About games and gaming thereof!

Apparently New Games Suck

If you frequent The Escapist then you’ve probably seen MovieBob’s show, The Big Picture. He had a “junk drawer” episode last week where he talked about a bunch of random things, and there’s one thing he mentioned in particular that caused me to make the face you see above. And the pose. And the fire. Here, let me just quote him.

I don’t mind that Super Mario 3D’s version of the Tanooki Suit doesn’t turn you into a statue anymore. You know why? Because the important thing is that Mario is wearing a pudgy animal costume that invests him with powers having zero relation to the animal in question. That’s why. This sort of crazy nonsense used to be the bread and butter of video games, and it’s been absent for way too long as far as I’m concerned. You know how much better Gears of War would be if Marcus would put on a koala costume that shot a freeze ray at people? A lot.

I really don’t want to turn this into a MovieBob hate post (although he’s certainly given me many reasons to make one) but that statement of his really sticks out in my mind. In a bad way. And I know he’s at least partially joking about it, but it infuriates me nonetheless.

Throughout the net I’ve heard about a million different renditions of the argument “_______ used to be EVERYWHERE in video games, and now it’s GONE, and that’s why new games SUCK.” The mental image it always gives me is that of an old man tensely gripping his walking stick and lecturing the youngin’s on all the things that are wrong with their generation.

I think what MovieBob said deserves special mention because it’s probably the most bullshitty example I’ve ever heard, but you’ll hear shit like this everywhere. Apparently video games suck now because they don’t make you so frustrated that you want to break your controller in half, and because they don’t have confusing, unintuitive and obnoxious level design (okay, I don’t actually think that a shooter should use one long corridor as its level design, but having played games like Thief and Unreal lately I can testify that those games would be far, far better if they simply gave you a decent map to look at).

But I think the most egregiously stupid argument I’ve heard against new games, the one that enrages me the most, is the “handholding” complaint. Whenever I hear someone say “it doesn’t hold your hand” in defense of a game I just want to slap that person in the face. I think the Extra Credits team put it very well: “Game designers are teachers. If you can’t design a good tutorial, you probably don’t have any business making a triple-A game.” And yet when I don’t know what to do in an old game, apparently that’s my fault because I was expecting the game to “hold my hand.”

Whenever I hear someone say “This is a ‘read the manual’ kind of game,” to me that’s equivocal to saying “This is a ‘crappy’ kind of game.”

I don’t think old games inherently suck. If I did I wouldn’t be doing my whole ongoing voyage into old classics. But I don’t think they’re inherently better than new games either. Yeah, some old games are absolutely fantastic. Deus Ex blew my mind. But that’s not because it was old. It’s because the designers had some really innovative design philosophy. If that game was made nowadays it would probably have smaller levels, but I’m willing to bet they could still do all that gameplay-story integration that I loved so much, even with all the current-gen graphics demands.

And I’ve got to say, as fun as some of these old games I’ve played are, they really don’t hold up to some of the newer games I’ve played lately. Half-Life was undoubtedly an awesome game, but I’d choose Portal 2 over it any day. Stealing riches in Thief is quite exciting indeed, but not nearly as much as sneaking into a cathedral and assassinating a target in Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood. In my opinion anyway.

It’s fine to like old games more than new games. Everyone’s entitled to their own opinion. But I’m really getting fed up with this notion that new games are always, always crap when compared to old games, because that mentality just seems rooted in arrogance and nostalgia.

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7 responses

  1. I think I can see a pretty obvious problem with movie bob’s statement. That crazy nonsense isn’t gone, its in the same place it always was, Japanese games. Why? Because its a different culture. Gears of war wouldn’t have a koala suit that gives him a random power because western developers are fundamentally different than Japanese ones. I haven’t kept up with the latest Nintendo games, but Legend of Zelda: Twilight princess had plenty of crazy nonsense, and I’m sure their more recent games have plenty as well. Using an older example, Katamari Damacy is the craziest nonsense ever in a game, but I doubt anyone in North America would ever have come up with that.

    Basically his statement is flawed because he’s seeing a problem that doesn’t exist. He’s just looking at the wrong games.

    And instead of criticizing movie bob, I could actually comment on the point you’re making…good stuff.

    June 29, 2011 at 2:19 PM

    • JPH

      Nah, your points were on-topic, I’d say. And you made good points, too.

      Though I will say that there is some crazy nonsense to be had in Western video games, depending on where you look. I mean, just look at ‘Splosion Man. That’s like crazy nonsense concentrated to a weaponized level.

      June 29, 2011 at 2:49 PM

  2. Falcon

    I’m going to counter both arguments, yours and his.

    First let me say that the core assertion of what Bob said (and not nessicarily his intent) which is games today could use more whimsy and charm than most have, is right. Take any Tim Schaffer game, remove the quirkiness and sly (or crude sometimes) humor and they are average at best. Yet they are often considered classics. In that sense he is right, we could do with more of that in games today. That’s all TF2 is really, but because of the humor present I can’t help but to have more fun compared to the srs bsns most shooters attempt for.

    That said I’ll take my Mario along side my Mass Effect. Thing is while not everything needs to be serious neither does everything need silly.

    As far as old games not always being better, true, but as you noted there is certainly merit in the classics. There are some things old games DID do better, and have fallen off as of late. Open quest options peaked in the RPGs of the late 90s, space combat hasn’t been surpassed since the same time. Adventure games died off, and while that was self inflicted stupidity, it caused a hole in games until recent travelers tales games, which tend to be good, but not quite as great. Puzzle games have had a few quirky outsiders, but we’re still mostly using the same basic formulas of 2 decades ago. Point being there is merit to some older is better discussion, by and large it tends to be pointless bitching.

    June 29, 2011 at 8:46 PM

    • JPH

      In response to your comment about TF2, it definitely is my favorite competitive shooter, but not because of its whimsical style. It’s my favorite because of its brilliant variety of character classes and play styles.

      And yes, there are genres of games that were better in the old days. Though I can’t really empathize with any of the examples you gave. I’m not sure if I’ve ever played a true space combat game, and I’ve never liked point & click adventure games. And I think RPGs have gotten better over the years. Not in terms of open quest options, but just in terms of functioning competently and intuitively.

      June 29, 2011 at 10:56 PM

      • Falcon

        I agree overall RPGs have gotten better, but with Bioware setting the trend for AAA RPGs we have lost a bit. Great characters and dialogue, terribly limited options and odd railroading. Obsidian does open, but they are so buggy I really can’t get into them. Put the options of Black Isle games into a modern Bioware title and I might just die from joy.

        June 30, 2011 at 2:02 AM

        • JPH

          I absolutely agree on that. On one hand we have companies like Bioware that offer games with solid gameplay and story but little freedom, and on the other hand we have companies like Bethesda and Obsidian that offer freedom as well as bugs and shoddy design. It’s really a shame we can’t have both freedom and functionality.

          One of these days I’m gonna go back and give Baldur’s Gate 2 another shot.

          June 30, 2011 at 2:46 AM

  3. Sumanai

    That Metroid video really makes it hard to see straight and not rage about it. But I’ll try to focus.

    “Whenever I hear someone say “This is a ‘read the manual’ kind of game,” to me that’s equivocal to saying “This is a ‘crappy’ kind of game.”

    I don’t agree with this point fully, because I find it really difficult to imagine a grand strategy game with a proper tutorial that actually covers all the important bits. If only because there are so many important bits. Not to say they wouldn’t be improved by one, but I find it hard to blame them, when I can’t come up with a tutorial myself.

    But I understand where that comes from, since there are many games that are ultimately simple, but the interface and/or lack of any kind of a tutorial forces the player to slog through a manual. Which is often not half as well written as people or its makers think.

    July 15, 2011 at 8:37 AM

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