The New Generation – Part Two: Masterminds

by Eric-Jon Rössel Waugh

Originally published by Next Generation.

Something is happening to game design. It’s been creeping up for a decade, yet only now is it striding into the mainstream, riding on the coattails of new infrastructure, emboldened by the rhetoric of the trendy. A new generation of design has begun to emerge – a generation raised on the language of videogames, eager to use that fluency to describe what previously could not be described.

First, though, it must build up its vocabulary. To build it, this generation looks to the past – to the fundamental ideas that make up the current architecture of videogames – and deconstructs it for its raw theoretical materials, such that it may be recontextualized: rebuilt better, stronger, more elegantly, more deliberately.

In the earlier part of this series, we discussed several games that exemplify this approach; we then tossed around a few more that give it a healthy nod. Some boil down and refocus a well-known design (Pac-Man CE, New Super Mario Bros.); some put a new perspective on genre (Ikaruga, Braid); some just want to break down game design itself (Rez, Dead Rising). In this chapter, we will highlight a few of the key voices guiding the change. Some are more persuasive than others. Some have been been making their point for longer. All are on the cusp of redefining what a videogame can be. Continue reading “The New Generation – Part Two: Masterminds”

The New Generation – Part One: Design

by Eric-Jon Rössel Waugh

Originally published by Next Generation.

An idea is healthy only so long as people question it. All too often, what an idea seems to communicate – especially years and iterations down the line – was not its original intention. Context shifts; nuance is lost. To hear adherents espouse an idea, measureless years and Spackle later, is to understand less about the idea itself than about the people who profess it, and the cultural context in which they do so.

In 1985, an obscure Japanese illustrator slotted together a bunch of ideas that made sense to him that morning, and inadvertently steered the whole videogame industry out of the darkest pit in its history. Since that man’s ideas also seemed to solve everyone else’s problems, they became lasting, universal truths that it was eventually ridiculous – even heresy – to question.

So for twenty years, skilled artisans kept building on this foundation, not really curious what it meant; that it worked was enough. They were simply exercising their proven craft, in a successful industry. Result: even as technology allowed those designers to express more and more complex ideas, those ideas became no more eloquent. The resulting videogames became more and more entrenched in their gestures, and eventually spoke to few aside from the faithful – and not even them so well. Nobody new was playing, and the existing audience was finding better uses for its time. A term was coined: “gamer drift”. Continue reading “The New Generation – Part One: Design”

This Week’s Releases (May 15-19, 2006)

by Eric-Jon Rössel Waugh

Episode forty of my ongoing, irreverent news column; originally posted at Next Generation

Game of the Week:

New Super Mario Bros.
Nintendo DS

Out of all the pre-release devisiveness, in my experience New SMB takes the ribbon. Every time the game’s brought up, the Internet melts just a little. There’s no pleasing anybody! Maybe that has something to do with the game’s own conflicts: it wants to both revisit the style of Super Marios 1 and 3 for the NES and to “update” it with all the advances since Super Mario World. It wants to both play on nostalgia and to attract all the new and disillusioned eyes who have gravitated toward the DS. It wants to both be the successor to the Super Mario Bros. mantle and to come off as something altogether new.

So what we’ve got is a forward-pressing 2D platformer (as with the NES games) that calls upon the moves introduced in Super Mario 64 to help Mario more precisely explore a 3D world, flashy gimmicks introduced in Smash Bros. as a kind of a joke, and a whole lot of silly scripted events and mechanic-wanking intended to impress the pants off of anyone who thinks he knows how Super Mario Bros. works. And yet, it’s kind of fun. Maybe it’s a little too concerned with the past instead of with doing its own thing – and maybe it’s too concerned with making the past appealing to people who weren’t there at the time – yet maybe the gamers are a little too concerned about Mario.

In its overkill, its mix of old and new, the game clearly isn’t taking itself very seriously. The game gives off an air of exuberance; it knows it’s just screwing around, and it doesn’t care. Within those constraints, New SMB is pretty neat. The past has had its time; if you’re going to bring it up again, you’d better either take it somewhere new and inspirational or have shameless fun with what’s there. Ikaruga and Jonathan Blow’s Braid do the former; New SMB does the latter. Fair enough. Continue reading “This Week’s Releases (May 15-19, 2006)”