I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately
…since I purchased my PS 4 just last month. Combining that with the recent debut of the Final Fantasy 7 remake trailer, I can’t help but compare the current topology of games available today from the kinds of games available for the PS1 shortly after its release. Released when I was just a teenager, the PS1 was a very critical system for me in that it was almost exclusively the inspiration and reasoning for me becoming a game developer. I’m sure that I’m not the only one that feels this way, being that the indie game developer community is bigger now than it has ever been.
The PS4 is no doubt an insanely powerful system, but something feels just very off to me when I look at all the games that are available for the system today. Some of them are just downright amazing: Fallout 4, MGS V, GTA V, and the upcoming Uncharted 4. But, its starting to feel to me like everything, the entire drastic universe of gaming that I once knew, has shrunken into a single genre of game. The “movie” game. Think about it. It’s almost impossible to find a AAA game nowadays that does not play and feel just like a movie. Every modern game nowadays feels like a giant spectacle encased in the all-too-familiar wrapper of FPS. Every game …feels the same to me. Right stick, look around, press buttons, interact, wait for storyline, rinse and repeat.
The “big production” feel of modern gaming is great, and I understand why AAA games play this way now, but…. I feel like all the other genres have been straight ripped away from me. Where are the Final Fantasy Tactics? Where are the Alundras? What happened to Metroid-vania? Where are my true classic-feel PS1-style JRPGs (not action RPGs) sans voice acting? Why do you have to be able to get out of the damn car, or jet and suddenly be in a giant open world and be able to do every single thing in every single game? Why have some of my favorite menu-driven games been completely replaced with all action all the time? The arcade feel of doing “one thing” in a game but doing it astoundingly well seems lost on this console generation. It seems like nowadays, the only company dedicated to game genre individuality is Nintendo… and their Wii U is losing.
It’s obvious that the main culprit for this phenomenon is sheer complexity. Much like with movies, AAA games are such a big, expensive production, that only the biggest and best ideas make it to the production stage, and usually require damn-near the entire resource pool of a studio to produce it. Simply put, nobody has time for, nor would sign off on, a simpler game nowadays. No voice acting? Turn based? You’ve got to be kidding right? That’s way too niche to gamble a million dollar budget on! It’s only going to cost a fraction of that? Well we can’t afford to divert resources away from “Call of Duty 12: A slightly more-dank meme, brah”.
So what is there to be done?
I think… that it’s up to us.
It’s no secret that modern big-budget gaming is headed in a direction that will grow increasingly casual, and increasingly uniform in experience. Indie game developers have an opportunity here to bring back some of our favorite genres. It’s already started to happen and the resurgence has been glorious. Little islands here and there of great independent game studios are popping up. Indie game developers are receiving more press from bigger media than they ever have before, affording them the opportunity to do something truly great and have it reach their intended audience. We don’t have to (nor could we) manage the insane complexity level that AAA studios have to face. 3D game development technology is far more accessible today than it was in the late 90′s. For this reason, we can get a small office of people together today and tackle in a few months what would take a whole PS1-era company a few years to make.. and with that, create something so awesome and unique, that it could disrupt the gaming market, and remind the AAA publishers how they got into this business in the first place.
Just like in the PS1 days, only the fittest will survive, but the best works of this “indie” generation, will likely live on for many generations to come.. possibly longer than some of the safer-played AAA titles coming out today.
I think it’s finally time that we, as both developers and consumers, forego our allegiances to some of the “golden franchises” such as Castlevania, and Final Fantasy, and let todays generation of indie games pave the way for what will hopefully be remembered as the golden age of indie gaming.