Monday, May 6, 2013

Innovation and Imagination: Kickster and the Future of Video Games

It has certainly been a busy year to say the least--not only for me, but also for the gaming industry.  I believe the last time I wrote a piece for this site, it happened to be the Diablo 3 review last June, so a lot of time has passed for sure.  Games have come out, with some being immortalized within a community and with others sinking into the ether to be left alone.

A large trend that popped up in 2012 for the gaming industry was that of the Kickstarter.  Just what is Kickstarter you say?  Well, let’s head over their website to get their take…
“Kickstarter is a funding platform for creative projects. Everything from films, games, and music to art, design, and technology. Kickstarter is full of ambitious, innovative, and imaginative projects that are brought to life through the direct support of others.”
For video games, Kickstarter is a platform for developers, both indie and well established, that has helped promote and achieve some goals, while leaving some unpopular ideas to the wayside.  This past year, it seemed that once a few developers got their wishes funded to produce their own creative projects, other developers threw in their hats for their own pet projects.  And these are some projects that aren’t typically accepted by big publishers due to the risk involved in releasing a game to a possible niche crowd.

Games like Call of Duty and Assassin’s Creed are known year after year to produce big numbers for publishers and developers due to the hype involved, their history of gameplay, and millions strong community.  While I have had my fun with some of these yearly-released titles, I will say they tend to lack innovation or not stray too far from the previous titles, due to not wanting to exclude anyone.  And so each yearly release blends together with those before and after it, in both style and gameplay.  And while many gamers are severely annoyed by this lack of innovation, many of them are not “voting with their dollars” when it comes time to purchasing new titles and thus, letting the industry know what they truly want.

This is where Kickstarter has really helped video games turn a corner.  Developers like InXile Entertainment and Obsidian Entertainment proved to the publishers that some games are actually worth making, including Wasteland 2, Project Eternity (Working Title), and Torment: Tides of Numenera.  I mean, who would have ever thought that another Planescape (Torment) title would ever be released?  Not because the game wouldn't be good, but because of the lack of risk-taking by publishers nowadays.

Planescape basically was a game of dialogue where lengthy lines of text not only displayed character dialogue, but also informed players of their environment similar to what you’d hear around a D&D game.  Of course, you could melee your way through the game, ripping through dialogue trees without care, but you would be severely missing three quarters of the actual game.  But because of this immersion in dialogue, a sequel of Planescape seemed meaningful only to those who played the first game, due to what typical gamers want nowadays. 

However, all of the projects listed above, including Torment, were fully funded through Kickstarter, some 3-4 times over their asking prices.  This is some extremely exciting news for those of us who have been disappointed time and again by the way developers trim down customization in role-playing games, thus making them simpler than in years past.

Take a game like Baldur’s Gate and compare it to a game like Dragon Age 2.  Both were made by the same developer (with some people missing from the previous project) but what happened there?  What happened to Bioware over the last decade?  Baldur’s Gate and its sequel created an epic journey for players to dive into for hours on end, with meaningful and worthwhile characters, whereas Dragon Age 2 simply seemed like a console action game with narrow corridors, simplistic characters, and non-player characters (NPCs) that voiced generic texts.  Now, I’m not trying to get down on just Dragon Age; however it’s an easy target that demonstrates how a great game of the past was developed by the same company as something that lacks innovation and depth.

Take Skyrim for another example.  While the open expansive worlds that Bethesda creates each time around with a new Elder Scrolls game are huge and somewhat detailed, they lack soul, in both the characters you create as a player, as well as the lifeless NPCs you encounter.  And while the main story may have you running from one end of the map to another, it never feels like anything more than moving from point A to point B to facilitate the next step in your quest line, due to the lack of recognition your actions get from the world around you.

Certainly, not every game has to have 100 hours of gameplay, or depth that requires staying up late reading manuals, or forum posts on how to actually play the game to the fullest extent.  But I just feel that most RPGs of today have been a little lacking.  Sure, there have been some that have excelled in recent years, but those are diamonds in the rough, especially when you know that there are developers out there who know how to create a superb game. 

But, thanks to Kickstarter, look at what we have to look forward in the next couple of years.  Besides those mentioned above (which are sure to please any role-playing game and turned-based role-playing game enthusiast), you also have Shadowrun Returns, which is due out in June, and Dead State, a turn-based zombie role-playing-game.  What more do you need?  Well, how about Divinity: Original Sin which is due out this fall?  Or Grim Dawn, which should be releasing either the end of this year or early next?  Most of these titles are backed by developers with track records of some great games, and while I could easily spend a hour or two talking about my excitement for each one, I will simply say that if you are a fan of years-past role-playing games, you should be counting down the days till each of these release and then losing yourself in the enjoyment of what a great game truly should feel like.

By Dan Lammert

For more information on the projects listed above, please visit their websites.

Torment: Tides of Numenera
Wasteland 2
Project Eternity
Shadowrun Returns
Dead State
Divinity: Original Sin
Grim Dawn