The Art of the Pure Video Game

Pac-Man Forever

Somewhere along the way Video Games started to miss the point. They veered away from the ‘true north’ of Video Gaming and became entrenched in a AAA Focus Tested mire. Dripping in consensus and banality. Driven by commercial viability and green-lit by passionless executive teams who haven’t played a game for 20 years. The suits decide which games you play. The suits don’t know about games, that much is clear.

The process, and associated costs, have led to feature creep, a need for iterative improvement, an endless pursuit of the ‘majority’. Most games have lost the essence of the game itself , and are little more that excessive semi-disguised corridors punctuated by fetch quests for non engaging NPCs. As games got bigger they have become less game-like and more cinematic/epic/engaging. All of these are simply band-aids over broken and tired game mechanics dressed up to pull in the audience. The publishers are pushing for a point of difference, and the developers are beholding to the whims of the committee.

Lost is the purity of the game-play experience, the game itself. It’s fading. The best games are built upon a core game mechanic, that can withstand innumerable replays. In fact these games get better the more you play them. The examples are countless: Trials Evolution, Pac Man Championship Edition DX and Minecraft are all textbook examples of games built around a single core premise. This premise is fun, logical, easy to learn and mastery elevates the game to new heights. These are the games built around core ‘arcade’ mechanics, that effectively tap into a compulsion loop to play one more time. The financial barrier to entry of the arcade has evaporated, meaning that restarts are free, potentially rendering the experience worthless. Not so, ‘pure’ video games drive a compulsion within the boundaries of the game paradigm. Minecraft’s mechanics and game world, present a world free of restriction, yet underpinned by simple core mechanics. This framework provides a playground for the gamer, leading to creations of immeasurable brilliance and scope.

Minecraft vs. Game Of Thrones

Minecraft vs. Game Of Thrones

The accolades for these games lie at the feet of the game designer and engineers, whose single-minded determination have created game experiences at once shallow, but with endless depths for those willing to endure with them. Trials Evolution has a brutal punitive game mechanic at its core that chastises and repeatedly bests those prepared to invest time to understand the underlying game logic.

In these cases, the game mechanic is clear. The shortcomings and failures are always attributable to the player. Never was the adage ‘A bad workman blames his tools’, more true. These games don’t need to hide behind smoke and mirrors, marketing, USPs and Bullshots. Their intentions are perfectly apparent, driven by inherent purity. The issue therefore, is, can a game concept actually sell games in 2013? Maybe you should ask Notch that question.

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2 thoughts on “The Art of the Pure Video Game

  1. Why can’t we have both? There should be enough space in the games market for what the audience wants. And I think that it’s clear that the gaming market allows alot of different people to get their gaming needs meet. Isn’t this a good thing? The suits aren’t telling you what you want, you are telling them what you want. You buy minecraft and say hey notch I like your shit, hey Finnish gaming studio who makes a easy to understand hard to master greatly designed motorcross game I like yours too (hehe, so Notch’s Swedish and RedLynx are from Finland. Maybe I should make a game and combine the two ^^ A motorcross-craft game, probably won’t get bought and that a good thing, I think.).
    And If a game isn’t liked you won’t see it again. It’s the evolution of capitalism, isn’t it? Now that Squire-enix wanted more money from it’s game then what it eventually made seems weird. That all these “triple-A” games get made for so much money and that the workers at these games studios can rarely stand working there for long is a bigger problem than the gaming mechanics I think. But then again the market probably will fix itself or die. It’s all just entertainment, we can always go back to staring into fires or looking up at the sky if we’re too bored.
    Anyhow, appreciated you’re text enough to tell you that I disagree with you. Keep up the good work!

    -Persson

  2. On the subject of ‘restarts are free, …rendering the experience worthless’ I had my first ‘heart in mouth financially tense’ moment in years the other day with the latest Tekken.

    The difference? I cared. I cared if I lost this round, I have 2 tokens, if I lose – I have to purchase more.

    It was a liberating experience, like the final boss on a NES game where if you die, it’s back to the beginning for you. None of this autosave cinematic experience, it’s ‘be good at this game, or it will buttfuck you’. I love a cinematic experience, The Last Of Us I thoroughly enjoyed, however it was more a test of persistence, not skill. Try a section, die, back to the last checkpoint you go – an iterative process.

    A balance would be perfect, something to encourage you to care about your character. Deliver this how you will, penalise the character or the player for the number of deaths/fails but just make it matter!!

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