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the True Death of Gaming?
Feature Column by Erich Becker
August 24, 2000


Looking at the current situation in gaming, it can make you wonder if there is a bright and prosperous future. Everywhere you look, you see Tomb Raider 4, 45 repackages of Half-Life and so very many "me-too" games. Many proclaim that the death of gaming will be the lack of games, but from where I am sitting the death of gaming will not come from a lack of games, it will come from the lack of innovation.

There can be more than a few things said about movie sequels in society today. One, they are never as good as the original (here is hoping the "Matrix" sequels can break this rule). Two, most of the time the good cast members don’t sign on for the sequel. Finally, they usually make tons of money based on the name alone, which is why the director believes that a 40-page script written on Hooters napkins is good enough for a multimillion-dollar movie.

Two of the three major reasons I pointed out will carry over to be true in video games. The sequels are never as good as the games that came before them, or as groundbreaking. If someone released another game almost exactly like Half-Life this Christmas, it would make less of a splash in the gaming industry than Kate Moss in a high-dive contest. It has just been done before, and most times it has been done better. Look at Tomb Raider, as an example. The four "different" games steadily get worse and worse. Why? What changes between the games? The levels are different, the puzzles are the same, the quest is the same, and the engine, sound and music hardly change. Companies believe that with an established fan base then can package the biggest rehash crap the industry has seen and people will by it. The sorry thing is that people will buy the rehash because the less informed are ignorant.

The cast of characters is almost always the same in each game, which leads me to my next point. How many times can you stare at Lara Croft’s ass in a series of games? Same old game, same old gameplay, same old mistakes. You would think that companies would learn from the mistakes of themselves as well as others, yet we still get the garbage released year after year.

Finally, the sequels will make tons of many based on the name alone. I currently work for a major retail store and as soon as a young kid gets a look at a title containing "Star Wars" or "Pokèmon," they don’t care what the game is — they will buy up this stuff, and companies know that sometimes the less information that they release mainstream, the more people will buy it. Editors like myself, and my fellow editors here at ESCmag have an advantage. We are bombarded with firsthand experiences with these games; we receive press releases, media kits and admission into E3 just to see what the companies have to offer; we are the ones that the game companies know they cannot outsmart when it comes to our profession, so they come clean most of the time.

These five paragraphs have a reason: "Sequels are killing the industry!"

Some companies are risky, and lucky, enough to try something new from time to time. One company that comes to mind is the late Looking Glass Studios. Innovation poured from every vein in that company as classic games like System Shock, System Shock 2, Thief 1 and 2 were all released. And don’t bother telling me that my list contains sequels, because I am well aware of that fact. Even in the sequels they always tried something new and something brave enough to be the great designers they were. Sadly enough, one company out there didn’t think that it was worth saving this company and it went under. Way to drop the ball, Eidos.

What I am saying should be plain enough to see. I don’t want to see Tomb Raider 27, Quake XVII, and You Don’t Know Jack XXXXXXXL 3. I want to see more of the SimCities. I want to see more games that break the rules, create new rules and just plain don’t go by rules at all.

The last year in gaming was a leg up in the innovation department. We got games like The Sims, who showed us that we can delve deeper into SimCity and have more fun with a game than we have ever had before. We were introduced to EverQuest, a massive multiplayer RPG done right. Next year should be just as impressive with some awesome titles like Black and White, Halo and anything else that just happens to fall out of Will Wright’s brain.

I am not going to sit here and say that a company should never make a sequel. That would be treason on the gaming community itself, as some games deserve sequels. I am asking that everyone in the developer community see that you can’t run a company on sequels (::cough::Eidos::cough::). I have said it myself that a few sequels have been some of the most innovative games I have played in recent years. System Shock 2 is the crown jewel of innovative sequels.

Is innovation important in gaming today, or are you content with playing rehashes of yesterday’s games? Let me know at erich@escmag.com.

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