With the complaints from Capcom over Resident Evil 5, Konami’s confusion over why we lost our appetite for Silent Hill and the curiosity from many Japanese developers over why the West don’t buy the volume of Japanese games that we used to, I think we have to make something clear to the industry, as bloggers, consumers and critics.
Let’s start with Capcom – Resident Evil 5. Technically, there was nothing wrong with it – but it just didn’t excite, or amuse, or entertain in the way that Resident Evil 4 did. Resident Evil 5 is polished and refined, and technically brilliant – but that doesn’t mean it’s a brilliant game.
Likewise with Konami and Silent Hill – Silent Hill 1 through 3 were fantastic games, and The Room was serviceable – although Silent Hill in name only. But Homecoming, and Origins, whilst the formula was still there – they didn’t scare, or agitate, or drive in the way the series used to. Again, technically brilliant – nothing wrong with the mechanics. But not brilliant games.
Square-Enix lament that gamers rebelled against FFXIII. But this started in FFXII – FFXII is another example of a technically brilliant game, but we don’t put it in the same category as the actually quite flawed Final Fantasy VII.
The industry sometimes forgets that technical brilliance is something we all assume to come as standard now – with the size of the budgets, and the experience of the development teams at hand, we’re disappointed when a game ISN’T technically brilliant (Duke Nukem Forever, we’re looking at you!). The trick here is to transcend that technical brilliance into actual brilliance – games need verve, personality, wit, charm, charisma, humour, aggression and so much more. A truly great game is like a person – the design of the human anatomy is incredible, but we all know this. It’s what is inside that counts, how it comes across, and that is how we judge it.
So many times we see games developers blame the consumers for so many problems in terms of lack of sales, and they have spent years piling blame onto piracy, second-hand sales and the internet pack mentality. And yet at no point do any of these so-called genii (that IS the technically correct plural) actually take responsibility for their own actions. IN a world that blames everyone else for their own ineptitude, the games industry is trying desperately to shirk their own responsibility onto something or someone else.
Thing is, the likes of Final Fantasy XIII, Resident Evil 5, Silent Hill Homecoming and such forth aren’t technically terrible. We can admire them as works of brilliance, technical achievements that dwarf many other titles in the world. They are incredibly well coded, well crafted pieces of quality workmanship.
But it’s that old quandary, isn’t it? “What Is Art?” A painting isn’t automatically considered art, in much the same way a successful game isn’t always considered brilliant (Modern Warfare says hi). It isn’t enough to make a technically brilliant game, a bug-free game, a refined game.
Dead Island is the best example of this, and is very current (to my good fortune). It’s technically NOT brilliant. It’s buggy. It’s kind of awkward and clunky, has a wildly inappropriate difficulty curve and it doesn’t always reward our efforts.
So why is it one of the biggest games of the year? Why did it sell out? Why do the vast majority of gamers hail it as a masterpiece?
Because, despite its technical flaws, it’s fun. Simple, unadulterated fun. A simple concept, executed at an above-average level, with plenty to do and plenty to see, with plenty of ways to dispatch zombies and plenty of quirky little jokes and references along the way to really sink your teeth into.
Other than that, who knows? Maybe, and I’m loathe to use the term, it just has the X-Factor. Something about it just makes it work, and you can’t pin it down. It just has it.
The problem isn’t that devs aren’t making technically brilliant games. They are. But in that, perhaps some of the soul and passion is missing that lifts games from good to great, and great to perfect.
The concern of consumers is that gaming is now a business for the sake of business, rather than a business providing entertainment.
Technical perfection isn’t always there to see. That’s often when you need the rest of a game – the plot, the characters, the concept, the combat, the enemies – to take over and charm the gamer.
It is in this that many in the industry have forgotten… and until they remember that games are meant to entertain, excite and be there for our enjoyment, few of them will ever really make anything amazing ever again.
Games need to be fun once again. Not graphical tape-measuring.