Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Are weird games better?

Here's my topic for today (via Dueling Analogs).

Now, and I've only just watched this video a couple minutes ago so I haven't had much time to mull it over. But I'm going to jot down a few thoughts anyway; this is an interesting topic.

I like weird games too. I'm not sure I agree with some of these reasons.

For one thing, rarity doesn't seem to be an issue. Most "weird" games today are developed by indie studios and distributed digitally. If you want them, you just have to go to the website and poof--a couple clicks later, it's downloading onto your computer.

"Keeping games longer" doesn't seem like a thing either. Again, I'm not renting or returning these games because it's all digital downloads now. And I'm not really worried about what non-gamers think of my games.

Originality is definitely a thing, though. Some games do things that I've never seen before, or present an old concept in a new way. I certainly don't think this is inherently a good thing--I've played games that were new and fascinating and totally unappealing to me. Trying new things can lead to disappointment. But trying new things is also how you discover new things to love.

When I was younger, I mostly played Pokémon, Zelda, and Sonic. Imagine what I'd be stuck with if those were the only franchises I still played today. Zelda is in decline and fraying at the edges--what have we got now, Spirit Tracks and Skyward Sword? Definitely on the weak side. The series is showing its age. As for Pokémon, well, I can't say it's gotten worse because frankly, it hasn't gotten anywhere. It seems like every new Pokémon game I play is the exact same experience as the last one. It may not be in a downward spiral, but it's certainly stagnant. If they re-released Gold and Silver as new games, I bet nobody would even blink. Huh, wait, hang on...uh...well, anyway, I guess I probably don't even need to talk about Sonic the Hedgehog.

So trying new things is obviously good, Captain Obvious.

But it's pretty rare for a big mainstream title to do something new. Most games re-tread the well-trodden soil because blazing new trails is risky and risk is scary. It's the "weird" games that explore the unexplored corners of gaming, those great swaths of virgin design space waiting to be mined.

...On the other hand, there's also the problem that a lot of the big titles today aren't good. When the choice is between a game that's well-polished and fun, but derivative, vs. a game that's not quite perfect, but does something original, you've got a debate on your hands. But if the derivative one isn't well-polished and fun, uh, that's kind of awkward. Especially when you're paying ten times as much for it.

Of course, I may be conflating "unoriginal" with "big-budget AAA". There's lots of totally unoriginal games from tiny indie developers. It's hard to generalize in that space. Some, like Defense Grid, take their well-worn concept and execute it superbly well. Others, like Ballistic or whatever it's called, end up being mediocre and forgettable.

Now I've boarded the ramble train and I'm losing my topic. So, weird games are cool. Sometimes they're not cool. You don't know until you try. Whereas non-weird games are mostly predictable. There's ups and downs on both sides. The formula is only a formula because it works; on the other hand, if you always know what the game's going to be like before you even turn it on, there's no chance of discovering a hidden gem. My point is that it's good to try a variety of games and, like, stuff.

Scattered thoughts tonight, but interesting topic, though, right?

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