Hey! You Spilled some RPG in my Shooter!

October 31, 2010 § Leave a comment

Is Ratchet and Clank a platformer or a third-person shooter? Is Prince of Persia an action game or a platformer? Is Mass Effect a shooter or an RPG?

The above three examples may all have obvious answers, but it’s hard to deny that for some their appeal will be pretty equally split across the two genres. Though many love the role-playing aspects of the first Mass Effect, it’s clear that there was enough interest in its more action-oriented segments to warrant their more prominent role in the second instalment. You may have approached Ratchet and Clank for some light-hearted platforming, but others may have been attracted to the games for the weapons they let you command.

Splitting a game across genres may, to some, seem like a cash-in of sorts. Rather than putting all your eggs in one basket by trying to appeal to just stealth-action game fans with your tale of subterfuge and political intrigue, why not work in some strategy elements to try and cash in on that X-Com loving crowd? Genre-splitting, if done well, will broaden a game’s appeal, brining in an audience that otherwise wouldn’t have touched it, and maybe even introduce a new genre to them in the process.

It wasn’t always like this. Super Mario Bros never let you hop into a warthog for a brief vehicular segment, and nor did Bill and Lance find their skills magically ‘levelled up’ at the end of each stage of Contra.

Over time though, things changed. Our platforming heroes soon found themselves unable to simply squash enemies, but instead needed swords, guns, and an ever-increasing array of special moves to turn their foes into dust. Soldiers suddenly discovered the lairs of their nemesis’ to be filled with gaps and lava pits only Mario had previously had to brave. Nowadays you can’t think about releasing an online shooter without some sort of progression after each match.

No one ever sat down to try and make this happen. Like most things it just naturally evolved out of a desire to please more people, more of the time. Cherry picking your features from a plethora of different genres allows for a much broader experience, whilst filtering out the genre-staples some might take a disliking to.

So long as you don’t half-ass the inclusion of these features, there’s very little scope for them to harm the overall experience.

Let’s put on our tin-foil hats for a moment here and consider this: has the industry’s desire to do everything held developers back from their true potential?

Imagine for a moment that Super Mario Bros 1, 2 and 3 never existed. Super Mario World never became the best launch game ever, and as for Super Mario 64? Don’t get me started. With the entire Mario legacy erased, would Super Mario Galaxy have been instantly green-lit?

The obvious answer is yes, of course it would have been. It is in the eyes of many the definitive platformer of this generation, but if we look at it from a revenue-conscious publisher’s perspective, does it really seem as easy a sell?

For one it’s cute, almost too cute. That rules out the teenage crowd. There’s no deep-involving storyline here, which limits the potential for sequels. How does this guy fight? He jumps on mushrooms?! Get real!

I’m exaggerating here to prove a point, but I think there’s something to this. Super Mario Galaxy is a phenomenal game because it takes one genre and pushes it as far as it will possibly go. It doesn’t even glance at what it’s competition is doing, because it’s so focussed on getting the maximum about of depth out of Mario’s ability to run and jump. The result is awe-inspiring, a game which doesn’t just leave its contemporaries in the dust, but makes us wonder what they’d been doing for ten years.

Genre-splitting is a wonderful thing. It broadens a potential audience, deepens games, and nine times out of ten makes them better as a result, but there’s a value to specialisation, and it’s one we shouldn’t forget any time soon.

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