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Let's call time on games sequelitis
Halo 3, GTA IV and Half Life 2 Episode 2 have many things in common; they are shaping up to be classics, they will be graphically brilliant and a step closer to the photorealistic worlds that games are beginning to move into. They are also, as you can tell immediately by their names, the latest sequels to hit the market.
You can understand why games producers, and for that matter movie producers and authors, get stuck in the sequel rut. It is, after all, an easy way to bring in audience, using the success of the past to create a buzz for the future. The draw of a big name sequel brings investment and time to properly develop a product.
In essence, making a sequel is a much less riskier prospect than starting from scratch.
Of course the downside of this is clear – an increasingly creatively bankrupt industry, turning aside originality to focus on more of the same. For certain games there is little wrong with this, the three games at the top of this article are likely to be more groundbreaking, in their own way, than several brand new titles.
But in the same way that the movie industry finds itself stagnating – failing to bring in audiences to cinemas in the way that it used to, desperately seeking new life after diligently extinguishing it for decades – the games industry must be wary of falling into the same traps.
Take something like the current big two football games competing for supremacy – FIFA and Pro Evolution. There are generally releases every season, bringing a whole host of minor changes and tiny tweaks that, despite obvious protestations to the contrary do not add up to a sea-change between versions.
So, as much as the hardcore gamers can’t wait for the next S.T.A.L.K.E.R, the new incarnation of Project Gotham Racing and the new Starcraft, far too little focus has been lavished on the games trying to create new genres.
There are, of course exceptions. In the same way as a film by Steven Spielberg can be launched on a name, game designers like Will Wright, whose current project SPORE is already causing a buzz, can create new games that garner attention – but such figures are few and far between.
Forthcoming PlayStation 3 title Little Big Planet is a game that shows just how quickly an interesting game – one which dares to differ from the slew of first person shooters, ultra violent GTA clones and sports sims – begins to garner both press attention and genuinely stir some excitement.
However the most obvious illustration of how doing something different can be good for gaming is not an individual game but a whole platform. Nintendo’s hand-held DS brought dual screen action, stylus games and puzzlers back into the fold, but it was the arrival of the Wii that truly rocked the world.
Written off in some corners as a gimmick, Nintendo’s unique new control system facilitated a move into a whole new market – where groups of friends, families and children were suddenly given an accessible intuitive way of playing games.
And yet many of Nintendo’s most famous games hang heavily on the presence of a single character – Mario – and the game that is almost certain to become a massive hit for the console is Mario Galaxy – a game that uses old ideas and characters given a whole new spin.
And in this area it is necessary to point out that computer game producers do excel; rejuvenating old ideas to make them better, faster, more playable and more exciting.
Half Life 2 brought an amazing physics engine that wasn’t present in its ground-breaking predecessor, Grand Theft Auto 3 took a top down 2D game and turned it into an astounding, sprawling three dimensional world – the list goes on. In stark contract to the world of movies, where you can count the number of sequels that were better than the original on one hand, many games sequels have transcended their ancestors to become classics in their own right.
Take the ever-lasting, ever-evolving Legend of Zelda series – that has moved from the 8-bit era into the present day, going through several major changes and providing some of the most mesmerising titles ever created. The likes of BioShock, openly called the spiritual sequel to System Shock 2, will bring art deco science fiction to the gaming world, and Mario Galaxy is being talked-up as the biggest progression for the gaming icon since he moved into a less two dimensional world in Mario 64.
There will always be games sequels – because just like films and books, gamers fall in love with characters and gameplay and want it to be rejuvenated. But there also needs to be an equal space to those companies prepared to look outside of the box; those willing to break the mould and introduce us not only to new games, but to whole new experiences.