Indy VS AAA

Metal Gear Solid V was released as one of Konami’s supposed last hurrahs in the console gaming department.  Whether or not they continue to produce huge, AAA games for console games remains to be seen, but one thing is certain, they aren’t what they used to be.  I was incredibly excited for the latest foray into Big Boss’s world, and after playing the game, I was left with middling opinions.  While the game play was stellar, it was a departure from what I loved about the previous games in the series.  The open world, giant map, and countless side quests was a bit daunting, but also something I had seen countless times in unrelated videos games in recent years.  Gone was the linear flow that the series had employed in the past, with Hideo Kojima instead opting to go the route that many other popular games have used.

I actually got into a friendly debate with a GameStop employee a few nights ago, about how I thought that Metal Gear Solid V and the Witcher III were incredibly similar, while he thought they were entirely different.  Sure, the battle mechanics were worlds different, but the approach to level design and story telling were very similar.  I brought Assassin’s Creed and the new Batman game into the conversation and he wasn’t having any of it.  His argument is that games are evolving, and big, open worlds help with immersion and are essentially the future of video games.  I suggested that games are becoming homogenized and we just don’t see that variance between one title to the next that we had in the bygone days of the Super Nintendo and it’s cartridge based brethren.  The GameStop employee told me that to get the experience I was craving, I should be delving into the indie gaming scene.

What he didn’t realize is that I HAVE been playing a lot of indie games lately, but he wasn’t wrong.  There are far more varied experiences to be had when playing games developed by studios that don’t have the pressure to meet an astronomically large sales number at the end of every month.  Indie game developers are mostly trying to create games that THEY love, not necessarily games that millions upon millions of people will play.  THESE are the games I’m interested in. If I want to play a platformer, an adventure game, or some sort of turn based RPG, I’m likely not going to be looking to games from EA, Ubisoft, or even Konami, anymore.  I’m going to be looking at Yacht Club Games, Way Forward, Ginger Labs LLC, or Happy Badger Games.

The AAA market is almost a completely separate form of media.   AAA games are designed for mass appeal.  Their purpose is to capture the attention of the gamer who doesn’t necessarily want to purchase 50 different games in a year, but maybe only 3 or 4.  When you only have the time or attention to play 3 or 4 games a year, an open world game, a militaristic first person shooter, and a sports game will likely tide you over until the next big release.  When gaming isn’t your primary form of media entertainment, this is actually more than acceptable.  When gaming IS your primary form of media entertainment, playing a Witcher III, a Batman Arkham Knight, and a Metal Gear Solid V in the same year is enough to bore you. These games are huge and very similar, despite varying combat mechanics.

I’m not going to say that if you enjoy playing multiple AAA open world type games a year, you aren’t gaming right. I can’t. That’s not what I’m all about. I’m a live and let live kind of guy.  What I am saying is that for the gamer like me, who enjoys a game he can beat in a few nights, who questions where the 3rd party developers from the retro days have gone, who complains that gaming has gotten too big and that companies care more about dollars than they do about games, it’s time to turn my focus somewhere else.  That somewhere else is indie games.  When I look back on this year, the games that wowed me the most upon the first play through were games like Shovel Knight, Odallus: The Dark Call, Bastion, and Volgarr the Viking.  Metal Gear Solid V sure looked impressive, but I wasn’t at all surprised or all that excited by how the gameplay panned out.  It just seemed like par for the course compared to other games that have been released in the last 3 years.

You may argue that the indie games I listed are all platformers that approach gameplay similarly the way the these open world games do. I would argue that while they all use a platforming approach, they don’t approach missions and goals the same way. Shovel Knight has a stage based structure with an overworld map. You don’t really have to go back to previous stages unless you want to. Volgarr the Viking is linear and difficult action platforming. Odallus: The Dark Call has an overworld map, but it is very similar to the Castlevania and Metroid games in that you MUST revisit previous areas to collect items to proceed in the game.  These all have a completely different approach to finishing the main game, whereas these newer, AAA open world games have only minor differences in this area.

There is definitely still room for big AAA games in my library.  I still enjoy playing these games on a semi regular basis.  I’m really enjoying The Witcher III right now.  I’m not ashamed to say that I now own an Xbox One and I plan to play some of the major releases that will certainly take the gaming scene by storm. I honestly will just have to watch a ton of them pass me by. I don’t have the time for everything, and I’d rather play things I enjoy playing rather than jump on the hype wagon and play the next big thing.  Maybe that destroys some of my gamer cred, but whatever, I’ll be happier that way.

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