Friday, November 28, 2008


Most of the best-selling games these days are sequels. A lot of people don't like that.

I think it's a sign of the industry's health: it's a good sign that the first game did well enough to fund the second game, the third game, however many games come out. It's true that it seems like most people only buy sequels to games they've already played, but that doesn't mean there are no new, creative games. It just means they aren't as well marketed. In many cases (Psychonauts, cough) this dooms them to die a horrible death, but that's true even if there are no sequels running around.

For me, I like sequels because I know what to expect. I'm a little disappointed by how WELL I know what to expect, but that's a different matter. The point is that, in general, sequels are strong games made by a strong, experienced team working with an IP and tech base they are very experienced with. They're successful because they're usually quite good.

If I want to be surprised by something, I buy something that doesn't have a number in the title. Usually, I buy strictly indie games on that front: I'm nervous buying anything like, say, Mirror's Edge, because they tend to have the worst of both worlds: an inexperienced team working beneath a "creative board" that cripples any creative impulses. Creative games with inexperienced teams are fine, clones with experienced teams are fine, but clones with inexperienced teams? No thanks.

(Obviously, Mirror's edge wasn't a clone... but it was definitely rough, especially in the "writing" department. I put it in quotes because I would hesitate to call that "writing".)

For me, there is an interesting edge to new games, games that aren't cycling through an old IP. And this relates to my last post about "full characters", actually. A new game will typically revolve around some powerful organizing concept (often the main character's weird abilities) and will therefore have a very unique flavor.

Even if an IP is quite good, that doesn't happen in sequels. The powerful organizing concept might be there in the first game, but after that, it's pretty familiar, pretty well explored. There's a push to keep the nth game feeling like the nth-1 game, and that means that the edge wears off even as the team starts to come together and polish the game to a shine.

I wonder if it's possible to build an IP that explores weird new games, an IP that keeps its edge no matter how many games you release. I have a sneaking suspicion that even if you managed to come up with a way to do it, it would be instantly derailed the moment you became a success as the well-meaning (greedy) board of directors gets its talons into the project.



Michel said...

I can think of a few huge IPs that did not remain stale in appearance or gameplay:

Far Cry
Company of Heroes (the next expansion turns it from RTS to RTTactical)

As for an IP that explores weird new games, of course it's possible. Nintendo has been doing it with Mario for 25 years.

Craig Perko said...

I have to strongly disagree. I don't consider graphical upgrades to be involved in this at all, and all of your examples have stayed more or less the same in terms of gameplay, slowly evolving (or, in the case of Fallout, devolving).

I'm not familiar with the unreleased expansion of Company of Heroes, maybe it breaks the mold, but it would be very unusual.

Mario is an interesting case. I'm not sure what to think of the Mario IP. It's a complex topic, but it should be remembered that a lot of Mario's games were iterations: it wasn't until after many games had been released that they started to release weird games and break the mold. It'll be the same with Halo, if they ever come out with that Halo "RTS".

I would love to read people's thoughts on those kinds of IP, and people's predictions as to how they'll age.

I should have been clearer in my post, though: even Megaman has gone through graphical upgrades. I don't consider "being forced to stay vaguely current" at all related to "new and interesting gameplay"... Especially since most IP go out of their way to make their graphical upgrade ape the old play style as closely as possible.

Greg Tannahill said...

Final Fantasy did a pretty good job for most of its iterations. It kept a unique feel which allowed it to enjoy strong branding, while still developing unique mechanics and original stories in each new iteration.

Unfortunately (a) experimentation does occasionally lead to duds, and (b) Squeenix seems to be getting really money-focused recently and the endless Final Fantasy spin-offs and remakes are getting conservative, mostly to their detriment.

Greg Tannahill said...

Oh, and "that Halo RTS" is out next (I think) February, and while I'm expecting to enjoy Halo Wars I have a feeling the franchise as a whole is going to start heading down the dark path of such previously well-liked franchises as Mortal Kombat and Tomb Raider.

Craig Perko said...

Which FFs had original stories?

Everything since FF6 has had THE SAME MAIN CHARACTER, with the exception of FF9 (you know, the unpopular one). It's an empty character, a window character.

The plots are always "save the world, get the girl" or some variation thereof, the gameplay is always close to identical.

I admit that FF The Dressup Game was pretty unique, but that didn't stem from the characters or the IP so much as the idea of appealing to fanboys. Similarly, FF The MMOG had very different mechanics from normal FF games, but they weren't new and interesting mechanics, they were just standard mechanics from the MMOG industry.

The gameplay does vary, but it varies within it's tiny little radius, no more than any other IP.

I admit that FF12 had a fairly interesting "programmatic" approach I really liked... but the rest of the game was stardard FF fare, including the painfully empty main character.

Occasionally FF will wander off and do something weird, like have a card game or something, but these are not the main play dynamics. They're add-ons that are careful to leave the main play dynamics exactly the same.

Craig Perko said...

I do admit that the FF games are VERY ATMOSPHERIC, and they take care to keep their worlds fairly unique from game to game. I appreciate that, but I'm not a big fan of who I'm forced to BE in the world. I'd rather be someone other than a whiny teenager. Anybody, really.

Greg Tannahill said...

FFs have stories in the same genre, and they explore a lot of the same themes (identity, authority, the balance of man and nature) but they're a long way from being the same story. Cloud and Squall are pretty similar, which is where the "same main character" thing comes from, I think, but then you look at Tidus, who's a long way from being uptight and is in fact pretty chatty. He's got father issues and he's trying to work out what he's meant to do in life. Whatsisface from 12 was a rubbish and forgettable character, but was certainly not the same guy from previous games.

They're not necessarily good stories, but they're stories, and they're different.

But ultimately, yes, if you're not a fan of the whiny teenager then FF is not going to impress you. A franchise can't, ultimately, be all things to all people while still maintaining anything unifying it as a franchise.

Craig Perko said...

Yeah, I'm overly harsh on the series because, unlike 90% of the populace, I played FF6 before I played FF7. At the time, it was my favorite game behind Crono Trigger.

Which means I found FF7 boring and stupid, FF8 even worse, FF9 slightly better, and then off downhill again.

Sort of the same way that I'm not a big fan of Bioshock. Because, you know, I compare it to System Shock II in my head and giggle.