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Editorial

Out With the Old, in With the New — Dissecting Familiarity in Video Games

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Gaming today is no longer seen as just a hobby that one participates in during their spare time, rather the industry has transformed itself into an entertainment business as well. Many people devote their lives to playing video games, even finding ways to make a living from it.

With the gaming industry consistently improving upon itself with each coming year, changes are made all around to both what is being played and how it is played. Sometimes these changes can have both positive and negative impacts on how people experience gaming culture, and for the latter, jeopardize a lifestyle that individuals have created for themselves. A player’s familiarity with a video game franchise will ultimately determine how they associate with the product, and whether they will continue with their support.

Players will associate well with a product when they are able to understand what they are playing. The level design of a game can often predict what kind of experience the player will have. Games that are able to achieve success in this category will never leave the player confused with level progression, or question how a mechanic is to be executed. Modern video games are often over reliant on the implementation of in-game tutorials and HUD mechanics, limiting self-discovery and encouraging guidance.

Most franchises that become successful within the industry will want to achieve more, even if that means abandoning certain principles that they are found upon. This change can affect a player’s familiarity with the product, leaving them to question whether they will continue to support it. Dissociation with a brand can come from having a game transition into new territory within the industry and alter its ideals in favor of a new audience. A player’s dissociation with a video game is thus a result of how the game is being played.

The introduction of the smart-phone, and consequent the App Store, has marked a significant shift in the video game industry, forever changing how people play games. People no longer have to set aside specific time for gaming, since apps can be launched in mere seconds. Mobile gaming has also changed the way developers structure their game’s mechanics and ecosystem.

The mobile gaming scene is where microtransactions became most prevalent, and where poor quality, reskinned games obtained notoriety. The mobile environment has impacted the way core video games are now made, further disassociating players from the franchises they once loved. Almost all big budget titles now have a mobile counterpart, encouraging players to incorporate touch controls and interconnected systems into their traditional gaming habits.

As gaming creeps further into mainstream media, developers are beginning to compromise the experiences in order to make them more consumer friendly. Before the modern era of video games, gaming was seen as a niche culture, where they were either played from the comfort of one’s own home or at an arcade surrounded by like-minded individuals.

With gaming culture now a multibillion dollar industry, anyone is able to participate due to the barrier of entry being gradually lowered over the years. Gamers are witnessing a transition of power taking place, where before developers would create to drive the fanbase, believing success would come as well, to now creating for the everyday gamer, knowing that success lies in them.

Simplifying a game for the masses disassociates certain players from the experience by restructuring the ideology of a video game. On-screen tutorials and head-up displays have become more excessive over the recent years. They are made with the intention of providing the player with as much information as possible, while simultaneously limiting the level of mysticism found by exploring and experimentation.

The negativity surrounding the dissociation of players and video games does not entirely stem from the overreliance of tutorials and hand-holding, rather the necessity of them. While modern gaming is consistently exceeding the limitations of the medium, developers will often abandon traditional control schemes, creating alternative ones with each major release. This constant change distances a player with the product by alienating it from their previous experiences.

Looking back to the classic Super Mario Bros., the divide between association and dissociation can take place becomes more apparent. The player, as Mario, is tasked with completing the stage in order to become one step closer to saving the princess. To do this, they must consistently progress towards the right side of the screen, while jumping on or over platforms and enemies.

Upon start up, the game does not tell the player how they should reach the flag pole, rather the first thing that happens is a Goomba begins to creep in from the outer-bounds of the screen. The player can then react to this in a variety of ways. If nothing is done, the player dies, resulting in the loss of one life.

However, if the player experiments with the buttons, eventually they will find one that makes Mario jump, allowing them to progress onto the next screen. The level design presents a natural path of progression, while also providing the player with enough knowledge without ever having to teach them how to play.

From Nintendo to PlayStation, most games were easily accessible to players because of their similarities. Fans of a particular genre could easily understand any game that fell under that classification regardless of developer and platform. Every side-scroller required the player to keep moving right, just as every racer had a finish line. Modern gaming is an evolution of this concept, as developers continue to blend genres together and create hybrid experiences.

Games such as Nier Automata provide this experience by being part bullet-hell, side-scroller, top-down, and action-adventure, all crafted into one experience that provides a unique story as well. In addition, gamers are now witnessing a semi-unification of genre control schemes. Most modern shooters, whether first or third person, unanimously use the triggers to aim and shoot. Players have now become conditioned to this schematic, whereas the option to use any other layout feels foreign.

Along with level design, skill can ultimately affect a player’s association/disassociation with a game. The infamous meme of “Git Gud” that was once prolific within the Dark Souls franchise has now transcended and can be applied to any aspect of gaming. As aforementioned, by moving into the mainstream media, gaming has opened itself up to a wider audience. The barrier to entry has been significantly lowered so that the masses can now participate within the industry, creating a divide from the hardcore fans and the casual gamers.

The skill divide often creates tension within gaming culture, as many veterans are forced to watch franchises they grew up with shift towards mass media consumption. Whether the result is a beloved franchise transition into mobile gaming, or having unlockable content now become additional purchases, the gaming industry is changing at a rapid pace.

Over the past few years, an argument has formed within the industry that gaming today requires less skill, with many franchises simplifying the experience for the casual players. Call of Duty’s stories were originally intended to be played first before experiencing the multiplayer with friends, not only for the player to experience the level of hard work and production put into each game, but also as a way of introducing new players to the mechanics.

With Black Ops 4 eliminating the campaign from its roster of game modes, newcomers are forced into the multiplayer to fend off against series veterans. This ultimately affects the skill gap in the game, potentially ruining the experience for players on either side.

Additionally, the evolution of a franchise can often disassociate a player due to the radical shifts in gameplay and level design. When Call of Duty shifted from its modern military theme into that of science-fiction, many players expressed displeasure and outrage. After a few development cycles, the series has now found a compromise with the community, but not before shaking up the hardcore fanbase. Fans of the series only expressed outrage due to becoming disassociated with the franchise, leaving the developers to restructure their approach.

Gaming has come a long way from simplistic level design and gameplay. As technology innovates at a rapid pace, so does video gaming, allowing concepts that were once believed to be impossible now a reality. As a result of these changes, the way video games are played have become a byproduct of gaming culture’s changing environments.

The gaming industry is no stranger to experiencing new trends, causing players to undergo feelings of confusion and unfamiliarity. Transitioning into the mobile marketplace has proven to be profitable for the video game industry, but at the cost of distancing itself from many core gamers. A core franchise will always have its hardcore fanbase, even though some may abandon it due to ill practices. What most gamers fear, however, is the industry growing in the wrong direction, ultimately abandoning those who truly believe in its potential.

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Editorial

Three Single-Player Games to Watch Out for in July 2019

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Three Single Player Games (July 2019) - Sea of Solitude, Fire Emblem Three Houses, Wolfenstein Youngblood

July, the middle of winter down here in Australia. Even in the bizarre New South Wales climate, the biting cold makes for a great excuse to stay inside and play games. 

Weirdly for single players, quite a few prestige games this month include additional co-op modes. With acclaimed designers behind them, such games will hopefully avoid the pitfalls of accommodating multiple players, as too many games have done in the past.

Sea of Solitude

Release Date: July 5, 2019
Platforms: PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One

At first blush, Sea of Solitude looks like yet another story of a young adult struggling with questions of identity and mental health while exploring a beautiful but harsh fantasy world.

Actually, that’s what it is. ‘Quirky, life affirming indie adventure’ is a whole cottage industry these days, but the fact that such games are now more prevalent should never dismay.

Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice was a masterpiece of refined design and storytelling, and Sea of Solitude appears be something similar—this time dealing with a fantastical vision of depression that turns ordinary people into literal monsters.

Players take charge of Kay, who has sought out the eponymous Sea—or rather, a flooded city based on Berlin—in the hope that there is a cure for monstrosity. However, despite its name, she is not the only person in the Sea. Avoiding the other monsters of the Sea seems to be a major part of the gameplay. These tense encounters are likely to provide rhythm and variety to the adventure and keep it from being a just walking simulator. (Not that being a walking simulator is inherently a problem.)

Although published by EA Originals, one would do well to remember that EA the company does not actually profit off the Originals that they publish. With a focused story and themes that still are not often explored in bigger games, Sea of Solitude should be of great interest to single player fans in a month otherwise dominated by multiplayer titles.

 

Fire Emblem: Three Houses

Release Date: July 26, 2019
Platform: Nintendo Switch

Almost certainly the biggest single player release of the month, and tied with Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 as another massive Switch exclusive, Fire Emblem: Three Houses might be exactly what single players need right now.

Lately the Fire Emblem franchise has exploded in both its popular profile and sales success, buoyed by a hunger for both deep anime RPGs and polished tactics games. Three Houses seems to have doubled down on exciting trends and features in both genres: particularly a Persona/Harry Potter inspired magic school setting and an even deeper tactical battle system that ditches the rock-paper-scissors for more nuanced character progression options. As with many Japanese RPGs, the story is also a major focus and hinges upon a time-jump.

The early part casts the player as a teacher at the Officer’s Academy, situated in the center of the game world and attended by students from the three most powerful nations. Five years later, the second and likely larger part concerns the drama between the player’s teacher and their former students, whose nations are now locked in a massive three-way conflict.

As is to be expected for a series finally coming back to consoles after a long time on the 3DS, Three Houses is a massive technical leap over its predecessors. The game boasts better realised battlefields, more detailed armies, and a slick animated style that appears much more consistent compared with the three or four different art styles on the 3DS.

With such improvements, as well as the overall pedigree of the Fire Emblem brand, Three Houses should have no trouble satisfying single player fans looking for a meaty middle-of-the-year RPG.

Wolfenstein: Youngblood

Release Date: July 26, 2019
Platforms: Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One

The recent Wolfenstein revival series is such a remarkable achievement in traditional shooter design and great, if goofy, sci-fi worldbuilding that the co-op focus of this latest instalment is somewhat disappointing.

Yes, as with F.E.A.R. 3 and Dead Space 3, following a well-received second chapter the Wolfenstein series now pivots to a co-operative focused chapter. Though the game is not a mandatory multiplayer experience, combat encounters and puzzles have been redesigned to accommodate the two player mode, giving single players an AI-controlled partner and bullet sponge enemies.

However, all hope is not lost for Wolfenstein: why else would it be the third game on the list? The narrative has been pushed forward in time, as B.J.’s twin daughters are now in their adolescence, now giving players a glimpse at the 1980s of Wolfenstein‘s skewed universe. Additionally, the level design itself is more freeform thanks to development assistance from Arkane, the developers of the Dishonored series.

Will Wolfenstein: Youngblood successfully deliver more of the series’s goofy charm and crazy alternate reality? Almost certainly. On the other hand, will the game be as fun to play alone as in multiplayer? That remains to be seen. Last month’s E3 demo that raised such concerns was naturally only a snapshot of a game in development, so MachineGames and Arkane have had plenty of time to resolve these potential downsides to a co-op focused game.

Those are our three big single player games to look out for this month. Other interesting titles coming soon include Stranger Things 3 on July 4 and Attack on Titan 2 on July 5, both games hitting Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One.

On July 12 we will see the sequel to an almost-fantastic Minecraft-like RPG spinoff, Dragon Quest Builders 2 on Switch and PlayStation 4, as well as the Switch port of “anime Monster Hunter”, God Eater 3

The week after, July 19 brings us Switch-exclusive Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order, and at an undetermined time during the month Klei Entertainment’s anticipated survival-sim Oxygen Not Included will finally leave early access on PC.

Have we missed anything that you’re looking forward to? Let us know in the comments below and be sure bookmark OnlySP and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. You can also join the discussion in our community Discord server.

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