This year’s E3 was quite exciting wasn’t it? It may not have had that definitive moment that’s always characterized the best instances of the annual trade show, but I think it’s safe to say that we’re all walking away from it quite eager for the coming months and games to arrive. In particular, as I watched the trailers and press conference announcements, I found myself reminded of just how far gaming has come in the last 20 years. The visual leap has been nothing sort of dramatic! I mean how many of us playing Super Mario World back in 1990 would have ever thought that we’d be playing games that looked so very close to reality? Heck, how many of us would have thought that VR would become the technology of the future? Gaming has grown outside of the visuals too though. Indeed, modern games are more complicated (and visually stunning) than they’ve ever been. It’s excellent! Complexity comes with a price though, and I can’t help but wonder if perhaps games have lost something in the realm of scope.
Now when I say scope, I’m referring to scope of features or how many different things are in a game. It’s no secret that games in 2016 are more expensive to make than ever before, and are certainly more expensive to produce than they were in the mid-1990’s. Greater cost of development means having to be a bit more careful about what can and can’t be included in your game, which often means that more is going to have to be cut in favor of developing and polishing the core of the game. My favorite (and most stark) example of is the upcoming Final Fantasy VII: Remake.
I have a feeling that the jaw each and every fan of Final Fantasy VII dropped when the remake was announced. It was something we’d all be secretly hoping for for years; the chance to finally more deeply explore a world and cast of characters that we held so dear. We all then took a step back when it was also announced that the game would be released in installments. The disappointment was palpable. Here we were on the cusp of finally getting the remake we thought was never going to come, and they were going to nickel-and-dime us for it. Square-Enix was prepared for that though and the game’s producer, Yoshinori Kitase, had this to say: “[…] The biggest reason why we haven’t done a remake until now is because it’s a massive undertaking to reconstruct FINAL FANTASY VII from the ground up with the current technology. Producing a proper HD remake of FINAL FANTASY VII that maintains the same feeling of density of the original would result in a volume of content that couldn’t possibly fit into one installment. […]” It sounds like an excuse right? However, on closer inspection I think it makes all the sense in the world.
Realism demands realism. Be it movies or games, the more realistically rendered something is, the more real everything around it has to feel. I mention movies, but I think this is especially true for games. Modern games are (mostly) made to look and feel real. Everything is incredibly detailed and it’s becoming more and more disappointing when we can’t explore in-game environments. Combine those modern practices and expectations with Final Fantasy VII and you’ve got a massive project on your hands. Just including all the various things we got to do in that game would be an undertaking. There was the ATB combat, the materia system, chocobo breeding, chocobo racing, a boss-rush style minigame, snowboarding, the date sequence, the other minigames at the Golden Saucer, and not to mention all the secrets strewn about the game (or even the special summon animations)! Then there’s the evironments. Prerendered maps certainly aren’t going to cut it these days, so that means rendering everything from the ground up (how many unique locations did Final Fantasy VII have again?). I could go on, but the point is that Final Fantasy VII was a huge game for its time and that means that a full modern remake will translate into an absolute monster of a project! It’s amazing that they’re taking it on at all to be honest.
Outside of something like Final Fantasy VII: Remake we haven’t seen a game of a scope comparable to Final Fantasy VII for a long time now, and probably won’t unless something happens that brings the cost of game development down. It was easier in the past, because they didn’t have to explicitly show us everything; they couldn’t. So instead they built games with more things to do while us players used our imaginations to fill in the visual gaps. Today it’s kind of the opposite. Instead of being constrained visually, developers are constrained by the amount of features they can include. Instead of gameplay driving the visuals, it’s visuals driving the gameplay. We still get great games thanks to the brilliant efforts of developers to work within those constraints, but I still can’t help but feel like gaming has lost something rather important nonetheless.
How do you feel about modern games? Have you noticed a change in the sorts of features the offer? Could we have been better off with the more primitive visuals after all?
Image by Flickr user: Borgs Dalisay