, “God moves in mysterious ways” and “because I said so.”  So I’m dismissing that one on merit of theory alone.

As far as the second statement above, I have a two-fold reason against that one as well.
1. Corporations and Publishers today rarely care about what would make a game good or bad.  It’s not very often you hear of a game that takes its fan base complaints or ideas and make them a reality.  If more did, they wouldn’t have removed Mewtwo from Super Smash Bros Brawl, but I shall not be embarking on that rabbit trail soap box today.  Instead, they listen to money and what sells.  The only way to make a statement of any notable size to get any attention is to simply have a mass of people not purchase something that is created.  The more and more people continue to buy these games, the more companies are going to produce these games and attempt to produce them faster to keep on this current decade-long trend before it ends.  The only thing that having more people buying the modern FPS games is doing is telling the gaming world “YES please give us more of this exact thing here. You are doing great!”

2. I know I’m stepping into the bounds of stereotyping here but I’m speaking mostly to those nerds among us; those that grew up with video games and are true nerds at heart.  It’s my philosophy that the rise of so-called “nerd culture” becoming mainstream is a double edged sword and it something that I will eventually write a rant about.  But ask yourselves this…all of you… Is the fact that more people are playing games a good thing or a bad thing?  I’m not entirely certain how to respond myself.  On the one hand I enjoy thinking that many new people who never had the chance at gaming are now giving it a shot.  On the other hand this trend to bring in casual players and have gaming, and what they believe is nerd culture, become mainstream to them also means that we have to contend as a community with the likes of and great numbers of those who don’t really care one way or another as long as they can have some fun in the process.  If their numbers grow higher than those true game fans of us, then we no longer have the ability to influence in any way how games are made by buying or not buying products because those that don’t care will still buy them.  If you will for a moment just think about all your friends who play mostly modern First Person Shooters (especially Call of Duty).  I’ll give you a moment… if you are honest with yourselves, you would say 60 - 70% of them fall into one or more of the picture categories below.

And I don’t know about you but I don’t necessarily want them dictating the direction of the gaming world with their monetary influence.

Now, let’s get into the actual problems that prompted this to even be started to begin with or in other words..

The Genre is Stagnant
I don’t believe many people will disagree with me here.  The genre as a whole of first person shooter is stagnant.  It is not moving forward it is just sitting exactly where it is and multiplying like the algae in a stagnant pond.  What sort of things do you do in a first person shooter?  You move around and you shoot things for the most part with a little bit of stealth due to the environment as well as maybe a mine or two.  Pretty much everything that goes on in modern first person shooters has been done before in countless iteration over the course of gaming.  Granted some of the weapons may be unique from one game to another or perhaps the scenery you fight in is different but the core of what is going on is the exact same.  Here as an example, please take a look at these two images below.

Which one is Battlefield and which one is Call of Duty?

Unless you’ve played the games, it’s not that easy is it?

Why are these all the exact same?  It is because games such as Call of Duty have, in fact, peaked.  They are at the pinnacle of what current technology can allow.  There is virtually no room for improvement upon the gameplay or the experience as a whole. To quote the Game Overthinker “Face it, at this point we’ve pretty much perfected the gameplay mechanic of walk around, fire gun.  If you can license the Unreal engine, most of that work is already done for you.  So there’s really nothing left for the genre to improve on other than obsessing over who has the most detailed textures. Graphical refinement is pretty much all there is now.”

That’s the truth of the matter.  It’s not necessarily that these games are bad games it’s that there is no room for improvement given the current technology constraints.  There is no way to move the genre forward without changing it into a completely different type of game.  You may be asking what I mean by current technology constraints.  How do humans interact with the world around them?  They use their five senses: Sight, Sound, Touch, Taste, and Smell.  These modern FPS games we play engage only two of those, sight and sound.  I’ll give partial credit to touch due to the effect of a rumble feature on most controllers but even that isn’t really engaging their sense to touch their surroundings in-game.  Until there is a technology developed that can allow you to feel your way around the world, smell what’s going on, or taste anything within a gaming world there is no way that the FPS genre can improve and it will remain a stagnant yet peaked genre.

Continued Emphasis on Casual Gaming
Now, I touched on this topic a little earlier, but it really is a sticking point for most gamers.  The term “casual” has become a bigger insult than any combination of f-bombs you could ever present to someone, especially someone who is a gamer.  I’d rather insult Mike Tyson than call any respectable gamer a “casual.”  A Casual gamer as you can probably guess is someone who doesn’t spend much time playing video games.  They come and go with it and just want some sort of fun experience to play for a little while with friends or out of boredom and then move on.  They don’t really want anything to be a true challenge because they don’t want to get too invested into it.  While it’s nice to reach out to this demographic to fulfill their needs, it’s ludicrous to have your main focus be on this group right?

And then this happened.
The introduction of the Wii was both something glorious and equally devilish.  It ushered in something new, motion controls that didn’t suck… well I use the term “didn’t suck” lightly because at least it works 40% of the time unlike other things.  I’m looking at you Kinect.  It was a step in a newer better direction and something very inventive and fun.  Unfortunately with the advent of this new system came the advertising giant that caused all of the gaming industry to shift its focus.  The Wii was marketed as a system central to the whole family and to everyone so that anyone can enjoy something on the wii from gamers, to new kids playing to even old timers who have never played a game before in their life.  From a company standpoint it was brilliant and allowed them to sell millions of wii’s.   From a gamer standpoint it was nothing short of betrayal.

I don’t even think it was intended betrayal either.  They were attempting something new or at least something I hadn’t seen to the extent they pushed the wii and for them it really paid off.  Other companies began seeing the rise of sales for Nintendo due to this marketing of gaming for everyone, so naturally looking to increase their revenue they did the same.  With this shift of thought process came a change in the type of games that were produced.  Now there have always been easy family friendly games out there since the beginning but we had never encountered them at this volume.  What once was 2-3 “real” games to 1 casual game was now turning into 3-5 casual games to 1 “real” game.  The video game industry as a whole had turned its back on the people that had supported it for years and years, those that allowed them to get to the point they are now, in favor of more money for a more mass appeal.

This didn’t only extend to the new games they were producing for this casual crowd, but it started to affect the game franchises that were already established, making them easier and more starter friendly.  Making them incredibly simplistic to pick up and master from the beginning while having arrows and markings throughout gameplay of what to do; holding the hand of the player in hopes of snagging those casual players into a more solid playing role.  Again from a company standpoint this is great, but from the standpoint of a gamer before this happened; now you have taken the playing style, mechanics, and challenge of the games we love and cherish and dumbed them down so that Johnny 5th grader can be a master at video games and buy more products.  This is why Metroid Other M exists.

And don’t you even dare get me started on that.

So where do the modern FPS games fit in?  Well if you are an avid player of Halo, Call of Duty, or Battlefield and have ever made negative comments about casual gaming and casual games then I would like you to punch yourself in the face.  Go ahead I’ll wait.

Thank you!

This is because all of those games are, in fact, casual games.  Now before you go off on me saying things like “How dare you say it’s casual when I spend 30 hours a week playing this thing. That’s being a gamer that’s not being a casual.”  Calm down.  I didn’t say if you play those games that YOU are a casual, but I am saying that those games are casual games.  From what I’ve seen, the single player campaigns hold your hand and tell you what to do, and for the most part you can pick up the controller and “master” the controls and the game within minutes.  I know this for a fact because I do not play these games, yet I spent an hour playing one with a friend a few months back and within six minutes I had everything mastered and was actually schooling him at his own game.


While I realize going online against other players requires a different set of skills and mastery, but that is not mastery of the game or difficulty of the game itself, that is trying to master and predict other people’s moves who you don’t know and can’t see them calculating.  It’s like playing a game of chess against someone in another city where you mail each other the moves.  That isn’t exactly easy, but again that’s not mastery of the game.  You can easily pick up any of these titles and know exactly what button to press at exactly the right time within seconds. 

I don’t foresee the focus on casual gaming to end any time soon because the profit in it is far too high, but these modern FPS games aren’t helping anything in their own right because they are just MORE games with casuals in mind that are shaping the way that all of gaming will slowly turn into in the future.  The age of challenge outside of a multiplayer server is quickly coming to an end and you can place part of the blame on the modern FPS.

Publisher’s Decisions
Everything I’ve said before this section I’m willing to negate.  I’m willing to let go of every single truth and Idea I’ve presented before as completely invalid.  That doesn’t really matter to me.  Because this right here is the ULTIMATE truth about what’s going on and why the gaming industry is heading into the crap-shoot. 

The problem is not the modern FPS genre itself.  It’s not even the mindless repetition that these games provide you during gameplay.  None of that matters.  The problem is how the genre is being handled and how the gaming industry as a whole is being run.  The pinnacle of the “modern shooter” was Call of Duty 4.  It perfected the game as far as it came to the kind of arcade shooters.  On the other hand, Battlefield 2 was the pinnacle of the team strategy shooters.  It perfected the game from that aspect.  These two games are actually meant to be entirely different yet people place both of them under the same banner of bullcrap, but why?

The problem isn’t just one answer, but two.  The first problem is that the publishers of these games continue to push out what is effectively the same product year after year because consumers are buying it.  It’s working for them and giving them money so every single year they will put out another game without really trying to renovate it in any manner.  And from a sales and monetary standpoint why should they do any different?  If the consumers will continue to eat up the exact same thing over and over and sell even more for the exact same product then why should they change?  That change isn’t going to come from them it’s going to have to come from the community.

The second problem is that the gaming community has vilified these games and this genre as a whole because of these games.  But the gaming community hasn’t really done anything about it other than complain mindlessly without presenting facts and even often insulting those who do enjoy the FPS genre.  Yes I know I’m slightly calling the kettle black here but hang tight.  The perception of this genre ruining video games is skewed.   


Yes that’s right I just contradicted what the title of this is about, and yes it was planned.  The shooters themselves are not the problem because we can see the evidence of the problem all over the gaming industry left and right but we have been so focused on tearing down these Call of Duty games and the entire modern FPS genre as a whole to even notice it.  If the evidence is everywhere else then why the focus on Call of Duty?  That’s quite simple.  Call of Duty is the easiest choice to make a poster child for what is bad with gaming because it offers the least amount of changes from game to game.  It’s mostly just the same exact thing over and over again with a different backdrop to the gameplay.

So if shooters aren’t the problem, where should the gaming community look for blame?  The publishers.  If you look all over gaming industry both hardware and software, the problem exists in abundance which is the fact that publishers are just simply repeating what works without even attempting risks.  If a company knows something will sell they are most likely to just repeat the same exact thing and even shoehorn things that aren’t even similar into the same mentality of what has been currently working because they don’t want to take any sort of risk at all.  Look to motion controls.  Sure the Wii came out with motion controls but they aren’t exactly that different from the old motion controls of the Power Glove and Nintendo Gun of the past, just slightly updated technology to it.  The only company that took a risk recently was Microsoft with the Kinect and since that bombed you can almost guarantee that we won’t see any more risks from that company for another decade or two.

In the end it can be all traced to one simple fact.  Publishers want games that are done quick and cheap so they can maximize their profit.  Take a look at the recent game Dishonored.  
HOLY CRAP was that concept amazing.  French Revolutionary time period with period weaponry and occult magic dealing with possession and rats?  FREAKING AWESOME!  The advertisements were good, and I was honestly hyped to get it.  But what that game COULD have been didn’t fit in with the publisher’s desires of quick and cheap, so fast deadlines were put on it and many things that could have made it one of the greatest games of recent times made it turn into a decent game with episodic missions.  LAME!  As soon as I heard what was going to become of it my hype for it diminished into nothingness.  Publishers want quicker deadlines and it doesn’t matter how ambitious the project, you must fall within that deadline at the expense of the quality of the game.  And when you are placed with an impossible deadline you have to cut something; so are you going to cut the essentials or anything new and risky?  Obviously you are going to cut out anything new and risky because you don’t want a colossal failure on your hands which produces the same generic disappointing garbage each and every time.  It’s happening everywhere with every game.

To tie this back into the modern FPS, The difference that modern FPS have when dealing with these deadlines and cutting corners is that a shooter has a very large number of necessary essential basics in order to perform what it is designed to do.  Something like an RPG game has varying degrees of what is basic and essential to the gameplay depending on the type of RPG you want to make.  When you take these two genres to their bare bones skeleton minus any bells, whistles, and new ideas and you end up with two very different skeletons.  The FPS Skeleton is very rigid and unyielding because of its nature.  It needs certain elements at all times and the bare bones of one FPS to the other is essentially the exact same.  If you strip Battlefield and Call of Duty to their bare bones there is basically no difference.   However an RPG has many different skeletons that when taken to its bare bones can be vastly different.  If you took Skyrim and Tales of Symphonia down to their minimum, you still would have two unique experiences.  It’s like having a bicycle and a car.  If you take anything superfluous away from a bicycle, they all look the exact same, but if you take away any add ons, you can still have very different cars. 

When games are given breathing room to have those added “bells and whistles” is when you create an entirely different game.  Let’s take the big four shooters from the 90’s: Doom, Quake, Unreal, and Half-Life.  Each of these is a brilliant game and I dare say few would ever complain at length about them.  They are all first person shooters but they all have a different feel to them and evoke different emotions entirely during their gameplay.  They share the exact same core mechanic/skeleton as each other but are still completely different.  Why is that?  The short answer is that TIME was spent on them.  The publishers were worried about making a good game not making money.  Money is always an issue on the table but it never took such a spotlight until recently which is why I can proudly say that I love games like Doom, and Dark Forces, but have no problem stating that I have a great distaste for First Person Shooters when I am talking about modern ones.

Along those same lines Call of Duty and Battlefield if allowed to be embellished upon are two entirely different games.  Call of Duty is more of an arcade shooter with fast paced action, and Battlefield is a slightly slower game in which the focus is all on tactics and teamwork to achieve the goal.  If left to breathe and mature there wouldn’t be a problem, but after they are run through the corporate acid machine of deadlines and quick profit we are left with just bare bones and a tiny bit of flesh trying to hang on.  That little bit of hanging flesh left isn’t anywhere near enough to be able to make a substantial difference between games and is ultimately what makes each version of both franchises the exact same thing over and over, and almost completely unrecognizable from the other franchise. 


I don’t hate the FPS genre and I’m not promoting anyone else to as well.  If you enjoy those games then fine.  Please continue to purchase them and love them for what they are.  There is always a place for a shooter in the gaming industry and I never want it to leave.  In some ways I feel kind of sorry for the genre as a whole because it is the one genre that most easily shows all of the problems with the video game industry today.  It has become the martyr that just keeps coming back for more. 

Honestly with the market for casual gamers being as strong as it is, I’m not certain how this whole “crisis” is really going to end but I would suggest that you as a gamer continue to purchase games from developers who are still out there making good games.  Producers who are taking the time to give those added bells and whistles to the games in order to make a unique and memorable experience.  Actively avoid games from publishers who are at the forerunner of this nonsense and maybe one of these days they’ll get the hint, but until then we just have to grin and bear it and hope this phase of the world all wanting to be part of “nerd culture” comes to an abrupt end.

SHEW… that took a lot of brain power and that basically made my review battery depleted.  It’s time for a recharge as I take a few weeks off.  So I hope you have an excellent Christmas, Hanukah, Kwanza, or whatever holiday you celebrate during this time of the year and I’ll see you in January for some more awesome reviews that may or may not be a FORCE to recon with.

Guess I’ll start my vacation by watching some Epic Rap Battles.
 what the??

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
If you want to see my other Video Game discussions and reviews, click here!

No comments:

Post a Comment