It’s time for the last in my series on gaming sequels and exceptions to the law of diminishing marginal returns. In this case it’s Grand Theft Auto (GTA), because I’m basically drooling in anticipation of GTA5’s release. Grand Theft Auto started from humble beginnings as a top down 2d pixelated anarchic crime spree from DMA Design (now known as Rockstar North) back in 1997. A city based free roaming open world game with the combination of casual criminality and the ability to do almost anything you could want drew me and my friends in like depraved moths to a sexy flame. I didn’t have a PC at the time but I played it with great enthusiasm at my friends’ places.
It’s time for the follow up to my article on exceptions to the law of sequels, covering another series which is essentially a genre unto itself. This time it’s the Total War series from UK developer Creative Assembly. Rome 2 has just been announced and it revisits one of the classic games in the series. The earliest releases in the series, Shogun Total War and Medieval Total War came out before I had a gaming PC. The first I played was the original Rome: Total War, which I instantly fell in love with for its unique and historically intriguing gameplay.
Realism in computer gaming can be a touchy subject. I happen to prefer realism in my computer games. I’ll be the first to admit that not all the gaming community is with me on this one. One friend went so far as to tell me during a spirited debate on gaming that I don’t like games, I like simulations (it may have been swearier in real life). This isn’t really the case, I don’t play any true simulations and I like realism in a game but that doesn’t encompass all I look for. What I look for most is a gaming experience I can get immersed in without being pulled back to reality by the game itself. It’s de rigeur for games to promise immersive experience but most seem to fall short of that ultimate goal. Often the reason for this isn’t as shallow as graphics or as complex as physics but about the mechanics of the game defining how involved and immersed you feel. Why does this happen when so much effort is put into game design? To answer this you have to go to the dawn of gaming history.
As an entertainment medium games have changed significantly since their inception back in the days of Pong. Early game designers worked with mere kilobytes of ram and storage as well as limited processing capacity. They had to make tradeoffs in the graphics and gameplay but produced spectacular games for their time which laid the foundations for the games we have today. Any medium that changes over time has certain evolutionary hangovers left from previous eras. Currently game graphics (on the PC at least) are within a hairs breath of being photorealistic. Complex physics simulation is the norm and lighting engines are able to paint a world so realistically they can make a sunset to make any ancient greek poet mildly aroused. But there are still some remnants of game history left like a vestigial tail on modern gaming that make me realise I’m playing a game not staring at another world through my screen. I will admit to being a whore for good graphics. I do like games that look fantastic, but I’m not so shallow that this defines my level of interest. Even more than graphics its about the feeling of immersion in the game world, graphics help produce this but ultimately it takes more. You have to have gameplay that draws the player into their character and the feeling of being there in the game. The physicality of a game, if you will. In previous generations of gaming hardware limited the ability of game designers to implement this but today nothing stands in the way apart from convention and tradition.