Extra Punctuation

Extra Punctuation
Molyneux's Unfocused Innovation

Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw | 25 Jan 2011 16:00
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At the risk of Extra Punctuation becoming some kind of regular vehicle for apologetic backtracking to soften the blows of particularly brutal Zero Punctuations, I just want to say that I am fond of Peter Molyneux. I like him for what he represents: a bygone age. And I like him because he has enthusiasm. A slightly weird enthusiasm, perhaps a little misguided and perhaps a little too eager to express itself, but when most of the game developers I know are jaded and uninvested in the increasingly corporate environment in which they are expected to create, an eager auteur with actual creative vision in control of his own IP is a positive presence.

These days, everywhere, I look I find more and more evidence that the breed of games I like most - immersive, artistically-driven triple-A console titles - are dying. Unsustainable. Ruinously expensive to develop and insufficiently purchased by consumers who have gradually been bred to immediately reject anything that doesn't have the shiniest graphics, the realistic-est physics and the growliest insecure-est white male space marines. The new games I generally take it upon myself to review taper more each day into the same stream of boring, linear, repetitive shooters designed by a committee of unfeeling concrete monoliths on expensive leather chairs to meet the same fucking checklist of features proven to milk the most money from the C2DE Fucktard demographic. All my instincts tell me that this death of innovation is going to cause another crash. The future probably lies in the Steam/handheld/XBLA market, but returning largely to a small-scale market driven by innovation, while appealing in much of its aspect, also depresses me when I think about the realistic, atmospheric experiences I've had that the entire history of gaming technology seemed to be leading up to. Shadow Of The Colossus, Arkham Asylum, Just Cause 2, all my favorite titles, born from something that may be lost to us as the industry plunges into bankable mediocrity.

The major warning sign for me that the industry has become increasingly artistically bankrupt is that it no longer produces "names." The celebrity artists of game design, your Peter Molyneuxs, your Tim Schafers, your Sid Meiers, your John Carmacks, all emerged out of previous eras. But Peter Molyneux's particular problem is that he's still stuck in the mindset of his time. He is the undisputed king of It Sounded Good On Paper. Yeah, twenty years ago when the ability to have sex with hookers in Leisure Suit Larry blew my fucking mind, the notion of a game being so deep and expansive that after visiting an inn and flirting with the waitress on your way to slaying the dragon you can come back and buy the inn and marry the waitress, or any building or member of the service industry in the world, would have sounded like some glorious unreachable pipe dream. But now that a game can actually have those elements they're a lot less appealing than they seemed while we couldn't have them. Anything looks more appealing when it's behind the window of a swanky shop, against which we press our noses, spellbound.

Peter is still in the mindset of when games were restricted by technology. When we thought it would be amazing to have a game that could be an action-adventure and a management simulator at the same time. So he's eager to explore these juvenile notions now that the technology is available, and they fall flat for one very basic and very obvious reason: tone. History has shown time and again that audiences have little interest in a game that tries to finger every moistened pie. Fable 3 with its attempt to hybridize action-adventure and management sim just ends up being too managementy for the action-adventure fans and too actiony for the management crowd.

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