Tuesday, 14 October 2008

A History of Computer Games, part iii.

Here we are at the third part. I think my factual discussion last time was a little lacking due to the nostalgia bomb that happens whenever I think about old games, so I’ll try harder this time.
So, in the recent past/current times, games really have to reach certain standards now to meet the demands of the players. Compared to the 80’s, 90’s, and before, most games seem to have to subscribe to some kind of narrative, whereas in the past this element wasn’t really held with much consideration. Something which makes me happy is the amount of games that have interesting or complex plots and endearing characters which add to a distinctive ambience, which really engages your emotions and makes the game more memorable, even if the gameplay wasn’t fantastic. I guess this part is of varying importance to different people, but for me, narrative elements and interesting stylisation is what I tend to go for. I’ve played a lot of RPGs, and I suppose those things are more important to people who enjoy roleplaying and enjoy characters that’re actually compelling – RPGs tend to focus on this a lot, but I’m not saying all RPGs have interesting characters, more and more are suffering from classic anime sameface syndrome but continue to be popular with a certain niche; other genres are actually doing this better now and have been for a while. Immersion has become a more important thing, and I think narrative and visual style contributes far more than photorealistic graphics.

The first game I played with a strong narrative element was Final Fantasy VII, as I’m sure it was for most people. As a 10 or 11 year old kid, I’d never heard of roleplaying before, so I was fascinated with the series for a good few years. Being immature and impressionable, I hadn’t seen much Japanese artwork before either, and I know everyone hates Nomura now for his ‘beltsanzippers’ character designs, but back then all the designs were unique from each other, whereas they stick so closely to one theme now it starts to look generic instead of just cohesive.

Years later I discovered Metal Gear series and branched out from JRPGs, though Yoji Shinkawa artwork made me pick it up. The whole cinematic feel really kept me playing, even though I’m rather poor at the actual gameplay, but there are so many characters in the series to love or hate or have some response to.

With fighting games, I think I probably go about them the entirely wrong way. I choose the characters based on the ones I like rather than who I play well as. I’m terrible playing Jin Kazama and Kazuya, but since I’ve always liked them so much I’ll still play them even if I don’t improve. Tekken is a good example of this genre where there are so many characters, they all have to be appealing and obviously they can’t all be DEEP, but their designs are always rather blunt and immediately recognisable. I like how fighting games can get away with not being subtle at all in this respect, the Guilty Gear series is probably the best example. For this series, the characters and plot are fleshed out more in side-materials like drama cds and light novels, but those are pretty foreign concepts for us. GG also has the ‘choose your own’ storylines which are popular in Japanese games, Western games don’t really seem to pursue that. Also, Daisuke Ishiwatari’s concept art for this series is amazing. [Sorry, no insert pictures, just google it or buy the artbook!]

So, I’ve missed out many many things I wanted to talk about. I wonder if I've written about the right things. Whoops, I only mentioned really popular games!

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