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September 21, 2014 | by  | in Articulated Splines Opinion | [ssba]

That Wizard Came from the Moon

As I write this, there are two hotter-than-hot stories in the gaming press. First of all, Destiny recently hit the shelves and it seems like everyone is already bored with it. Secondly, Minecraft – indie gaming’s blockbuster hit – has just been sold to Microsoft for an ice-cold US$2.5 billion. So, in the Old El Paso spirit, why not touch on both?

Destiny is Halo-studio Bungie’s latest effort. It’s a genre-bending sci-fi epic, an MMO released exclusively for console (so far) and the spiritual successor to Halo’s epoch-defining space shoot-’em-up dynamic. It’s also kind of dull. Reviewers all over the internet have heaped criticism on the weak story, difficult interactions and dearth of engaging content. Not to mention the fact that the competitive multiplayer dooms you to frustration until you can attain a superior level. Bungie has hit back with claims that it all gets better with level 20 endgame content, but reviewers find that hard to accept.

And I have to agree. Admittedly, I’ve only played the beta (and on last-gen, no less), but I was disappointed to note the same old sterile environments and interactions I was used to from my World of Warcraft days in 2006. Without a keyboard, it was hard to find any kind of ‘community’, either. Combat was great, but boss battles were a drag – it was pretty irritating to come up against formulaic missions and bullet sponges, particularly from the Halo studio.

I blame the committee. Erasing individual passion because it’s risky, and sticking to what focus-tests as popular and inoffensive. Sure, people will play it, because the MMO is a finely tuned Skinner box by now, but I’m still grumpy. It bites that there was no real story, because that’s what makes the good games work. Titanfall was okay, but its story was garbage, whereas most of the CoD family have at-least-strong narratives to augment their multiplayer – and (immature community aside) which one do you honestly prefer?

But, hey. They’re promising a ten-year development cycle, so maybe they’ll deliver something that isn’t plot-by-committee later. Individual, unique story is important in those kinds of games, and hopefully they realise that now. On the other crude segue, there are games where story literally does not matter: enter Minecraft and its enormous price tag. Big bucks, yada yada yada. What matters to me is the other side of the story.

Notch, mythical creator of the game itself, has resigned. And why? Because he’s afraid. He’s seen the abuse of other figures in the industry, and it has come dangerously close to him with the cash-for-perks server controversies. He doesn’t have a massive corporate entity to protect him, so he got out. Can anybody rationally blame him for that?

It’s a scary time to be in indie development right now, and I for one hope that it changes soon. Otherwise, we’ll end up with fewer labours of love like Minecraft, and more corporatised bullshit like Destiny.


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