2013 saw a lot of changes in the games industry. Some were good, some great, some awful and some fell flat on their faces. However, one thing that can’t be denied is that there have been a lot of innovations and a lot of people trying new things. Of course, it’s easy to focus on the parts of the industry that are not changing and are possibly even stagnating, like the release of sequel after sequel and the unadventurous attitudes to existing game genres, but you only need to take a step back and take a look at the year as a whole to realise that there’s been plenty of new and interesting developments too. With the launch of the PS4 and Xbox One and a ‘new generation’ of games on the horizon there are likely to many many more surprises in the future. So what better time than now to look back on the last year and see what trends really worked? There are tons of interesting trends which have developed or are developing as we speak, like second screens, cross-play, cloud computing and the resurgence of platformers and rather than try to pick the ones I think are the most important to the industry, I’ve decided instead to pick just 5 trends that I personally found the most exciting. What are you favourite trends of 2013? Are they anything like mine? Let me know in the comments below!
Gone are the days when developers could claim that ‘people don’t care about stories.’ Ok, so those days aren’t completely gone and there are still people who believe that, but it’s become increasingly difficult to stick by that that in today’s climate. While a good story is not a necessary component of a good game (after all, games like Resogun prove that all you need to make a game good is for it to be fun), more and more developers seem to be recognising that a large proportion of gamers love a good story. In particular, with RPGs and games that are naturally heavier on story, it is no longer enough to slap together a flimsy premise and get a few voice actors to monotonously go through their cheesy lines if they want to stay competitive.
In particular, 2013 has been an incredible year for original and unexpected plots with games like BioShock Infinite and The Last of Us redefining what video game stories look like, without sacrificing their playability. They showed us that a good balance between gameplay and story is possible and that video games don’t all have to be about macho young soldier types who are all either good or bad with little in between. The Last of Us gave us believable characters and realistic human relationships that really made us care. And of course, there’s the ending of BioShock Infinite that left the internet reeling after its big reveal. Games like these didn’t try to avoid serious issues or hide behind lasers and gun, instead they were carefully written masterpieces that never gave up their identity as a game. They clearly took inspiration from films, but rather than try to fit their stories into that formula, the developers have found ways of telling the story they want in a distinctly game-like way. This is an exciting trend for those of us who love games with great stories to tell and hopefully we’ll continue to see more innovation in storytelling in 2014.
It’s not only been storytelling that’s seen significant change. 2013 has also seen changes in gameplay mechanics as well. Although indie titles are still where you see most of the innovation and experimentation, some AAA titles have also tried to do things a little differently. GTA V, for instance, though being an established franchise that probably could have put out more of the same and still have been popular, managed to introduce some interesting new mechanics that radically changed the way you played the game. Their 3 protagonist structure for instance, was not only a fascinating idea, but actually worked. As I mentioned in my review, being able to switch between three vastly different characters always kept things fresh and pretty much completely mitigated the usual open world fatigue I get from playing vast open world games. Considering the gigantic size of the GTA V world, the fact that I never really felt bored was quite an achievement. Memory remixing from Remember Me is another innovation that instantly springs to mind. Even though we didn’t actually get to do it that often, being able to dive into people’s heads and alter their memories was an incredible part of that game, whatever you felt about the rest of it. Traditional shooters and hack’n’slash’s are great and all, but I’m definitely excited to see whether this trend gains momentum with the launch of the new consoles.
Video games have not always been kind to females in terms of inclusion in games as main characters or at least, less stereotypical support characters. Of course, there have been tons of female characters who are incidental to the main story as a love interest or a person to be saved/protected and party members who are mages or archers or less physical types, but 2013 has seen some changes in that area. Now any of you have been reading CTVG for a little while at least probably know that misogyny in games or hyper-sexualisation in the form of boobs being on display and tiny bikini-like ‘armour’ does little to put me off games. Unless it’s actually hateful and actively discriminatory, in which case I’m not that masochistic. It usually doesn’t bother me too much, because I feel that the industry is changing gradually and the best thing I feel to help the process along is to just continue playing and promoting games. Considering that around half of gamers are female now, things have already changed. Attitudes always take a while to catch up to any major change, but they will, especially as more women enter the industry (I guess that means me too now!)
BUT, I can’t deny that growing up and playing games, I never felt I really had anyone of my gender to look up to. I had plenty of male characters that I empathised with and liked and of course, even where there was a choice I tended to play male anyway for some unexplainable reason, but it would have been nice to have some strong female characters who weren’t just ‘support types.’ There’s nothing wrong with support types of course, but as a kickboxer/martial artist with a love of heavy melee classes in games, it did make me a little sad that I didn’t even have the option to play a woman much of the time. That’s why games like Remember Me and Beyond: Two Souls are so great. Both Nilin and Jodie were main characters who happened to be female and were physically tough, without having to be completely masculine. Being tough does not necessarily mean you have to look and act like a man. Sure you can if you want, but those things aren’t the same. It’s great to have some recognition of that and the rise in female main characters and side characters who aren’t just weak, unimportant or your stereotypical ‘sassy, but secretly quite vulnerable’ types is great. There is still some way to go I think and the portrayals of strong female characters that do exist aren’t perfect, but I’m sure that we’ll get there.
Rising prominence of indie games
It seems like indie games have always been around and their rise in importance to the industry has been steadily growing over the years, with breakout stars like Minecraft leading the way. However, it seems like this year, people seem to really be taking indie games seriously, with them being discussed, reviewed and included in game of the year lists like any AAA title. Their prevalence is hard to deny now and it’s become a genuinely viable option for game devs who want to strike out on their own via such developments as crowdsourcing and the continuing rise of digital downloads. Indie games like Amnesia: A Machine For Pigs are often as highly anticipated as any AAA title. Minecraft is also considered a pretty big deal for the next generation of consoles. In fact, it’s getting so that the line between indie and not is becoming increasingly blurred. The big difference though is that many of these indie studios are often not afraid to be creative and innovative. Considering the vast amounts of funding the big studios get, they kind of have to be. This trend has led to ‘indie games’ becoming a hot topic in the run-up to the launch of the next-gen consoles and the level of discussion over it shows us just how important indie games have become to many core gamers. Like I’ve said before, Resogun is one of my favourite games so far on the PS4 and I’m not alone. Its runaway success over many AAA titles is at once surprising and a long time coming. It’s about time is it not?
Considering the success of my Oculus Rift videos, it’s clear that I’m not the only one excited by this development. Although VR in its new and updated form is still in its early stages and most are still just waiting for their own consumer versions, those of us who have had the privilege of trying it out have often been very vocal in our love for the technology. Having tried it out fairly extensively and with a range of games and demos, the potential to me is glaringly obvious. It’s not a gimmick or something you’ll play with once and then stick in a closet for time immemorial. The Oculus Rift (and apparently now other companies seem to be scrambling to get their own versions out) could change the way we play games. The level of immersion is incredibly and the possibilities in ways of implementing VR in games is limitless. Games like Minecraft and Team Fortress 2 felt unbelievably real and their cartoony animations only enhanced the experience. Looking down from tall heights actually gave me vertigo and falling, well, you really have to feel it to believe it. Those very real physical sensations came from a made-up video game scenario, which is something we’ve never been able to say before. Space simulators and the horror game demo I tried were respectively breathtaking and gut-wrenchingly horrifying. It also changes the way you play games, for instance, being able to look behind you while you’re shooting in front is incredibly useful. And I just tried a few games that were adapted for the Rift and a bunch of demos. I can’t wait to see what games actually developed for the Rift will be like in the future.