Next-Gen Game Design - What Needs to Change?

Gaming in the latter stages of this generation has started to stagnate. Actually, it has been a problem most of this generation. There have been very few games that have been really something new, something that couldn’t have been done before, something that presents a new way to play, and new way to interact with the game worlds.

If you look through most of the big hits of the generation (Halo 3, Gears of War, Grand Theft Auto IV, Call of Duty, EA Sports titles, Skyrim/Oblivion, Mass Effect, Uncharted), you can see that most of them are simply prettier versions of titles that came out during the previous generation.

The only real growth came from the third-person genre. Games like Gears of War and Uncharted refined greatly what the likes Tomb Raider and Kill.Switch laid down. But that is what they were; refinements. It certainly wasn’t a new way to play. But that isn’t an easy thing to present.

When I look at what the next generation has to offer (and it has to this time, or else gaming would have already sunk into a creative rut only 30 years after its first ranged appeal), I find that Assassin’s Creed has been leading the way. It’s not perfect, but it has done interesting things. It attempted to use the environment, and this has been pushed further in the third entry of the series. But there is still more that can be done.

Here are a few of the things I believe are needed for the next generation of gaming to be truly next-gen, and what is needed if gaming is going to evolve (regardless of the hardware it will run on).

1 – Involve the Environment

I mentioned Assassin’s Creed because it’s doing something right. For all its vastness, Skyrim may as well be a flat piece of terrain with no buildings or houses. There is no reason for the terrain variations other than simple aesthetics. You wander mountains, snowy plains, rivers, villages, but it doesn’t matter. It helps that there is a mountain, a grandiose setting, but then you walk down the side of it… We need climbing; we need to see terrains that matter. I want to wait in a tree, hide under foliage. Give me ways to tackle the game that involve the very thing I am playing in.

Minecraft has popularized terraforming, let’s see more of it. I want a viable option for me or my party, to be tunneling under a wall, or creating a river where one shouldn’t be while I prepare for battle (similar to what From Dust played with). I want real world options inside this virtual world.

Crysis is going on a few years now, and it certainly isn’t the only game to have a level of environmental destruction, there are many that do it better. But why isn’t this feature more standardized yet? Why can’t the world be a tool for me to use?

2 – Be Smarter

For all the glitz, sparkle and shine, games are still dumb as hell. And not it the sense of them hand-holding or being intellectually challenging, I’m talking about how those 4 guys are stuck behind one another because they can’t get through the door, or how I shot a bunch of them, but they will stop looking just because they can’t see me now. AI sucks.

The AI MUST improve. It is laughable. Confrontations basically come down to how fast you can run while you don’t attack, and how many times you can hit when you do. There are no tactics, no challenges, just timed breaks in the game flow.

Zombies can be fun from time to time, but they are not as challenging as a foe with a brain. I want someone to challenge me, chase me. Want to beat me as much as I want to beat them. I want to see them work as a team; I want satisfaction when I win. And I also want these smarter guys on my team too.

3 – I Don’t Have to Fight

Sometimes, I don’t want to fight in games. Sometimes I don’t want games that have fighting, but to do that I have to just go for a game that is either scripted beyond fun (Indigo Prophecy) or a genre that isn’t often an ‘Adventure’ , ‘Action’ or ‘Horror’. I am limited.

Worlds should now be made more robust to handle more decisions made by the player. I don’t want to have my only choices in large scale games to be based around combat. Where is the chase, the thrill, the panic, the mystery? I want to be able to ask NPC’s for help, to have enemies become allies, to go on an Adventure, but not have to kill everything around me.

Too often, games are black and white; you with kill or you move. Progression has become too commonly linked with kill-count.

This doesn’t even rely on next-gen hardware, but the lack of it being around would still feel like next generation level gaming. Think the Sims, just with gameplay. Or an old Point and Click Adventure without the Point and Click, there are examples of this, but too few. And they haven’t evolved.

4 – Combat

As much as I want the choice to not fight, I also want the choice to fight. But when I do, I want to fight better.

Shooting is pretty well implemented in a lot of games now. Games like Gears of War and Call of Duty play very, very well. It feels like you are pulling a trigger. The kick is there, the meat is there. It’s a sensation that works and works well. But why is it not like this with melee?

Outside some fighting games, melee is generally pretty horrible. It’s either broken down into QTE’s that essentially take the play away from you, or its context based dances where your button push does far more than it should. And these are the better styles. Some games, like Skyrim are neither here nor there, it’s just a system of slogging your buttons while seeing your character slap a pile of sponge with a piece of spaghetti.

One of the better combat systems I have seen was in Way of the Samurai. It was convoluted, and it could get fancy, but its rigidness actually played into its favour. It helped that you would be punished for screwing up, it helped that it was a little sluggish. It made it feel like you where holding a thick blade and one right or wrong move would settle the bout.

I would rather have one very refined combat system, than a bunch of bad ones (Metal Gear Solid), but this tends to only happed in shooting games. An improvement in melee combat is something that just needs to happen, because it’s getting embarrassing.

So, here’s some of what I want to see in games potentially coming in the next gen. I haven’t touched on everything, and I don’t want to go into how hardware can define this stuff. I want to focus on game design, and what needs to be done to make the next generation of games truly feel like next generation games.

So what about you, what do you want to see or what do you think needs to be done?