Experienced Points: Sequels and the Death of Novelty

By Shamus Posted Tuesday Dec 15, 2015

Filed under: Column 66 comments

My column this week is about how some games (Fallout and Deus Ex were my go-to examples in the article) would benefit from dumping the lore cruft and simply making each game a stand-alone story based on similar ideas and elements. I’d add System Shock, Prince of Persia, and Thief to the list as well. After a while a setting begins to “burn out” its lore. The characters have all completed their arcs, the mysteries are all revealed, the prophesies are all fulfilled, and the bad guys are all vanquished. Rather than bringing the bad guy back from the deadWe’ve exposed Illuminati AGAIN? This is the worst conspiracy ever!, yanking the heroes out of their happily-ever-after retirementEspecially Duke Nukem. He should probably stay retired., and un-doing character growthI’m looking at YOU Warrior Within., why don’t we just do a re-mix of the stuff people liked?

I really like the new Tomb Raider. And I don’t mind that the next one is a continuation of the previous one. But sooner or later this new Lara will begin to wear out as she approaches some final, stable state that no longer requires she constantly be transformed by the events around her. It would be nice if the developers were free to hit the reset button whenever it suited the story and give us a new Lara with a new angle. As long as we can raid tombs and shoot dudes, I’ll be happy with meeting a new Lara every few games. The publishers will get their sequels, we’ll get our gameplay, and the world can still have a sense of mystery.

It seems to work well enough for James Bond. The stories are only as connected as they need to be. Daniel Craig Bond doesn’t actually have Goldfinger and Pussy Galore in his past. Nobody gets confused that he’s not 90 years old by now. I think this would be a healthy direction for game designers to go in.



[1] We’ve exposed Illuminati AGAIN? This is the worst conspiracy ever!

[2] Especially Duke Nukem. He should probably stay retired.

[3] I’m looking at YOU Warrior Within.

From The Archives:

66 thoughts on “Experienced Points: Sequels and the Death of Novelty

  1. Nick-B says:

    You kind of seem to be all over the place here. First, you complain that these sequels are continuations of the previous games stories, but then put Fallout 4 up there. Aside from theme and (vaguely) setting, it has nothing at all to do with the previous fallout games. Sure, they made idiotic nods to the previous games by still including super mutants, rad scorpions, and shoehorning in deathclaws, but story-wise it is about as far as you can get from 3.

    And then you point to Deus Ex HR, which really just feels like a Deus Ex 1 rebooted with a new story. And you complain that IT is bad because it’s the same old story (which it isn’t). Aside from a “hey, remember THIS guy?” cameos, it has nothing to do with the later Deus Ex.

    And then you say “But what we really want is similar gameplay with the same tone and texture.” Which is what got us Assassin Creed 2 through 25 (or whatever number they’re up to now). It tries to add to the older story – vaguely – but if you just look at the ancestor and not the modern kid, their story is entirely contained, unrelated to previous ancestors. Ok, fine, Ezio looks into AC1, but that was minor as well.)

    I… Know I went off on a rant here. I may be totally wrong and missing points (zonked out on flu drugs ATM), but it really did feel like you are just complaining that the games today aren’t good (which is true), but then you proclaim all we want is stuff that they are basically already doing.

    1. Daemian Lucifer says:

      Sure, they made idiotic nods to the previous games by still including super mutants, rad scorpions, and shoehorning in deathclaws,

      They arent just nods,they are mindless copy pasted elements.You use bottlecaps in fallout 4.BOTTLECAPS.210 years after the bombs fell.Because….um,because fallout 1 has bottlecaps.Meanwhile,look at new vegas,that has actual real money,and different money printed/minted by different groups.Thats what Shamoose was talking about in this article.

      And you complain that IT is bad because it's the same old story (which it isn't).

      Yes it is.Its still about uncovering the same plot you uncovered in de1,only at an earlier point.

      Which is what got us Assassin Creed 2 through 25

      Not true.It holds true for asscreed 1 and 2,but then ezio became DA MAN,and instead of the planned trilogy,we ended up with a quintology.And even after that arc was done and desmond finally died,the story STILL revolves around HIS ancestors for some reason.

      1. Peter H. Coffin says:

        And, in essence, even though they’re all about the same dude’s ancestors, they’re all potentially different characters, with different circumstances and different challenges.

    2. ehlijen says:

      It’s about the inclusion of setting elements without regards as to how it’s going to affect the game.

      Every Falllout having nuka cola is fine. It’s supposed to be ubiquitous. Every Fallout having the Brotherhood of Steel is less fine. They were a localised faction that’s never been established at having the infrastructure to become continent spanning. Every Fallout having supermutants is even dumber. They were meant to be a specific foe from a specific time and place, and their origin was destroyed by the player.
      Throwing it all into every game makes every region of postnuclear america feel more samey than they would now.

      Likewise, there is nothing wrong with any DE game using the illuminati. But if every game does it, will it still feel like a mystery? Shouldn’t you be at least slightly surprised, which is impossible if Deus Ex basically assumes the tagline ‘Wreck the Illuminati’s shit’?

      It’s about understanding what elements to use because they add to the theme and setting, and which to replace with something new in order to actually make a new game instead of just a remake.

      The Fallouts and DEs clearly wanted to be new games, what with the new locales and characters, so why did they not go all the way and actually think of new elements to include rather than compulsively regurgitating previous ones?

      To make a good sequel, you need to understand the original. DE:HR did a better job than FO3 and 4 in that regard, I’m told, but it’s still not perfect. If you just ape the original without understanding, you don’t get a good game, you get an imitation knock off at best.

      Sometimes that creates a new, different great game, but rarely the fan pleasing sequel you aimed for.

      Take the new XCOM. It basically includes very little but the most basic concepts from the original, but it was highly enjoyable because it included enough to be recognisable while every change was made with obvious understanding and intentions. It’s not perfect, but it’s a great successor updated for the current generation with interesting new ideas that warrant a remake.

      FO4 is a reasonably fun game in its own way. But it’s not a successor to Fallout 1, 2 or NV. It doesn’t carry the same tones or themes despite the many superficial elements it chose to carry over.

      To make a good sequel, you still need to make a good game. Copying the trappings does not let you skip that step.

    3. Fallout 4 having nothing to do with the previous games IS THE POINT. There’s absolutely no reason to have ANY of the same stuff (BoS, Deathclaws, Nuka-cola) in the game if the plots aren’t directly connected. THAT is the lore cruft he’s talking about. Maybe a few things if they are inextricably tied to the feel of the setting and gameplay. What it doesn’t need is a massive laundry list of “setting elements” that have to show up every single time.

      Bethesda does this with Elder Scrolls. Skyrim isn’t full of Oblivion Portals or Mythic Dawn dudes and Mehrunes Dagon isn’t the big bad AGAIN. There are mentions of some of those things–and some of them are pretty fun. The core gameplay is present. But the game revolves around stuff that didn’t even EXIST in Oblivion–dragons and shouting and the Thalmor and the war between the Stormcloaks and Imperials. How friggin’ stupid would Skyrim have been if it had been “Oblivion crisis part deux, only in a different location”. The radical differences actually made setting elements from Oblivion interesting again. Here are the Blades–all TWO of them. The Emperor is an impotent figurehead. There’s no “Fighter’s Guild” at all.

      1. Wide And Nerdy says:

        I disagree only about Nuka Cola. Its clearly supposed to be the Fallout universe version of Coca Cola. If our Earth suffered such an apocalypse, you’d be finding coke branded stuff in the ruins all over the planet, certainly pretty much anywhere in North America (that has city ruins).

        But otherwise you’ve got a great point. Elder Scrolls is a great example of how this can work. Some of you Morrowind fanboys might be wishing they’d just made Morrowind 2 and 3 but 1) Morrowind’s appeal was all about exploring some place new and alien and that magic would be gone in the sequels and 2) We’d be on Arena 5 or maybe Daggerfall 4 if Bethesda was like that. We wouldn’t have gotten Morrowind in the first place if Bethesda treated Elder Scrolls the way everybody else treats their franchises. Morrowind is in fact the least likely installment to occur when you hold to sequelitis, out of all of Elder Scrolls. And its the best proof of what Shamus was saying.

  2. Daemian Lucifer says:

    why don't we just do a re-mix of the stuff people liked?

    Sadly,the reason is that the audience will rage against that,often irrationally.I mean look at halloween 3 and how it was panned for no reason other than “But where is michael myers?!”.That is why we got so many idiotic resurrections of villains in horror movies(jason in space?),and it has spilled over into the video games as well.Heck,plenty of tomb raider fans were pissed off when the new one was announced before it even got out.Or look at the reaction to xcom 2 continuing from the lose state of the previous one,which is a pretty novel idea.Yet it was received poorly by huge chunk of fans simply because it was a novel idea.

    Also,all of the sequels done by someone other than the original author are basically fanfics*.And if you look at fanfics,youll see that the majority of them will include all the people from the original,whether it makes sense or not.

    *And sometimes even by the original author,as evidenced by the prequel trilogy.

    1. Trix2000 says:

      That may have more to do with people not always knowing what it is they really liked. It’s likely not the individual elements (people, places, things) but whatever emotions, tone, or other abstract concepts that these elements use and invoke for the player/viewer.

      You don’t have to keep bringing back the same names and things to get that – it’s just easier (and arguably lazier) that way.

      1. Actually, it is not easier but virtually impossible to do this (although it hasn’t stopped people from trying). This is why casual games companies rarely have two big hits.

        You will have a much easier time getting lightning to strike twice if you do something completely new and different each time than if you simply try to run the same formula over and over. The different attempts will retain similarities simply because it’s the same creative process driving them, but you won’t get tied down to trotting out the same irrelevant junk over and over.

        1. guy says:

          Frankly, I think it’s that no one really understands what it is that people like about any form of entertainment. The trappings are easy to identify, so people latch on to them. Casual game companies rarely have two big hits whether or not they try to replicate the trappings, because often the only real difference between a big hit and dozens of competitors is sheer blind luck.

          This is where the Mass Effect deconstructions and their ilk come from; the sequel replicates the trappings, but it still failed. So we pick out the differences because if we know why the sequel failed we can try to understand why the original succeeded. If people knew why original stories succeeded, we’d never have a sequel that failed.

          1. MichaelGC says:

            Aye – I’m reminded of this quote by William Goldman (about films specifically, but with I think wider applicability):

            Nobody knows anything…… Not one person in the entire motion picture field knows for a certainty what’s going to work. Every time out it’s a guess and, if you’re lucky, an educated one.

            Not that the deconstructions aren’t lots of fun, though! Particularly … the Mass Effect ones. :D

    2. It’s been my experience that the vast majority of people are extremely concrete-bound. They remember, for example, “wow, power armor was cool in the first game” and think that the cool derives from the power armor instead of their love of power armor deriving from the cool.

      Weirdly enough, this is an entire philosophical attitude that can be traced back to Aristotle (who believed that ideas–universals–were present IN objects) and Plato before him (who thought that objects were corrupted versions of pure ideals present in some other dimension). It’s almost a form of cargo cult–attempting to summon the Fun God by putting out his Favorite Stuff. And if it doesn’t work, it’s because the Evil Game Developers didn’t make the Favorite Stuff right.

      1. MichaelGC says:

        The vast majority of people you’ve experienced may have been concrete-bound, but it doesn’t follow that the vast majority actually are. Also, the theory of forms would be germane precisely only if the writers were using different objects which they believed (for whatever reason) also possessed or drew on this property of Coolness. Re-using the same objects may well be formulaic, but not in the Platonic sense.

        Agree on the cargo cult, though! :D Well put.

      2. Guile says:

        I do like the idea that there is some ur-Power Armor deep in the collective unconscious of humanity, some Ideal Power Armor from which all other Power Armors derive. Dive deep into the hindbrain, the undermind, and there you will find the very ideation of Power Armor.

        And that’s why we have Space Marines today.

  3. Daemian Lucifer says:

    It’s not that these games are bad. I feel like I need to say this again to ward of the reflexive defense of thin-skinned fans, so just to be clear:

    I’m not saying these games are bad. Though Invisible War is bad


    1. evileeyore says:

      Wrong. Invisible War was not bad, you are bad and should feel bad for being so bad.

      Some days I think I’m the only person who liked Invisible War.

      Dang. It’s not accepting html font tags.

      1. Daemian Lucifer says:

        Thats because you probably are.

      2. Jeff says:

        I tried to get into Invisible War three different times, with years between them. Never once did I make any noticeable progress before I stopped due being unable to put up with it anymore.

  4. Bubble181 says:

    Typo/revision nitpick: paragraph 2, sentence 2: ” I don't mind the the next one is a continuation” – first “the” should be “that”.

  5. Da Mage says:

    I don’t see what’s so bad about games where you just do stuff. Was DOOM a poorer game because Square-McChin had no character development? Of course not.

    In future Tomb Raider games why doesn’t Lara just uncover a mystery. No character development for her, instead maybe for a side-character or just have a decent story. I think games get a little too wrapped up in ‘story’ at times and force things on the player like the writers were creating a movie or book. The whole point of many of these games is to project the player into the main character, so why do they then need to ‘character develop’ the player. This then leads to the ‘but why would I do that’ moments.

    Obviously this is only applied to certain types of games, but you get my meaning.

    1. Shoeboxjeddy says:

      The first 5 Tomb Raider games did exactly what you just described. Each one was worse than the last (with the possible exception of 3 probably being just the WORST). Turns out, having an attempt at character based writing is a lot more interesting than “cipher female character kills wolves on a different continent.”

      1. parkenf says:

        No I think you got iconoclasm on your glasses. True, original Tomb Raider saga is a tale of diminishing returns as what was special about the games became standard, but Tomb Raider 2 was a lot of fun and benefited from the different locations. I think it was better than TR1.

    2. 4th Dimension says:

      In that case you better be God damned sure that you gameplay/graphics is something amazing because that will be the only one thing remaining to you if you leave the story by the road. And TR game play while good wasn’t something that stood off from the rest of the TPS action adventure crowd. What made TR an excellent game was in fact good game combined with the well executed origin story of Lara Croft.

  6. Jack V says:

    I agree with you lots. I want to play the sort of games (and read the sort of novels) you describe!

    But I’m also musing why… And I’m thinking about a different sort of game, the smartphone app little cute puzzle type thing that tends to be infested by intrusive pay-to-play. And sometimes they’re good and sometimes they’re not, but I’m wondering, is it that the amount of success they get from people who enjoy well-balanced mechanics are DWARFED by the success from people who are addicted by the “ooh, nearly there, I’ll buy just one more life…” gamification. In which case, no wonder they’re aimed at the latter, and it’s mostly luck whether someone with an idea for good mechanics gets them through to the finished game. (Which can be a good thing, for games that make lots of people happy by hitting a common denominator, or a bad thing, by scamming people with pay-to-play.)

    And maybe it’s similar, maybe producing something superficially like Fallout actually does sell more reliably than making something like Fallout in a more meaningful way?

    1. Daemian Lucifer says:

      Fallout mobile game is actually the perfect example of what you are talking about.Its a TERRIBLE game,and yet its extremely popular.Meanwhile dominations,an actually good mobile strategy game,with a great interface and actual depth in it,is not even one tenth as popular as the dumb vault game.Just having a popular name is very important for the success of a game,which is pretty sad.

      1. Ringwraith says:

        The mobile market’s worse for that though, as it’s just so saturated with junk.
        It’s not exactly easy to find things.

  7. wswordsmen says:

    While I agree completely with what you are saying as a whole, I seriously disagree that ditching the entire setting each game is the right move. The problem isn’t that the world is the same, the problem is that every new game they go through the same part of that world. Imagine if the MCU was nothing but Ironman 1 with different characters every time and all the heroes got their super powers from an Ark reactor. It would have gotten very boring very fast. However Marvel didn’t fall into this trap and instead has a bunch of different movies with different tones and settings in the same universe.

    Imagine if in FO3 instead of a Deathclaw we got a radioactive black bear. It would have been new, interesting and would have fit the setting.

    And evidently you don’t disagree with this. I wrote this after reading the escapist article and not what you wrote here.

    1. The Rocketeer says:

      Imagine if in FO3 instead of a Deathclaw we got a radioactive black bear. It would have been new, interesting and would have fit the setting.

      Are you aware that exactly such an enemy, the Yao Guai, is in Fallout 3? Maybe you were being deliberately oblique with your reference, but it comes off as a strikingly coincidental hypothetical.

      1. wswordsmen says:

        Been years since I played, and I can’t remember one mention of them. Plus by the time I encountered them they weren’t a threat. The point was use native fauna to make something new and terrifying.

      2. ehlijen says:

        Yao Guai are in fallout 3 and 4, yes. But they are not in there instead of deathclaws as it probably should have been, but as a minor addition to them.

        Clearly coming up with new things wasn’t impossible, and still Bethesda insisted on mindlessly copying elements from FO1 and 2 even where inappropriate.

  8. arron says:

    Oooh, I can’t wait until System Shock III starts releasing some info.

    Shamus is going to write lots on it. He’s just itching to get started :)

  9. This is a little bit tangential, but I feel obligated to point out that there are many elaborate fan-made theories explaining the James Bond thing. Everything from “James Bond is just a codename for whichever agent has the 007 number at the moment” to “James Bond is a time lord.”

    So, umm, fans do sometimes notice and care.

    1. BenD says:

      Right, but they aren’t super bothered that the movies don’t explain. They (we?) seem happy to do the hypothesizing themselves and live life without a canonized answer.

    2. Ringwraith says:

      Although Craig’s Bond in Casino Royale was apparently new to it, at least in the pre-titles scene, and that’s probably the single clear instance of proper ‘rebooting’ it has. All the Craig films have nods to each other (except Quantum of Solace doesn’t exist, I have no idea what you’re talking about).
      Bond’s just apparently his name in those.

      1. Bubble181 says:

        Casino Royale was based on the “first” book, after all. It’s supposed to be something of an origin story. If anything, it’s more of a prequel than a reboot.

      2. Blackbird71 says:

        Meh; Craig is hardly Bond anyway – without any of the classic character and personality of James Bond, Craig’s “Bond” is just Generic Action Hero #4287.

        1. Cinebeast says:

          Them’s fightin’ words, brah.

  10. BenD says:

    I worry/suspect that one reason publishers/devs make sequels this way is that they are attempting to broaden their audience — that is, they’re more focused on the new player than the returning one, chasing an endless sunrise of young blood. They believe (possibly correctly) that the market for the tech that runs the games (console generations and computer power, but also coding/programming strategies, toolkits and engines) is expanding, so the potential captive market is always “greater than ever before.” In pursuit of this perpetually new market the thinking becomes, ‘Fallout 7 grew the market, so we’ll pattern F8 after F7 but using the latest tech and methods, which will buy us that new market for the same reasons it worked last time.’

    I do believe this is flawed thinking. I believe the name of the series and a few tonal elements (enough to decorate the box and ads with) is all they need to achieve this expanded-market penetration. But I’m not sure all the publishers and devs would agree, but even if they did, what they’re doing now is a path of much less resistance (and work) than what Shamus asks for. After all, the established market base (those who played the last game) has proven that the name is enough for them. We buy the game whether the content is fresh or not.

  11. Dreadjaws says:

    Shamus, I hate to break it to you, but Far Cray 3 is an exception. If games like Assassin’s Creed, Call of Duty, Pokemon and pretty much every sports game around prove something it’s precisely that people love to play the same thing over and over, sometimes not even with better graphics.

    It’s the same with movies, people seem to prefer familiar things than new ones (there’s an old saying where I live, roughly translated to “Better ‘bad and known’ than ‘new and yet to be known'”, that expresses this old feeling).

    Make no mistake, I’m on your side. I’d love it if more franchises pulled a Final Fantasy and only linked the games through similar themes and tropes, but left the stories and worlds separate (mostly). Specially since videogames, unlike movies, take longer to develop, which means that when a sequel comes out you’ve already lost a lot of interest (that’s why I hate gimmicky cliffhanger endings, like the one from Alien: Isolation) in knowing how the story continues.

    But there’s no question that the audience at large prefers familiarity, one way or the other. The ideal sequel, of course, should be one that finds balance. For instance, I know you didn’t “grow” with these games, but Resident Evil 2 is precisely the ideal sequel. It follows the story of the first game, but has different protagonists. It has the same basic gameplay but with far more options and nuances. It continues the plot of the original (which solved the inmediate conflict but left the mistery open) but doesn’t simply ask you to uncover again the same conspiracy. And then, of course, improves on all the existent basic parts of the game, such as graphics, gameplay and sound.

    1. 4th Dimension says:

      Most of the people like to have familiar game play. I play (or if I played) CoD games I didn’t play them to once again be immersed into the CoD world because it was familiar to me, i played CoD because I liked it’s game play and setpieces, so I didn’t mind to repeat the same set piece with a re skin every year because I found it fun.

      On the other hand in games like Fallout a big part of enjoyment is supposed to be had from exploring and discovering this new and strange world. And that is completely lost if every single game has the same things in it. Game play doesn’t have to change significantly, and it’s fine if it largely stays the same for the crowd who don’t care about the story, but it should put you in a new and different* setting.

      Same goes for the rest of them, you don’t need to radically change the Deus Ex gameplay elements and mechanics, bu in a new game you should introduce a new different consipiracy since a big part of those games should be delving deep into the hidden world.

      * with the same setup in the case of Fallout games.

  12. Felblood says:

    People these days expect continuity, but continuity is hard, and even harder to do well.

    Sadly, the only games that can get away with this are the ones that wisely set a precedent for it way back in the eighties.

    Shigeru Miyamoto was on to this decades ago, and we all thought he was crazy.

    I can see where some worlds really need that continuity to do what they do. Most blizzard stuff would lose it’s appeal if they did that, for example. However, I think you have a point that what’s good for the goose isn’t always the right medicine for the gander. Not every game needs to have that continuity.

    1. Falterfire says:

      Continuity is hard, sure, but no harder than creating a new setting is. Well, in most mediums it’s not. In video games continuity is made harder by being at odds with the choice-based nature of most video game stories. Even if you have just the standard pair of good and evil endings seen in a massive array of games, you’ve already made it impossible to make a direct sequel without fudging things a bit.

      Sure, you can do the Mass Effect thing and acknowledge decisions made in previous saves, but then you probably also are stuck doing the Mass Effect thing where it’s just a surface level comment about past states.

      1. guy says:

        I’m personally perfectly fine with games that basically say one of the possible previous endings was the canon one.

      2. Decus says:

        I don’t think most people care if a game says “this was canon” as long as the game isn’t bad and there were no promises otherwise from the beginning. Witcher, as a series, does this and I’ve never heard even an internet minority make big stinks about it since they’re not bad games (in the ‘is their audience, the people who play them, happy with them’ sense) and no promises were made about “your choices carry over!”.

        Mass Effect 2/3 were bad (again, in the same sense as above) and they made promises from the beginning so the biggest of stinks were made about it. Telltale games constantly pops up “_____ remembered that” and has all sorts of illusions about your choices mattering longer than the episode so people make stinks about them too.

    2. Nidokoenig says:

      There are modern games that manage it, like Monster Hunter, but that has an obsessive focus on gameplay and keeps the things that enable it: There’s monsters to hunt, a guild to organise the hunts, and many, but not all, of the same monsters showing up. The biggest continuity hope that fans have is a particular monster that’s fun to fight or can be made into good equipment will return, but the monster(s) driving the story are always different. Animal Crossing has zero sense of continuity, too.

      The focus on gameplay can work, it just needs to be good, and you need to make the story serve the gameplay, not the other way round, and not have them coexist incoherently if you do manage to prioritise the gameplay.

  13. Couscous says:

    Given that the hot new (that is no longer even a new trend) thing in movies is continuity and shared universes and some large arc that moves at the speed of a sloth, I expect videogame companies to try to do that more. It worked for Assassin’s Creed sales wise until maybe 8/9 games into the series.

    1. ehlijen says:

      As fun as that can be at times, I really dislike how it’s getting in the way of movies or shows telling their own story.

      Take Jessica Jones. Part of the show’s arc is the search for legally admissible proof that Killgrave (and mind controller) exists because no one believes the victims. The show goes out of its way to reference the battle for New York in Avengers 1 and that people know the ‘gifted’ exist. What else happened in Avengers 1? That’s right, Loki mind controlled a whole bunch of people. Surely this should have at least turned the issue into ‘does THIS mind controller exist?’.

      Minor though this mixed message instance is, the show would have been better off not referencing the MCU there. And this is only a minor case.

      Compulsive continuity is something I hope will go away again soon. It’s one of the reasons I never got into (American) comics either.

      1. Couscous says:

        It has led to someone thinking the world needed the Universal Monsters Cinematic Universe. Or having a shared cinematic universe between Micronauts, Visionairies, M.A.S.K., G.I. Joe, and ROM but at least that can be like a bunch of toys fighting each other in a crossover movie.

        I think that was sort of, kind of, not really what Square Enix was supposed to be doing with Fabula Nova Crystallis: Final Fantasy.

  14. Dev Null says:

    Whether or not Mass Effect actually succeeded at that is a completely different argument that we don’t have time for right now.

    The entirely-intentional irony of that statement coming from you, Shamus, made me giggle out loud. You should have linked your Mass Effect analysis in all it’s glory, just to _prove_ you didn’t have time for it just then…

  15. Lame Duck says:

    It’s interesting that Japanese developers have been doing this figuratively forever and yet it’s an idea that never really gained any traction in the West.

    1. Couscous says:

      Western RPGs were much more attached to the tabletop idea of playing a party of adventurers through a bunch of adventures, so each game was supposed to be just one adventure. There were a lot of games that had options for importing characters from other games even if it made no sense for that game. Wizardry having Wizardry II and III called Second Scenario and Third Scenario on their boxes with Wizardry II even requiring the playerto import characters from Wizardry I in the original version.

      There was a lot of weird things like Bard’s Tale allowing you to import adventurers from Wizardry and Ultima III and Centauri Alliance having the option to use characters from Bard’s Tale 1-3, Wizardry 1-3, Ultima, and Might and Magic.

    2. guy says:

      Japanese game developers have also been not doing this basically forever. Suikoden was one of the big JRPG series that wasn’t Final Fantasy until 4 happened and brought the Goddamn Ocean and has a tree for a final boss for reasons explained in Suikoden Tactics, which was released later.

      Anyways, the first three games were in different kingdoms in the same general area over a period of a couple decades, numerous characters show up in every game courtesy of immortality or time travel, they’ve got the same general plot structure involving struggle for control of one or more of the 27 True Runes, and use similar mechanics. And even when characters aren’t outright reused, there’s often a connection. 3’s naginata lady was the daughter of 2’s naginata lady.

  16. Rack says:

    I’m quite bad for this because I really do like something familiar. Learning a whole new language of games design concepts is wearing, and there’s something nice about coming into contact with a Brotherhood of Steel that acts very different to the one I’ve seen before.

    Even for me though games go too far. Rather than going for 60/40 new/old stuff games seem to veer between 10/90 and 0/100. They aren’t just comfortably familiar they’re wholly recycled.

  17. Paul Spooner says:

    Wow, games should be more like movies huh? Et tu?
    I’m kidding of course. This would also give both the writers and the designers license to do crazy world-ending-level stuff without fretting too much about sequel compatibility.

  18. guy says:

    I’m personally of the opinion that sequels work fine when they reuse the setting but fail when they reuse the story. People don’t want to see “X does Y in Z, AGAIN!”, they want to see “The continuing adventures of X!” or “More tales from Z! With a brief guest appearance from X!” In theory, the advantage of having the Brotherhood of Steel around is that returning fans can say “Oh, those guys with the power armor” and you don’t have to introduce your power armor guys from scratch.

    Where Fallout 3/4 fell down was attempting to present it as being about the future of the Fallout setting in a different region and instead giving us an experience from the past of the same one.

    Deus Ex: Human Revolution runs into the prequel problem, which is slightly different. Lots of stories, especially conspiracy stories, have some grand reveal partway through with massive implications. Then when people go to write prequels, they don’t want to have the characters go the whole story without seeing the reveal, so they make the reveal happen there even though logically if it happened in the prequel (and the prequel characters don’t get silenced) the characters in the original should have known.

  19. Smejki says:

    Whatt I always wanted – each Fallout set in a different part of the world at a different time in the same setting. Well, maybe Brazil wasn’t retro so 50s before the bombs fell. Maybe Korea never made it into a developed country. Maybe 50% of all petroleum didn’t come from Saudi Arabia but somewhere else. Has anybody nuked Mauritius? Was the nuclear winter more bearable there?
    You can think up dozens and dozens of unique and culturally more or less isolated regions and still call it the same universe.
    But I guess it’s easier for Bethesda to travel the US map holding a formula stamp and just adding yet another not so subtle American patriotic theme (DC, monuments and slavery in F3, revolution in F4… I guess if you don’t buy this game the terrorists win)

  20. Bryan says:

    So games should be more like Doctor Who, then, ditching characters and even actors, while keeping the same sort of general feel?

    I can get behind that.

    1. MichaelGC says:

      Aye right. Or the Culture novels of Iain M. Banks, perhaps. There are lots of commonalities – which makes sense, because it’s a galaxy-spanning civ, of course – but very rarely does he re-use pro- or antagonists. With the Doctor, you know it’s only going to be so long before the Daleks or the Cybermen show up again, after all! (Or at least, you did once upon a time – I’ve watched barely any of the new Dr. Who.)

  21. Zock says:


    Shamus, I’d love to hear your thoughts on this: http://www.wired.com/2015/11/fallout-4-bugs/. Might make a good blog post or escapist article.

    1. guy says:

      It’s laughably counterfactual and from a bizzaro world where AC:Unity was as bug-free as a Valve game.

  22. Nidokoenig says:

    Occasionally the topic of spoilers comes up here, and someone quotes a study that shows people enjoying a twist more if they know it’s coming and can see the build-up. The simple solution to this is to play the game twice, but it’s rare enough people finish it once, and the company’s got no reason to not charge another $60 for another run. The pleasure of uncovering the foreshadowing and picking apart a known mystery, possibly with a slight curve from different circumstances, is fun. The FO3 BoS broke this agreement by turning into something fundamentally different, and pointed this out by having the Outcasts. FO4 broke the anticipation and discovery of Deathclaws and power armour.

  23. Scerro says:

    So,If I’m getting this right…

    You want more games to pull of what Final Fantasy, Pokemon, Dragon Quest, and a number of other series that just keep motifs and certain characters, but new characters every game.

    1. MichaelGC says:

      I’d say Final Fantasy perhaps goes a bit too far in the other direction to be a good example of the kind of thing Shamus is talking about. At least until they started doing actual sequels (e.g. FFX-2), FF games tend to throw everything out and start again – new characters, settings, inventory/battle mechanics; the works. Sure – there’s usually a character called ‘Cid’, and airships are a good bet to show up at some point, but in general they normally rework things almost from the ground up. (Which is not a criticism, of course – I’ve always been pretty impressed with how they managed to reinvent the wheel each time, at least until some of the more recent entries.)

      I know approximately nothing about DQ and Pokémon, though, so could well be right, there!

      1. newdarkcloud says:

        I’d disagree with you and say that this is part of why Final Fantasy has been able to last so long. Though the franchise has fallen in popularity with its recent outings, the series has lasted on the notion of continually reinventing itself over and over again with each new game.

        Some things remain constant. You’ll always your potions, chocobos, and a lot of the same enemy types and spells, but those tropes are usually reinterpreted and reimagined in later games.

        In that way, there’s enough familiar content to let players know that “Yes, this is a Final Fantasy game”, but it’s also able to introduce you to a fresh new world with a new cast and new concepts every time.

        They indulge in their nostalgic moments every now and then, but every new main installment is fresh. You’ll also notice that a lot of those games that take place in the same universe as previous entries (like X-2 and XIII-2) just don’t do as well as new main installments. (This is something I’d actually love to read a study or report on one of these days.)

  24. manofsteles says:

    So how do you folks feel about the recycling of ideas in Fallout 4’s Institute and Wasteland 2’s Children of the Citadel? (I haven’t played Fallout 4 and I only played Wasteland 2 for a few hours, so I’m genuinely curious)

    From what I can glean from the Fallout wiki, the Institute seems to have borrowed a lot from the original Wasteland’s Cochise AI, minus the AI calling the shots; the Institute seems to wants to replace most of humanity with synths and remove all traces of Old World culture, which they blame for starting the Great War. This seems very similar to the Cochise AI’s plan to replace all humans with robots (though Max was the only synth who looked like a human, IIRC) and also similar to the Master’s plan to replace all humans with super mutants. Does the Institute bring enough new flavor to feel fresh? Is this rendered less important by the the presence of other factions?

    Wasteland 2’s Children of the Citadel seems even more recycled (but again, this is only from what I can glean from the wiki). They have the same plot as the old Cochise AI, and apparently the Cochise AI is back again and inhabiting another synth shell just like it did with Finster in Wasteland. I know it takes place relatively shortly after the first game, so a lot of connections to the first game are actually part of the game’s allure, but does it bring enough new elements to the table to feel fresh? Does this feel like simply a current-gen update of Wasteland?

  25. There is a minimal amount of continuity in the Bond movies.
    Q was training his replacement, and then in the next movie the replacement became the new Q.
    But this is a continuity tying one movie to the next. Which is kinda odd as James Bond is always James Bond (it’s a agent name and not a not a title).

    Also the later Bond movies has Bond being “old” (he’s a agent from a previous era, and so is M).
    At some point they’ll need to “reboot” Bond with a younger looking guy.

    Doctor Who is perhaps one of the best examples of how to have a continuity even with the main character changing actors.

    In theory they could have had Laura Croft’s grand daughter (also named Laura) take up her grandmother’s mantle. Maybe her grandmother told stories. Maybe she find her grandmothers old stash of cool tom raider stuff.

    Bond always disappointed me, I always thought it would be better if James Bond was a codename for agent 007, and that would open up for the current M to find a new Bond if the previous one died or had to retire due to age (you can’t parkour forever).
    That would allow for a “reboot” or reinvention of the character each 3+ movies.

    After a while it would not be odd for gamers if there was a Laura Croft every other generation. Heck if the writer is good they could even turn “Laura” into a middle name, that way each Croft generation could use the Laura Croft name when adventuring as a old and odd family tradition (in honor of the first Laura Croft that “founded” the family).

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