Genre in video games is one of the items that
critics both love and hate, and gamers as well.
In one sense, Genre can be an incredibly good
thing. It helps gamers decide quickly whether or not they'll like the
basic premise of a game. It helps critics, in the span of a sentence or
two, hand out a sweeping generalization of the gameplay options inherent
in the game.
That said, Genre can also be a way to hamstring
games. Some great games never really fit into a single genre, and are
stuck on the sidelines because of it. Some never even get made, because
execs who approve the titles are looking for a "it's like <insert game
title that sold well here>" somewhere in the pitch for the game.
Back in November, the Guardian posted up a list
ten endangered genres, species of game that they felt were in
serious decline. A few months later, the landscape hasn't changed all
that much, and so it's good to take a look back. I'll touch on a few of
the genres I think the Guardian goofed on, and then a few genres I'd
like to see revived.
The Guardian thought that Fighting games -
Street Fighter or otherwise - are in serious decline. Truthfully,
however, that can't quite be the case. A new Dead or Alive is coming.
Capcom's got the
next SNK vs Capcom title coming as well as Capcom Fighting Evolution
to bring back Street Fighter and Darkstalkers characters, and it looks
like they've gone back to basics - no more hyper-numerous teams, just
1-on-1 fighting goodness. A favorite title for tournament play continues
to be Soul Calibur 2, for obvious reasons; the sheer variety of
characters and play styles leaves plenty of room for enjoyment.
God Games/RTS Titles
Purists may argue with this, but I tend to put
God Games and RTS titles in the same category. Why do I do this? Well,
honestly, it's that the two started from the same source - a little old
game called Populous.
Populous didn't let players directly control their henchmen, just give
orders and incentives, to win the world (along with causing calamities
for the other side). From this basic arrangement sprung SimCity, the
Sims, Starcraft, Warcraft... you can see the elements of each inside of
a play-through of Populous.
Arguably, the genres have split, but there's
still plenty of room for both to flourish. Rome: Total War, for
instance, combined standard RTS play with a Civ-style between-rounds
setup, brilliantly done. There's plenty of room for pure simulation
games along the lines of Rollercoaster Tycoon to flourish. The trick for
creators will be to keep them fun, and find the right balance of
advancement to keep players interested. And of course the Sims just
keeps going strong, even though Sims Online didn't do so well. This is
one genre that isn't nearly as dead as the Guardian thought.
Cute Character-Based Adventures
I'm going to disagree with the Guardian on this
one, but not for the reason most players will think. Despite the
Guardian's take that the characters themselves were no longer
compelling, I'm sure that the ongoing success of Mario, the current
success of Sly Cooper, and even Viewtiful Joe to some extent put the lie
to their point.
No, I'm going to offer the following: recent
attempts at cute character games have suffered, not because of the cute
character, but because the designers relied on the character rather than
the gameplay to sell the game. I really do believe it's that simple.
Take a few more examples from back in "the day", whichever day you want
to take. We can go with Oddworld, admittedly strange, but nobody can
claim Abe doesn't have a certain amount of "cute" to him. Yet, what
really was impressive about the Oddworld games was the fun in solving
each level as a puzzle, and the fact that the puzzles were well
laid-out. Go with each successive Mario title: the reason they sell well
isn't that the fat plumber is in them, it's that gamers know to a
certain extent that it's a game they'll enjoy, that someone spent time
on trying to make it fun. Super Mario Sunshine may not have been quite
as good on pure merits as Super Mario 64, but the effort was there, and
it was certainly worth playing through at least once.
Now for a few hybrids...
The RTS/FPS Hybrid
We were all hoping, originally, that
Starcraft: Ghost would go
this way. Thankfully, since they've taken the game back to formula, that
still be the case.
The last time we saw this tried out, it was
Activision's excellent Battlezone series. On modern hardware, the games
are superb, even if back then they chugged a little. The AI was passable
if not brilliant, the idea of commanding your troops from the ground
and/or using your own vehicles likewise. In fact, there's a lot to be
said for the gameplay of that series that hasn't been seen since. The
closest we've come was S2 Games'
Savage, which took the AI
out of the equation by taking large numbers of players online to be the
"units" and letting one guy man the top-level RTS stuff.
The Vehicle Title
To some extent, this stuff has come back to us
in the form of the Grand Theft Auto series. But it's not JUST that
series. Admittedly, there were some pretty bad titles in this line, such
as Wreckless. In fact, part of the pitfall of this setup has always been
that the controls are harder to do than your standard FPS or
third-person platform game.
The "Giant Robot" genre, part of this mix, has
all but vanished. Microsoft's development on Mechwarrior 5 was killed
off for the piece of crap known as MechAssault. Heavy Gear never really
went anywhere. In like vein, Lucasarts abandoned the "Interstate"
series (cars with lots of guns) after the sequel, Interstate '82, didn't
do as well as the original.
It's a pity, because these games were BIG in
their time. Mechwarrior 2 is still fondly remembered by many gamers, and
there are still a decent number of players who enjoy and code new
expansion packs of 'Mechs for the Mechwarrior 4: Mercenaries engine.
Part of the problem for Mechwarrior 5 is that Wizkids, who bought the
Battletech universe after FASA died, have retooled it into Mechwarrior:
Dark Age (soon to become Mechwarrior: Age of Destruction) and were
actively trying to kill off the old storyline/universe even as
Mechwarrior 4: Mercenaries was proving that it had a lot left to give to
gamers. Shame on you, Wizkids.
The Turn-Based RPG
With Square abandoning turn-based play for
FFXII, instead trying to make a single-player version of their online
game FFXI, what will become of the turn-based RPG?
Well, we can expect it to continue to a limited
extent on handheld areas: the Game Boy Advance, for instance, and Game
Boy DS as well. We can also expect a few rogue design companies who have
ex-Square employees on their staff to do their part. For instance, we
were recently gifted with the awesome and exemplary Shadow Hearts:
Covenant (aka Shadow Hearts II).
But for the vast majority of titles, it seems
that RPG gameplay is heading more and more towards real-time combat,
either in the vein that Square has developed, or the d20 system
conversions that Bioware gave us and which have been translated to
numerous Dungeons and Dragons titles, as well as the recent X-men RPG.
Will turn-based gameplay remain viable? I can hope, but the future seems
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