The most important feature of a fighting game, in contrast with many other games, is how methodical and accessible its tutorial is. In the fighting genre, more so than any other, there is a mixture of subtly different mechanics which set a game apart from competitors, and complex fundamentals of the genre which need to be mastered. Understanding these skills – and understanding what genre knowledge is transferrable between games – is a vital prerequisite of play and so a comprehensive tutorial explaining both basic knowledge and advanced nuances of a specific game is a key feature of a well-designed fighting game.
The first time I played through Mass Effect 2 I was nonplussed; it seemed to have less of the rough and experimental charm of the first game, which seemed to be a haphazard evolution of Knights of the Old Republic into an attempt to create the definitive, ne plus ultra, science-fiction RPG which would encompass everything the genre had to offer. It had aliens, and a planet-hopping plot, and exploration of uncharted worlds, and xenophilia if you liked, and upgradeable weapons with dozens of options. The result was uneven, and often clumsy, but it was quite unlike most games in its attempted scope and as a result I defended it quite vehemently as a good game. The second, by contrast, was more elegant and simplistic – all of the aspects of Mass Effect were present but in a form which worked without any inconsistencies or awkwardness – and as a result at first seemed too clinical and perfunctory.
Some games feel overly mechanically designed as reliant on a single strong or innovative mechanic; the emphasis is on foregrounding and promoting that mechanic and the result is an experience which feels unbalanced. One such example is the recent board game Exile Sun – its slider-based conflict resolution mechanic was uncommon among games of its type but outside of this there was little substance to it. Each other mechanic within the game was focused on drawing the players into using this conflict resolution system as much as possible, in order to draw attention to the limited pool of design strengths and discount the weaknesses in the overall. Such a game can be called a combat engine – a developed idea which ultimately lacks any kind of framework to be anything but abstract mechanics.
The sniper level in Call of Duty Modern Warfare was considered one of the game’s highest points; its combination of stealth with setpieces – despite being a highly curated experience – was a tense kind of mission in a game that was rapidly redefining what a cinematic FPS could do in its use of curated setpieces. Sniper 2 is a game formed entirely of these moments – mixtures of tense marksmanship and frantic action in the aftermath. It is a game which, rather than offering vast selections of experiences in a kind of action buffet, focuses on making one single one – sniping – as seemingly realistic and simulationary as possible. Finding the midpoint between simulation and accessibility in a game like this is crucial, and Sniper 2 succeeds only in part.
The automatic runner genre, arguably the most pared-back form of the 2D platform game, has a strong heritage on mobile platforms and in Flash games. Titles like Canabalt, Temple Run and Jetpack Joyride have strong reputations for being polished games which are well-suited to short play sessions and which represent the purest form of gaming as a reaction test. Making the shift to consoles and thus the change in perception from casual to core audiences, however, seemed at first to be an unusual move; by paring down the gameplay to a limited number of inputs it seems like the capacity of consoles or PCs to offer more complex experiences is being ignored. Yet Runner 2 is clearly very much a core game in its presentation and amount of content; by framing its gameplay in the traditional terms of non-automated platform games (themed worlds, unlockable characters and a gradual progression of abilities), Runner 2 has the sense of achievement beyond simply beating a high score that a good game needs.
The announcement of Sony’s new home console to great fanfare in February 2013 is arguably the start of the “core gamers’” next generation; while the Wii U was the first true successor to a current generation console in terms of computing power it was not a significant step forward from the current top tier. The reveal, however, was not met with unequivocal support from potential buyers; notably, Sony’s lack of a physical product and instead reliance on feature lists and upcoming software seemed out of place in a world where new product announcement are generally accompanied by some physical proof of concept.
The board game Dreadball, one of a number of Kickstarter success stories begun late last year and now developing into their own product ranges looking to the future, is frequently compared to the classic Games Workshop game Blood Bowl; both are based on fictional sports derived from rugby or American football, with stock genre fiction races and archetypes forming the teams. Yet Dreadball has several crucial points of difference which make it not only its own game, but also a significant improvement.
Before seeing Wreck-it Ralph I was concerned it would be a film that would alienate most audiences like ultimately Scott Pilgrim did. The latter film was heavily steeped in “geek culture,” lavishing in referential humour that was not always specifically referencing an original work, but required significant knowledge of a niche of popular culture to understand. However, it proved otherwise; it began with a series of visual jokes referencing highly recognisable video games, and cameos from other fictional characters, but used that as a quick setting shorthand to establish its premise, which was then used to tell its own story.
The Cave is a game full of familiar elements of the puzzle-platformer genre but which fails to come together in a way which supports the designers’ intent for it to be played three times over to completion. Conceptually, it is appealing; from a collection of characters, pick three and enjoy three small adventures with a deadpan narrator filling in the gaps in their backgrounds. Each is a pastiche of a different genre of fiction or type of game, with refreshingly dark humour that often hits the mark.
Recently what seems to me to be a perennial debate has resurfaced; the value of educational games in raising awareness and increasing understanding of contemporary events. This has become more significant as the prevalence of independent computer games and new games formats such as mobile phones and tablet computers, as well as the increasing move towards computer games becoming more than simple entertainment.