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Pretend for a moment it is the year 1995, 3D graphics in
video gaming are still a relatively new big deal. Let’s say you are in the middle of your
elementary school years and already way into games. The PlayStation has been out for a couple of
months and all your friends are talking about how amazing it is and how you
need to get one. Naturally you end up
bugging your parents and in the not too distant future you finally get your
hands on the machine and this awesome game your friends were all talking about;
it’s called Twisted Metal.
The flaming clown head on the box got your attention and the claims of intense car combat sounded cool as heck. In 1995 it was perfectly reasonable to consider this one of the greatest video games of all time. Fast forward to 2011, by this point you are not only well in to your adult years but you’ve played so many games by now it is very difficult to be impressed or excited for anything but the best of the best the industry has to offer.
Is it even remotely possible for something like that childhood experience to happen at this point in time? Practically every game has high quality 3D graphics now and even the most simple, lowest of low budget titles can feature not only vehicular combat but a slew of other forms of gameplay. One would think it is utter madness to say a game like Twisted Metal can resonate with the modern gaming audience to the same degree it did when CD-ROMs and real-time polygons were new exciting technologies. Does that mean it is guaranteed to fail? No one can say until Twisted Metal hits store shelves.
Nostalgia can be a powerful thing and for some time now I’ve
been yearning for more of what I like to call ‘pure games’; an experience that is
much simpler, much more focused and just straight up more fun than most of the
games that I’ve played for the last couple of years, which seemed to be a much bigger focus in past generations than it is now simply due to how games were made at the time. I’ve come across plenty of modern titles that evoke that traditional “gamey” feeling
but it’s never lasted long enough to really hold my attention for too long. Perhaps it comes down to my specific tastes and interests but since the launch of the Xbox 360, I've felt much more disjointed and uncertain about simply playing any old game than I was as a child and a teenager. I am much more conservative and much less willing to take risks yet the irony is I have infinitely more disposable income now than I ever did in school.
While independent and downloadable games frequently claim to offer the types of past generation experiences I crave, the sheer lack of budget and quality control behind the market makes it very hard to know what is ever worth my time, something I value far more than money. It doesn’t help that a large percentage of independents go out of their way to make games specifically to be obscure, excessively artsy experiments in expression above simply being enjoyable pieces of digital entertainment.
Of all the popular small games released on Steam, PlayStation Network and Xbox Live that I’ve played over the last few years, about three were worth playing as far as I knew. Simple focused design isn’t enough to keep the modern gamer satisfied anymore, there has to be more. But if not through cinematic experiences, then is a budget and raw amounts of content behind solid mechanics enough to make a game built on 90s design principles compelling? Twisted Metal aims to answer this.
A great many gamers feel the same as I do, look on any internet forum and you will always find a topic about someone saying how much they hate cut scenes, how stupid they think stories in games usually are and how much they just want to play a game and not an interactive action movie. And while I think this mentality can often lead to some absurdly unfounded complaining from select gamers, especially in the case of say ranting about the dialogue in Mass Effect, which (and this may blow some people’s minds) is the real game there, the shooter gameplay is merely the transition between that highly character-driven story interaction. I love cinematic modern gaming as much as anyone else – games such as Uncharted 3 are proving that the medium truly is evolving and expanding in countless exciting ways – but at the end of the day what games are still best at in my experiences is the simple joy of fun.
No matter how polished the narrative, no matter how well written,
no matter how deeply invested I am in the characters, I will always cherish fun
in games over everything else. I will
continue to tell myself this until I play a game that engages me as emotionally as film, perhaps even to the point I may cry. Some games have gotten close to accomplishing this but that's clearly not at all what Twisted Metal strives for nor should it ever be expected that all high budget titles aim for this. There is plenty of room in this industry for game experiences of all varieties.
Lead Designer at Eat, Sleep, Play Incorporated, David Jaffe, is gambling on this idea, on this belief of nostalgia and desire for what Twisted Metal offers with its old-school gameplay focused nature to be all it needs to do well. Recently he even admitted publically that he doesn’t know as much as he believes in his game and his team and he just has no idea if Twisted Metal can work today, and it’s unfortunate that the final sales count is what is required to know the answer. Brutal honesty has always been a trait of his I have greatly respected and I feel more developers would benefit from this. Modesty shows understanding of the consumer and allows people to view your company less as a product seller and more like creative individuals simply trying to give people reasons to play their games and that's all any developer ever really wants. This is, however, a business-fueled industry and in the hyper competitive high risk market, failure can cripple even the biggest companies.
As someone who feels exactly how David Jaffe wants the gaming audience to feel about his product, I want to believe that Twisted Metal can resonate with the modern audience, that not just nostalgia but raw brilliant fun can be all a game needs to sell in this day and age. At its core that is what the new Twisted Metal is all about, this is the game David Jaffe would have made in 1995 if he had the time, resources and technology of today. All the major Nintendo properties sell on gameplay, there is no reason a super polished, brimming with content and feature-rich modern car combat game couldn’t do the same.
I am very excited to play the new Twisted Metal. Between the enormous scales of the environments, all the crazy new modes of play and the massive online multiplayer component, it's showing and telling me all the things I want to see and hear. As a fan of David Jaffe's games since elementary school I can only wish him and his team the best of luck.