A Plumber’s Craft: Past and Present Games

Posted on May 27, 2010

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Maybe it’s just me, but from what I’ve seen from video games in the last 20 years, today’s video games haven’t progressed much further than the pudgy, bushy mustached plumber and the wooden-sword toting elf that captured the hearts of gamers back in the 80s. Of course there were games before Super Mario Bros. and The Legends of Zelda, but the big question is, has there been games after? 

This begs the question: how far has the apple fallen from the tree? Are game studios merely churning out iterations of Super Mario and Zelda with different faces, fireballs, swords, and princesses swapped out for Mario and Link’s adventures? And if we are playing unique games, how are these games shaping tomorrow’s video game experience?

Understand Your Past
Whether you are old enough to recognize it or not, if you’re playing a modern action or RPG title, chances are there’s a few italian and elf chromosomes in the game’s DNA. The improvements behind graphics and popular mechanics like swordplay, shooting, and leveling up is nice, but unless you’re eight and you just got your first game console, chances are you’re playing the same type of games over and over. Any kung-fu master would protest that understanding the past is the first step in shaping the present and guiding the future–but 30 years of playing the same thing is overkill. 

Anyway, setting aside racing, sports, and puzzle games, any game with swordplay, fireballs, open world maps, upgradeable weapons, unlikely heroes (like plumbers), killing enemies by jumping on heads, and a laundry list of other dried up game elements is a game bumming off of Super Mario and/or Zelda. That being said, how many games can you connect to those two franchises? Run out of fingers and toes to count on yet? 

Keeping Games Fashionable
Don’t get me wrong, I love today’s AAA games. There’s a meticulous blend of features from successful, classic games with current trends. But, the video game industry spawned out of creativity and ingenuity, and we have to ask ourselves if we’ve seen originality behind games lately. To me, it feels like innovation rather than creation–and there’s a big difference between the two.

It’s my belief, however, that these recycled game mechanics survive not out of lack of effort, but out of corporate politics. Game studios are probably sitting on hundreds of golden geese right now, but The Man is probably keeping those fresh ideas locked up tightly. It takes serious sales numbers, a few sequels, and millions of frothing fans to get game publishers to listen. A creative idea of itself, unfortunately, is not enough to make it in today’s world 😦

If you’re like me, you love playing games and punching, slashing, blasting, and levelling up are your favorite pasttimes. But, if you’re like me, you’re also wondering how much longer you can tolerate the same game experiences over and over.

Thankfully, some new ideas are dripping down into the swampy pool that is the redundant game experience. Little Big Planet, Fallout 3, Splinter Cell, Mass Effect, and maybe a few others have the ability to take what’s old, improve on it, and shape the new games of tomorrow.

Read “Game Mutations and New Sensations” for more

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Posted in: Op-Ed, Trends