2008 – “The year of …………. “

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After a slow transition into new platforms, with the Ps2 releasing its onslaught of swan songs (“Ôkami”, “Shadow of the Colossus”, “Final Fantasy XII”), next-gen finally become current-gen in 2007. An absurd amount of games were released, and amongst them, you could find interesting ideas and new paths for games to tread in the future. “Bioshock”, “Orange Box” (especially, when it comes to “Half Life 2 – Episode 2” and “Portal”), “Mario Galaxy” all brought something new into the derivative mix of big budget blockbusters. The thought provoking nature of “Bioshock’s” aesthetic and narrative, the epic and dramatic ending of “Episode 2”, and the gameplay revolution behind “Mario’s Galaxy” or “Portal’s” 4D design, were all good reasons to enjoy 2007. Personal favorites of mine, such as “The Darkness”, “Lost Odyssey” and “Eternal Sonata”, though derivative in terms of design, all told original stories, a rare feat for videogames, whichever the year. Not only that, the quality of most blockbusters was above par, even when it came to the more simple-minded releases. “Halo 3”, “Call of Duty 4”, “Uncharted” and “Mass Effect” were all incredibly polished, and had a distinct identity to their game design philosophies, even if none of them were particularly original. The blooming of downloadable services in all 4 platforms, allowed for indie ventures such as “flOw” to shine and reach mass markets, without the need for big budgets; their more intimate and discrete nature challenge big producers to deliver artsier experiences that rely on more than just high polygon counts. Retro also made a comeback through these services, as games that were once the privilege of a select few (who had the money and the patience to stalk online auctions in search of prized rarities), were now instantly accessible to anyone – classics ranging from “Super Mario Bros.” to “Psychonauts” were just a few coins away from being played in all their glory. Though far from being one of the best gaming years ever (as so many put it), 2007 was a good year for videogames.

2008 is almost over. And I say… thank God. While most might be content with the scale of 2008 releases, which more or less matches that of 2007, I am not, because though there was quantity, quality was sparse. Though not a bad year “per se”, there were no groundbreaking games, blockbusters were mostly sequel-ish and too safe, and there was an insane amount of unfulfilled potential in most games. Simply put, I feel that no new steps have been given towards the future… at least, in terms of mainstream gaming (we’ll get to indie later). Also, because of the barrage of media hype, games were augured as divine, breathtaking, revolutionary, stunningly beautiful… but in the end, never were. It’s the year of wasted sequels (“Gears of War 2”, “GTA IV”, “MGS 4”), failed promises (“Mirror’s Edge”), dying franchises (“Silent Hill Homecoming”, “Prince of Persia”) and lackluster new IP’s (“Dead Space”, “Army of Two”, “Dark Sector”). I’m aware of this being a controversial opinion, as most media outlets and gaming magazines seem thrilled with this year’s batch of games (relax, I’m not going to waste any more time criticizing the media for their opinions, no matter how unfortunate they may be…). Metacritic scores support this notion, as this year’s games rank amongst the highest ever. The 360 all-time top ten (the best frame of reference for the current generation) includes only two 2006 releases, “Gears of War” (rated number four) and “Oblivion” (fifth), four 2007 releases, “Bioshock” (second), “Orange Box” (third), “Call of Duty 4” (sixth), “Halo 3” (seventh), and four 2008 releases, “Grand Theft Auto IV” (number one), “Gears of War 2” (eighth), “Fallout 3” (ninth), “Braid” (tenth). A blunt statement could be made: according to a majority of game reviewers, 2008’s games are on par with 2007’s. I can’t but feel this is far from the truth, and I’ll do my best to show my point of view concerning 2008 in the coming series of articles called “2008 – The year of ………… ” .

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  • Comments (4)
  1. I’ve tried not to think too much about 2008, fearing the situation where I would reach a similar conclusion. But I guess that each year is a subjective experience that includes not just the recent releases but all the discoveries and challenges that being a videogame player and researcher allows. In that sense, 2008 brought me several great games, presented me with unique oportunities and reminded me once again of classics that I had somehow forgotten about. Why, just last week I was baffled by my second visit to Gadget.

    There is no reason why we should consider each year in videogaming according only to the present market and the games that are being sold at the moment. You played great games this year, you were allowed to experience, first hand, some of videogame’s best by dwelving a little more into the past. Thus I think, in the end, that what counts is the experience you had and not the scrutiny one can make of this specific year: I leave that for the analysts and pseudo-experts.

    I am a player. A player plays.

    • ruicraveirinha
    • December 20th, 2008

    Thanks for the comment, it’s good to know you still bother to give feedback, dieubussy-sensei! Arigatou!

    Sadly, I have to disagree with you. You say “there is no reason why we should consider each year in videogaming according only to the present market and the games that are being sold at the moment”. I say there is a reason. Sure, I am not bound by the laws of market in terms of what I play, and I wholeheartedly agree with you that everyone should bare the same stance (a shame it isn’t so), but the only way to get a feel of what the industry and the Art form is going through in terms of its development, is to analyze games from a specific time period. The question is: is taking the pulse of an entire means of expression worth it? Does analyzing its time-framed conceptual bounds bear any importance? Do I, a mere player, as you so put, have any interest, any point, in doing so? The answer is a rotund yes. For us to understand the medium any better, we need to understand its history (come on, you’re an historian, you should be with me on this one 😉 ), and doing so allows us to define major movements and trends for the future, as well as reflect on the current status of videogames, their inner flaws and strengths, and finally, on how analyze each particular work, considering its specific artistic, social, cultural and economic landscape. Oh, and it’s also entertaining to look back and bash on a couple of misplaced ideas or praise, yet again, some of the unsung pieces of the past, n’est -ce pas? So yes, I find a lot of interest in these year-by-year analysis.

    I know that makes me what you call an analyst or pseudo-expert. But that’s the whole thing with this blog… it’s about pseudo-analysis by a pseudo-expert, nothing’s changed on that front 😀

    “A player plays.” I’m going purposefully decontextualize your sentence to make a simple point: If a player plays, why bother analyzing and scrutinizing? Players play. Why criticize? Why ponder videogames? Why think about them? If they’re fun to play, we play, if they’re not we don’t…? But that’s exactly our problem, there’s too many players playing and too few actually thinking about what they’re playing 😉 So no, a player doesn’t play – A player thinks.

    Once again, thanks for your thoughtful remarks. I’m always glad to hear from you. Big hug!

  2. Not pseudo-expertise. I think one shouldn’t be too focused on the negative impact of 2008, since we won’t be able to analyze this year before a few more couple of years have gone by. Of course we can present some remarks as to what was out there, who did things right, who should be banned from videogame making: but the impact of 2008 is not detachable from the previous or the following years so, as an historian, I learned that one can’t quite make a proper analysis of a year’s time before a little more is past. It is not yet relevant, you see? Now would be a good time to start thinking about 2007 though, the part I most enjoyed about your post.

    What I meant with that final quote was that the role of the player should not be manipulated by market trends and advertising. One should play what he feels like playing and, in that sense, I know that you played wonderful games this year – Rez, Last Express, Blade Runner, Longest Journey, etc. So why have a go at the objective analysis of something when you’ve always been so good at the subjective ones?

    2008 won’t be relevant for at least a year or more. It’s like trying to figure out what went wrong the day after breaking up a personal relationship: we need to mourn first, and then look at it from a distance. That’s what historians do, they study the past in light of the present in a way, so as an historian, 2008 has not yet become the past, for in effect it IS the present.

    Don’t mention it, I always love to read the blog and drop some comments, laugh a little, you know? It’s funnier when I’m not being 100% serious. I love it even the more when you disagree with me so you know how big a smile I have on my face right now. Cheers!

    • ruicraveirinha
    • December 20th, 2008

    Indeed you are right, the impact 2008 will have in gaming can only be dealt with in the years to come. Still, I think you have to start thinking about it now, not in the sense of making major predictions on how it will carry out in the future (come on, I’m not that smart 😀 ), but in the sense of establishing what was the common thread behind games this year.

    Get the pulse of the medium as it throbs in your hand, not as a clinic reading scientific data. “Look, this game had 3000 sequels, haha! That’s where the cancer stems from!!!” That’s easy breezy. Let’s play the game, feel it as we grasp it, reasoning it as we play them, not “a posteriori”. As you said, we also need the sort of subjective experience that carries some emotional weight, and now would be a good time to write about that.

    Using your metaphor, yes, the moment immediately after breaking up isn’t a good one to make any rational analysis concerning the reasons that lead to your breakup, but it is the best moment to channel your emotions into writing something passionate about that relationship.

    Both moments in time are important. The emotional response and the rational one, backed up with the knowledge that only time can give. Come on, worst case scenario, we’ll establish how our opinions change with time, and have some fun in the process! That’s why we’re here, right? 😉

    Cheers matey!!!!!!

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