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Drowning in Reverence

On the 16th of July 2011 I was in Liverpool. I was on a stag do, the fluorescent green beer-bong, black absinthe bottle top and sickly smell of matted testosterone was a dead giveaway. At one point I stood on the mahogany balcony of a Cuban restaurant, Hendricks and tonic in one hand and a very lovely Sangiovese in the other, contemplating a Slipknot cover band (called ‘Slip-Not’) whilst decked out in a slate suite and a pair of Aviators. It goes without saying that we had been drinking since eleven that morning and the majority of our party were still recovering from the night before.

“We’ll be okay if we don’t mix our drinks,” the best man pipes up. “It’s the basic rule of intelligent binge drinking.”

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That was the first and probably the only time anyone will ever describe drinking 17 pints of Becks as the ‘intelligent’ way to drink. As the night wore on it became increasingly apparent that I would not live to see the kebab shop counter. In my disheveled and impish state I pinballed down the alleyways and side-streets of the city, the echoes of slagging matches and police sirens still raging around my skull. I was on a stag do alright; the white-noise hangover, stripper guilt and sticky train ticket bookmark were a dead giveaway.

Back in the reasonably safe confines of a city center coffee house I attempted to dissect and reassemble the events of the weekend to a friend. Despite all my misdeeds and spuriously conceived notions of ‘fun’, the one thing I reiterated louder than anything else was a new found and deep-set hatred for Liverpudlian stalwarts and Mersey-beat pioneers – The Beatles. This new found detestation was due mainly to the swollen plethora of copycat crooners lining the insides of every two-bit drinking establishment and dirty street corner meekly regurgitating ‘Hey Jude’ to an ever waning audience. The city drips with council approved Beatles propaganda, ever so eagerly lapped up by an unending stream of enthusiastic tourists desperate to sniff out some of the original atmosphere of the Cavern Club.

As I’m such a swell chap, I’ll let you in on a little secret – It ain’t there anymore. It’s been replaced with overpriced plastic-cup beer and a commemorative Ringo Starr wall plate.

Oddly, I felt exactly the same when I played a recent demo of the new Sonic the Hedgehog title – Sonic Generations. I zipped from pillar to post, my synapses firing with recollections of long forgotten level layout and enemy design. Worryingly, at some points muscle memory took over my thumbs and I instinctively avoided hazards and traps that have been filed away in some corner of my cerebrum, useless until this precise moment in time. Upon completion of the level I attempted to better my time (naturally) and have a closer look and the shiny new lick of paint Sonic and his pals had been coated with.

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Disappointment soon set in. It was a similar sort of disappointment I got from watching The Matrix: Revolutions on Blu-Ray. Everything looked better, but it was the same tortuous drivel that I had witnessed on DVD. I should have expected it. I had read all about Sonic Generations, I understood its purpose and its goals; so why was I disappointed upon realization that the developers had created exactly what they had set out to create? Perhaps I just want to feel like it was 1993 again. Nostalgia is a powerful, powerful thing my friends.

I refuse to be one of the many whom enthuse poetic tombs of delight at how Sonic was a defining game of their youth (although it was) and how it changed character design forever (although it did); what I will state is that I played it a lot, and I became bored of it so I stopped. Before Sonic 4: Episode 1 the last Sonic game I purchased was Sonic & Knuckles. Do you know how many Sonic games were released between those two points? I estimate the number being somewhere in the tens of billions. My point being that Sega should have let go at some point and worked on some new IP, but they chose not to. They sat in the corner of the bar strumming away at the same old song utterly oblivious to the drowned out young upstart awaiting his turn on the mic.

I hope my convoluted analogy has been made clear to you now.

Due to the ease of distribution, nostalgic gaming has become big business recently. We can rekindle our love of retro games at almost a moments notice and as we see fit. Does this cheapen the impact the title had on us when we first played it? Probably, but that’s to be expected; we build up our perceptions of games throughout the years we don’t play them. Rose tinted glasses get thicker as we get older after all.

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The Final Fantasy franchise is another example of stretching a brand to its breaking point. Be it a re-issue of an older title or an extension of a current series, chances are there is always a Final Fantasy title in the preview sections of magazines and websites. Do these titles exist to advance and strengthen the brand, or do they exist simply to attract the attention (and money) of the fanatics? These titles will continually be used to chum the waters of the videogame market, but does their existence really hamper the creativity of smaller studios? As I have already stated, we live in a time where distributing a videogame is simpler than at any time previously. Digital distribution and the proliferation of mobile gaming has meant creativity is running riot throughout the industry, so is it not just easier to ignore the multitudes of reissues and get on with it?

Variation in videogames is a precariously balanced situation. Money is tight and risks are much less desirable even to smaller companies. Strong brands are much easier to market than original IP, but for the sake of the preoccupation they are worth taking. Recently, independent games have been proved exceptionally profitable; Limbo and Braid have made huge waves on the console marketplace and we must never forget the impact that a certain flock of disgruntled avian has had on the mobile games industry. Despite the obvious successes of these independent games it is still only a fraction of the gaming market, and because of this, it is a fraction of the industry workforce who are allowed to fully flex their creative muscle.

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Alas, my fundamentally flawed lamentations of a paradisiacal games industry have gone unheeded once more. Creativity will almost always be the outsider in a business focused so squarely on money, and I imagine I should learn to live with it. Nostalgia seems to be have swelled in popularity lately. We will all once again become bored with firing our spherical blue friend around loops and progress onto something else I find equally objectionable before long. The evolution of games is fast, and as much as I don’t like admitting it, every game that is released builds towards the future of gaming – Be they an iPhone adaptation of Tekken 2 or a cutting edge conceptual soundscape simulator, every game has its place and has earned it well.

So, are we staring into an abyss of gaming conformity? No, we are not. Gaming is in a constant state of flux, and it’s this turbulence that makes it all so bloody entertaining. Independent games worth playing will always have their day in the sun. The growth of the internet means word of mouth is a more powerful marketing tool than ever before, and gamers use it to its full advantage. In conclusion, watch out Sonic, your days are numbered… again.

The author of this fine article

is a Staff Writer at Thunderbolt, having joined in January 2011. Get in touch on Twitter @RichJimMurph.

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