So this little monster of a game had been brewing for a while and while some were doubtful of its potential most seemed optimistic. The idea of a small side series away from the main canon, developed (at least on the Wii U) by a company consisting of some former Naughty Dog developers who seem to have the golden touch. It had potential, oh lord did it have potential, I was even prepared to try it should it be welcomed by praise and acclaim. Sadly, I was disappointed, yet somehow not particularly surprised. I could go on about what were this games issues and the problems encountered trying to keep it on the rails and development turned into a nightmare, instead I want to point you to a small issue this industry seems to have: learning from its own mistakes and others.
So what do I mean? Well lets look at the efforts taken to preserve the many years gaming has been kicking since it was pulled from under the rubble in the crash. The recent generations of consoles have decided that it is too much work to support the games of old in their system via backwards compatibility, to a degree I agree that the price shouldn’t sky-rocket on already pricey systems. However I draw issue in abandoning them completely, look at the efforts a company like Nintendo makes to make sure new gamers can get a hold of the games that made the franchises we know, the infant form of gaming giants to see where it all began. To have that available is important, if at least to inform each new gamer of the years of work produced beforehand, to identify when “trying something new” is actually bringing back old creations in a new light. I know myself that I was sort of surprised going back into the Kirby games past to find out a bunch of the enemies were just cleaned up a bit and lifted into some of the more recent ones. I wasn’t upset mind you as it wasn’t a large part of the content being spit shined work and it was nice to get a go at old enemies with new powers.
Looking back at old games can be enlightening, you’d be surprised how many cheap mobile games and smaller titles use some of the oldest tricks in the book to hook people in, yet it works for what I suspect is a lack of a palette, these people don’t know how long this kind of thing has existed and are going in as new as we all did at a young age. This is the reason we have to tell young children not to open up suspicious emails and the like, obvious to us is only out of watching and learning from the experience of it over the years. So what can actually looking back at old games do for the games? Glad you asked (you might not have but I’m going to assume you did).
You ever wonder how a sequel could forget the things that were good in the original and just ignore the simplest form of critical analysis? Imagine what they could do with a deep understanding of years of gaming experimentation. We’d never have to put up with awful loading times because everybody has all looked to the guys who got it right a few years back and learned how they did it gracefully. I wouldn’t have to put up with a bad lobby system for my multiplayer because the successful template already exists in a game from a few years back, programming genius in pulling out power in a system we never thought could handle this graphical fidelity becomes standard knowledge. The dos and do nots of gaming have already been laid out in the past for us all to see, yet there is such a push in the industry of recent to always look forward, to the next big thing and jump ship for our next fantastic shrine of gaming. Except more often than not the “new and improved” is playing catch up with the one title that showed us how to do it several years ago, what is the short term memory loss present not only in the developers but the consumers too?
I bring all this up with Sonic Boom at the helm because even if the game didn’t encounter issues during development, most of which are mistakes already done before and should have been learned from, I don’t think we would have had much of a game to enjoy. Many people call the combat repetitive and I note that they were looking for a combat designer midway through production for quite some time. While I can understand there might be complexities I don’t understand, to be such a designer might be so simple as to understand at a critical level why previous combat systems in games worked as well as why they didn’t. Why do more people find say Smash Bros. controls simple and deep, a perfect fit for the game we are trying to make? What were the issues with combos in this game? What mechanics do people seem to enjoy? You don’t need a specialist to know that the system as it is is a boring one, this may be a developer with no games under their belt but analysis and understanding of games shouldn’t be something you need a specialist for unless we are going into horrendously complicated or deep systems like an actual fighting game. A brawler with a heavy dose of “it’s for the kids” injected? Just… look at the entire history of gaming combat systems and find something that works, I’d sooner have them rip from a good game and get it to work then chuck in the same design as a hundred bad games and bring down a core part of the gameplay.
Just a little side note, since when did “it’s for the kids” ever become an excuse for bad game design? I’ve heard that line pulled up a number of times in reviews and discussions about this games complexity among other things and I find it to be an awful excuse. What games did I play when I was a kid? Oh hey the original Sonic trilogy, look how bland and viciously easy these games are! Oh actually they are sometimes kinda difficult, the good kinda difficult that only reared its head as we approached the end of the game and the design of the game promoted having fun with basic jumping and running. Not all games we played as kids seem friendly to kids yes, if your grandmother got you Ninja Gaiden you might still fear owls to this day, yet a game for a child still deserves love and attention. It is often argued and I agree that designing for children is the hardest thing a designer will do, you have to learn how to convey so much in so little, worse if they may not be able to fully read yet.
My overall point is this: if Sega had looked to the past and seen what happens when you give a brand new, rather small team something this big, they’d have known it was going into dangerous waters. If the developers at BigRedButton had simply looked at the actions games of old and maybe while they were at it taken a peek at what happened when the creator of the engine tried running it on the Wii U, they’d have learnt that button mashing isn’t fun and that the CryEngine was a bad choice. This wasn’t pushing the boundaries going into uncharted territory, this was a retread of stupid decisions from people who don’t learn from the mistakes of those before them. In general, Sega seems to be afraid to refine the formulas of the games and instead just move onto the next “innovation”, there is almost a complete disregard for the successes and failures of previous games with some of the best recent games for me were the ones that took what Unleashed gave us and refined it, took what Colours learned and applied it elsewhere. I love Sonic 2 because it learnt what went wrong and what went right in Sonic 1. I am okay with Crash Bandicoot 1 but I love 2 more because it got what I felt was wrong originally, right. Why is learning from even the most recent outings so hard for so many? Are we all doomed to loop around in fallacies as we repeat the same mistakes of those before us? It seems miraculous when a sequel is better than the original, shouldn’t fixing up the problems and expanding what went right pretty much always yield better results? Have we all just resigned to the idea that some people are just never gonna learn, even from success? The future to me sometimes look a bit more like the past in a fresh coat of paint, but that shit still stinks regardless.
What games have you played that seemed to forget all the things you liked in the previous entries, even so close as the last entry? Are many developers doomed to never learn from each attempt at striking oil? How would you feel if your kids never got to try and learn from the games that you grew up on as they are no longer supported? Do you think current attempts at preserving games is good enough? Thanks for the read and I’ll see you all later.