I read IGN now and then when I want to research a game, see if there’s any news on upcoming releases, and occasionally, if I just want to get a good laugh. And I did get a bit of amusement out of one of their most recent articles yesterday afternoon, Ten Trends That Are Destroying Videogames, not because it was meant to be funny, but because the author is so laughably wrong.
In his writeup, IGN Australia editor Patrick Kolan unveils a list of ten problems that he feels are so rampant in modern game design that they will ultimately lead to the demise of the entire industry. Upon reading this list, however, you’ll probably come to the same (and expected) conclusion that I did: that many of these items aren’t really even problems at all, and that being informed about things isn’t a requirement of IGN editors.
To add insult to injury, the list is split amongst three pages. So in order to save you some time (and of course, to avoid filling IGN’s coffers with ad revenue), I’ve included the full list below, with a few short explanations where needed. I don’t want to discuss the entire thing, but there were a few things that stood out to me that I felt needed to be addressed.
- A Great Cast with a Dud Script
- Unreal Engine 3 Overdose
- Sequelitis (too many sequels)
- Too Human Syndrome (announcing trilogies before the first game is out)
- Production Values vs. Wii Production “Values” (so-called shovelware)
- Sonic and Mario Visit the Rainbow Dentist (overuse of mascot characters)
- Motion “Control” (or lack thereof)
- Promises, Promises, Promises (broken promises)
- Strong Female Lead Character = Edgy, Clever and Desirable
- Casual Gaming
Here’s what Patrick has to say about an alleged Unreal Engine 3 Overdose:
Once a claim to fame, Epic’s middleware engine has become all too common in the industry. When in the right hands – and with tech support from its creators – the engine can make games sing. The engine is capable of a gamut of industry standard rendering effects and presets, allowing developers to take a few essential shortcuts and help get their heads around volumetric fog, high resolution bump mapping and so on. That’s a best case scenario. At its worst, the Unreal Engine 3 tends to make games look very generic too, and sometimes at the expense of true artistic direction and skill. If every game looks like Gears of War, then Gears of War stops being special or interesting. Every landscape need not look like an industrial cyberpunk wasteland, tinted brown and pale blue. Games like Damnation, BlackSite: Area 51, Army of Two and Turok are all guilty of this.
Yes, you read that right; it makes me cringe too. Apparently, Mr. Kolan believes that highly skilled graphic artists can throw a rainbow of beautiful art into the Unreal 3 Engine, but the output will always be a dull gray-brown wasteland.
I ask then, why stop the complaints there? Why not blame Photoshop? Or Maya? Surely the people using these tools couldn’t be to blame, right?
Perhaps the complaint would have been valid if it had been made about design trends in the games industry itself – we do see an awful lot of post-apocalyptic, unsaturated worlds in games these days, after all. But no, IGN would rather take the most ignorant approach possible. If a group of games use a similar color palette, and many of them use the same game engine, it must be the game engine’s fault!
Moving along, here’s another brilliant piece of editorial garbage, this time discussing the virtues of including female characters in games:
…lately, there’s been a resurgence in the ‘strong female lead character’ category, and we get the feeling that this isn’t about sexual equality or women’s lib. It’s about boobs and ass and forced sexual equality. It’s manipulative, in fact. She might be ‘one of the boys’, but she’s still eye-candy and catwalk-perfect.
Take Mirror’s Edge’s lead character, Faith; Asian to appeal to the Asian markets, female to soften up the lads and potentially sell to a female audience too. How about Elika from Prince of Persia? That’s not clever design – that’s clever marketing. There’s a big difference. The Final Fantasy series has had its share of strong female characters, like Yuna in X-2 and now XIII. Again, it’s a deliberate move (particularly X-2, which aimed at a female market with fashion-based equipment and magic-slotting).
Lara Croft still kicks around, as does Samus. But alongside those two comes Alyx Vance (Half-Life 2), Joanna Dark (Perfect Dark), Rayne (BloodRayne), The Boss (MGS), Zoe and April (Dreamfall: The Longest Journey), Jill, Claire and Ada (Resident Evil series), Elika (Prince of Persia) and the list goes on. It’s not clever anymore; it’s not special. It’s become a bad cliché that is as predictable as it is ultimately degrading. Let’s stop pretending that’s it’s still a unique feature.
I almost feel like I don’t need to say anything about this, as the lack of critical thinking here really speaks for itself. At the beginning of this section, I was hoping that the author was just kidding around with us readers, cleverly writing with tongue planted in cheek. By the time I got to the final sentence however, my wish was resoundingly squashed.
Women in games are not billed as a unique feature. Prince of Persia, Metal Gear Solid, and Half-Life 2 don’t come with stickers on the box saying, ‘OMG! Woman in game!’ They don’t even feature a woman on the cover of the box. In fact, most of them feature a man on the box; usually a handsome, muscular, perfectly sculpted man. Isn’t that a problem as well?
It seems Patrick also wants us to believe that the use of an Asian woman as the lead in Mirror’s Edge was solely a decision to attract Asian people, no, Asian women, to play the game. Which makes perfect sense when you think about it – after all, didn’t RockStar use a Yugoslavian man in GTA4 in order to attract the coveted Eastern European gamer market? To the ill-informed IGN editor, it sure does seem that way.
The games industry has come a long way over the last 12 years. We’ve gone from Lara Croft 1.0, who was basically just a pair of boobs walking around shooting guns, to Alyx Vance, who can kick a similar amount of butt, but who is also a much deeper, more realistic approach to the female game character. The rocket-shaped mammaries, skin-tight tank tops, and shallow character design of the early nineties is mostly gone. Sure, sexism in games still exists – we haven’t abolished the useless princesses or the bikini-clad female warriors quite yet – but we have progressed greatly, and that is important.
At the end of his rant, Mr. Kolan laments that it’s neither clever or special to include females in games anymore, but isn’t this exactly the way it should be? I think so, because it will leave the door open for developers to use whatever kind of character they want in their games, without feeling the need to appeal solely to the sexually repressed teenage male demographic.
There’s a lot more I could say about how wrong it is to believe that casual games are destroying the game industry, or that there’s nothing wrong with sequels, but I think you get the point. I won’t begrudge Patrick his points on announcing trilogies too early, or the misuse of motion control, as I do agree with him on those, but that doesn’t change the fact that this list should have been either half as long, or thought out twice as much. None of these things are pushing the games industry to the brink of disaster, and most of them are at best, nothing but alarmist drivel, and at worst, completely wrong.
But I guess that’s why the phrase, “you can’t spell ignorant without ‘IGN'” came about.
Super Mario Galaxy image courtesy of Orangeinks
Mirror’s Edge image courtesy of The Clockwork Manual