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HarlanTV - In Words..

HarlanTV - In Words..

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The blog of HarlanTV where you'll find news, reviews, opinion pieces and everything in between.

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Do genre's matter anymore?


(NB: This is a weird write up/observation/train of thought, a random subject I was thinking about on the train the other day...)


Genres are a funny thing right? How many times has someone asked you what type of music do you like, expecting you to respond with an overall genre: "oh rock, indie, ya know". Personally I don't really like that question, or rather, I don't understand it. My Spotify playlists have everything from classical to rock to hard techno. So I normally just say "everything.. anything I like".

Looking at the music industry, it's safe to say that over the past 15 years, you have seem genre's merging, being mashed up and toyed with to create something new. Electronic artists coupling with rock guitarists and epic drums. Brass bands with drum and bass rhythms (see London Elektricity Big Band). It seems to be a natural progression for the music industry, as it strives to create a new sound, or even a new genre by splicing two together. It works too, look at Daft Punk and Nile Rodgers - Get Lucky.

You can see the same happening in gaming too. Most obvious and long standing example is Action RPG, very popular right now and a term associated with big AAA titles. It would always be a natural progression of games to head into genre busting teriotaty as systems get more powerful, and gamers want more creative content.

My question is: do we need genres?

As genres merge, evolve, and accelerate over time, what use is defining games by genres. I understand the need to classify games in a broad strokes fashion. Human's LOVE to categorise things. It's an actual neurological urge. It helps the brains organise data, and make associations. My problem with that is, does it stifle creativity? 

I recently did a training at work, and part of it looked at 'Rivers of thinking'. Basically if you work in a certain way, or think in a repeated fashion, you form deep rivers of thinking. Meaning that you form strong associations between topics and data. However if you want to change those rivers of thinking (aka think outside the box), the deeper they are the harder it is to do.  What am I telling you this? I think that defining genres for games from the outset formulates deep rivers of thinking, and stifles creativity.

Now, if I had done research for this piece, I would have spoken to a dev or two, and get their opinions or even coping mechanisms, to see how they approach this. But following some game developments in the past I commonly see 'we wanted to created a space sim so that's what we did'. Is that really the best approach? Why confine yourself to rules from the off? Why not have a story, a  concept, a piece of art, and progress from there? I understand the technical implications would be more difficult, but if devs want to be truly creative, it wouldn't be a bad idea. Let the genre develop over time.


Waffle over, I'll leave you with this: I want a Warhammer 40k RTS (like dawn of war) but you can switch to an on field commander to control FPS style. Devs.. GO




EA's Last Chance - A Star Wars Story


Star Wars: Jedi Fallen Order is EA's last chance at keeping the Star Wars license. Here's why I think so:


A Lucrative Licence

Imagine having exclusive rights to one of the largest franchises in entertainment history. Now imagine everyone hating you for this fact. This is EA. They have their hands on a multi-billion dollar monster of a franchise, and one that is growing year on year. Since Disney's $4 billion purchase of LucasFilm back in 2012, they have laid out a grand plan from a cinematic perspective. This includes the new Skywalker story arc, the stand alone Star Wars stories (which IMO are brilliant) and the upcoming series The Mandalorian. A very punchy production schedule, and one that is delivering a medium to high standard of content. But what about the games? 


George being George

EA has held the license for Star Wars since 2013, and since then has produced a sorry 2 "full" star wars games: Battlefront 1 and 2. Oh and a heap of mobile cash-grab garbage that aren't even worth commenting on. Whilst Battlefront 1 was average at best, we all know Battlefront 2 was a complete mess. A game some fundamentally intertwined in monetisation that 2 years later they are still trying to untangle the mess they created with updates and additional content (which apparently are not bad, more on that in the future).

So where does this leave EA and the Star Wars franchise? The conditions of the Star Wars license sets out and expiration date of 2023, so with less that 4 years to go, EA have really yet to prove themselves as a worthy developer to produce an experience fans can truly enjoy. Experiences such as Tie Fighter, Rogue Squadron or Jedi Knight 2. The clock is ticking, and EA need to act.

Graveyard of Games

EA could have been in a better position, but for reasons that still aren't clear, they have cancelled a number of Star Wars projects which from the little information we have, sounded promising. For example Star Wars 1313 was slated as a gritty bounty hunter title set on Coruscant. It had some impressive concept art and even had an E3 demo that sent the Star Wars fanbase in bit of a spin. 


"It's as if a million fanboys cried out when 1313 got cancelled"

Another example was 'Project RagTag' which had the talented Amy Hennig (Uncharted) attached to it, and was planned to be produced by Visceral Studios. That was however, until EA decided to put a bullet in Visceral's head, and the game was dusted.

Lessons Learned?

Pressure is certainly mounting on EA to produce a Star Wars game that does the franchise justice and appeals to actual fans. And with the 2023 deadline looming on the horizon, rumors have already started spreading that Disney will not be renewing their contract. To me, it no longer makes much sense to a behemoth like Disney to outsource work like this. Not when they can whip up a game studio in no time with the seemingly endless resources they have.

So enter stage left Star Wars: Jedi Fallen Order. Produced by Respawn (Apex Legends), and slated for release in November (to captialise on the movie hype at the time). Jedi Fallen Order is seemingly EA's last and largest chance at retaining the license, and also producing a worthy Star Wars game. The marketing to date has been amusingly informative. Developers have repeatedly stressed that it is a single player game, with no loot boxes and no micro-transactions. They are obviously eager to regain trust in fans who were heavily burnt by the Battlefront 2 debacle. In fact Respawn have been eager to point out that EA's involvement has been minimal. It's a hilarious state of affairs when studios are distancing themselves from their own publisher to ensure players stay interested.


A last hope?

So have EA learned their lesson from Battlefront 2? Only time will tell when Jedi Fallen Order releases later this year. The signs are promising, and EA might even get to keep the franchise should it be a success. But I'm sure you and many others will agree with me when I say, that is not a good thing. Which leaves us in a predicament, we want a good game, but we also don't want EA to keep the license. We shall just have to wait and see what Disney decides.

May the force be with us








Zero to Hero - The Journey of No Man's Sky


It doesn't seem too long ago since Hello Games was being burned at the stake by an incensed online mob following the initial of release of No Man's Sky, and I have to admit I was pretty disappointed myself. But fast forward two and half years and the sentiment has changed: The NMS community is positive, the developers are sincere and the outlook is promising.

What caused this change? How did NMS go from hot garbage to hawt shit? Here's my thoughts:


The Hype Machine

I think one of the core issues with the NMS launch was a combination of insatiable online hype along with a pressured development studio wanting to maximise that opportunity. Rewind to before the games launch and Hello Games had been subtly introducing themselves into the gaming arena through events, particularly their announcement at the VGX awards back in 2013. Soon after they had caught the attention of Sony, who's keen eyes saw the gaming market was craving a new-gen space sim. Sony ultimately funded and help market NMS in preparation for it's launch, and as an indie studio Hello Games couldn't be happier.

This is where I believe things went awry: News and features for NMS began to roll our frequently throughout 2015, culminating in a released date being announced at Paris Game Week during a Sony press conference. From that time things went shaky. NMS dropped from further expos and event with Sean Murray (Lead Director for NMS) stating he wants to devote more time to polish.: "we get one shot to make this game and we can't mess it up." - The weight of the sentence even more visible now. It was clear from that, and other interviews and tweets that NMS wasn't quite ready. My opinion is that Sony wanted to get first-to-market with a new space sim and ride the hype that was palpable at the time. Hype is great tool for marketing, and just being on reddit and twitter it was clear how excited some people were for this game (especially since preorders had exceeded expectations)

Then the game launched, and quickly people realised large portions of what had been promised were not in the game. Including a fundamental component: multiplayer. The following weeks of the launch NMS was slated and review bombed across the board. Many angry that they had been misled, missold and lied too. On a lot of components these people were correct. To make matters worse, Sean Murray and Hello Games went silent. They stopped tweeting, declined interviews and were non-existent as the hate poured out.


Update, Update, Update

Faced with one of the largest backlashes in the gaming community, Hello Games had a mountain to climb to bring back players and bring back integrity to them and the game. In November 2016 (a couple months after release) they broke their silence and released the Foundations update. This update fixed many of the bugs, fundamental features and components of the game. Received well by many, they managed to claw back a lot of the gamer base that had initially left (steam numbers going from hundreds to thousands).

This seemed to be the new strategy for Hello Games: Full, comprehensive updates, with little to no details announced before they are ready. The subsequent updates started to add a lot of what was promised. 'Pathfinder' added planetary vehicles, 'Atlas Rises' added a new story arc, 'NEXT' (arguably the most important update) added full multiplayer, feighters, enhanced graphics and heaps more. 'Abyss' and 'Visions' added underwater and a wide variety of biomes and environments.

This update schedule seemed to work, with average player base across platforms steadily rising after each update, and all the while Hello Games were cautious with their communication of such updates.


Humbled Devs

The interesting thing to note is how Hello Games have conducted themselves throughout. Let's face it, they screwed up big time at launch and released half a game. But their subsequent attitude has brought NMS to a great place. Other studios and their parent companies may have just moved on (ahem EA), some may have lashed back at the community (ahem Blizzard) but Hello Games listened, they listened to the hate, the feedback and abuse (I mean who sends death/bomb threats to a game studio?).

Since then they have been quiet and confident with what they have been working on, showing only fully built features and communicating honestly and openly


What's Next

The future looks promising for No Man's Sky. Sean has promised heaps of updates to fully deliver on the vision that was promised, and the upcoming update shows this with support for VR. Further updates are promised, and the player base has been increasing over time. The response from the community has also been positive, online sentiment has shifted. Old players are returning, and things are on the up.

I think this is a tale a lot of studios and publishers should learn from. Whether the lesson is not rushing to market, or managing your game post-launch, Hello Games set an example in delivering what is promised.


NB This post probably sounds like I'm a Hello Games shill, but honestly I'm impressed with what they have done




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