Console wars have been a time-honored tradition going back to the second generation of consoles but made infamous by the Sega and Nintendo console race of the nineties. The battle between Mario and Sonic created allegiances to brands that bordered on the romantic. People would defend their choice in hardware to the bitter end, and these choices were often made because of the titles or the power of the machine. Which brand was going to deliver the most up-to-date experience for its users?
However, with the advent of the internet, the diversity of games, and the increasing complexity of video game development, it has not only become silly to criticize games based on some of our prior ideas but hurtful to developers and the industry at large. We have turned into a fanbase that treasures how real something looks rather than how well it plays. We base everything off of how real it looks rather than how well it plays, and that is a terrible way to judge video games.
Halo’s Stale Fruit
Earlier this year, dozens of clips went viral on Twitter and reddit depicting the fruit physics in the Halo Infinite Tech preview. To break it down, the video shows that the Halo fruit present on the multiplayer map, Bazaar, weren’t being scattered when shot. This was most commonly being compared to The Last of Us Part 2, which conveniently showcased fruit that could be dispersed.
The argument was that Halo Infinite was not as well developed a game because of the physics of the fruit in the multiplayer. While it’s fine to argue that some games aren’t as well made as others in civil ways, criticizing a game for something that is more a novelty is more hurtful than anything else.
People keep wanting games to be pushing the forefront of graphics, but in games that go for the realistic look without an impactful story or gameplay, more often than not it’s like James Cameron’s Avatar: a visual spectacle that you forget about in a year.
Then why not just have a game that has great gameplay and amazing graphics and interactivity? Because that isn’t how game development works. It’s complicated, expensive, messy, and full of internal conflicts.
So many big game studios have been flagged for putting their employees under too much crunch to get these games out; whether they be self-imposed or not is not the point. Overly critical fans that are angry about the wrong things can create an environment that can send the wrong message to developers over what to prioritize or feel they need to do in order for their game to be acceptable.
Games are already super expensive to make and very time-consuming. If a publisher feels they need to prioritize the little things like fruit physics or how much sand kicks up when you dive into it, then other things will have less polish. What about the level design, mechanics, and how gameplay is integrated into the story? What about basic bug fixes? Oh please, what about the bug fixes?
Games are either getting delayed or releasing as buggy messes because they are so complex to develop. I’m not saying that it isn’t cool when the environment is interactable, but it shouldn’t detract from the rest of the game. It’s awesome that a singe-player game like The Last of Us can have an environment that moves with player action. However, I don’t think that every game needs that level of detail to the environment.
Personally, in a multiplayer game where I am constantly moving around, I really don’t care about the minute details of the map. Multiplayer should be the last place that such a development cost is spent on trivial details that won’t stand the test of time anyway.
But Metroid’s 60 Dollars
There has been a meme circulating around the internet lately that’s making fun of the people who are complaining about paying 60 dollars for a 2D game. People are using footage of God of War, Battlefield, and other big 3D games to help support their point that these games shouldn’t be valued at the same price. However, again, the thing that these people seem to want to pay for above all else is the spectacle of the game.
3D is more immersive; there is no arguing it, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a lot of time and effort going into other types of games (game navigation, world building, mechanics, art style, and controller input).
Indie developers have done some amazing work and released quality experiences for much cheaper often because they had much smaller teams. However, there is still a level of risk to those indie games.
Not every 2D game is a Hollow Knight or a Cuphead; some games are unplayable messes, and they cost the same. There are terrible 3D shooters that cost 60 dollars. What I’m most interested in when I pay for a game is how unique that experience is promising to be, how well the game’s been polished, and the amount content. How many dimensions there are shouldn’t factor into the argument.
Metroid Dread released with little to no issues from the community. It was well made and had enough content that long-time Metroid fans were left satisfied. What it didn’t have were extensive bugs that left people frustrated that they couldn’t play the game properly like many of the recent three-dimensional 60 dollar games that have been releasing.
Of course, it’s easier to develop a 2D game, but that doesn’t excuse those games for releasing at a 60 dollar price point and having to be fixed over time (Cyberpunk 2077, Assassins’s Creed, Battlefield 4, Halo Master Chief Collection, Fallout 76, etc.). If the standard is 60 dollars and broken for giant 3D games, I would rather have 60 dollars for a polished 2D experience that I can enjoy on day one.
Then there is the fact that game development does, in fact, take time and energy from a lot of real people. They are spending their lives trying to make a good product for their fans. In order to have the proper polish on release and self care for the team, there needs to be adequate time delegated for the project.
AAA developers have large teams that branch into a lot of different departments because they are trying to ensure that their product sells. Indie developers don’t have that luxury, but then they also can sell at a cheaper price point (though who knows what kind of cruel hours they were imposing on themselves).
Now not every game should be 60 dollars but not every 2D game should be 20 dollars. The 60 dollar standard is arbitrary, but if the game took the time to meet the qualifications for that standard at the company, then it might be warranted. Whether it’s 2D or not should have nothing to do with the price. Argue over content/quality and not over aesthetic when it comes to the price point and make your own decision over whether it’s worth that price.
Games Are More Than Dust Particles and Moveable Apples
I’m so sick of hearing what people think are the most important aspects of a game. I hear the same arguments all the time: bring in a battle royale, we need a coop multiplayer, this doesn’t look realistic, and the list goes on. Why do we obsess with making every game look and feel the same? What’s the point of having different games if the only difference between them is what the main character is called?
What we see as realistic keeps becoming more and more detailed. What was realistic in 2012 doesn’t look realistic today. The needle is always moving and if a game is only judged on that rubric they are going to age poorly.
AAA developers have money that indie developers don’t have. They should be allowed to delegate time to try new and wacky things rather than waste it on ensuring that the apples fly through the air when they are shot, but they can’t do this if market execs are seeing online that people care so much about these minor details in every video game.
When developers are able to make passion projects that aren’t being hyped up by marketing, influenced by a fanbase, or micromanaged by a publisher, they are able to make some incredible things. EA is a great example of a publisher that loves to get a little too involved in the development process because look no further than Dead Space 3. That franchise was a fantastic solo experience that was ruined with industry trends and coop.
We can even speculate that fallout 76 was a combination of studio greed, time crunch, and fan expectations. For years, fans had asked that Fallout have a multiplayer mode, but when we finally got it, it was a seemingly rushed attempt that was riddled with bugs and not much to do (initially). The game would clean up to be a more presentable experience, but it wasn’t nearly the kind of quality experience we expected from that series.
Overall, what I am trying to get at is that there is a time and place to be critical of games, but we shouldn’t be breathing down developers’ necks because they didn’t make their game world feel like the real world. There are a lot more important things to implement into a game than whether fruit can be moved and if the game is in three dimensions. Games are meant to be fun, first and foremost. If we are playing games to escape the real world for a moment, then why would we want our games to try to replicate it so much?