Sequels and Progress

By Alexandra Geraets in Serious Infotainment
Monday, November 28, 2011 at 10:00 am

There are no original ideas. Everything is a remake. Nobody is doing anything new or interesting. Everything is a sequel.

Sound familiar? Those statements could refer to anything in the entertainment industry. You'll see those words thrown at movies, at music, at books, and, louder and louder lately, it seems, at the games industry. Think about the games that have come out this year, the ones that you itched to get your hands on. If you're a gamer, be you an Xbox 360, a PS3, a Wii, or a PC person, it's likely that you own a big release that came out this year, and it was probably a sequel.

I remember uttering, "Everything is a sequel", myself, back during this year's E3. When games were being presented, the biggest offerings were all sequels, including Gears of War 3, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, Mass Effect 3, Modern Warfare 3, Battlefield 3, and Uncharted 3. Even as I complained about the prominence of game successors, I knew that I would own at least three games on that list.

Creating sequels is a safe way to make a game, much like making a film or a book sequel. Using older source material to create something new, while still sticking very closely to the original. Just enough gets changed so that it's not too different from the first product, but something about the product is changed enough that consumers will be interested, and want it. This seems to be the way it works, and it appears to be the motivator for various modes of entertainment production: make a product, sell it and discover that it is a success, authorize sequel, rinse, repeat.

Game franchises pose a bigger challenge than film or book franchises do. To ensure that fans continue purchasing a game, edition after edition, developers have to innovate. They have to offer something new and exciting to whet the appetite of the gamer, while still staying true to what drew fans into their games in the first place. Gamers love demanding change, and they also love to complain endlessly when change happens.

The backlash against change was heard loud and clear earlier this year with regard to Dragon Age 2. It was nothing like its predecessor, Dragon Age: Origins, in style, control, or story. Fans were outraged, or so the user Metacritic score told consumers and the developer alike. Change was bad, shouted users. Dragon Age 2 was too different from Origins; it was too flashy, too much like a console button masher, and not enough like Origins. The developer listened to the complaints, and has thus far offered two DLC packs that offer more of the same, while tweaking the game to a slightly more open Origins-type world, specifically with new environments.

Meanwhile, fan reaction to Modern Warfare 3 has been the opposite. Users complain that the game is too much like its predecessor, and changes little to nothing about the game play or presentation. It is, more or less, the same game that was released two years ago, with a slightly new look. It's exactly like its previous offering, but even this does not appear to be enough to satisfy fans. Yes, the game is still popular, and it is selling, but the question could be asked if that is because of what it is, or what it uses as its jumping off point.

It cannot be just how good your graphics are, or how clever your story is, there has to be an interactive difference in one game to the next. That is the logic behind a sequel. If a game has jumping puzzles and shooting in its first offering, it can offer more of the same in its follow up, but there might have to be something else added. Perhaps add in more puzzles, or even switch some of the game play to swimming, or vehicle levels. Something should be different to ensure continued interest.

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There are games that have multiple sequels, and appear to be the same game over and over again. These games are still successful, and they inevitably warrant additional follow-ups. Making the same game over and over again with the state of gaming technology where it currently sits, though, does not seem like a wise idea. One assumes that game developers want to challenge themselves to see what more they can add to their games, to keep them lively and interesting.

The way I see it, there are two options with sequels: make the same game repeatedly, improve the graphics, but keep the product essentially the same, from game to game; or, radically change up the game's presentation and mechanics, and hope for the best. As stated before, gamers and developers have seen the danger of radical change in the medium, but the safety of sticking with the old way of doing things is not necessarily a better option.

If something is too close to its predecessor in game play or appearance, then the game developer appears lazy in the eyes of gamers. A developer has simply put a new coat of paint on an old game, and remarketed it with a hefty retail fee; nothing is risked, and, by making the same game, nothing is gained. However, if a developer does take risks, or does try to change a sequel, to use the technology at hand to build a better game, then the developer risks criticism and, perhaps more devastating, the loss of a purchase. Gaming is a business like any other form of entertainment; developing games is a brutal industry. If a game is a failure, a studio can go belly up. It's a dangerous world out there for a developer.

So what is the happy medium in gaming sequels? The idea behind a sequel suggests that a game should build upon its previous offering and do something different. This is true for all modes of franchise entertainment, but I feel, rings especially true for video games. A video game can take years to build from the ground up, to ensure a quality product. The sequel is safe because the framework is already there. That does not mean that there cannot be new ideas bouncing around out there, just waiting to find their audience.



One of the most recent releases is Skyward Sword, and it is a Legend of Zelda follow up. Not having played the game, I can't comment on it, but what little I've seen suggests that it has taken its old formula and changed things up. Judging from the praise it is receiving from critics, Nintendo has presented not only a good Zelda game, but also a good game, period.

I am not saying that I do not want sequels. I want to see success in a game, no matter what it is, even though I know that it can't always happen. With all the hard work and effort put forth, I feel that to wish a game ill will is mean spirited, and insults the hobby that I share with millions of other people. I want to know what other people think. Are there too many sequels on the market, or coming to it? Is franchising the future of gaming?

I'm curious to know what sequels you've played that you liked, that you thought did something new and different, while still maintaining the appeal of the previous offering. Have you played any games that felt too much like their predecessors? Or, have you, as a player, found a game that strikes a good balance between Game the First and Game the Second?

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