Yo Dawg….

yo, I heard you like games, so we put a game in your game so you can game while you’re gaming.

Ummm, yeah sorry about that.  Apparently it’s still 2008 in my brain and Xzibit memes are ever the bee’s knees.

But actually, while completely blanking on what to write about today, and not having time for a “Gaming on a Budget” project this week, I have been staring despondently at my non-functional Xbox.  Piece of shit broke just in time for me not to be able to play “Dead Island” or “Space Marine.”  Not cool Xbox, not cool.  Then I remembered some sweet rumors I’ve heard lately about an upcoming adaptation of Shadowrun coming to gaming systems near you soon.  Unlike previous attempts at creating a game based on my favorite gaming universe ever, “Shadworun Returns” looks like it may actually attempt to finally create a true Shadworun experience in video game form.  Don’t get me wrong, I kind of like the old Sega Genesis game from the 90’s, but that FPS Xbox game from a few years back (approximately as far back ago as when Xzibit memes were hip) was a real POS.  According to the soon to be creators of the new project though, we should all hope for what may be the first ever cohesive attempt to create a video game based on a roleplaying game.

look out, the lawnmower man may be in there somewhere

Tracing this rambling line of thought a bit deeper, I honestly can’t recall an acceptable translation of a Roleplaying or Miniature based game to a video game-ever.

Sure I have some fond memories of playing some game based video games, but if I’m being honest with myself, most of those games have sucked pretty hard in the end.  The ham-fisted attempts to bring tabletop games and roleplaying games (henceforth referred to as games, because I’m getting god damned tired of having to add all these adjectives in front of the word game to differentiate all of this business) to date have been little better than basically every attempt to make video games into movies.  Now before somebody flips their shit and tries to tell me that “Silent Hill” was a great flick or that the “Resident Evil” films aren’t a form of slow, methodical torture, I will remind you that the fact that this exists:

pretty much invalidates every attempt after it to mash the genres together.

So what is it about trying to create game based video games that has failed so hard so far?

Thinking about it, there are a ton of places where these projects can, and normally do, go wrong.

Interface

We gamers have a pretty simple interface with our games.  We’re used to things like pens, paper, dice, minis, terrain, and all that jazz.  Trying to incorporate that into a game can be difficult.  Having all of these tangible things is great and makes me feel like I’m really dedicating my life to some earth shatteringly important stuff.

Trying to build that into a game is hard.  If you’ve ever played the console RTS game based on WFB “Shadow of the Horned Rat”  you’ll know what I’m on about here.  That game attempted to make the video game experience close to the tabletop one (but in real time oddly enough).  Sadly, trying to control several hundred troops with a console controller was just plain awkward. 

Even trying to move away from the tabletop feel has proven difficult in terms of interface.  Just look at every Battletech video game for examples of that one.  It turns out mechs aren’t so easy to pilot when you don’t have those handy hex tiles.

Pacing

Just like your average Christopher Nolan movie, video games based on games tend to suffer at the hands of bad pacing.  As gamers, we’ve gotten used to a ‘I go, you go’ flow with our games.  Often that means one person may take well over a half hour to complete his actions.  Works ok in the context of a face to face interaction over a gaming table, but try that digitally and you’re in for the snoozefest of a lifetime. 

Don’t believe me?  Try playing any game on Vassal.  While I do occasionally like to try out new stuff in Vassal, it’s ultimately a frustrating experience.  It’s not only plagued with awkward interface issues, but results in lots of slow-paced boredom.  Not so bad when you can chat up the person across the table from you, but much more difficult to tolerate with human interaction removed or at least minimized. 

On the opposite end of the spectrum, pacing a game to be too fast can be just as problematic.  A large part of my enjoyment of games is wrapped up in my ability to sit back and relax.  The long turns and a slightly slow pace give me time to sit back and sniff the… model glue?…. well anyway, if you’re looking to make an exciting video game, that kind of laid backness isn’t usually desirable. I mean, who the hell actually ever played Tecmo Bowl on coach mode (well I did know one guy, but he was a barely functional alcoholic)?  This leaves us video games that have to move fast to keep us entertained- and this is not relaxing.  Good luck maintaining a reasonable heart rate while playing the video game version of Bloodbowl. 

Unfortunately in this case, it seems the  goals of the video game and game are at odds with each other. 

Story

This is where most games, even those that have successfully navigated the above pitfalls (pitfall being an awesome game, btw) lose it.  Somewhere along the line, somebody gets lazy and throws out the script.  Video game writing is, as a whole, not particularly good.  Storytelling takes a backseat to action.  Good gaming experiences, though, often put storytelling in the front seat and force action to ride bitch. 

When they even bother to have a narrative, game based video games tend to have a watered down version of the world that spawned them.  I know I keep talking about them, but the Shadowrun games of the past are a perfectly good example of this problem.  In the more recent FPS game, there is no story.  Basically two sides fight over an artifact for some reason and shoot at one another.  Earlier versions of the game, however, feature a little bit more of the world, but never really develop it.  Sure the Genesis game has the matrix and some cyberwear and credsticks and paranoia of Asia dominating the world and all of your other favorite Shadworun themes, but really fail to capitalize on coupling this with an engaging story.  Runs usually consist of fighting ghouls in a warehouse for some reason or dropping off someone’s laundry for Nuyen… sweet sweet Nuyen. 

The lack of story in video games as a whole has baffled me for ages and been a constant source of disappointment for me.  I can’t fathom why developers skip out on this part of the experience.  A good narrative could easily tip the scales from great to good for any game, but it’s so rarely there.  It’s almost unconscionable that gamers making video games still seem to miss out on this.  They’re coming from a culture that thrives on story for God’s sake.  Why does no one speak up when designing video games.

Have I missed anything?  Well of course, I have.  Hit me up in the comments if you know of a video game birthed of gaming that doesn’t suck ass.  Weigh in on what has caused most attempts at merging the two genres to fail.  Hell, weigh in on anything you like, just don’t try to tell me that Christopher Nolan isn’t a complete hack filmmaker. 

hey look at me, I’m a plagiarizing piece of crap who makes sloppy ass films

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