Rohan: It is with great pleasure that Jeremy and I welcome my brother, industry veteran Leigh H, to join us as a contributor at Restore, Restart, Quit. We will be cross-posting some of his articles here at RRQ – but do check out his blog, which features articles on morality, philosophy, media and more along-side his gaming-related articles.
There has frequently been a tension in videogames which lacks proper definition, and renders criticism vague and at times unfulfilling. There are many moments when the action is intense, frightening, complex, difficult or exhilarating and the button-presses just don’t quite match. I’ll term this interconnectedness ‘gameplay weight’, and want to give a few examples of how it’s been done right, how it’s been done appallingly, and why and how it’s changing.
This concept didn’t require as much examination in the 80s and early 90s. Games were still for the hardcore, so gameplay being exhaustingly nerve-wracking the whole way through was common. Other games started slow and the gameplay just scaled up and up and up until you were finally defeated. No matter what your skill level, this game would always find the level of intensity in gameplay which matched your skill and push you just that little bit further. These games still exist today in the form of Doodle Jump, Lumines, Geometry Wars and many others, but they’re now considered small distractions, providing short bursts of excitement in contrast to the awesome scope and power of the big ‘AAA’ blockbusters.
Gameplay began to slow down and become more considered as cinematic prowess in games grew stronger. The advent of 3D, increased potential for emotional investment in characters, and the ability to imbue games with genuine fear brought about the ability for developers to consider a drop in the pace of gameplay where story was taking the fore. This phenomenon has left room for gameplay which just doesn’t belong with the action in one way or another as developers continue to explore this new world of cinematics clashing with gameplay. After all, games require established rules. A certain button-press must do a certain thing or the whole concept of ‘play’ falls apart (which can sometimes be a nice trick developers play, but that’s another story). However, repetition of animations or movements is hardly compelling cinema. So how do developers tackle this tension of establishing rules with unique results every time? (more…)