Let’s start like every other text.
The person who is writing to you today, is someone who lost the habit (or routine) of putting his thoughts down on paper about videogames, someone who lost the upfront state of the art wave of videogames and has little or no interest to get back on the top of it: far are the days where the newest and fanciest was booting on the shiniest and latest entertainment machine of the living room. I’m writing you this not because the life of the author matters, but a simple background check might be important for the amount of salt and other spices that the reader should season this egg, that’ve been boiling for quite some time, I would say.
Rewinding to the PlayStation conference of the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) of the current year, we may see in it a sad foresight of what may happen: see it as a sneak peak to the future of the industry (and not of the medium), see it as a sneak peak of what a spectator expects (more like a sneak peak of a expectator spectates), top of the industry quality videogames.
This conference consisted in mainly four games: The Last of Us: Part II; Ghost of Tsushima; Death Stranding; Spider-Man (2018), plus some previously announced mentions or minor time-consuming announcements such as Ni-Oh 2; Control and Kingdom Hearts III. Ghost of Tsushima is the new game from Sucker Punch, previously known for their work on InFamous (series), Spider-Man, even though produced by Insomniac Games which has a few console exclusive games across multiple consoles and is responsible for series such as Spyro, Resistance and Ratchet And Clank. The Naughty Dog game needs no introduction and same happens for the new game from Kojima Productions, after the whole controversy in the year of the last installment of the Metal Gear Solid series emerged.
In 2015, vice president of Konami, Hideo Kojima left his company by, what word of mouth sustains, being a giant money sink. December of the same year, partnering with Sony, reestablished the Kojima Productions studio as an independent company. In 2016 E3, this studio gives the first look into it’s first game after reestablishment, staring Norman Reedus. In December of 2016, at The Game Awards 2016, Kojima Productions reveals a new trailer of this same game, this time featuring Guillermo Del Toro, Mads Mikkelsen and an enigmatic Decima logo at the end screen. In the following week, at PlayStation Experience 2016, Kojima Productions announces that partnered with Horizon: Zero Dawn crafters, the dutch studio Guerrilla Games, by working in an parallel build of the Guerrilla’s engine Decima.
Guerrilla Games is part of a bigger group of game developers owned by Sony Interactive Entertainment, the Worldwide Studios, in which belong studios that are responsible for crafting big design trends, investigate new ways of play and sold multiple dozens of titles in the past 10 years. Such is the case of Bend Studios and Media Molecule, which as key to explore the computing and feature power of the PlayStation Vita with Uncharted: Golden Abyss and Tearaway respectively, of Naughty Dog and Santa Monica Studios, responsible for two of the most industry influenced and influencers and sold countless copies with the Uncharted and God Of War series.
In the history of the PlayStation brand, never the line between genres or main releases was so thin. This year alone, visually, the resemblance of all the games that I’ve talked about is little and merely stylistic. Comparisons between The Last of Us (2013) and what was shown of God of War (2018) before release went far beyond the now much more stripped down concept of exploring the relationship of a father-like figure and it’s son, but the same thing happened in other games of companies under the group of Worldwide Studios: Horizon Zero Dawn, InFamous: Second Son and InFamous: First Light, Uncharted 4: Thief’s End and now, apparently following the trend, Days Gone, Ghost of Tsushima, The Last of Us: Part 2 and, even from the non-associated to worldwide studios, Kojima Productions, Death Stranding, in all of these games they are selling to the expectator (and not spectator) the character(s), the relationships between them and to what they love. Uncharted 4 is a story about how the blind the pursue to do what we love just ends up breaking everyone around us. The actors that play the characters in Death Stranding receive same or more exposure than the symbolism, obtuseness of the scenery (given the lack of gameplay to talk about), and that’s also marketing exploitable point (like we saw happening in Beyond: Two Souls (2013)). My conjecture is that God of War was one of the most well acclaimed games of all times not because it was actually interesting, but by being exactly what the spectator expects (or the expectator spectates), the same exact reason why everyone else forgot it instantly after.
Of the top of my head, Ubisoft’s series Assassin’s Creed has a more explicit approach to the matter: make a yearly game that would fit into the same moulds gameplaywise, so the learning curve of the systems involved is actually lower if the player has knowledge of the previous installments, making that interacting with the game will emphasize what the player will be focused on. I am not only talking about the controller button mapping but other things such as the gameplay cycles, combat and wandering the world, the exposition of the narrative. But while this particular feature in the series can be seen as developing a language that player can understand and relate to, later PlayStation blockbuster games have been developing a formula. Using the same or different engine for development, truth is that never the line between genres or main releases was so thin.
Of course, PlayStation also has other titles that go out of these moulds, but these are not sellable games as the ones we previously described. For the sake of variety, some of these are the games that you should buy: maybe not because they’re the best HOT!NEW! thing, but because they’ll do something interesting that you will care about. Of course that there’s lack of variety on the super genre of action narrative games with this particular structure. For those who want stories told in this new and modern way with free movement and other games within games that we can understand and well perform on them, it may seem that there are not enough stories told, and more games should be done like this: if you think like this, you probably didn’t played many games or you don’t actually realize how much time and money is involved in this process. There are games made specifically around combat (God Hand (2006) or Bloodborne (2015), or basically, any fighting game), sound and shapes (Rez (2001), Thumper (2016)), about exploring environments and solving puzzles (The Witness (2016) or Myst (1993), best selling PC game until The Sims exceeded it in 2002). And maybe you’ve played some of these games that explore other themes, concepts, gameplay ideas, narratives in original ways or any of these at all, making the end product something more rich and interesting. These are the same games that the spectator doesn’t spectate simply because there’s nothing that matches their expectations for a videogame. And definitively The Last Guardian (2016) isn’t one of them!