All sizzle and no steak.

After watching E3 play out and as I continue to work through my backlog, I am growing concerned that game mechanics are taking far too much of a back seat to storytelling and whiz bang showy cut scenes.  I also believe we have been gradually moving this way since this generation started. Despite the fact that game horsepower is advancing we find that the bigger games have more linear levels, turret sequences, QTEs and overall more homogenous design.   How I feel about this is that despite an increase in horsepower resulting in more options, and empowerment they have resulted in flasher sequences where you push a button when it flashes on screen. There are exceptions to be sure, Bioshock keeps you in control, decisions impact things in Mass Effect, and the way that guards change their behaviours based on fear in Batman is cool, but I would expect that to be the norm not the exception.  

The thing that kills me the most is that I feel like the designs are overall taking a step backwards.   I feel like games of the PS2 generation did not really lean on the crutches outlined above as much as we are seeing now and that we still had amazing action packed sequences where we still had full control without needing to wait for a button prompt. Consider the following two sequences released relatively close in this generation of hardware. Spoilers ahead

  
  

  

  

While I will admit that the end boss of Uncharted looks great with the rain and sweeping camera, but ultimately the player has very little involvement with the game at this point.   The Zelda boss, running on inferior hardware, is not as visually impressive, but the player is actively controlling some badass actions.   Careening around the pillar jumping back and forth and waiting for the opportunity to strike is amazing.   I will admit I am comparing a fantasy franchise to one attempting to stay grounded in reality, but I feel like by and large bosses like the one depicted in Uncharted are more the norm.   I will admit that Zelda adheres to the rule of three, but for me that formula is still fun and a lot better than a QTE or worse, you get to a turret sequence or my personal favourite, you need to take out the helicopter, conveniently there is an RPG here, use it to take out the helicopter.  

So the PS3 undoubtedly has a great deal more horsepower than a Gamecube, more powerful than two of them duct taped together even, so why then is Uncharted’s boss battle inferior?  My assumption and concern is that with all the animation that we expect from HD systems studios are being made to devote more resources to animation and effects than game design.   If we continue our current course the strains of consumer expectations on visuals will actually hinder interactivity going forward.   Games with a greater emphasis on player agency like (from what I have seen so far) Bioshock infinite will become fewer and further between in favour of flashy games which take control away.   This is one reason I am personally not that eager to see a jump to a new wave of hardware, as I would rather see development costs lowered by familiarity with systems and game designs evolve.
 
Edit: for a better comparison on two humans fighting.
  

  

13 Comments
13 Comments
Posted by Thusian

After watching E3 play out and as I continue to work through my backlog, I am growing concerned that game mechanics are taking far too much of a back seat to storytelling and whiz bang showy cut scenes.  I also believe we have been gradually moving this way since this generation started. Despite the fact that game horsepower is advancing we find that the bigger games have more linear levels, turret sequences, QTEs and overall more homogenous design.   How I feel about this is that despite an increase in horsepower resulting in more options, and empowerment they have resulted in flasher sequences where you push a button when it flashes on screen. There are exceptions to be sure, Bioshock keeps you in control, decisions impact things in Mass Effect, and the way that guards change their behaviours based on fear in Batman is cool, but I would expect that to be the norm not the exception.  

The thing that kills me the most is that I feel like the designs are overall taking a step backwards.   I feel like games of the PS2 generation did not really lean on the crutches outlined above as much as we are seeing now and that we still had amazing action packed sequences where we still had full control without needing to wait for a button prompt. Consider the following two sequences released relatively close in this generation of hardware. Spoilers ahead

  
  

  

  

While I will admit that the end boss of Uncharted looks great with the rain and sweeping camera, but ultimately the player has very little involvement with the game at this point.   The Zelda boss, running on inferior hardware, is not as visually impressive, but the player is actively controlling some badass actions.   Careening around the pillar jumping back and forth and waiting for the opportunity to strike is amazing.   I will admit I am comparing a fantasy franchise to one attempting to stay grounded in reality, but I feel like by and large bosses like the one depicted in Uncharted are more the norm.   I will admit that Zelda adheres to the rule of three, but for me that formula is still fun and a lot better than a QTE or worse, you get to a turret sequence or my personal favourite, you need to take out the helicopter, conveniently there is an RPG here, use it to take out the helicopter.  

So the PS3 undoubtedly has a great deal more horsepower than a Gamecube, more powerful than two of them duct taped together even, so why then is Uncharted’s boss battle inferior?  My assumption and concern is that with all the animation that we expect from HD systems studios are being made to devote more resources to animation and effects than game design.   If we continue our current course the strains of consumer expectations on visuals will actually hinder interactivity going forward.   Games with a greater emphasis on player agency like (from what I have seen so far) Bioshock infinite will become fewer and further between in favour of flashy games which take control away.   This is one reason I am personally not that eager to see a jump to a new wave of hardware, as I would rather see development costs lowered by familiarity with systems and game designs evolve.
 
Edit: for a better comparison on two humans fighting.
  

  

Posted by wolf_blitzer85

It's all about the jump slashes.

Posted by Red

The problem isn't horsepower, it's the genre of game. In a game where shooting someone a couple times kills them, you obviously can't have that thrilling of a boss encounter. It's kind of ridiculous to compare a boss battle that's one guy against another guy to a battle between an elf and a skeleton dragon while the elf is riding on a freaking beyblade. 
 
Regardless of gameplay exhilaration, I actually cared about what happened in the fight in Uncharted. The story had invested me enough that I felt as though I was Nathan Drake, and all I really wanted to do was take down Navarro and his greedy ways. In the Zelda fight, all I really wanted to do was progress through the game, and while the fight, from a gameplay standpoint, was more fun, it meant absolutely nothing from a story standpoint. 

Posted by Cloudenvy

@wolf_blitzer85 said:

It's all about the jump slashes.

What about the boomerangs?

Posted by l4wd0g

I think the Uncharted: Drake's Fortune end battle was fantastic and fit the game very well.

As gaming grows, we'll need less and less boss battles. Some games do a great job with them, but more often than not, the boss battles just aren't good.

Posted by wolf_blitzer85

@Cloudenvy said:

@wolf_blitzer85 said:

It's all about the jump slashes.

What about the boomerangs?

Boomerang can chill too.

Posted by benjaebe

I'm not sure exactly what you're arguing, but if you're saying that game design has gotten poorer I'd say that you're wrong. There were just as many games back then guilty of what you've accused this generation of, you're just less likely to remember them because you're trying to prove a point. Some games, like Heavy Rain or L.A. Noire want to focus more on storytelling than traditional Zelda gameplay mechanics. That doesn't make them any less valid because at the end of the day, whether you're jump-slashing or pressing X to Jason, you're still just pressing buttons.

Posted by Tan

I think the problem he's talking about here is that, while the uncharted fight fit that genre--or even that game specifically, it took away a lot of control from the player during that scene. Mind you I've never played the game so I may have no idea what I'm talking about but it seems like it would have felt more interactive had you actually been in 'gameplay' mode rather what looks like a cutscene with button prompts. Of course I, personally, can't think of another way to present real heavy story-based conflict like the one in the video.

Edited by Thusian
@Tan: ding ding ding, you nailed it and for the record Metal Gear Solid on the original playstation found a way to finish the game off without making Liquid Snake a bullet sponge.  They found a way to make a fist fight to finish it off that is in my opinion more elegant and does not take control away.  Uncharted could have had you work your way up to him, have a cut sceen where your guns get tossed overboard and then you have a fist fight more L.A. Noir or MGS style.  
 
@benjaebe
My concern is that with all the story tools available(more animation better voice acting) game play is taking a back seat and at a certain point I ask myself if I should be watching a movie if I want to be that passive in my involvement.  I was never that aware of thsi until my brothern who is interested in games from the outside, came over and I showed him a cut scene heavy game I was waiting for him to be impressed, but all he said was "Do you play this game or do you watch it?"
 
Uncharted did not need an end boss at all an escape from the crumbling temple etc maybe still having to fight your way out would have been fine.  Perhaps UC3 will fix this. Don't get me wrong Uncharted is a good series, but it has some weak points.
Posted by Icemael

This has been happening for over half a decade now. Intense battles are replaced by cinematic quick-time events and turret sequences because old-school boss fights just don't fit the stories the developers are trying to tell or whatever. And to add insult to injury, the stories are fucking shit anyway.

It's not so much about the new consoles as it is about the new audiences. Games that are flashy, cinematic and simple enough that practically anyone can jump in and rush through them have potential to sell a shit-ton. Games with systems it takes time to master and boss fights that Joe Schmoe might actually have to replay a bunch of times before he can succeed usually don't, because the average person doesn't want to be challenged. He just wants to press a bunch of buttons, watch cool shit happen and move on to the next set piece or cutscene.

Posted by Tennmuerti

Comparing bosses in 2 completely different genres is kind of moot.

A boss is a contrivance for a lot of games that does not even need to be there.

That said plenty of games still have interesting/hard bosses these days, play some RPGs

Posted by Kyreo

@wolf_blitzer85 said:

@Cloudenvy said:

@wolf_blitzer85 said:

It's all about the jump slashes.

What about the boomerangs?

Boomerang can chill too.

What about the Arrows?

Posted by Cloudenvy

@Kyreo said:

@wolf_blitzer85 said:

@Cloudenvy said:

@wolf_blitzer85 said:

It's all about the jump slashes.

What about the boomerangs?

Boomerang can chill too.

What about the Arrows?

The arrows are super chill.