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I remember playing Super Mario Brothers when I was a boy, running and jumping, collecting mushrooms, throwing fireballs at turtles and goombas while trying to save the princess. I also remember being a little bit older and playing Super Mario Brothers 3, running and jumping, collecting mushrooms, throwing fireballs at turtles and goombas while trying to save the princess. What is really funny is that I remember doing these exact same things in Mario Galaxy just a year ago on the Wii. Sure, with each release the graphics would improve and some new-fangled items would be available to use, but very little of the game really ever changed.
Most franchises follow a similar route, each game changes a bit (hopefully for the better) but the principal formula stays the same. Think about this with series like Final Fantasy, Halo, Uncharted, etc… All of these franchises are fun in their own way, but they are all repetitive. So, if these repetitive games are so fun and receive such great critical reviews, why is it that the Call of Duty franchise receive so much criticism from critics and gamers for being repetitive while the others do not?
I have a couple of theories.
The Army of Quasi-ClonesI remember the first time I played a first-person shooter. My dad had obtained a copy of the original Wolfenstein 3D for the PC. After having spent many days playing the old school VGA and SVGA pixilated versions of Police Quest, Space Quest, King’s Quest Quest for Glory, etc… I was blown away by the change in perspective and the concept of the FPS.
When looked at over a long period of time, the changes from then to now are drastic, especially in the area of graphics and physics. However, the heart and standard formula of the shooter has never really changed and remains fairly constant throughout the history of the FPS. But, now, these games are in high demand.
The accessibility of the controls, the lack of complex storylines, and the general popularity of the games makes the FPS genre an easy one to get into, even for newer gamers. So, because they sell so insanely well, the market has become flooded by publishers and developers looking to make their millions from the genre and the easiest way to do that is to stick close to the most successful franchise in the genre and add their own spin to it. So, we see plenty of games released in the FPS genre with similar control layouts, similar concepts, similar storylines, etc…
This apparent imitation should not imply that Call of Duty is the best of the dozens of franchises in the market, that is purely an opinion to be made by each gamer on their own. But it shows that even though Call of Duty is released just once a year, it can sometimes feel like it is released two or three times each year.
The Boiling Frog PhenomenonThough suggested to be technically incorrect by modern biologists, certain 19th century experiments showed a frog placed in boiling water would jump out immediately while a frog placed in cool water than is gradually heated to boiling would not jump out of the water, boiling them alive. What does this have to do with the current discussion? When used as a metaphor, it actually applies directly to my next theory.
Most video games take a couple of years to develop and get out to the markets, and Call of Duty is no different. However, because of Activision’s business plan to release a Call of Duty game each and every year through two developers and constant DLC, we get a never ending stream of the franchise built by developers with two points of view. Because of this, we receive games each year that advance in some areas of the game and regress in others while receiving constant multiplayer additions of the same thing. In this, we see major improvements over extended periods of time broken down into much smaller improvements that really don’t seem like much.
These small improvements at a constant rate are quite similar to the pot slowly heating up at a constant rate until it reaches its boiling point and we are left in that, sick of what seems like the same game.
White NoiseIt seems like every time we log into the site, there is some story about Call of Duty: Activision buys the Black Ops 2 domain name; Infinity Ward brings the ban hammer, etc… Top that off with the never ending fan boy complaints from both Call of Duty and Battlefield fans either praising the genius of the most recent entry or claiming it to be the worst game in history.
I believe we eventually get desensitized by the constant flow of information and talk that it starts to sound and look like a television stuck on a static channel. Though it starts off as just a low level interference, it eventually turns into the proverbial dripping water that sends you over the edge of sanity. Ironically, this blog post in and of itself is probably adding its own level of volume to that noise for some of you.
If you look close enough, you might see a ghost, like Michael Keaton in that awful film
Where Do We Go From Here?I am a fan of shooters, my gamertag, site ID, and old clan nickname or all small bits of proof of this, but even I am starting to feel like I am playing the same game over and over again. And that feeling doesn’t just stop at Call of Duty, I need to be even-handed and say that when I played Battlefield 3 I felt like I was playing Call of Duty, complete with idiotic plotline, useless set pieces and bullsh** moments. But I am left asking myself: where do we go from here?, are we experiencing the standard level of changes as we always have in the past but just don’t notice it?, is there even anywhere to go?
Sadly, I am not a horribly creative person and my ideas on where the genre could go are limited. As a gun nut who spend plenty of time messing with his weapons and their components, I would love to see greater detail in the customization of the weapons that we will probably see from GR: Future Soldier (whenever it finally releases), permitting changes to firing pins, gas systems, triggers, etc… But I doubt that would be enough nowadays to differentiate a shooter.
Ultimately, are we seeing changes in Call of Duty and the rest of the FPS shooter genre and just fail to realize them from over-exposure? Or is the genre slowly killing itself out? What do you think? What would you do to change it?