[Promoted from our Community Manager’s inbox, here’s another fantastic Guest Writer! This piece comes from community member, Jacob Ross. Jacob is a tremendously talented and secretly handsome gaming writer and critic from Indiana who was not at all involved with this bio thank you very much. He dreams of one day being paid to write about video games because it’s honestly all he has going for him. As it stands, you can find him dribbling various venoms over at Save/Continue or right here on Twinfinite, provided he can continue to dupe them into thinking his writing is any good. If you follow him on Twitter he can tell you why Final Fantasy XIII is Actually a Great Game, if you’re into that kind of thing.]
What you’ll find below is a single traversal – yes, traversal – segment from a game whose trophy case is straining under the immense weight of over 200 Game of the Year awards: Uncharted 2: Among Thieves:
Left analog right -> Left analog up -> X -> X -> [scripted environmental destruction]-> Left analog up-left [hold]-> X -> Left analog right -> X -> [swooping camera pan]-> O -> O
Compare with the following sequence from the acclaimed 2003 action/adventure game Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time:
A -> R [hold]then A + A [timed]-> Left analog left -> R [hold]then A [timed]-> A -> X -> R [hold]then A [timed]-> A > Left Analog right -> R [hold]then A + A [timed]-> A
Notice the difference? Analog stick holding has been replaced by timed button input combinations.
Or should that be the other way around?
It’s no great secret that video games have been trending towards a more mainstream audience for quite some time now, with modern developmental realities demanding shorter, cinematic, and more immediately rewarding experiences to justify ludicrous marketing budgets in our industry’s version of “keeping up with the Joneses”. This environment had led to the death of the gaming mid-market, which then in turn has pushed everyone to try their hand at replicating that success which cannot be replicated. “We can get some of that Call of Duty pie, boys”!
And so the cycle continues.
Mainstream gamers – who generally buy a few AAA games per year – are not looking for a challenge, they want instant gratification. The genius of Uncharted 2 was in the marriage of cinematic, near-automated traversal with tried-and-true cover-based third person shooting, giving players the satisfying illusion of control as they crawled along the lavishly detailed Asian environments on their way to the next combat arena for some good ol’ fashioned manslaughter – now that we have become rather efficient at. There are very few platforming fail states in Uncharted 2; certainly one would have to try rather hard to get themselves killed when timing and positioning are taken out of the picture.
Shrew business move, playerbase targeting, exercise of creative vision, call it what you may. But don’t call it good.
Because as far as I’m concerned, if your platforming does not prioritize timing and positioning, then you really have no business calling it platforming – thus the term “traversal”. I do very much like to think I invented the term in this exciting derogatory sense.
Off again to the endless plazas and palace corridors of The Sands of Time, a place filled to the brim with spinning blades, vicious buzzsaws, dangling bars and a healthy serving of Matrix-ian wall scampering on your way to the next prophetic sand-vision. Make a mistake here and the punishment is death [NOTE: I was looking to utilize some snappy alliteration there, but was foiled when I realized it is impossible to make a platforming mistake in Uncharted]. Timing and precision are everything, as the game gleefully reminds you every time those buzzsaws cycle just a little bit quicker, or when walljumping begins to target poles and trees instead of platforms and ledges.
It’s a sad state of affairs when such fundamental platforming traits feel like relics of a more glorious past, before the age of Uncharted and Tomb Raider and the countless legion of clones-to-be that I would suggest avoiding like a particularly bad case of the plague. Playing these games does not make me feel stupid – that is a sensation reserved for its target audience, if only they had the self-awareness to realize the condescension. No, playing these games makes me feel something so much worse: The feeling that gaming no longer caters to people like me – people who crave challenge and reap our just rewards through hard work instead of hand-holding, who derive satisfaction from personal achievement and discovery instead of from a game’s Automated Satisfaction Dispensement Machine.
These people have become a niche – that’s reality. But I sure as hell don’t have to like it.