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Homely Villager Moves, Gets Out The Way


You've been improving your characters' strength for quite some time. It appears as if nothing can stand in your way. Colossal giant with a huge phallic sword standing in your way? The bigger they are, the harder they fall, right? Disgusting survived-a-nuclear-apocalypse cockroach ambush your party in a dank cave? Hey, swords, guns, and spells work just as well as that industry-size can of bug spray you forgot to buy in the last town.

Then, something does, in fact, stand in your way. No, seriously, it's standing in your way. Dragons, robots,'ve fallen all of these abominations and yet now you're impeded by...a mindless villager whose movements have been defined by some chaotic, limiting pattern.

Those that have claimed war is hell were wrong; you might even say dead wrong. This is hell. You've got more firepower and ability to wipe this person, his descendants, and all memory of his ancestors from the face of the planet, and yet still you're forced to push and shove towards him, hoping he'll move that crucial inch that will allow you enough space to get out of the corner you've walked into, a corner blocked by the villager and some random piece of terrain. There he goes!, that's the wrong direction. Maybe now!...nope, he's still got you cornered. Maybe talking to him will resolve your predicament? No, he only repeats the same three-line dialogue for the twentieth time. What should you do?

Little experiences like these can really do a lot to cramp gameplay style and the experience of playing an RPG. They pull you out of the experience for an annoyingly long amount of time, and they're just plain obnoxious to boot. You'd think that, after so many years of technological innovation, progress, and an increase in the overall complexity of video game RPGs that most of these little kinks would have been worked out by now, but they haven't. Sure, some games let you push villagers around in order to avoid this particular problem, but why haven't all RPGs found solutions to this particular annoyance and other similar problems? Developers can seamlessly integrate full motion video with gameplay, and yet they can't find ways to prevent these occurrences?

Think I'm asking for too much? I admit that game creators will be hard pressed to eliminate every single annoyance every gamer has about a particular RPG, but my desires aren't that difficult to satisfy. On the industry side of things, developers are quick to ensure that they're pushing available technology and their abilities to the limit in order to create a beautiful and therefore desirable product. "Serious" technological and logistical problems are fixed before a game's release. But what if the more important questions that the industry should consider are more fundamental then such cut-and-dry issues? I mean, sure, by all means, I want companies to make sure that technological issues are fixed; I don't want my television screen to dance with all the colors of the rainbow if I enter a room while pressing a certain button combination. But if a game is plagued by a lot of small problems like the one I've talked about's simply not going to provide for an entertaining experience.

But what if the industry doesn't really care if their games provide for an entertaining experience? This is the question that scares me. We must remember that the gaming industry is just that, an industry. I'd like to think that most who are in the industry love what they do and want to create a truly entertaining product as well as a profitable one. But, I must also be realistic. The rapid growth of the industry over the past decade has gradually increased its soullessness. It's a sad but true fact. For the industry, the profit margin always comes first. Make no mistake; all video games have been developed with this in mind, but as the cost of production of these video games has increased, only the games that companies feel confident enough to produce are developed. This frequently means less variety, less creativity, and less innovation in a field in which all three of these are absolutely crucial to creating an entertaining product.

Normally I don't have fears like this. But the facts are there, and the effects of their existence are visible. I recently watched a televised interview with a representative from a certain developer who was attending E3. He was asked something along the lines of "What do you recommend that people who are interested in becoming a part of the video game industry do to become prepared for this kind of work?" He simply replied "Make sure you love games and gaming," and then he proceeded to describe as I have here how too many companies are out there now that are just out to make a buck, and that too many third parties with great ideas, drive, and ability are being shot down by high costs of production. When the creative and innovative are shot down, the industry will only prolong the amount of time it is plagued by the small problems, tired ideas, and cliches, be they conventional plot structures or something as trivial as figuring out how to not have gamers become impeded by non-playable characters.

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