Gaming Sequels: Broken lineages, little point?

Friday, September 16th, 2011 at 9:36 pm

Not so long ago I had the great pleasure of watching one of the ‘best worst movies’ ever made: Troll 2. A classic so-bad-its-good horror film, it turns out the distributors of the film renamed it Troll 2 in order to try and ‘cash in’ on an earlier film called Troll, even though there was no connection between the films (and no actual trolls in Troll 2 either).

But obviously, upon seeing Troll 2, one might ask: ‘what about the original Troll? Do I need to see that?’ Given how awful the film is, even if the films were connected, I would still doubt you would need to see the first. But look at more successful sequels: The Lord Of The Rings: The Two Towers, Empire Strikes Back, Aliens, Godfather 2. You probably could watch them standalone, but they are part of a larger story best enjoyed if you do watch them sequentially.

This isn’t true for gaming: you can usually jump into most games without needing to know the back story. But often I think — as with films — wouldn’t it be nice to enjoy an entire series in sequence? But this, in reality, is almost impossible.

Earlier this week I tried to find Bioshock for PS3. I bought the game for peanuts on Steam a few years ago, but never finished it and wanted to enjoy its amazing visuals on my plasma TV (and also wanted my fiancée to play it). Released in October 2008 to critical acclaim, it’s now impossible to buy this new in the UK.

You can only buy it second hand.

This strikes me as madness. Bioshock 2 was released last year to even more rave reviews, and the third in the series (Bioshock Infinite) is due for release next year. Surely this is money in the bank for publishers, distributors and retailers?

But the problem of gaming sequels becomes more apparent when you consider those lineages that span multiple platforms. Resident Evil is a great example. I missed the first Resident Evil in the 90s as I didn’t have a PlayStation. However I was lucky enough to play it on Nintendo DS years later when they re-released it. Even on a tiny screen it was a terrifying experience. After finishing it I eagerly looked forward to continuing the series.

But my chances of playing Resident Evil 1-3 in the late 2000s are virtually nil unless I buy an original PlayStation or download a PC version and go through the stress of trying to get Windows 9x/XP games running on Windows 7.

It’s the same story for Fallout 3: I’ve no chance of playing the first two. For a while PS3s were backward compatible with PS2 games, but if I wanted to play Grand Theft Auto: Vice City again (one of my favourite ever games), I have to hook up my old PS2. (OK, I could play it on PC, but it’s just not as fun).

I think there are two wider issues here: firstly, of all media genres, currently gaming is by far the most susceptible medium to technological obsolescence. Secondly, this borrowed format of putting sequel numbers after game titles is utterly pointless and a bad marketing ploy.

The issue of games and technology is a really tricky one to address. Thankfully many emulators are out there, so many early Nintendo games (like Mario) are easily playable, but there are still so many titles that are really difficult to play again. I’d be really curious how game design courses address this: obviously when you study film you watch and analyse many classic films. How would that work with a gaming course?

My second point, however, is really the main point of this post. I bought Deus Ex: Human Revolution
this week, and am very excited about playing it. I played the first Deus Ex back in 2000 and found it incredible — it brought many new and innovative concepts into gaming. For me, part of the attraction to the game was the continuing of that lineage which I was familiar with. But I would guess that many people who have bought the game have little or no idea there are games before it.

However, I don’t think that’s a problem, because it’s not called Deus Ex 3. The game takes place in the same realm and canon as the first, but isn’t necessarily the third part. But look at the controversy surrounding Left 4 Dead 2. Faithful players of the first Left 4 Dead were worried that they were being abandoned in favour of a sequel. I can’t help but think if it was entitled Left 4 Dead: New Orleans or something like that, it would’ve avoided much of the backlash from users.

Left 4 Dead 2 is again another example of a game that is another story from a gaming canon, but it’s not actually a sequel.

I think the gaming industry needs to drop these pointless suffixes from titles. Sure, keep the brand alive, but stop suggesting these titles are part of a linked series (unless, of course, they are).

But how can we keep alive all the games in a series — stand alone or actual sequels — alive and playable?

That’s a much tougher question.

One Response to “Gaming Sequels: Broken lineages, little point?”

  1. wil says:

    Interesting post James. I’d noticed game obsolescence before, but not thought too much about it (I’m still a fan of Civ II, which I have to play in Win XP mode on Win 7). But it does seem like a problem worth discussing. Many games have been hugely popular and influential (Myst, The Sims, Grand Theft Auto, etc.), but are (or soon will be) no longer playable. That’s an odd situation. TV shows and films are generally ported forward, but games are usually left behind. I guess the thinking is that older games, because they’re not written for DirectX 11, multi-core/thread processing, HD, etc., are just not worth saving. But if we look at tv/film, we see that people still watch old black-and-white tv/films and still enjoy them. And, as you and I are evidence of, there is still interest in older games. Perhaps just not enough interest to be worth developers’ time/effort.

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