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Video Games That Will Suck and Why: Skyrim
What Was Revolutionary Has Become Retarding to the Artistry of Games
I am old enough to remember the shock and amazement that came with experiencing the HUUUUUUGE early titles in the Elder Scrolls series. I recall riding horses (and looking up to see how the entire horse looks up with me) and journeying to an endless series of villages and taverns and quests. I remember, with glee, the freedom of Morrowind, where I could just wander around murdering people and pillaging villages whenever I got bored on the mindless, endless slog of the main quest line.
But, that's the past. That style of gaming is quickly running up against the new reality of technology. In the past, size was the best way to make a game feel open and inviting, because the graphics stank, the controls where clumsy, and it was more important to simulate life and violence than to create original game experiences. Games, then, could brag about how each person has a house, a schedule, and friends. Games could brag that their world was endlessly open, allowing players the freedom to wander away from the main quest narrative at-will.
However, the open world style of games is the past. Even really, really fun open world games with middling-good narratives like Assassin's Creed stumble against the edge of their created landscape. It's just that there's only so many "things" one can do. The people in the world only do a certain number of things. The size is an illusion of a level-designer's wet dream, where bigger is better, and more is better. Unfortunately, the new paradigms in games is not in the "bigger is automatically better" arena, but in the carefully-scripted, perfectly executed levels and goals that align with a well-crafted narrative experience. Portal and Portal 2 are the future of game design, and where quality happens. The Uncharted series is equally controlled and scripted. By allowing player freedom, the game designers can only be as complex as budgets and Physics Engines permit in such a huge space. By contrast, containing the player into narrower levels, and into more scripted interactions leads to the surprises that come from a perfectly-executed game.
Size and freedom are illusions, at best. The HUUUUUGE levels in Morrowind and Oblivion did seem to be iterations of regions more than carefully-executed levels. The enemies were the same in each region, with predictable AI tactics. Instead of a diverse range of experiences, the player is treated to a large number of similar interactions, using the tired tropes of FPS-gaming built for a melee world. There are only so many ways to interact with the limited palette of controls on an average controller. By expanding the size of the game, the creativity and originality mapped to each button decreases as game design budgets seek to merely meet the design specs, not to innovate on top of them.
What was once a revolution in size and level graphics and occlusion shaders has now become a retarding urge backwards, away from innovative design, towards what was once surprising and is now no longer even interesting. At the end of the day, it is really, really annoying to spend so much of my gaming "time" running across a huge level to get to the various points of interest that the game tells me will lead to an interesting and memorable experience. How much of your time spent playing Portal involves merely traversing? Not much. Within moments of stepping off of the elevator, the player is engaged in active gameplay: solving the puzzles and exploring the many traps and easter eggs of the immersive narrative experience.
For this reason, I predict that Skyrim will suck. Size is overrated. What I want, and what gamers want, isn't BIIIIG HUUUUUUGE levels, but memorable, rich game worlds that turn every moment of game time to game play, instead of just running over a large map towards a blinking marker on the mini-map.