Lectures
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Shooters Are The New Platformers

In July of 1981, a group of individuals who would later be known as ‘gamers’ began funneling quarters into arcade machines to play what would be the first true platforming game called Donkey Kong. Over the years, the genre for this type of game would boom, spawning new franchises and characters trademarked by their abilities to run, jump, climb and float. The 2D platformer was what most early gamers think of when they hark back to old school gaming and the memories it brings. From this genre stemmed action games, sidescrollers and other variations of interactions the game character could perform. Super Mario, Contra, Ninja Gaiden – all two-dimensional titles featuring obstacles and enemies that involved movement. When home consoles reached a point where creators could take their platformers into the 3D realm, titles like Super Mario 64, Crash Bandicoot, and Sonic Adventure allowed gamers to employ similar tactics to achieve common goals. But then, at the turn of the new millennium, this once prominent game genre started to decline, all but disappearing on the next generation of powerful consoles. The video games industry has since boomed adapting into a new markets and channels reserved for other forms of entertainment. So what happened? Something must have taken their place.

The early platformers were restricted to two-dimensions for simple hardware constraints. It was a new genre on an unprecedented technology. No one had done this before. Same goes for the style of gameplay. Movement, timing, skill – all learned not instilled. In the early 80’s, there were few hardcore gamers. No one was a master of a genre that had just been created. Everyone started at level one. The video games taught players these skills, and soon people were capable of building upon past experience when translating to newer games. 1993 saw the evolution of the game industry with the first-person shooter Doom. A genre previously monopolized by PC gamers, it soon spread to consoles with the influential release of Rare’s Golden Eye for the N64. Building upon gamers’ already adapted timing and hand eye coordination, the FPS provided a more involving experience. Moving in the 3D space was fluid and natural to gamers because of its realism. The idea of holding a gun was arguably the most basic sense to any adolescent boy. The genre was able to capitalize on where the platformer was unfamiliar – familiarity. Gamers might not be able to associate their experiences to trampeling Goombas or spinning through turtles, but the act of holding a gun, firing, and dodging oncoming fire was one that was easy to pick up.

More than just their ease of playability, gamers could create their own styles of play. One individual could be more skilled at headshots, another strafing. Mixing together skills took more creativity than mere timing alone. Movement was as paramount as aiming. A player dead center in a room could have the greatest aim in the world and still wind up dead surrounded by enemies. This was the key factor that lead to their success. Coupled with humanity’s natural desire to destroy, maim and watch stuff go boom, the FPS genre overtook the platformer as evident today. The most influential games in our modern day are shooters. From 1997 to 2008, as voted by secret ballot from the Academy of Interactive Arts & Sciences, 7 of the 12 Game of the Year winners have been shooters.

Today, more and more genres are adopting the shooter’s mechanics to attract new gamers. Mass Effect and Fallout 3 – two role-playing games from well respected developers both feature prominent shooter elements. No matter your playing style, there’s always an option to just go the traditional shooter route. Ratchet & Clank, a series that features gratuitous amounts of platforming also employs a wide variety of guns and projectiles with which to dispatch enemies. Naughty Dog, developer of Crash Bandicoot, a popular 3D platformer, later created Jak & Daxter which was a more advanced game in the same vein. Its second and third iterations however saw the series adopt gunplay, arguably to capitalize on some of the success Ratchet & Clank garnered from its usage. Now the company creates acclaimed title Uncharted, a hybrid of platformer, but more or less a shooter from the third person.

It’s clear that hardware limitations were not the driving force behind the dispatch of the common platformer. Gamers decided which titles they wanted to see more of and the developers agreed. Although not everyone may be happy with the way things have turned out. More and more titles with shooter elements are released year after year, but how can you really complain when some of the best games employ this mechanic? Gamers from the previous era will undoubtedly hold the memory of the jumping man in their hearts. Tomorrow is another day, and the next great game mechanic is waiting to be found.

2 comments
Phaethon
Phaethon

Right, but you'll never see a Halo with a EX Bar or a Gears of War with party switch. I was commenting solely on gameplay mechanics as they involve user input. Even if every game became Mass Effect as long as you hold down the trigger to blast your enemy to kingdom come while dodging incoming fire, it won't be a generational leap of the same magnitude.

deftangel
deftangel

The same can be said for RPG elements. Experience, levelling up, unlockable rewards etc. The COD4 reward system was like digital crack. In prestige, it even has a form of level reset. Increasingly third person action games adopt some sort of experience system, see Prototype or even mainstream licensed titles like Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. The 2D scrolling games of old aren't even immune to it, see Shadow Complex.CliffyB said the future of shooters would be RPG's so we might be on the brink of a new cycle going back the other way. Borderlands looks interesting in this regard. What price Gears of War 3 continuing in the same vein?