When you have a command and mastery of a video game, it is possible to play from the beginning to the end of the game without your character “dying”. Of course, there is a learning curve involved with playing video games and, while you are trying to get to grips with a game there is every chance that you will “die” with frustrating regularity. This is why many of the traditional video games give a character three lives to start with, and offer more as the game goes on (if you play particularly well, it may be a lot more). They are a lot like an incentive system for video games.
The “power up” is something which does not feature in some of the more modern day games, in which a character doesn’t so much “die” as have their efforts brought to a halt at a certain point and have to restart from the last obstacle they cleared. This allows players with perseverance but no great amount of skill to advance further in the game than ordinarily they might. However, in the older games, “power ups” include: an extra life; greater speed or strength; invincibility; invisibility (to the other characters in the game); and more of the game’s “currency” – in some games you pick up coins and in others it may be something else.
While completing a video game is quite enough of a target in itself, the inclusion of these power-ups helps to buttress a player’s resolve to get as far into the game as possible – a series of mini-tests before the big one at the end.
“Classic video games” is a term which in itself is probably enough to set alarm bells ringing in the heads of many people. However, video games have been around for over a generation now, and it is about time that people let it go. Classic films have certainly been made in the last thirty-plus years, and classic novels have been penned too, as have classic albums. Therefore it is fair to say that classic video games do exist, even if the concept upsets a few people. What those games are is another debate entirely.
For many people, the ultimate classic video games are ones which were released very early on when gaming was more simple than it is now. In fact, some people will try to convince you that the old, simpler games are more deserving of the “classic” tag than ones developed ten or twenty years later. They’re really just trying to convince themselves, though. Some of the more recent games are undoubtedly genuinely jaw-dropping in their playability and their innovation. If an album recorded in the last five years can be dubbed “an instant classic”, so too can a video game.
Of course, what makes a game deserving of the tag “classic” is another matter. It is probably in the eye of the beholder to a large extent, as playability and enjoyment are totally subjective things. Consensus seems to settle around the real classics, which gain the title through being constantly surprising, addictive (in a good way) and original.
Early cell phones or mobile phones came with pre-loaded games, of which the most familiar is probably “Snake”. The game, which simply featured a “snake” which you had to direct around a maze (effectively, a box in the middle of the screen which either had walls or didn’t, depending on your choice), was practically inexplicable to those who had never played it, and also maddeningly addictive. Since the advent of more developed cell phones, there have been ever more developed games to go with them.
While on those earlier cell phones you essentially had the game that was pre-loaded and either liked or lumped it, WAP phones have made it possible to download the games from the Internet, and install them on your phone for unlimited play. The more advanced the phone, the more advanced the game, although for the truly massive video games that have releases not unlike those of a Hollywood movie, mobile play will probably still be a pipe dream for a while yet.
The kind of game that really thrives on mobile play is a fairly simple one which involves basic movements in any one of four directions (up, down, left and right) – anything larger will usually require a more dedicated control system and will be much better played on a console with its own controller. However, there are certain games which really thrive when played on a phone – Quiz games are particularly good, especially as it is possible to download updates with new questions when you’ve exhausted the old ones.
It is often said that video games are more similar to films than to the games of the past. While this is as much a reference to the increasingly realistic graphics and the more interactive relationship between your character and others than anything else, there is perhaps another reason behind it.
In the past, video games “happened” a certain way. You would play in one setting, kill a certain kind of enemy and work through to the end of that setting where you would have to kill a really big enemy, who might need to be hit fifty times or more before he’d go away. Then you would move to the next level, and repeat the process. This “multi-level” system would be very explicit in the game, with opening screens telling you which level you were on.
Now, there is a certain style of game which attracts the description “non-linear”. There are multiple settings, and you move between them as you see fit. To advance the storyline you have to complete certain tasks, but not necessarily in the same order every time. How you complete those tasks can dictate the future path of the game. Games now are very like films, and while we may not script them we certainly play a part in directing them.
Of course, you will still find multi-level games, which will never die out as long as one set of gamers exists that remembers the joys of PacMan and Donkey Kong. The difference is that the new titles are far more likely to be in the newer style.
Completing a video game from start to finish used to really mean something. In fact, in some games it was impossible. The game simply sped up incrementally, until the gamer was forced to relent or otherwise became as one with the game. Eventually, because you need to sleep, you’d have to stop. The games that could be completed often required a few months of committed playing to get to that stage – but that was never going to fly in the modern day for too long. This resulted in the development of the “cheat” code.
Usually entered by typing a certain key sequence (frequently extremely complicated – you don’t get anything for nothing), cheat codes can help a gamer who is just having that bit too much trouble getting past a certain stage of the game. Keep dying because that one guy won’t stop setting you on fire? What about a cheat code that makes you impervious to fire? Not so clever now, is he? Of course, cheat codes used to be guarded jealously by the software developers and had to be discovered by gamers (“Oh! You can skip this level if you press Up, Down, Up, Down, Left, A, B, START! How did I work that out?”). Now they are pretty much all on the Internet.
It may say something about us as a society that cheat codes are now necessary for just about every game. Perseverance will take you so far, but if you can resist looking up a way to overcome that guy with the Molotov cocktails, you really are practically Zen in your patience.
The technical term is “cross-platform”, and it applies both to games which have made the leap from one console to another as well as just about any form of media which has been adapted from one medium to another. It’s not a new concept, even if the jargon is new. Often in the past, when individuals harangued one another to read a certain book, it would be seen as somewhat humorous to respond with the quip “Nah, I’ll just wait until the movie comes out”. This doesn’t happen so much with video games, though. The quipping, that is, because games are increasingly crossing platform.
OK, so there are some games which will never make a good movie. PacMan would lack a certain something in terms of story development, it’s true. It is also hard to imagine anyone particularly wanting to spend the price of a good meal and two hours of their life watching “Space Invaders: The Movie”, but others have made the move and been successful in doing so. One which springs immediately to mind is Tomb Raider. Additionally, stalwarts such as Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat have been released to mixed reviews.
One reason often advanced for this is that video games are becoming increasingly filmic in terms of their look and feel, but the truth is that some of the most filmic games – Grand Theft Auto and Saints Row among them – have not been cross-platformed and many argue against it ever happening. A good video game stands and falls on its own, many argue, but obviously there are those who disagree.
As children, many of us will have played video games that relied entirely on gameplay to make them popular. Some of the earlier video games had absolutely no incidental music, and any sound that they did include was (theoretically) made by the onscreen character, the weapon they were using, and the characters in hot pursuit. Where games did have music, it was frequently barely distinguishable from the other sounds, and it was all a mess of bleeps and bloops.
Perhaps it is a consequence of innovation where video games began to be sold on CDs, which held a lot more information and allowed a much freer hand with the sound, but video games now are frequently accompanied by specifically-written music written and scored by professionals. Like a lot of music, some of it is still unlistenable bilge – but some of it is surprisingly good and really adds to the game. In other cases, the soundtrack is provided by established bands – either original content or known hits – and there has been an innovation of “in game radio stations”, familiar to fans of Grand Theft Auto.
This is, in its own way, a real flip from the period in the 1990s when someone thought it would be a good idea to use video game music samples to make dance tracks. Games such as Tetris and Super Mario Brothers were subjected to this treatment, and one hopes that the person who thought it was a good idea is now getting the help he needs.
Not so long ago, when a movie was completed and released for the public to watch, there was a very simple pattern to things. The movie was scripted, then edited, then recorded and directed, then cut and shown to a test audience, then tidied up and released to a waiting public. Now, pretty much no blockbuster movie is complete without a tie-in video game. Well, some are, of course. An 1800s costume drama where all of the action is in what is said (and left unsaid) will not work particularly well in a gaming context. Every action movie, however, requires its own video game.
In truth, a good movie does not necessarily make for a good game. You can like the character and appreciate the storyline, but for a video game to work it needs to have a real sense of interaction between what the gamer does and the eventual climax. Movie merchandisers do realize that someone might enjoy a game so much that they will go and see the movie or buy it on DVD, so the better software houses do tend to get the contracts to make the tie-in games these days.
One thing that is commonly recognized by gamers, however, is the fact that quite often a movie tie-in video game is very heavily based on an existing game, but with the familiar characters, settings and storyline all but superimposed onto the game. Selling to a gaming audience is not the same as selling to movie fans, and this is a risky stratagem. The best movie tie-ins remain those which are developed synergistically at the same time as the movie is being made.
The popular view of video games seems to be that they entail someone sitting with a controller in their hands, shooting people on a screen. Of course, this is a simplistic view, and there are several other kinds of video games. However, the ones which fit in with a stereotypical idea of what the games entail tend to involve controlling someone’s physical activity in a very simplistic way. Many video games, however, are based around a more considered, statistical way of getting to an end goal. It doesn’t fit in with the “rots your brain” crowd’s idea of what gaming entails, but never mind.
Sports management simulations are very popular. Perhaps the most popular of all is the soccer management game Football Manager. Unlike a great many sports simulations, at no point in this game do you control a player and choose his immediate path to goal. Instead, you take all of the duties of a soccer manager and try to create a winning team. You sign players, you choose tactics, you give motivational team talks and you try to analyse the computer-generated opponent to get the best results.
As this game gets developed and updated at least once a year, new elements are added. It is possible to release a statement designed to play mind games with your opponent before a big match, and players who aren’t getting much time on the field will express their disillusionment with you. It cannot be long before the game develops to a point where you leak stories to the press about players who are annoying you – but there is such a thing as “too realistic”.
It is hard to talk about video games for a long time without mentioning Grand Theft Auto. And it is hard to mention Grand Theft Auto without talking about the controversy about the game, a controversy which is whipped up every time people have a difficulty in trying to sell newspapers or attract viewers or listeners to topical talk shows. You know how it goes – the game encourages violence, and it is responsible for lawless youth. It is a complete logical non-sequitur, but it gets people angry and it shifts blame from more deserving targets.
One of the major elements of the criticism aimed at Grand Theft Auto is the idea that in an average playing of the game you get the opportunity to pay a prostitute for sex and when the transaction is complete you beat her to death and take the money back. While it is indeed true that you can do this in some of the games, it is equally true that it is more than likely that people playing the game never even thought of doing so before it was reported far and wide on TV talk shows.
Video games will portray things that should not happen in real life, and it is fair to hold the opinion that this is a shame. However, the same moral standards do not seem to apply to classic works of literature and film-making, or indeed to depictions of real life. In video games, you can indeed do things that are wrong, but it might be more productive to concentrate on the people who are doing things like this for real, without needing the encouragement of a video game.