Are FPSes the enemy?

A man of many talents, Hideo Kojima is best known for his pioneering work in the stealth-action genre with the Metal Gear franchise. In a recent interview with Official PlayStation Magazine he expressed his concern with the state of the video game industry and how first-person shooters are the dominating force, making it harder for original ideas to blossom. Kojima told the mag that there are only about ten big name games that can grab the public’s attention and that Japan-centric games will find it hard to compete with them.

“I think it’s more consumer demand – right now, consumers are happy with what they have. First-person shooters sell like crazy, so there’s not really a strong demand for anything else, and that’s why [original ideas] stop being made. People are satisfied with making minor upgrades and tweaking things here and there – as long as that’s the landscape, it will keep on happening. I don’t see a problem necessarily, but at the same time it is nice to see new things come.”

While I agree that the FPS genre is a hard one to beat it’s also hard to master and the number of titles that can get away with incremental updates gets less every year. Take the most famous shooter series, Call of Duty. The third Modern Warfare release sold very well and floats nicely near the top of the charts but the excitement for the franchise is definitely wearing thin. I’ve hardly seen it appear in my Friends’ Lists of games on Xbox Live and the general buzz about it felt less enthusiastic than last year. Partly due to the other big military shooter and partly because gamers do look as if they want something more than an FPS. The relatively poor sales for id’s Rage eludes to this as does the fact that Skyrim took the Christmas number one spot in the UK’s all format Chart not to mention the almost universal praise of Portal 2 throughout the year.

But it’s fair to say that publishers who are keen to make a quick sale will often go down the FPS route whether the game calls for it or not. And shooting in general is a mechanic that is found in the vast majority of titles. Though I would say that just because the wider audience gobble up a first-person-shooter, that doesn’t mean developers should exclusively cater for them. Yes it makes far better business sense in the short term but a great original game will resonate with the masses regardless of genre. The aforementioned Skyrim shows this as does the Assassin’s Creed series. The latter may be experiencing its own stagnation but has been very profitable and playable for both publisher and consumer.

Kojima added how that a digital distribution method or even off-shoot could be a good way of getting new ideas out with less risk than traditional releases.

“Maybe for new ideas, the way to do it is [by] releasing things via online services first and then seeing how people react to that. Or even if you’re making something from a game-design perspective that’s completely different, you could tie it to an existing franchise – like even if it had the Metal Gear Solid title, it could be completely different. Maybe you can make a Batman game that has the Batman title, but you can still be free with what you make the game into. Making something that’s completely new – where the gameplay, the characters, the world, everything is completely from scratch – that’s very hard to realise in this day and age.”

Batman is an interesting example used because Rocksteady’s Arkham Asylum and Arkham City are two huge successes. I may not have been as wowed by Asylum, City has been a joy to play and the franchise took very big risks with the potentially repetitive combat and lack of stereotypical content. Like how there is now Batmobile in either games. If asked what a Batman game would feature before 2010, I would have expected there to be a driving level complete with a poorly handled Batmobile. For all intense purposes, you could view the Arkham series as an off-shoot to the typical Batman or indeed action-adventure-brawler game. Kojima mentioned a Metal Gear Solid title that was completely different and while Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance isn’t part of the ‘Solid’ collective, it’s still very a Metal Gear game that, from what we’ve seen, will play quite differently.

I do very much enjoy a good first-person shooter and understand Kojima’s frustrations, equally wanting to experience some new and interesting ideas in gaming. Luckily, BioShock Infinite is set for to come out this year and from what Ken Levine’s team have done in the past, it should be a good combination of FPS ideas with new ways to play them. Perhaps a better way of combating the languishing genre is to take a similar approach rather than admitting defeat.

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Nintendo E3 press conference 2011: My highlights

Before Nintendo’s press event began, I readied my 3DS for the long-awaited firmware update and eShop scheduled for today. I hoped that during the conference, Nintendo would reveal some special download available as an E3 treat of sorts and they did just that. Kind of…

The show started with an orchestra playing a medley of music from The Legend of Zelda series. It was great to hear such classic tunes in such a classical way and as Shigeru Miyamoto pointed out when he came on stage, music is an important part of any Zelda game. But onto the eShop treat and as of today, The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening will be available to download. Yes, okay, we knew that was coming but another reason to check out the eShop nonetheless.

Nintendo president Satoru Iwata teased information regarding their new system all through the conference but hesitated to mention anything until the last third. Until then, he and his colleagues focused on the 3DS showing a reel of games coming to the handheld such as Mario Kart 3D, Star Fox 64 3D, Super Mario 3D, Kid Icarus and the surprise announcement, Luigi’s Mansion 2. An actual sequel to the critically acclaimed GameCube game with brand new locations and multiple mansions to explore. I never got round to playing the first game but it’s one of those titles that Nintendo fans always wished would get a sequel. And now it has. Mario Kart 3D looked a lot like the Wii version mixing old and new tracks but this time all in 3D. I’ll definitely buy it, probably get royally peed off by the blue shells and enemy AI but still love it to bits. Super Mario 3D once again treads within familiar Mario territory and is a cross between New Super Mario Bros and Galaxy if the gameplay video was anything to go by. And the inclusion of the Tanooki suit is now official. Joy! Another game that had fans pandering for a sequel was Kid Icarus and the latest footage of that looked really very slick. Quick, fast past action akin to Sin and Punishment. Sounds good huh? It’ll also feature a multiplayer mode for three-n-three matches as well as AR card battles.

That was the first party line up but what of third parties? Nintendo were quick to plaster publisher names everywhere at last E3 so this time we expect some actual footage. And we got a bit. A montage of games spooled across the big screen showing things like Resident Evil Revelations, Tekken 3D, Ace Combat 3D (Woo!!), and Metal Gear Solid Snake Eater 3D. What’s more is that part of Nintendo’s eShop will house demos of both 3DS downloadable games and store bought titles. Hooray! Nintendo have finally learnt the importance of having demos readily available.

But the big announcement of the night was of course the new system. The successor to the Wii. The brand new way to interact with games. The future of both casual and hardcore experiences. The Wii U…. The wha? Yep, Nintendo went for a name more like a child’s impression of a fire engine than legitimate console but, like we learned at Sony’s press conference, there really is no good way to name your device anymore. More importantly, the way you control the Wii U is its real asset. It’s basically a tablet with buttons. For months, it’s been rumoured such a controller exists but no one really quite believed it. A touchscreen in the middle of a controller surrounded by buttons, a d-pad and analog sticks? Are you mad? I guess so because that’s just what we’re getting. The device isn’t a replacement for the 3DS, that would be ludicrous, it needs the Wii U unit, which looks like a smaller, rounded Wii, to stream information to it lag free (or so Nintendo promises) so you can either play games on the controller instead of your HD TV or together with it. There’s an immediate gimmicky quality about that but really, the potential for this new piece of hardware is through the roof. If the right developer can get hold of it, we could see some very interesting ideas.

Graphically, the Wii U will be comparable to the Xbox 360 and PS3 but Nintendo didn’t give any specifics on its power. They did show a video supposedly representative of what it can do which looked like something you’d see on today’s HD systems but it’s hard to really say since it was a show reel not in-game footage. But to show that Nintendo weren’t kidding when they said about appealing to every gamer not just the casual, they finished off the initial announcement videos of Wii Sports-like titles and went on to show a load of third party, hardcore releases that can also be found on the other HD systems like Darksiders 2, Batman Arkham city, Ghost Recon online, Assassins Creed, Dirt, Aliens: Colonial Marines, Metro Last Light, Tekken and Ninja Gaiden 3. Most if not all those games were gory in one way or another but the fact they’re coming to the Xbox 360 and PS3 means whatever fancy way of utilising the new controller can’t be too obscure otherwise Nintendo would be right back where they are with the Wii forcing devs to make alternative version of their games rather than straight ports.

All in all, Nintendo once again had the best press conference of all three major platform holders because of the first party titles and interesting new console. But from now on we can confidently mention third party games in that list of exiting reveals at a Nintendo conference. The Wii U should not only rid Nintendo of the gap between their hardware and everyone else’s but add a whole new and intriguing way experience its games. Well, that’s my hope for it anyway…

Elder Scrolls 5, Mass Effect 3 and a very tired writer

The 2010 Spike Video Game Awards have just finished and here in England it’s really really late. So late that I won’t even begin to pad this article out with fancy words I found in a thesaurus but will simply give you the facts in all their glory. And glorious they are with the announcement of Elder Scrolls V that came with its very own release date too. November 11th 2011. There goes my winter! Mass Effect 3 may no longer have been a surprise but it was still really cool to see it at the show. Read on for all the reveals and titbits at this year’s VGAs as well as a couple of debut trailers too including Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception. Enjoy, I’m off to bed!

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