As an experienced gamer, one of the main reasons I migrated to PC gaming was because I got tired of console gameplay, which I found to be repetitive, bland, and unoriginal. Even though the Xbox brought millions of gamers the newfound joy of first-person shooters with Halo, that was already lame for those who were exposed to Half-Life and it’s many mods on the PC, not to mention Unreal Tournament and its mods.
There is a reason PC gamers call themselves “the master race,” not because of genetics but because PC gaming has been, and continues to be, among the most experimental and original platform of new gameplay types. Thus among gameplay purists, PC gaming as a whole represents the pinnacle of gaming even if it lacks the production values of major console games.
Now obviously there are still AAA PC games and sometimes they can be quite good, even great. Usually there is a brainchild behind major AAA PC games such as Sid Meier and his Civilization series, or Will Wright and his Simcity and Sims series. But these PC games are the exception to the average PC game, which generally is produced on a shoestring budget. The lack of funds mean that PC games must innovate themselves in other ways besides having huge production values if they want to make money.
Therefore, instead of huge sprawling games that last hundreds of hours with a fully 3D world, numerous NPCs with voice acting, and combat mechanics that utilize a complex game engine, you instead get games that focus on nothing more than core gameplay elements with only the rudimentaries of gameplay mechanics yet are far more creative.
Instead of this:
PC gamers will get stuff like this:
When one looks at the two pictures above it is easy to see why AAA games receive most of the attention. They look better, and therefore are perceived to play better. There is more stuff to do in an open, expansive world that GTA 5 provides, versus whatever confusing mix up of colors someone sees with Galcon 2. And yet, as an experienced gaming veteran, you could never convince me to buy GTA 5, even if you gave me the money to do it.
Why is this so? Because GTA’s gameplay is stale. Milking the same damn franchise is really no different than how movie producers continue to make the same old comic book movie slop-fests that have become the norm within the last decade. GTA’s gameplay: Run around a huge world! Kill anyone! Drive vehicles! Shoot guns! …yawn, wake me up when you’re bored, please. Sports games exemplify this gaming degeneracy at it’s finest.
I do not blame developers for going with the tried and true method of finding a popular franchise and pumping out clone after clone. Developers, after all, need a return on their investment in order to make it worthwhile. However, I have a prediction to make. Within the next 20 years, as more gamers enter the “mature” bracket (i.e. having been gamers for over 10 years), developers will find less and less of a return on pumping out the same old tired series. Instead, when “peak gaming” arrives (due to demographics, mostly) there will be a need for new games with better gameplay. And nowhere is gameplay taken more seriously than in PC gaming, with hundreds of indie developers trying out new approaches to gameplay every year. Thus, I contend that the smart gaming investors of the future will instead be on the prowl in the PC indie gaming world, looking for a game with solid gameplay but lacking in the production department.
Allow me to illustrate what I am talking about, with a short game review of Dungeon of the Endless. Released earlier this year, DotE is a rogue-like dungeon exploration game where the objective is to climb out of a deep, dangerous dungeon while leveling up your characters and battling through waves of monsters. The player must explore through a dungeon and find the exit point, which leads to the next level that is more complicated and difficult as he tries to get to the next exit point.
Looking at the above screenshot doesn’t look like much. But when you get down to it, the gameplay is far more interesting that 95% of AAA titles out there. The game works on the premise of being a rogue-like, with the random elements being the rooms themselves. Every time you open a door, you never know what’s going to happen next. Monsters may or may not spawn, you may or may not find resources, or new characters, etc.
What makes the game more interesting is that DotE is also a tower defense and resource accumulation game. Depending on the room type, you can build modules that generate resources every time you open a new door. So players are forced to make interesting and difficult decisions while facing huge uncertainty.
- Do you build a new module, or save your resources for the next stage?
- Should you use your food to level up your characters, or save it for healing? Or use it to recruit a new character you’ve just found in a room?
- Should you use your gears (a type of resource) to build defenses or more production?
Dungeon of the Endless has lots of depth to its RTS/Tower Defense/Rogue-like gameplay and should be praised accordingly. However, do you know why DotE isn’t that great of a game? Because the combat system is unfulfilling. When a charecter finds a monster, he automatically starts to kill it. Meanwhile, you watch. The player has nearly no control over the outcome of fights, he can only heal his characters with limited resources (and they run out fast) or use special abilities that only recharge every two doors opened. If a monster behind a random door is too powerful, then it’s game over man.
So it’s easy to see why DotE is just too limited in scope to be a truly great game. But what is limiting it? A lack of production values. Imagine, for a second, if you took the core gameplay concepts of DotE and meshed it with the production values of, oh, say, the level of combat and world detail of Dead Space:
Imagine if DotE had a fully fleshed out world, but instead of just watching 2D sprite characters do battle, the player could control the outcome with good aim, reflexes, and strategy about what type of monster he is battling. You would then have all of the interesting and innovative core-gameplay kept intact, but with high production value only real money can bring. It would be the best of both worlds.
I contend that it’s only a matter of time before big developers start to do this, especially as gamers age and get bored of playing the same old tired genres. How long will this process take? God knows, but there is real potential for change before the end of the decade. The gaming world moves much faster than the real world, as gamers are naturally restless people, and already there is big promise in the advent of new ways to get PC content to regular users who do not have the time or effort for PC gaming, such as with the new steam machines. But that is only half the battle. The other half is for developers to take the leap of faith to invest in one of these indie companies and make it truly amazing, which could be a long time before developers feel it is worth the risk.
Regardless, the potential is there, and it is just a matter of actualization. Which developer will be the first to grab the reins?