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Notebook: Original video game design and plot more appealing than sequels

Bethesda

By Julian Aidan, Daily Arts Writer
Published December 6, 2012

Out of about 60 video games released in November, eight didn’t rely on previously existing intellectual properties in some way. Of those eight, only two scored higher than 80 on Metacritic, a review aggregation site. While media companies have been beating dead horses in the name of profit since the inception of copyright, video game companies — especially bigger ones — are among the worst offenders.

This year has seen the release of several high-quality original games: stealthy steampunk smash hit “Dishonored,” the ambitious “Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning” and indie hits “Fez” and “Journey” have all garnered critical acclaim despite their release amid a sea of rehashes.

However, lackluster sequels and spinoffs like “Family Guy: Back to the Multiverse” and “Rabbids Land” fail to bring anything new or fun to the table, relying on familiar characters to cover up sub-par gameplay and story. Even worse, half-assed, remastered re-releases of games from previous generations (“Baldur’s Gate: Enhanced Edition,” “Under Defeat HD”) are being touted as fresh and worthwhile additions to a rapidly stagnate industry.

Sony’s decade-late attempt to cash in on the successes of the "Super Smash Bros." and "Mario Kart" series, with “PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale” and “LittleBigPlanet Karting,” have earned a 75 and 74 out of 100, respectively. But, at their core, they provide nothing but novelty in the form of familiar gameplay dressed up with different characters. In “Battle Royale,” the all-out brawl that has made the “Smash” series famous returns with Solid Snake (of “Metal Gear Solid” fame) and Jak and Daxter, stars of the eponymous series, instead of Mario, Luigi and Link. Neither game is original in the least, instead relying on existing fanbases and mimicking successful series to get attention.

It’s frustrating that players are being shortchanged and fed the same slop, release after release. The “Assassin’s Creed” and “Call of Duty” series, though unarguably highly popular and well-reviewed games, rely on the same essential mechanics again and again with slight tweaks here and there to push sales to new heights. Fortunately, it does not seem that the primary demographic these games appeal to ever gets tired of killing bad guys in the same way, year after year, whereas those seeking innovation are forced to look beyond every month’s slew of spin-offs.

There’s much to be said about the difficulties of creating a new intellectual property. If a company isn’t well established, an ambitious new title could have difficulty gathering enough steam to see the light of day. Titles that are too bizarre occasionally lack the mass appeal of “shoot the bad guy in the face”-type games. Unfortunately, high barriers to entry and difficulties with distribution have marginalized independent developers until recently.

Thankfully, it seems that some big players in the industry have recognized the need for diversification. The massively popular digital distribution platform, Steam, has begun a “Greenlight” program for which players get to help decide which games from small-name companies will be released. Multiple Kickstarter campaigns have successfully raised enough funding for several ambitious new title developments. This closer interaction between companies and consumers will hopefully result in a greater amount of high-quality, original titles in the near future being distributed via popular channels like the Xbox Live Arcade, the PlayStation Network and PC platforms like Steam and Green Man Gaming.

One can only hope that the age of sequels (and sequels of sequels) is slowly starting to draw to a close. While some may never get sick of old dogs with new tricks, greater originality, more power to gamers and independent developers paint a brighter future for players craving new horizons to explore.


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