Customisable everything

[THIS IS A RE-POST OF SOMETHING WRITTEN IN 2011]

stats-and-jensen

There’s a lot to be said for RPGs. Way back when, at a time when platform antics ruled the screen, and wearing red and sporting a moustache was the pinnacle of cool, RPGs signalled a respite from the so-called ‘straight-up’. While other games offered you the chance to play as a plumber, a hedgehog, or a kid with a mighty fist, RPGs allowed you to bring a little bit of your self into the game. Your thoughts, decisions, feelings about who should wield what, all suddenly given weight. Who would have thought it’d catch on?

Some time ago (and we’re talking years here), Epic Game’s Cliff Bleszinski said that the future of shooters lay in RPGs. His point being, that the traits of the humble RPG – customisation, levelling up, a sense of monitored achievement dolled out via increasing numerical values and upgrades – would become the bedrock for the shooting genre as well. Online play and an increased need to offer hand-outs for hours logged and experience gained, has drawn the RPG and the shooter genre together.

Bleszinski’s point was not a controversial one and time has only proven him right – especially with regard to online play. But I wonder where it ends? Games are striving towards real depth and immersion. As they draw closer to film in terms of look and scale, so too is there a desire to move beyond what film offers and into new territory. For an age it seemed that games were striving for cinematic quality – that somehow the filmic experience was a benchmark for games to achieve. Only now that’s not the case. Films and games have proven themselves incompatible bedfellows in more ways than one. As games match cinema’s production values, more and more weight is being placed on their differences – crucially that games offer the player interaction.

It’s becoming more and more the case that guiding the player from cut-scene to cut-scene via interactive segments is an old-school method of game design. Cut-scenes where the player merely watches are increasingly old hat. Quick time events have offered an easy fix to shoehorn interactivity but they’re unpopular. Offering the player some means to personalise her experience – in a way a film cannot – is something of a grail. Allowing the player to put their stamp on the game-world in some way seems, (to me at least), to be an industry-wide direction.

And here Bleszinski’s point re-emerges. RPG-level customisation allows for this, to a degree. Why merely play as a character when you can craft that character into your own unique version of him or her? Games don’t have to embrace wholesale roll playing they just have to offer choice. So many games these days, even non-RPGs, offer the player a choice of skills to specialise in. The RPG as a genre is becoming increasingly hard to define. So successful are its core mechanics that it is in danger of bleeding out into an ill-defined soup.

I’m not saying Mario will one day find that platforming isn’t enough and that you, the player, will have to choose if you want to specialise in the Fire Flower or the Tanooki Suit. But I do think Bleszinski’s point stands. Customisation’s in…and here to stay.