Aspirations And A Trailer That Has Them

21 Aug

So I remember playing Need For Speed III: Hot Pursuit on the Playstation and the PC.  One of my teachers at VFS was responsible for the idea of police chases being involved.  That was a great idea, because it takes the racing paradigm and adds to it: you like racing, then you’ll love racing with the cops on your tail.

Keep going and you see the Need For Speed franchise slowly devolve in quality and vision, but some other games come along that keep adding to that paradigm: Burnout adds traffic and an almost perverse use of crashing as a key game element.  Well, wait a second.  I mistakenly said games, as in the plural.

Aside from quality games that refine track racing or off road racing, put you on a bike or in a go-kart, little has been added to the pure formula of racing.  That is, racing has not been made more fun by changing the way in which the player races.  There are small changes here and there that you could argue, but nothing big.  For instance Bizarre took the player out of his car, gave him a gun, and told him to go to the race track in The Club.  That was radical, but it wasn’t very well received for reasons I won’t get into.

We see developers saying ‘OK, racing model is done, what else can we slap in here?’.  The result has been added customization of parts (with a high variability in quality, per franchise), different race culture simulation such as participating in real-life race types, games that add the arcade qualities of powerup objects or track pieces, or even weapons.  From the Need For Speed series specifically, what you get is different themes.

In fact, the newest Need For Speed trailer is what spurred this piece.  It has what seem like some pretty lofty aspirations.  You’ve got formulaic Hollywood characters going about their ‘welcome to the world of illegal racing’ spiel, but most importantly the trailer hints at something.  It hints at the idea that this theme makes the game more appealing.  Same racing, different place.

It’s odd really, that for the most part the racing genre treats itself like other genres treat it.  In Grand Theft Auto the driving model is just one part of the game, and as we saw with GTA IV it’s confident enough in its execution of a driving model that it supports an online racing mode that in fact is very similar to Need For Speed’s recent checkpoint scheme.  It even supports helicopter racing.  Not terribly inventive of them, but surprisingly on par (or slightly above) the recent trends withing the racing genre itself.

This is something that is not the fault of teams, but it is the fault of people.  Whether it be consumers, executives, or market analysts, something is keeping these creators from being inventive.  Being inventive does not require a large team or lots of money  (I say inventive as opposed to innovative because the latter has lost its meaning in the transition from useful phrase to buzzword), and I’m not sure exactly what it requires.  Like I mentioned, the perpetrator is a mystery — who knows what the individual pressures are to produce the same kind of racing game over and over.  All I’m sure of is that it can’t be the developers, because even the ancient Death Race is more inventive than current fare.  Maybe the kind of people behind this trailer?  Who can say, but that’s my best guess, and if the developers are on that boat, then the racing genre might be in a welcomed state of churn.  Who am I to argue, if they’re enjoying it, right?

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