Gameplay Is Dead. Long Live Gameplay!

E3 2012: By focusing on cinematic excess, studios are alienating those of us who want games, and not films.

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Following 2011's trends of turret sequences, quick-time events, and cinematic set pieces, E3 2012 has showcased its own share of quick-time events and cinematic set pieces. On one hand, this is a sensible marketing approach. The more movie-like the showing, the easier it is for the publisher to control the pace and content we see. They want us to see explosions, carnage, and dudes in heavy armor shouting words like "delta" and "bro" and "Go! Go! Go!" The alpha male audience responds with fist pumps and high fives at highly controlled scenarios that may or may not reflect the gameplay at large. Even more standard gameplay can look remarkably cinematic on these stages: the developer playing the game has spent hours practicing and preparing so that we see exactly what they want us to see. It can be hard to tell what events are organic to the game, and what events are scripted and impossible to avoid.

And thus my biggest disappointments were the games that stuck so closely to the script, and Resident Evil 6 may be at the top of the list. It was all button prompts, explosions, corridors, quick-time events--and a tiny bit of zombie shooting. In other words, it was all the tired Western game cliches in a game I hoped would avoid them. Tomb Raider left me similarly unimpressed, though I know I risk the wrath of the Internet hordes with such sacrilege. We saw gameplay, sure--highly linear gameplay down a single corridor. That corridor was made up of a zipline, a river, and a parachuting bit, but it was a single corridor nonetheless. (Though to be fair, in one place, you could take the route above, or go below. That helped give an ounce of flexibility to a few seconds of the game, at least.) Throw in an abundance of cinematics and quick-time events, and you have the prototypical modern video game, albeit one in which the protagonist can withstand a few bullets but is rendered bloody by errant tree branches.

Don't misunderstand me: I don't think "linear" is a dirty word, and there is value in gaming experiences that guide every player down the same basic rails. In some ways, these demos represent the direction of many big-publisher releases. The thought process: to gain a large audience, games must be more like films. The Call of Duty franchise didn't invent this approach, but it popularized it, and in so many cases, you can almost hear the voice of a studio's head honcho saying, "How can we make our game more like Modern Warfare? How can we make it even more cinematic?" Other choice buzz words/phrases I imagine come up include "visceral" and "turn it up a notch."

Even the games that we expect to feature plenty of flexibility and open-ended appeal kept their freedoms tightly in check for the purposes of the show. Crysis 3, for example, will likely be full of free-form action, but the focused presentation kept the pace moving quickly, without hinting at the flexibility you expect from the franchise. The same could be said for Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell: Blacklist, which (hopefully) will feature plenty of ways of executing your foes but moved so quickly--and relied so heavily on the mark and execute mechanic--that it looked like the game was playing itself. The less said about Black Ops 2 in this regard, the better, of course. (Look! Hovering drones can do the shooting for you!)

Thank the heavens, then, for the developers and publishers that understand that we love games because they're games. Ubisoft understood this better than any other publisher when it came to press conferences, which is part of what made Watch Dogs one of the most talked about games of E3 2012. In the GameSpot war room, we traded glances and tried to make sense of what we were seeing during the game's demonstration. And then the pieces started to fall into place. We saw multiple protagonists. Third-person action, hacking, and an open world in which you can view private information about perfect strangers. The game did the talking, and the press responded. We didn't need a litany of explosions, "Press A to Avoid Boulder" prompts, and collapsing skyscrapers to entertain us. I can go to any random Michael Bay movie for those things. I came to E3 for the games.

Rayman Legends was also a big hit for this very reason. You may or may not be convinced that the Wii U's tablet will be a game changer, but we saw exactly how the tablet user can impact the other players' experiences, and we understand more or less what it's like to play the game just from watching the demo. Nintendo didn't show any live gameplay, but the canned footage it showed of Pikmin 3 and Lego City Undercover look incredibly charming and fun. Say what you will about Nintendo (and there is plenty to say), but it's seemingly immune to many of these traps, and it's that continued resistance to trending norms that--among other things--makes Mario and company so beloved. For them, it's all about the gameplay.

I don't expect the press conference showings to change all that much in 2013. We may see new hardware, but the presentations aren't likely to grow all that much, sequels or not. Expect to see lots of quick-time events and cinematics from companies that lack the confidence to let the game do the talking, and instead shower us with bangs, booms, and "Press X to Destroy Entire City Block." I like a bit of blood and fire, myself, but games are more than violent imagery and big blinking button prompts. Enough, already: get back to the games.

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Discussion

356 comments
Jyakotu
Jyakotu

I think developers need to find a balance when it comes to this issue. After all, at E3, developers aren't going to show ALL of the game during a press conference. They'll show just enough to spark your interest. Hence, that's why they let you play the games on the floor. As for the cinematic experience, I actually don't mind them at all. I agree that gameplay should be top priority because that's the main reason we play games, however, why can't a game have a good narrative with cinematic experiences.? I guess because I'm used to playing a bevy of JRPGs and a lot of games that rely on cinematic devices, I'm more open minded to them.

GameBeaten
GameBeaten

The footage I saw of Splinter Cell: Blacklist made me not have interest in it since it appeared that any aspect of playing the game with stealth was disregarded. It was all about hop out of cover, take down the enemies you targeted and then move on to the area where you are automatically found out and have to destroy a turret with a sky targeting missile. Plus a big message now tells you when the execute ability is ready.

 

One complaint I had with Splinter Cell: Conviction was that it forced you into action sequences at certain points. I'd rather play using stealth because that's what Splinter Cell has been known for. It was still satisfying to get past enemies un-noticed in Conviction though...when I was able/allowed to.

 

Anyway, this was a very good article. Great read.

starduke
starduke

I've said this before, and I'll say it again...if I wanted to be watching a movie, I'd be watching a movie. QTEs make games even worse then movies, because the game is telling you exactly how to play it.

JOKER677
JOKER677

Lets see, I play games because I like to control what is going on rather than watching TV.  I don't play games to WATCH what the creators made and don't allow you to skip because I don't care about the story 99.9% of the time.

spiceynice
spiceynice

Brilliant once again Kevin, we need more developers to look at the innovations of smaller developers like From Software and their Souls series 100% skill based player  focused gameplay with very little in the way of empty spectacle.

 

Unfallen_Satan
Unfallen_Satan

I think there is room for both in games. I like this article because it brings balance to the shaping of perspective. And Kevin wasn't kidding about the RE6 demonstration. As I watched it, I was constantly reminded of a line by Grandpa Simpson, "Oh, of course he'll make it. It's TV." Then again, complete freedom of control will probably make that helicopter scene impassable for most players. Making a good video game is tough.

shadowriku3
shadowriku3

The article is 5 years too late.I hope this Wii U smacks developers and the competition in to actually doing something new.As kids we were addicted to video games. Now none of this crap is fun anymore. 

jonbrons
jonbrons

I agree with you Mr VanOrd and this is a great article. Games are becoming more cinematic, repetative and just down right boring. And they are all pretty much the same game (or at least trying to be....COD) with a different shade of gray. You run down a corridor pop a few badies go the left pop a few more go to the right and QTE, movie and scene.Rinse, repeat.

 

But if this is the case, why come judgement day (i.e the review), are all these repetative ,boring, corridor-based movies/games praised into high heaven with scores of 8.5 or higher and everybody has to (and will) buy them. Why are AAA-titles never called on the fact that its nothing new and are actually nothing more that a interactive movie.

We are complaining that all games seem to be going in the same direction, but lets face it, we are telling these gaming-companies (with our reviews and subsequent purchases) that they are doing a good job.

 

If you really believe what you are saying Mr VanOrd, I ask you to review the next COD game and if its all these terrible things, then give it an adequate score and just say that its just a 60 dollar map-pack with a nice movie (single player campaign) to boot and nothing more.

ZOD777
ZOD777

I agree with the article for the most part.  I hated BF:Bad Company 2's campaign because you shoot like 6 guys, then watch 5 minutes of cutscene, rinse and repeat.  If I want that, I will watch a movie for heaven's sake!  Leave the cutscenes out of the middle of games.  I don't mind seeing them before a level, and at the end of it, but breaking up the action all the time for cinematics and cutscenes really bothers me. 

Armysniper89
Armysniper89

Agreed and well said. I am tired of these corridor type games and demos. I wondered while watching if we actually get to play the game or if it plays itself.

Guest_1001
Guest_1001

Mr VanOrd, you deserve a round of applause for this article. Bravo, sir. You echoed the sentiments of many gamers far more eloquently than many of us could. Especially concerning "dudes in heavy armor shouting words like "delta" and "bro" and "Go! Go! Go!"". You know, I like characters with a semblence of personality. Not a stereotypical army grunt yelling silly phrases. Mass Effect was the worst for this; at one point in ME3, an Asari gunship pilot said "light 'em up!" Ugh ... even the ALIENS are talking like every US Marine you've ever seen in a movie!

dhvl2712
dhvl2712

@Kevin-V AND YET! Dark Souls exists. Kind of pokes holes in this theory. A lot of things are shown at E3, and they're like that because they're shown at E3. They won't show the long shootouts in games because they're long and not as fun to watch as they are to play and the same goes for Demos. Gameplay isn't dead. You just need to look in the right places.

purgat0r1
purgat0r1

Thanks, Kevin, for putting into words exactly the way E3 2012 has left me feeling. I'm one of those "kooks" who thinks that what makes games so great is their interactivity. I'd much rather watch a proper movie, with talented actors, professional scriptwiters, etc. than "play" a game that is trying to be a movie.

 

For that reason, I was especially disappointed by Resident Evil 6. After Capcom's excellent Dragon's Dogma, which so thoroughly eschews the "hands-off" approach favored by so many other big-name releases of late, I expected a lot more from the latest entry in the RE franchise than a shallow Uncharted clone with zombies.

matthewleung97
matthewleung97

Finally someone in the gaming industry do spot the problem.

 

Nowadays, the core element of every game is exactly the same. Control a character and move forward, shoot, smash or any another ways to eliminate the AI and move again. The whole process is keep repeating until you see the cut sense.  During the process, the game developer may put some rpg element or moral system to make you feel you do react into the game. However, once the ending is reviewed, you will find that it is just an illusion. Because there is not much impacted to the game itself. I don't feel I am playing a game. I just feel that I am watching a movie. 

 

However, I don't agree that gameplay is already dead. The gameplay element is just shifting from single player mode to multiplayer mode. I believe that now and coming future, single player mode will only focus on story telling and the gameplay element will focus on Multiplayer mode . Even though it seem that ,in the past five or six years, there is not much improvement in the multiplayer game market in which most of the multplayer game either rpg based or shooting/ killing each other, I do believe that with the right innovation on the input method (for example WiiU), surely there will be some great gameplay coming out.

bobsimcool
bobsimcool

RE6 = rent only, watch dog must buy lol

deadpeasant
deadpeasant

So true! Resident evil was a major let down. As was the likes of Far Cry 3 which also relied on the explosions and cliched co-op tactics and gameplay. It all looked very tired. Which is why the likes of Watch Dogs was so amasing! I can't wait to hear more about that game!

trollkind
trollkind

I wholeheartedly agree and articles need a Like button too.

PlatinumPaladin
PlatinumPaladin

Another cracking article. It's always reassuring to know I'm no the only one out there who thinks these things. Games are getting easier because gamers (as a whole) are getting lazier. Cinematic games in their own right I can live with (Fahrenheit, Heavy Rain). Games that combine gameplay with the odd cinematic are fine (MGS, God of War, Bayonetta), they are what they always have been. The ones I hate are the ones who have changed from what they were (Ace Combat, Ridge Racer, to a degree CoD, and from the looks of things Tomb Raider). Get back to basics people.

CreMax90
CreMax90

100% agreed on this article. I glad I'm not alone in this. Too many QTE, explosions, cutscenes in E3 press conference. Just show us how the game is played and not abuse it with 'ALL-ACTION EXPLOSION EVERYWHERE' stuffs. Watch dogs is the best example on how to show your game presentation, it was interesting and engaging from start to finish.

GlaciusXL
GlaciusXL

Exactly. I watch the demos and I think "How did Survival Horror, Stealth, Adventure, and 3rd person shooter, all end up being the exact same game?" Resident Evil was suspense, puzzles, exploration. Now it's Point A to Point B boom boom boom go go go. Splinter Cell was stealth, light, shadow, sound, high stakes objectives, tons of gadgets and tools. Now it's Point A to Point B boom boom boom go go go. Same with a ton of others.

 

I play a lot of older versions of these franchises even today, because they actually present a challenge. They weren't made with a "everyone is a winner" mentality. And the games felt much more different from each other instead of this, "appeal to the majority" objective. The industry, or at least the mainstream "AAA" games, if that's what they want to call them, is too homogenized now. Sort of like how websites now are all looking just like every other site.

 

I'm sick of QTE, button prompts, onscreen hints, X does everything, "a puzzle can't take more than 20 seconds to figure out", and just a blatant "Hey Player, DO THIS". I want to PLAY my games. I don't need or want training wheels, reminders of which button to press to reload or vault, I don't need more "accessible" controls or mechanics, and I don't want every game, to be the same as everything else. I have no problem with these kinds of games, but it's easy to tire of the same meal every single night. Some variety again would be nice. I was watching the Medal of Honor demo with a friend of mine and already being a little "Here we go again" because of all the shooters, I saw they were going to breach the door I said "Oh lord... please don't go into slow-mo when you breach." but boom, there if was. I felt like I was watching an E3 from 3 years ago or something. I'm really impressed by the detail in visual and audio quality in all these games but completely depressed by the lack of originality. "So, it's like a game where you shoot stuff and you're a real badass, and you can absorb a ton of bullets without dying and then things blow up all around and it's coop and there's multiplayer with XP and the trailer for it will have a dubstep track playing!". Sounds about like 90% of what was shown. In a medium that really allow for ANYTHING, it's a shame that it's all essentially the same. Or at least the games they're choosing to focus on.

punkpunker
punkpunker

at this rate, e3 demos today shouldn't be demos, they could just show the game like a video.

Elann2008
Elann2008

I agree with you Kev.   The theme of this E3 Show should be E3: ACTION fully reloaded.  Loved the Uncharted series up until Uncharted 3... where I felt like I was playing a movie game or whatever you want to call it.  I'm normally one of the gamers who appreciate a wide range of games, whether they are more intricute games with a tough learning curve, or something more action, full of thematics.  But this is all get a bit crazy, and buying a game might mean that I won't get to play it.  Why? Is it broken, Elann?  No, it's just that... all I get to do is press buttons when they prompt up on the screen.. and my own game character seems to be controlling ME, and not me controlling IT. 

 

 

naryanrobinson
naryanrobinson

Totally agree with everything in the article... and I'm *relieved* that most people down in the comments do as well.

 

Which is kind of strange given the huge number of people that disagreed with Brendan's "The Customer is Not Always Right" article, because this is just the extension of that.

 

I don't think people realise that turning the game into exactly what sells, is exactly what turns games into COD, and Resident Evil 6 is an inescapable example, which is why I'm glad Kevin mentioned it specifically.

It's textbook "how to sell out your fans" material.

 

It's particularly painful when Japanese developers do it.  Try and copy the brainless American-style games, apparently designed for people who not only can't play games, but can even keep their attention on them for more than 10 seconds if something doesn't spontaneously combust out of boredom.

 

Thank God Europe seems to remain somewhat untouched by such devastatingly unhealthy ideas...

 

OGKNav
OGKNav

If games are going to thrive on QTEs at least f*cking do it right. Don't have a [memorize this or die] QTE. All that does is make it an obnoxious cutscene that's preventing us from continuing with the game. Make QTEs subjective like Shenmue. Where if you screwed up, it affected the story/plot in some sort of way. Like let's say you couldn't save your partner, you start the next scene in endangered health, or hell, put you in a whole new scenario. Like split you up, or start on a top floor instead of mid or bottom floor of a building.

CptRexKramer
CptRexKramer

"Gameplay Is Dead. Long Live Gameplay!"

 

Well, yeah, this has been happening for a few years now.  Nothing new here.

 

firehawk998
firehawk998

I agree with Kevin here. Watching the RE6 Demo left a bad taste in mouth. The game was filled QTE and I get the feeling the game is trying to be Uncharted then its own thing. In Re4 ( IMO) the QTE atleast made sense there they only happened once every often and they the button combos were random. Another game that left a bad taste in my mouth is the new Splinter Cell. After Conviction we keep heard from Ubisoft how the game will go back to its roots the demo looks exactly like Conviction 2.0.

tightwad34
tightwad34

If you don't like cutscenes and cliche' events, go play Dark Souls. You will have maybe 2 minutes total of brief cutscenes here and there. It is all action. Oh, yeah it's also one of if not the best game this gen. That being said I am currently playing through Uncharted 3. It's a great game and the cutscenes mold so well with the gameplay it's so seamless you barely get interuppted at all. I do really like the Uncharted games, but 2 was a little overrated. 3 I am not so sure yet as I am about halfway through.

wwefan4ever
wwefan4ever

I find it hilarious that Skyrim is being held to some high standard it never met. Fallout 1 and 2 were better than Skyrim, and those came out in the 90's. Skyrim is nice to look at, but that's it.

Denzy4418
Denzy4418

i dont play games to watch movies.... i play games to play games. this article sums up everything i've been saying to friends and any video game lover for years. 

dreamsicle
dreamsicle

I have to say I disagree. I enjoy games like Max Payne 3 and Uncharted that have good gameplay and an engrossing story. The interactive action movie games.

GlaciusXL
GlaciusXL

 @ZOD777 Agreed. BFBC2 campaign was plagued with that and also the fact that if you ever ventured either side of the predetermined 10ft wide path, you were reminded that you were in the Artillery Zone! Look at the beautiful world, but please... stay on the sidewalk.

deadpeasant
deadpeasant

Oh, and that Resident Evil Logo still looks like a Giraffe and a lady doing.... "somthing"

Deadlock3386
Deadlock3386

 @GlaciusXL I agree with you so much! As a gamer and a Musician, I can tell you that this tendency you are speaking about is just getting worse. As the best and innovative games where in the beggining of the 2000 like Ground control, Homeworld, Fallout tactics, Splinter cell chaos theory etc. So is them music witch was very good until the end of the 90-s, than brought the infamous J.Biber. 

 

Art in general (and making good games is an ART) turned to prophet gaining, it became more accessible to the majority of population. No one really care about the massage they want to bring forward. no one cares about a change a game might do in a persons (teenagers life). What sort of impact will it make emotional. I am talking about Metal Gear Solid!! which was a unique experiance for me, although graphics was crap. Its story and richness was overwhelming.

 

I would say the following for last part cause I can go as long as you did. Blizzard is an Amazing company for producing great titles. Specially Starcraft, Starcraft 2, Diablo etc. On one of the diablo videos the creative director explained about difficulty levels. Normal->nightmare->hell->inferno.

Most ppl where complaining about normal beign too easy. And he said they where right! Why? because they want to draw casual players to have fun etc. for a relaxing experiance. Moreover he added that after they are "In" and they want more than a casual experiance they continue to more challangin levels "of the same game" playing over the same storyline but with different weapons, gear and enemies making the experiance fresh (sort of) and more challanging with new content.

"70% of the gear and weapons is past normal difficulty" he said. And I saw thumbs up. That is the way do a good game. Which is thughtfull of prophet by atracting casual players and giving the hardcore players which are not the majoroty that gonna but this game!!! the satisfaction they deserve.

 

 

trollkind
trollkind

 @CptRexKramer Not to this extent and affecting so many different unique games that all seem to follow the same formula now. Kinda sad as our tenor from last year's E3 already was "Enough with the explosion spam", then the Blockbuster games sold well anyway, stupid hollywood explosionfests also sell well, so as long as people call the shots in game development that care more about profits than making games, that won't change. Us vocal few here can vote with our dollars but I fear we pale in comparison to the numbers of people who can't seem to get enough of this Hoorah, Boom drivel.

Angel_Grigorov
Angel_Grigorov

 @wwefan4ever Skyrim is a game that doesn't feature a good fight system, nor it presents that engaging story, but it is so loved from gamers because what Kevin was writing about. Skyrim is not about bombastic cut scenes and "press x" stuff, instead the game was intentionally cleared of it. It gives power to the player. Nowa days the players so much need to play their games not just be used as triggers for cutscenes  and audience

trollkind
trollkind

 @dreamsicle Sure, the concept can be well executed and used in moderation to work but not if every game does it and it starts to be two thirds of the time you aren't really in control.

trollkind
trollkind

 @Angel_Grigorov Though Skyrim is a lot less "pick your own adventure" than Morrowind, there too, is a trend of ever decreasing freedom and consequence.