Tuesday, July 04, 2006

The maybe death of the quirky explorational adventure

I read an interview on Gamasutra today with Ron Gilbert that made my heart hurt a little. I was elated to find it in the first place-I remembered him well as one of the major developers from Maniac Mansion and Monkey Island. Gamasutra asked him what games out there were really making an impression on him, and he couldn't come up with one. Now, perhaps he might come off bitter to the average reader, but what he had to say struck a nerve for me.

"And if I'm playing a game that is built around a story, (and it's not like games have to have story by any means,) but if I'm playing a game that is about the story, I have to know that story was crafted by somebody. I want to know that story means something. And I think one of the problems that a lot of developers get into is that… I think people don't have a really good understanding of how to pace an interactive story. So you get into these situations where you've got a series of events that make up the story, but they're not paced very well. Things don't flow correctly through them, and you see these weird kinds of jerky starts and stops in the drama. I think that's what can makes interactive storytelling really not appeal to a lot of people. If you kind of unravel it all, it's just bad storytelling."

So the awareness of story being pushed to the back burner is definately out there. In a way, it's gratifying to hear a developer I respect actually expressing disappointment over this. I certainly don't think it's going to revolutionize the industry by any means. On the other hand, it makes me realize that the same people expressing their displeasure could be motivated enough to create their own games-Ron Gilbert sure is. The quote that made me twitch, though:

"It's actually kind of frightening, you know. You sit down with a publisher and the minute you mention anything like an adventure game or something story-based or adventure-game-like in any way, the meeting's basically over. So the publishers do have a huge resistance to this. And I think a lot of it is that they cannot point to anything like this that is successful in the market today. So it's very difficult for them to put anything behind it. It's a very difficult process."

For the moment, this type of game is simply non-engaging to the general public. The game industry is starting to resemble the mainstream film industry in speed of release and disposability. Of course, the same audience that goes to see the disposable film will want to play the disposable game. There's nothing wrong with this, of course. It's actually ideally suited to the modern demand for easy entertainment. However, I still believe in a game than can be intense and engaging and yet wonderfully easy to play at the same time. The Zelda series has accomplished it over and over again. Nintendo claim they want to unite the gaming public again-something they did seemingly without trying with the release of the NES in 1985. Ultimately, it's not the console itself but the company's vision which will create what could be-alongside the games they choose to define the system. At any rate, I hope we don't see the action/adventure genre dissipate entirely...sometimes all the polish in the world can't make up for the right bit of quirk.

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