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Well, here it is: a post marking the return to blogdom. Since my first post raved about the Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic games, I think that I’ll have a ranting session today.

First, sequels. Now, before you assume that I’m going to rant about mindless attempts to cash in on a successful product, let me assure you that I don’t mean to go in that direction. It’s true that there’s little worse than buying a game more than once with the biggest difference being a new number or subtitle attached to the game’s name. However, I wonder if it’s always necessary for a game to be completely original in order to warrant its creation and publication.

For instance, take a look at the Halo series. Some key points of gameplay were redesigned, but largely, it’s simply more Halo. However, because of its crazy multiplayer (and the inclusion of Xbox Live support) the game was practically able to sell out before hitting shelves. Or perhaps the Zelda games would be a better example. There isn’t an incredibly huge difference between the gameplay of Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask, but simply giving players another world to explore, another story to unfold, Majora’s Mask was also a hit.

The point I’m trying to get across is that once a solid system of gameplay is in place, it isn’t necessarily a requirement that sequels must be entirely new experiences. Granted, no (or very few) changes in gameplay systems over the course of countless sequels can get old
real fast, but often times fresh content and some improvements in a game system make a sequel equal to (and often better) than its former release. While not necessarily the best example, most of the Mega Man series tend to follow this formula, and most of those games remain entertaining for at least one time through.

Second, and related to my first rant, is how much I wish games would be able to nail the balance of linear and non-linear gameplay. On the one end of the spectrum are games like Final Fantasy which push players along a very rigid path. On the other end are games like Morrowind, which give you very little path to follow to “beat” the game. A lot of games tend to offer side-quests as a way to make the game feel less linear, but how successfulness of such attempts varies greatly. Other games allow you to choose the order in which you achieve your goals, but to the same end.

If only the balance was easier to attain. Epic games like Knights of the Old Republic are absolutely amazing to play through, but once they’re over, they’re over. Sure, games like that can be played again (and often are), but it would certainly be nice to be able to keep your character and build up your skills to reach some further (though unnecessary to complete the campaign) goal down the line. Following the KotOR example, what would have happened if Bioware (or Obsidian) allowed players to take on private contracts, smuggle, or even buy merchandise in one place and sell it on another for profit (providing the developers offered some sort of threat to make such ventures entertaining)?

But there are the incredibly open-ended games like Morrowind that allows gamers to do just about anything they can think of, and these games fascinate me. Tragically, they seem much better on paper than they do in practice. Without some clearly definied path, the “do anything factor” can grow tiring. Perhaps what would be better is if a clear destination was given, so that gamers can carve their own paths there.

Can such balances be found? The balance between uninspired attempts to make money off of successful properties and the willingness to let new content carry the weight of game development? The balance between forcing players to more or less watch as games move along a linear path and giving players so much freedom that they get lost?

Only time will tell.

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