Since we are in the midst of E3, I’ve decided to take a different turn from my normal gamut of social topics relating to love, sex and human relations. We’ll get back to those later. Today, we are going to focus on my preference for games that actually end, as well as my thoughts towards talk of “ending the single-player experience” in gaming altogether.
I’ve been what you might consider a gamer ever since I was able to hold a controller in my hand and press a couple of buttons. I learned a great deal of hand-eye coordination because of it, but my coordination has never really been the strongest due to my condition. In any case, I remember two things about that big grey box that appeared in my living room on Christmas morning of 1995: The games were very short, and they were often very difficult. A player was given a few lives with virtually no shot at a continue, and the closest thing that we had to saving and loading data was a password that you’d be asked to write down upon the completion of every level. These varied depending on the games and could either be a series of numbers and letters, or picture graphs as were used in the original Mega Man titles. But rest assured, if you stuck with it and remembered all of the required steps and patterns required to pass some of the more difficult portions of these titles, you’d be greeted with a closure to the story and some kind of ending. Then, the game would end. You could play it as many times as you wanted, but nothing would really change. It was almost like a board game in that sense, because you could only use the pieces that came in the box, and just as when you put all the pieces away; the game ROM would flash and it would reset the title back to the beginning.
As gaming moved from the eight-bit era to the sixteen and thirty-two bit era, we started seeing longer games, with more complex objectives as well as the use of saving and loading states. This meant that players could now save their progress and essentially that the games could be much longer. As we moved into the third and fourth generation of gaming, an online element was being introduced as well as sandbox style that essentially combined to make one gigantic mess that would never find a conclusion and could be played eternally.
Yes, I said eternally. If you choose to do so, you could play some massive multiplayer online games for the rest of your life and people have done just that. Though while I imagine that it might be fun to interact with people online and form bonds with them, there’s something to say about the single-player experience here that I think needs to be noted. Eventually, games need to end. I’m not trying to spoil your fun, but I’ve always felt that a strong conclusion to any great title is worth its weight in gold; especially if it ties up all the loose ends explained in said title. The games of my generation were quite short, but at least a player would have the satisfaction that they had won, that they had actually completed the mission and there was nothing else left for them to do. The kingdom was saved, the world was saved, the universe was saved. The threat was eliminated and the player was victorious. Most of all, you could clear the game and move onto another completely different adventure.
Though in the modern age of gaming, the end doesn’t come with the conclusion and credits, it comes with the removal of the online servers. Because the developers make money due to all of the DLC expansions, in-store currency and micro transactions offered in games, there’s no real need for them to ever even so much as come close to an ending. Also, many AAA games just seem to become direct carbon copies of the same game, albeit with billions more spent on them than anything back in my day. Many single-player games now come with online servers, just so that you can continue to give them even more money than what you paid for the base game. If you want more fighters in a fighting game, you can just buy them, as well as new costumes, stages, music tracks and other gimmicks that were already available in fighters that we had, even if some required actually finishing the game or getting certain achievements in order to unlock. Street Fighter II is the worst example of this, as there were several additions to it over the years; but Mortal Kombat II and Mortal Kombat III were games that utilized the secret characters well. Probably better than any fighting game I’d ever seen at the time, and since unlocking is a dead art – these titles will more than likely be at the peak of character unlocking methods. While you can’t blame people from wanting to just buy the extra characters instead of going through a complex unlock process, there was a certain kind of rush that you felt whenever you came close to unlocking a new character. Smash Bros still seems to keep this alive to an extent, even though it too is now offering DLC characters for a price.
When you played a great story-driven game and watched it come to its climax, you were left with a sort of wonder. When we talk about memorable JRPG’s like Chrono Trigger, Terranigma, Xenogears, Lunar: Silver Star Story and even The Legend Of Zelda: Link To The Past, then we all remember what it was like to see the story finally ending as we waved a final goodbye to what was an amazing work of art – it was like a painting that you could play through and experience in ways never before thought possible. Even in platformers, we would see Samus get the final upgrade from the once baby Metroid and tear Mother Brain apart with it. Then we’d see her hop onto her ship and quickly escapes Zebes before it went up like a supernova. There were of course, other games. There should be. But Super Metroid did not extend Samus’s mission beyond what had already been provided, and for us, that was enough. The Mega Man series spawned many numbers, as the X and Zero series continued through each console generation, from the classic Famicom all of the way to the Playstation 2 and through the Gameboy Advance and DS models. With the exception of remakes and re-releases, none of these games have ever really featured additional content that the player had to pay for. The Wii and PSP titles were of course, the first to offer downloadable content, but even then – the games had an ending. Even the ill-fated Mighty No.9, Azure Striker Gunvolt and Mighty Gunvolt Burst contained endings. These games may have finished on cliffhangers, but they were complete games and had a defined climax within each adventure. We could even say the same about Sonic and Mario titles, which are still not quite so rife with DLC. That being said, this isn’t necessarily a rant about DLC, I don’t take issue with it. I just don’t like the fact that we are in an age of gaming where multiplayer has become such a norm that people don’t want the first person narrative campaign. Yes, to many gamers, as long as they can get online with their friends and play around in a virtual sandbox based around some popular franchise mythos, it is enough for them. Though that isn’t enough for me.
God Of War 4 was especially necessary in this regard, because it showed that we can still have a game with a constructive narrative in 2018. I must also mention titles like The Last Of Us, Owlboy and Undertale, which managed to garner high amounts of praise (and in some cases, very large fanbases). It is true that some titles can still exist without being MMO’s or Battle Royale games (which appears to be the new trend) and I’m quite pleased with that. I just start getting a bit antsy when I’m noticing that several AAA developers are more interested in creating a virtual sandbox for players to run around in, creating more of a sporting like nature to video games that further removes them from the realms of art. I am one of those people who does equate games to art based solely on the creative aspects needed to compile them. Even if the games themselves are not equal to a painting in the eyes of an experienced art critic, I definitely feel that the artistic design within them at least qualifies in some, if not many, regards. Simply put, I enjoy games that I know will have a satisfying ending and can look upon as a great experience in my life. Sure, I know that several modern multiplayer gamers will look back with fond memories on some of the current sandboxes of old, once they’ve passed on to become something new in the market. But you know what? Maybe then, we’ll be able to meet on the same playing field of gaming nostalgia, which seems to be a byproduct of growing older. In any case, I hope that you enjoy the rest of E3 and I look forward to playing several games myself this year, like Mega Man 11 and hopefully Bloodstained: Ritual Of The Night or Cyberpunk 2077. Neither of which will probably release before the end of the year, but one can dream, right?
– The Grim Lord