News: Cliff Bleszinski, Tim Schafer and Gearbox’s Mikey Neumann discuss the current generation and how we arrived at a situation where the player is led by the hand so often.
“I think games have gotten a little soft this generation”, Bleszinski laments in an interview with GTTV, alluding no doubt to the ubiquity of the waypoint, overwhelmingly linear level design and the fact that Dark Souls can use its difficulty as a USP. ”You know what I blame?,” the Gears of War man continues. “I think E3 is one of the factors. We had this game of one-upmanship to have the best stage demo which led to the super-linear Pirates of the Caribbean thing.” And, lest we forget, that one-upmanship was probably responsible for Ice T’s cameo in 2011, too.
Schafer has other culprits in mind: “We’ve also made a lot of advances in usability testing but some of the danger of that is the publisher will tell you ‘these guys couldn’t solve your thing’. Well yeah, it’s a puzzle. You play a [contemporary] game where traversal is the important thing like in an old Tomb Raider game, the second you start thinking about it it’s like ‘press A on a lamp to climb up’”
Interestingly, none of the three veterans cite the rise of social media, bite-sized mobile gaming nor the instant gratification and widespread popularity of online multiplayer as the reason games seem to be pandering to a subset of players each with the patience of a gnat. I can barely go one of Skyrim’s tortuously spun out loading screens without playing a round of Solipskier or Zookeeper. But I’d argue it’s my patience for bad or awkward design in an age dominated by things like Twitter and iOS that sits at absolute zero. I’ll happily slog away at something like Dark Souls or FTL: Faster Than Light.
Gearbox’s Neumann, on the other hand, takes aim at the waymark. “I honestly don’t remember where it came from first because I don’t remember it being anywhere as bad in the last generation, but the objective icon. That thing that always says ‘go here’ so even if you’re not in a hallway ‘go here’. It took the fun out of discovering stuff and we actually took some of that out of Borderlands 2 where we’ll tell you to find stuff and we’ll just bring you to the area.”
If nothing else, the three developers seem to eye the situation with animosity, with Bleszinski going as far as to accept some of the blame: “I recognise that we’re partially to blame for that now. I’d like to get away from that in the future and let players get lost and die once in a while and actually learn something and prove to use that they’ve learned it in the game and have that satisfaction.”
Keep an especially close eye on BeefJack over the coming weeks. The American launch of Borderlands 2 kickstarts our annual videogame silly-season.