Some games feel inspirational. They do something so different or clever or well-crafted that they make you want to learn from them, to use the same techniques in your own work. Ico and Shadow of the Colossus are big examples: they helped inspire everything from Knytt (still one of my favorites) to, surely, The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess. Half-Life did this for the entire medium, to the extent that we are still feeling the meager aftershocks every time we watch a scripted game event while we wait for an NPC to open a door.
Gone Home gives me that itching sensation of inspiration. I want to make a game like this, one that depends on exploration and exacting observation. One that feels calm but also ominous. One that explores themes like love and family, however sentimentally. Unfortunately, the game is singular enough that I have trouble imagining an inspired work that isn’t hopelessly derivative.
Over at GameSetWatch they just put up my latest column. It’s called “Puzzle Quest and the Best of Both Worlds,” and it’s about genre fusion in the world’s first match-3 RPG.
In the past, I’ve railed against the uselessness of game genres. They’re restrictive and arbitrary categorizations of games, and lead to design decisions being made according to convention rather than the needs of the game. However, sometimes a game is produced that depends wholly on the genre, doing nothing innovative, yet succeeds at being a stellar game in its own right. One of these games is The Curse of Monkey Island.
In my last podcast, I didn’t even bring up interactive fiction, which suffers from genre staleness as much or more than other types of games. If you have a text game, you’re almost guaranteed that you’ve got a nonviolent, turn-based game where you solve puzzles in a game with a specific sort of world model. Sure, there are a few exceptions: C.E.J. Pacian‘s Gun Mute, Robb Sherwin‘s Necrotic Drift, and Adam Cadre‘s Lock & Key, to name a few. But by and large, interactive fiction is cerebral and derivative of the seminal works: Colossal Cave Adventure, Zork, and Graham Nelson’s Curses.
Where is the interactive fiction that simulates colonizing space? Where are the text games that have the same playful feeling as Katamari Damacy? Why are text adventures always either puzzle-filled exploration games or highbrow, slow-paced stories?
I’m being a bit cruel, I think. But I still can’t think of a single piece of interactive fiction that I’d pick up and play for fun after finishing it once. There’s no gameplay to most IF except puzzle solving and figuring out what happens next. A good friend of mine once pointed out that in interactive fiction, you never really do stuff.
I’d like to see that change.
In this podcast, I discuss digital games genres and how I think they’re silly. They’re arbitrary niches based on a few popular games, and using them to describe games limits the way we think about making and playing games. I discuss the evolution of our genre system, from Crawford in 1984 to the modern overstuffed action adventure, and explain how Madden ’08 and Rainbow Six are in the same genre.
The music for this episode is “Unforgiven” by spinmeister and featuring TheJoe & Kaer Trouz, and is available under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 license.