On To The Next One: The Value of Sequels

A few examples of sequel makers
A few examples of sequel makers

We always want more. More food, more time, more money. We always want more of our favorite characters and stories, as well. Especially if we spend many hours of effort building a world and a life. There’s always another story that can be told, another villain to fight or world to save. But, is there such a thing as fleshing out a story too long? I think that in a business world, sequels can be very profitable, but from a gamer’s perspective, one can drag out a series too far before it becomes a little long-winded. How many is too many?

A sequel has several things that make it fun, exciting and entertaining. For one, as mentioned before, a gamer has a chance to take another step in the shoes of their loved protagonist. Also, it gives developers the chance to revisit their product to make improvements and explore new opportunities with the mechanics and story. Many developers intentionally set up their games to lead into sequels, creating a sort of future-proof product for years to come. Finally, sequels carry on the value that their predecessors created, like a proven sports star stepping into the new season. These aspects allow for gamers to continually be satisfied by their favorite titles.

Yet, these do not come without some downfalls. Let’s look at the Assassin’s Creed series, for example. Gamers have come to expect a

The many assassins of Assassin's Creed
The many assassins of Assassin’s Creed

new AC every year around October. Each one of these games builds on the mechanics of the one before, all the while taking the story and lore one step further. But, I’m afraid that this series will become a tunnel without a light, at some point. Developer Ubisoft has stated that it will continue giving gamers a title every year until they stop wanting one. I think though that if that continues to happen, the story will suffer for it. Another example would be the Resident Evil titles. Analysts would agree that these Capcom titles have suffered over time from a lot of story without much innovation. Perhaps the developers rested on their laurels a bit, letting their success drive them, instead of the other way around. Games are not soap operas, continually being fleshed out for the entertainment of the viewers. But, I’m sure other gamers would disagree with me.

This time around, we kill 500 instead of 400
This time around, we kill 500 instead of 400

Another type of sequel I’ve noticed is the one that repeats itself over and over again with little innovation. The Madden football series is an annual tradition among sports gamers, though I can admit that their developer EA takes efforts to improve or change the gameplay when possible. A lesser known repeating title is Dynasty Warriors. From my understanding, there is little more to this game than charging through hordes of enemies, slashing and hacking until you get to the boss character, who you then slash and hack and kill. There are 8 of these games, and they all do the same. I liken this to a food product; something that someone has created, discovered that it tastes good, and continues making the same thing over and over again. Does this work? Maybe it depends on the value a gamer places on it.

So what does a sequel to the gamer? Personally, I’m a little bit on the OCD side of things. I like my games like I like my movies, in threes. After three, it gets to be a little much, unless you continue to give me a reason to come back. I haven’t found many games that can do that. With Assassin’s Creed, I still find myself playing each major title that comes out, regardless of how long the series has existed. I also enjoy the Grand Theft Auto series, just because they’re not true sequels but rather new stories in a familiar world. The same can be said of Final Fantasy, a game that has certainly not lived up to its title but has been entertaining for years. In the end, it all comes down to how much of a good thing you want. Or rather, do you believe in there being too much of a good thing.

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A Thinker’s Guide to Metal Gear Part 8: Ground Zeroes

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Have you ever heard of the Geneva Conventions? According to the Peace Pledge Union Project website, the conventions are rules and guidelines governing medical and humane treatment of soldiers during battle. Looking specifically at the third convention, relating to how prisoners of war should be treated, one would think that war could be painted with a decent color. But think about it: if you’re in a war, and you capture someone ripe with information and value, would you really treat them decently to get what you need? Do those laws, made by men a long time ago and far away, really matter in the face of what you feel needs to be done? A player can answer that question for themselves after playing Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes. Hideo Kojima takes a dark turn down the road of the non-fighting side of war in his prologue to the next great tale of Big Boss. (Don’t read any further if you want to avoid spoilers, please.)

In Ground Zeroes, the player picks up where we last left Big Boss, dealing with the repercussions of starting his own militarized state and having a spy within his midst. After receiving intel that this spy, Paz, has turned up alive in an American-owned top secret site in Cuba, Big Boss goes in to retrieve her, with the hope of gaining knowledge on the doings of the mysterious Cipher, who MGS fans know to be a familiar character. What Big Boss finds in this camp is the harsh mistreatment, torture and emotional damage of prisoners both known and unknown, and the game serves as a fitting prologue to what could be Kojima’s best work yet.

prisonersTaking a walk through the camp, the player finds all sorts of disturbing things. First, the whole base is not officially owned by Cuba nor America, so the soldiers only follow orders from whoever is talking in the camp, so it seems. The view of the prisoners are much worse. Men in cages like dogs, sitting in the pouring rain with black bags over their heads. A boy lies in the mud, steel bolts driven through his Achilles heels to prevent him from walking. Prisoners crying, begging to be taken away or killed. That’s just what we see. Audio tapes picked up during the campaign tell even worse stories of rape and torture, rare territory that few games step foot in. In such a small map, so many dishonorable things happen that can disturb a tenured soul.

When it comes to prisoner camps in the real world, one of the well-known locations is the now ceased Guantanamo Bay. President Obama shut down the camp within his first term, and the news storm was strong and thorough. Many people wanted answers for how prisoners of the Iraq War were treated in the camp. One of the main concerns people had was that if prisoners were treated bad on American soil, how were they treated across the ocean, away from committees and prying eyes. Honestly, it’s pretty hard to know exactly what goes on during a gitmowar, and we may never want to truly know. I think that the public can only take so much truth before it becomes too foggy to bear.

Kojima uses this game to set us up for what is proving to be a disturbing new chapter for Big Boss. His upcoming game, The Phantom Pain, is slated to show players about the losses war causes and the reconciliations and revenge soldiers face after battle. With Ground Zeroes, players see the action itself. It’s pretty gruesome, and makes one wonder what goes on behind the fences of camps around the world. It’s up to each person to decide on their own whether or not they need, or want, to know what’s really going on. Some people feel the public needs to know. Others feel like it’s not necessary for us to know everything. Think about what you want to know. Decide what’s best.

Moving Power of Music

So often, we get caught up in the story and mechanics of a game that we forget another member of the complete family: music. Sometimes, the right melody can seal a memorable experience. I truly believe that music is an important part of any good game as it can hit your senses in a whole new manner. Without it, you get a game that may not be the full meal you’re looking for.

Is it over yet?
Is it over yet?

Now, at this point, I’d normally talk about my go-to game for all things amazing, Metal Gear. Especially when it comes to talking about music. But I won’t. There are many other examples of music enhancing the gameplay experience. One series that stands out to me is the Modern Warfare titles of Call of Duty. Specifically, the certain times when you’re in a hopeless situation, surrounded by so many bad guys and running out of ammo. I remember there always being a solemn track playing in the background that made me feel like I wasn’t getting out of this one. Not sure if this happened to other gamers, but hearing that music in the situation just clicked a switch for me, making me actually not worry about dying so much and just getting it done. It was these times that made me appreciate the campaign much more.

In college, I worked toward getting my minor in dance. My last year in school, I participated in a student-choreographed concert, and I created a piece based off of music from Mass Effect 3. I think if you’ve played the game, you’ll remember the emotionally touching ending theme, after you make Shepard’s final choice. Yep, that’s the one I used. Without going into detail about how the piece worked, I was able to find inspiration out of the song, without even having the game in front of me. That’s a testament to how powerful music is, when you can hear it outside of the medium it’s from and have it still affect the heart.

That hard choice
That hard choice

Even when I was a kid, music held a special place for me, and one of those prime examples was from Final Fantasy VIII. My first real experience with the series, VIII introduced me to amazing fantasy scenes with a touching orchestra behind them. Even with the stop and go action of the classic RPG gameplay, I still felt like I was accomplishing something special. I think that that’s one reason why that title was my favorite; that one and Final Fantasy X, of course. Both enhance the story with their musical accompaniment.

I think that with these examples, I’ve brought up two good points about what music can do. First, it allows for stories to have deeper meaning. I’m sure everyone has examples of a good score in a story. Honestly, I probably wouldn’t have been as scared of Outlast as I was if the music was super creepy, so thanks to developer Red Barrels for that. The other point I’ve made is that the music can actually drive performance in a game. Dubstep and rock have always been my friends during some of my best Battlefield matches. Just like athletes pre-game with their favorite tracks, many gamers pump up their adrenaline and focus with all kinds of music. It certainly has a motivating effect.

It sounds scarier than it looks.
It sounds scarier than it looks.

Before I end this, I have one more thought. So far we’ve discussed the effect of music. But, what happens in the absence of music during crucial moments? Does that make scene better? Normally, I would say no. But I do remember several times during The Last of Us when I was completely absorbed in the task at the time, and there was no music involved, or needed. Creeping around the infected and hearing their breathing and screeches was enough to show what the developers were wanting you to experience. I think that it’s really a case by case basis on that front.

So, the next time you play something, take a second to just listen. Does the music make sense? How does it hit you? I’m all for exploring the lesser seen aspects of any game, and music is one of those that affect the overall gameplay for me. It’s my hope that you’ll start listening more and figure out ways that the music helps or hinders your time with the characters.