“Good” Games

What makes a game good? Truly a question of opinion if there ever was one, however the only ones that ever seem to be considered are those that meet the quota in terms of faster than light frame rate, big budget voice actors, hard drive frying graphics and all that other stuff that doesn’t really apply to what gives the game its sense of experience. Argue all you want that a games graphics being real makes you feel like you are there, but true immersion comes from the story and how it is conveyed, not pretty pictures. At least, this is what came to mind as I finally figured out the computing capabilities, or lack there of, of my laptop.

I am a console gamer, but my Xbox was left at home to keep me focused on my schoolwork (ironically I needed it this semester for this very class), but being the gamer I am I had to get my fix. I started with buying cheap used games at Gamestops and Pawn Shops to play over the break, but would end up going home with too many games and too little time to actually enjoy them. Then I remembered Steam. Long forgotten when I gave up my laptop for lost in the gaming realm, I decided to give it another go and started running updates and diagnostics, defragmentations and hard drive backups, deleting and condensing, and checking up my computers abilities using a “can you run it?” online web service. To no surprise whatsoever, nothing new passed the minimum threshold. In fact, nothing at all passed except The Orange Box, released six years ago… But I had played it on the Xbox and always heard that Half-Life 2 HAD to be played on the computer so I went for it. Needless to say, a new world has opened up to me; the world of PC gaming; particularly Steam. But as seen with the abysmal results on the “can you run it?” web service regarding my computers capabilities, I am limited to a much older generation of games.

The best bang for your virtual buck.
The best bang for your virtual buck.

By today’s standards these games I can play are old, but not old enough to be “classic” games. They aren’t old enough for me to be able to get them for free on a web browser (unless you want to risk viruses torrenting them) like you can with Space Invaders and Donkey Kong, but they are still old. They very much seem to be the forgotten generation of games, an era where only the greats like Half-Life 2 escaped, but just barely. But this doesn’t make them any less good. In fact, too me, they are better.

First and foremost, as a broke-ass college kid, they are cheap as fuck. This kind of cheap isn’t like used car cheap where you’re happy to have it but you still wonder what it was used for in its past life, this is the kind of rare occasion where the exact same item, same as the day it was released, is now a sixth of the original cost just because it is a few years old and not as pretty as the current generation. For me that is perfect, because if you tell me something that I want costs $60 but in a month will be $40 and a year will be $10, then I am gonna wait a year and buy it then. I’m still going to buy it no doubt, but why would I spend that much on something when I can get the exact same thing, still new, for a fraction of the cost. I know this doesn’t apply to those who like to play multiplayer, but it works for me.

I'm sure you are all really nice but I like a gaming experience not narrated with phrases like "GOT YOU YOU FUCKING NOOB!"
I’m sure you are all really nice but I like a gaming experience not narrated with phrases like “GOT YOU YOU FUCKING NOOB!”

On top of that, I personally get the sense that games of the current generation have lost what it is to be a game. Quick time events and a ramped up focus on the graphics leave us blinded by the shiny and not-so-interactive games. Stories seem to be a side note for multiplayer and those that do have a story have you setting aside reality in even the most realistic of games. Really Call of Duty? I killed 600 enemies in a single level, one of eight (a short fucking campaign mind you). So you mean to say that I am going to not only single handedly hold off an entire invading army myself, but, should it be a smaller country being used as the antagonist, pretty much kill their entire population? These now common gaming antics are ridiculous and redundant, and to be honest, always stood in the way of making the game more realistic for me, quiet the paradox for a game that is attempting to make you feel like a real soldier. I mean, I get that the game has this awesome engine that allows for that many enemies to be on screen at once, but that doesn’t mean there should be. We seem to be getting a little ahead of ourselves as we “Michael Bay” the shit out of everything we can (yeah you know what that means, excessive explosions, excessive action, excessive excessiveness…). What ever happened to games that actually immersed you in a realistic and believable experience?

I bet you can't figure out which COD this is if you ain't a hardcore fan of them...
I bet you can’t figure out which COD this is if you ain’t a hardcore fan of them…

I mean yea, the older games I am praising lack the soft flow to their blocky characters. They lack the fluid movements too. Sure. I’ll give you that. But like I said before, the look is such a materialistic thing to focus on in comparison to what a game actually has to offer. Take gameplay for example. Games back in the lost generation focused on an advancement of the technology in realistic ways. Half-Life 2, most notably, altered the way game physics were handled as well as environment interact-ability. Fallout 3 gave us V.A.T.S., allowing us to target specific body parts or even the weapons of our enemies. Portal created a new way to go about puzzle gaming. Condemned: Criminal Origins showed us how terrifying it would be if you almost NEVER had a firearm to defend yourself and instead had to beat your opponents to death using items in the environment. Gears of War perfected the cover system based tactical shooter. Halo Combat Evolved gave us a more serious look at the fast passed and jumpy action characterized by Quake as well as changed how we planned for a fight through how many weapons we could carry. F.E.A.R. utilized bullet time, pulling in a relatively new idea from the movies, ala the Matrix, and making it a playable, doable thing. Amnesia strait up threw us into a world where we knew nothing and had now way of fighting any of the enemies, leaving us only to run. All of these games brought new and fresh concepts to the table. But nowadays every year we get a rehashed and slightly polished COD with a new throwaway campaign and basically just new maps for the same old multiplayer while every other company tries to be COD. Those that aren’t are doing little better to advance the gaming landscape the way the lost generation did as the last truly innovative invention brought to gaming were the agility and maneuverability brought on by Hulk Ultimate Destruction and the original Assassin’s Creed, which themselves are now being copied to death with the Prototype and Infamous series and the seemingly unending AC plot, respectively.

Not looken too good for that left arm right now...
Not looken too good for that left arm right now…
Everything, and I mean EVERYTHING, is a weapon when you use the gravity gun.
Everything, and I mean EVERYTHING, is a weapon when you use the gravity gun.

Just look at the advertisements for games today compared to how they were before. The lost generation saw games winning awards for their story telling as well as showing demonstrations of new lighting techniques, sound designs, physics engines, game genres, and other things that made the world real in how it felt, not just how it looked; but today’s commercials boast… what? Prettier graphics? Massive multiplayer? You can’t tell me that a game you already have to fork over $60 for needs the luck of being popular enough for others to want to play it too, and play it correctly, to make the multiplayer worth while is really a game that has a lot going for it. And graphics? Yeah they are cool but… I ain’t just here to look at things. Halo 4 was gorgeous. But it was also… boring.

I'd watch the SHIT outta this movie! And that's what the game felt like. a movie where sometimes you did stuff and things...
I’d watch the SHIT outta this movie! And that’s what the game felt like. a movie where sometimes you did stuff and things…

Maybe I am just cynical. Maybe I am just finding flaws with the new since I am currently unable to play them. Or maybe, just maybe, games back in the day had a little more to offer in terms of progressing the art form whereas right now everything feels stagnant and gimmicky. The only true innovation to the realm as of late is the motion based gaming with the Wii, Kinect and whatever the hell Sony calls its motion capture devices, and those are the most gimmicky things of all, introduced solely to combat the notion that video games promote poor fitness habits. I guess for now though, I just have to wait till something new comes along, something that will put an end to all the copies of copies of copies being made today. Fingers crossed for Bioshock Infinite being that game.

  7 comments for ““Good” Games

  1. althky
    April 4, 2013 at 8:41 am

    I’ll share a cynical outlook on the current generation of games, but as I think about it, the state of things (more or less) makes sense. As the industry grows and more games are being made for and by more people, it’s just odds that most of those games are going to be duds. There’s only so many good ideas, and even when a good idea is stumbled upon, it could be in the development of a low budget game which can’t do it justice (or a high budget game with an incompetent team). Beyond that, there’s the matter of people’s distinct gaming tastes diluting what an objectively “good game” is. I think that Dark Souls, for all its faults, is a great game. Many people would disagree, and I’ll have to admit I’m somewhat biased by it being entirely in my comfort zone of game genres; which I suppose is the entire problem with trying to say “this is a good game even if you and 30% of people didn’t like it” about any game.

    It feels a little bit like the movie industry to me, where lots of movies are being made, but I certainly don’t like the vast majority of them, either because they’re poorly produced or out of my area of interest. I end up approaching both games and movies the same way now, by ignoring the vast majority of most-likely-bad products.

  2. Savannah
    April 4, 2013 at 10:20 am

    I feel your pain; my tiny laptop can’t take any of these fancy new games coming out—so naturally, I have to hate them from afar. (Well, actually I’ve hated Call of Duty for quite some time already, but that’s mostly because I suck at it.) Considering my favorite genres are horror and indie, I suppose this doesn’t pose as much of an issue as it might to others. I like to comfort myself with the idea that in some cases, a lower budget and limited graphics actually make the end product a great experience, particularly in horror games. For example, ever since the release of the first Silent Hill, developers of horror survival have been trying to live up to its success. Of course, its triumph as a game wasn’t because of its bad graphics, rather because no one could afford to care about graphics at that time (at least not with our current standards). Instead, the developers of Konami focused on aspects that affected the mood, rather than the overall realism of the game. I feel this is lost with games of any genre that focus too much on looks—a game’s ability to create emotions that will stay with the player even after she turns off her computer (or PS1 console). I will argue against your cynicism though, since there are still great games being released. I mean come on, BioShock Infinite HAS to be good, and there’s a Fallout 4 just around the corner, I hear. (And Half-Life 3…….. it has to come out eventually.) Bottom line: don’t give up hope! The story still matters!

  3. mkessler
    April 4, 2013 at 10:26 am

    I don’t want to be one of those people that just agrees in a comment, so I won’t.

    I do agree with everything you’ve said. Since I have started to play video games I have been enamored by the ideas and concepts and stories within the games I’ve played, and yet I can say that from personal experience I have noticed that I can forgive a game a terrible plot if it is pretty enough. I don’t really know what more to say than I’d like to have a game that is competent to exceptional in both story and visuals.

  4. Margeaux Ducoing
    April 4, 2013 at 10:33 am

    I’m all for joining in on the cynical outlook! What I feel most games have been lacking or steadily decreasing in is the push for creativity. Businesses today are all for what sells over what is creative or unique. So if first-person military shoot-em-ups are what the kids are buying nowadays, then companies will keep pumping them out. This is like any other big product on the market today (movies, music, etc.): “if it brings in the cash, that’s all that matters”. The economy is the main reason for this manner of marketing/thinking as money has become a huge sore spot in everyone’s lives, affecting hugely how we live and work–and the gaming industry is no exception. Businesses are pulling out all the stops to sell their product and rake in the dough; and where I can’t blame them for that, it does result in the cookie-cutter products we see on the market today. It’s a risk right now to try something different or “creative”, but hopefully overtime that will change once the extreme pressure for bringing home the bacon lessens.

  5. Jim
    April 4, 2013 at 11:13 am

    Don’t be cynical, just look to the future. I agree, it seems as though games have been stuck in a rut for the past few years. However, I think the cause of the rut is simple. It’s cheaper for publisher-owned AAA studios (like Infinity Ward) to develop the games using the same game mechanics. That they have mastered making over the past generation rather than experiment with a newer game. However, games in the next generation don’t seem to be COD rehashes, but games with new mechanics. I think it’s a cycle, developers can more easily afford to experiment with game design in the first few years of a console generation, followed by a few years of mastering the most profitable game mechanics. If you think about it, most games that are considered to be classics are generally released towards the beginning of a console generation.

  6. Guillermo
    April 4, 2013 at 11:14 am

    I’m cynical too, but let’s talk about what the title of this post asks. What makes a game “good”? Nolan Bushnell was pretty straight forward when he said, “All the best games are easy to learn and difficult to master. They should reward the first quarter and the hundredth.” With so many different genres today I’m not sure if Bushnell’s theory is enough to summarize a “good” game, but the more that I think about it, maybe it is. When I begin playing a game I am pretty quickly turned off on it if I can’t figure out the basics within the first two minutes. At the same time I get frustrated if it seems like the game is just helping me master it. It is often this tension that keeps me playing a game and causes me to label a game as “good”. What if beyond all of the immaculate graphics and storylines of today’s games, Bushnell’s theory still holds strong as the simplest way to define a “good” game.

  7. nelsondee0085
    April 4, 2013 at 3:08 pm

    I think that video games of the past have set a precedent for video game developers and that as you previously said was to “Michael Bay,” the shit out of everything by giving all of us gamers a good visual mind shagging. I think that the reason why so many video games are rated on either “good,” or “bad,” is based on the context in which they are created. These video games are often being critiqued for visual effects, graphics, and the gamer culture in which it was made.

    Also you point out another interesting aspect about gamer culture of what makes it a good game is price. I know there were certain games in which I played that I thought were not at all worth $60.00. Whilst, there were others where I would have paid $100.00 because they were that good!

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