With the next generation of consoles just around the corner the usual boasting and debating of which will be the best is in full swing. With Microsoft and Sony setting out to make the most powerful machine, capable of so many calculations a second, dot production operations, shader operations and all sorts of other statistics inducing fits of climatic ecstasy amongst gamers. The question I want to ask is does it really matter?
Of course it matters I hear you say, what good is a brand new game that looks like it was made 10 years ago? I can see your point, graphics are getting better by the year and everyone likes to look at something pretty. However this is coming at a cost, as developers spend more and more time and money on making a game look brilliant, they begin to spend less on the aspect of a game that really matters, the gameplay.
Evidence of this is everywhere, games with poor controls, a short lifespan, and frustratingly repetitive levels, however they still manage to fly off the shelves, how? Simple, they can conceal all their faults under a veil of graphical beauty.
Let’s take the recent FIFA 2006 on the XBOX, 2 weeks at number one in the UK charts. A classic example of graphics over gameplay, in-fact a rather extreme example in that it has tugged the graphics line so hard that the slowdown it causes during games is so bad the game is unplayable, yet it worked, the game is a success. Developers, like EA, see that graphics sell their games and are the hook by which to pull people in, and that’s their job right, to sell games? They don’t need to make the gameplay brilliant if people are just going to buy on graphics alone.
This isn’t true for all games of course, there are some developers who can bring out games that look great and play great, however this takes time and with the amount of money developing a game costs, going a long time between releases isn’t something that many companies can afford to do. Valve spent many years developing Half-Life 2, creating the perfect balance between graphics and gameplay, which earned them many accolades as “the best game ever made”. They however had the funding to go all those years without a major release, not many developers are so fortunate.
Yet that can’t be used as an excuse for turning out complete tripe dressed in pretty clothes year after year. What I’d like to see is someone try and go the other way, I’d like to see a developer go all out on the gameplay for once. It would be a risky move that could ultimately fail but we’ll never know unless someone has the guts to try. In the PC market Cornered Rat Software have developed a little know gem called World War 2 Online, in some aspects it looks worse than the original Half-Life however it has the most exquisitely wonderful gameplay I have ever experienced and that has kept it afloat for just over four years and currently heading toward a re-release.
There are hints of it creeping into the console market too. The recent release of Fahrenheit (Indigo Prophecy in the US) was like a breath of fresh air into a market that was beginning to become stagnated. However it wasn’t quite there, someone needs to take it a step further, grab the console market by the balls and swing it around. Someone needs to go back to gaming’s roots.
You can go back and play some of the classic games on the older consoles, Mario Kart on the SNES, Sonic on the Sega Mega Drive, the brilliance of those games remains untarnished by outdated graphics. Gameplay is a constant, a game that perfects it will never be any less fun to play. A game that relies solely on graphical quality will age extremely quickly. It’s up to developers to choose, do they want to create the latest flash in the pan or the next true classic?