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What Are Your Thoughts on the Reduced Content and Dumbing Down of AAA Games?

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post #1 of 67 (permalink) Old 11-10-2017, 07:00 PM - Thread Starter
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I know a lot of gamers aren't aware, but I'm curious as to everyone's thoughts on the trend of modern AAA games having far less content than their predecessors as well as less diverse content, dumbed down and removed mechanics with no consolation, tyrannical multiplayer design that doesn't let you host your own dedicated servers, lack of modding (to a lesser extent, not the focal point of this thread), actually worse use of technology—failure to use technology to enhance the gameplay (more on this below), and the buggier less complete state these games are released in (from alpha builds to early beta is the norm for AAA games).

There are exceptions to this trend of course, but it is a trend nonetheless, and this thread would be nothing without objective examples from various genres.
Many examples (Click to show)
- In general AAA multiplayer shooters tend to have around a dozen maps at launch while past ones on PC would often have 20 or more, to extreme cases like Unreal Tournament 2004 which has 79 base maps out of the box but this can be counted as 109 maps if you consider how much different Assault and Bombing Run versions of the maps are as they are totally different sizes.

- PvP shooter game modes that aren't as simple as deathmatch/team deathmatch or just almost mindlessly holding capture points or king of the hill are seemingly more rare today.

- AI has not evolved in the big picture. Half-Life (1998) AI remains slightly above average, same for Return to Castle Wolfenstein (2001) and Call of Duty (2003, the AI in this seems better than it really is due to well implemented scripting), Unreal II (2003) AI and Unreal Tournament 2003-2004 AI is MUCH better than your average player at FPS games (they dodge shots much better and aren't as stupid), F.E.A.R. (2005) AI remains the best combat AI of any action game (here is some good footage to demonstrate it), S.T.A.L.K.E.R.'s A-Life system was the last effort to evolve video game AI that I'm aware of (and modders continue to advance it).

- AAA games that focus on any aspect of technology generally only focus on static graphics quality that looks best in screenshots and/or facial animations which alone add nothing to the game (and combined with their reduced, weaker literary influence mentioned below, it's a weak recipe). They still use excessive amounts of static lights and shadows, far more of them than 2000s PC games which can make these modern AAA games look more fake lol (and I couldn't tell you how many times dynamic shadows have alerted me to an enemy's position). Most importantly, they usually do not use technology to improve gameplay, the opposite of the 2000s PC exclusive FPS trend of finding new ways to use technology to bolster gameplay: e.g. Half-Life and Half-Life 2 physics puzzles and destructible environments and AI, classic Thief and Deus Ex's interactive environments to set up dynamic distractions for stealth games, F.E.A.R. AI and physics and particles and 3D sound with EAX (here are two more video examples: [1], [2]), Dark Messiah's incredible physics/interactive environments and elemental effects combos (example 1, example 2), Crysis using cutting edge physics in tandem with the nanosuit and vehicle gameplay, S.T.A.L.K.E.R.'s A-Life, etc.

- Expanding on the last point, sound technology (sound effects processing) has also gone backwards since the death of DirectSound3D and trend of abandoning OpenAL, though it is starting to come back slowly.

- Battlefield 1's rent-a-server only program has become the norm, versus the ability to host your own dedicated servers, customize them however you want, and use server side mods including total conversion mods that essentially convert the game into another.

- The 2000s was a period of progression and advancement, improved by technology, but now, for most genres, nothing is improving as a general trend except static graphics quality which is not terribly important.

- Abandonment of unique gun design in FPS games that makes use of advanced game technology. Instead, all we get are generic wannabe "realistic" guns that handle like airsoft rifles, even in AAA Sci-Fi shooters. No more of the unique badassery of guns seen in games like the entire Unreal franchise, Turok franchise, Wolfenstein 2009, Half-Life series, Quake 4, etc. Some examples of said badassery: Half-Life 2 Gravity Gun and Blue Gravity Gun, Wolfenstein 2009 Tesla Gun and Leichenfaust 44 and Particle Cannon, the infamous Cerebral Bore from Turok 2: Seeds of Evil, Unreal II M406 "Hydra" Grenade Launcher, Quake 4 Dark Matter Gun, etc.

- Dumbed down quest design in modern RPGs, both AAA and not AAA but AAA RPG quests are dumbed down even more. Best example is Mass Effect: Andromeda in which every quest boils down to shooting everything at a marked location, or going to a marked location and holding E to interact with something, or a mix of the two. Compare that to the dialogue heavy and role-playing heavy quest design of classic RPGs that don't hold your hand and force you down one path, like Fallout, Fallout 2, Planescape: Torment, Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magick Obscura, Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines.

- Aside from the Arma franchise, tactical shooters are essentially extinct. Rainbow Six: Siege is nothing compared to the mechanical genius of its predecessors as explained here. No real successor to classic Rainbow Six or even the SWAT games, everything is dumbed down significantly compared to them besides Arma which is a totally different scale.

- General lack of progression. Call of Duty series is a good example: for early Call of Duty to succeed, they had to innovate in gameplay design which they did, remain authentic to a certain degree which they did, innovate in gameplay diversity which they did for the subgenre (they consist of offensive infantry missions, defensive infantry missions, tank missions, aircraft gunner gameplay, vehicle turret gunner gameplay, infiltration missions, stealth missions, and you play as American and British and Russian soldiers, sometimes entirely different units in each, something Hollywood WWII movies and shows fail to do), and they had to stand strong technologically which they did by using one of the better engines from the time, pushing graphics quality (they were not the best, but very good), using Creative Labs EAX 3 (aka EAX Advanced HD), and most of all using cutting edge AI which far surpasses nearly every modern action game (best showcased by the very first Call of Duty game). Now? To succeed, all Activision needs to do is choose the right sponsors like Doritos, make ridiculously stupid commercials showing teenagers playing it, perhaps hire a mainstream celebrity to voice a character (bonus points for modeling the celebrity as closely as possible), and rush out a Call of Duty game every year with a single player campaign no more than half the length of the classics and hardly any diversity in gameplay and setting with typical over the top Hollywood stupidity (such as a small car derailing a train in Call of Duty: WWII, people performing stunts that only comic book superheroes would attempt), brain dead AI (literally some of the worst AI ever seen in an action game), as many historical inaccuracies as possible (e.g. reflex sights in WWII, black female Nazis, and no swastikas in WWII), and most of all a casual skill-free repetitive multiplayer component with as little content as possible (so that they can sell you more content later) that tries to give all players an equal chance of winning via perks and rewards/handouts.

- Mechanical and technological and narrative revolution is found more in non-AAA games and even mods than AAA games, such as the shooting mechanics and team gameplay of the Red Orchestra/Rising Storm franchise, and even Insurgency and Day of Infamy for multiplayer war themed shooters (and soon Squad too), Arma series and its unparalleled simulation attempts and its Apex mode (I have only seen the likes of it as mods like the Server Side Mod for Crysis, and in the three RPGs with a Dungeon Master/Game Master mode), the shooting mechanics and weapon customization of the GUNSLINGER mod for S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Call of Pripyat and Customizable Weaponry 2.0 mod for Garry's Mod, the industry leading fluidity and the mixed gameplay of Shadow Warrior 2013 and Shadow Warrior 2 (not to mention the latter's graphics quality and optimization), the mechanics and dynamic gameplay of Underhell mod (example 1, example 2, the writing/storytelling of SOMA and The Talos Principle, etc.

- Minimal configuration options especially for UI and gameplay, though this is improving in some AAA games like Deus Ex: Mankind Divided and the Dishonored series. Let The Talos Principle, Arma series (which, like the classic Thief games, let you bind macros in-game), and Neverwinter Nights series be the benchmarks for this.

- Reduced literary influence, though more widespread cinematic influence. Though it is interesting to see one of the earliest cinematic games, Anachronox (2001), also have stronger literary influence for a game and as a result showcases better world building (introduces more elements to the universe) in its first 40 minutes than the entirety of most games.

- Some must-read game/franchise specific examples: Tomb Raider series, Deus Ex series, and even the non AAA title Tyranny. This trend has unfortunately caught on with some non-AAA studios too, like every RPG studio today, as that Tyranny review illustrates and as Pillars of Eternity illustrates (example 1, example 2, and this evil playthrough playlist shows how the game basically doesn't let you actually play as an evil character, the same thing is found in Larian's games and every other modern RPG).

People are excited for the upcoming Star Wars: Battlefront II, but the 2015 Battlefront is just embarrassing compared to the original Battlefront II from 2005. Here is a comparison made before Battlefront 2015's DLC released.


2015's Thief game (this image was made before its release but that level is exactly the same) vs Thief II: The Metal Age level design example. Furthermore, the 2015 game removes or contextualizes many mechanics and has no new ones (e.g. you can only climb a few specific ledges on some maps vs climbing all ledges in the original), and it hardly has any environmental interaction unlike the classic Thief games.


Fallout 4 vs Fallout: New Vegas role-playing in a nutshell.


And just showing how this older, higher level of role-playing looks in practice in another RPG, Fallout 2. A level of role-playing no longer found especially in AAA RPGs. Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)

BioWare doesn't know how to make RPGs anymore. RPGs without skill systems... Not to mention that Neverwinter Nights has 11 base classes + 12 prestige classes versus the 3 classes of Dragon Age and less important 9 specializations of Inquisition. Plus the role-playing comparison isn't too far from the Fallout comparison above, and Neverwinter Nights 2 has a hell of a lot more classies/prestige classes and spells and feats than the first one...



You can see from all of the facts above that this is no mere nostalgic post. As a matter of fact, I only started PC gaming in 2008, though I was a console gamer since 1999. I am only 23 years old, unlike other people my age I tend to play franchises from the first game and I made it a point to go back and play all the classics in the genres/subgenres I like. It was in this process that I discovered these facts.

Personally I find this unacceptable, but I am curious what others think especially those that are oblivious to this trend (which is probably most gamers). Be sure to check the hyperlinks throughout this post if you're not very aware of this trend.
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post #2 of 67 (permalink) Old 11-10-2017, 07:24 PM
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It is a natural progression of the corporate mentality of game production in conjunction with gamers who will buy almost every game.

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post #3 of 67 (permalink) Old 11-10-2017, 07:54 PM - Thread Starter
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Quote:
Originally Posted by essanbee View Post

It is a natural progression of the corporate mentality of game production in conjunction with gamers who will buy almost every game.

That is just an undeniable truth, yes.
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post #4 of 67 (permalink) Old 11-12-2017, 02:17 AM
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The saddest part is - most of these things are accepted as normal because consumers are without a backbone and passionless.


I would also add how us Retail PC Gamers are being shafted at times. For example, Wolfenstein 2 had 2 Steam edition - A normal and a Deluxe edition (with season pass) for a bit more. Since few (relatively) in number PC Gamers buy games retail, and its usually fans or collectors, youd expect the Deluxe edition to also be retail, at least as an option if not the default version even (we pay more and get more).


Alas no such luck. it isnt a major problem, but its maddening to me personally. The DLC/Expansion pack culture is making collectors like me never win, no matter our move.

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post #5 of 67 (permalink) Old 11-13-2017, 07:37 PM - Thread Starter
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How about dumbed down technology in the most important aspects for many modern AAA games (primarily action games), which have higher budgets than ever before (9 figures)? Already talked about this a bit in the OP, but see this video of modded DOOM 3.


Much more dynamic lights/shadows which was the norm for back then, particles have their own dynamic light sources, impressive animations and superior sound. Not to mention that lighting system is more advanced than most in some other ways...

8da8b4c3_allLights.jpeg

In addition to the examples mentioned in the OP and others, such as Thief: The Dark Project from 1998 having more interactive environments, more advanced sound processing, more advanced mechanics (e.g. the non-contextualized ability to climb any ledge, different terrain surfaces make different amounts of noise greatly affecting AI detection), and the ability to bind functions to key combinations compared to 99% of comparable games.
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post #6 of 67 (permalink) Old 11-13-2017, 08:01 PM
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It's not just games, similar dumbing down happens in movies as well.

In my opinion, gaming had a good balance of creativity and business in the past, where both gamers and developers were "winning." Now gaming heavily leans towards the business aspect and the quality of games suffers.

The business side has gotten so good, that large companies have figured out a way to make huge profits without having a quality product, thus they have no incentive to try. Smaller companies on the other hand have much more to lose and put more effort/ creativity into their games.

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post #7 of 67 (permalink) Old 11-13-2017, 08:47 PM - Thread Starter
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Quote:
Originally Posted by microchidism View Post

It's not just games, similar dumbing down happens in movies as well.

In my opinion, gaming had a good balance of creativity and business in the past, where both gamers and developers were "winning." Now gaming heavily leans towards the business aspect and the quality of games suffers.

The business side has gotten so good, that large companies have figured out a way to make huge profits without having a quality product, thus they have no incentive to try. Smaller companies on the other hand have much more to lose and put more effort/ creativity into their games.

This is all true as well. So many mainstream Hollywood action films all use the same formula and seem as if they were made by the same crew, but were not. They just copy what sells, and what sells happens to be horrendously stupid in both mainstream cinema and gaming. Kudos to the likes of Denis Villeneuve who are in that industry, in the spotlight, but actually try.

Also I wonder if we'll ever see another film maker comparable to Tarkovsky... probably not in our lifetimes.

A less spoken about example of this atrocious dumbing down is the abandonment of literary influence in favor of shallow poorly done cinematic influence; all these cinematic games with their emphasis on animations, but pitiful writing. No, we can't have quality cinematic influence without terrible/minimal writing anymore. rolleyes.gif

- EDIT: The Witcher 3 might be an exception to my last point there, but it isn't the rule.
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post #8 of 67 (permalink) Old 11-14-2017, 06:42 PM
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Thief (original) vs. AAA Gaming


Max Payne Graphic Novel *Spoilers*


Max Payne 3 Game Movie (All Cutscenes) *Spoilers*


Thief 1/Gold - Full Cutscenes *Spoilers*


Thief 4 - All Cutscenes *Spoilers*


I am 42 years old and happy to have experienced Max Payne and Thief when they were newly released.
Playing them was an unforgettable, experience, unlike most new games today.
Dark times are upon us (pun intended), but hope remains (at least I hope it does) .....

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post #9 of 67 (permalink) Old 11-14-2017, 07:00 PM
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Sadly the age of pay to win AAA games that would not have been a content patch or expansion a few years ago are upon us. There are just to many people who will pay 59.99 for a 3-6 hour game. I dont like it but the mass oversaturation of entertainment that is just numbing this generations gamers standards is making true well made and optimized games a thing of the past. I would not be surprised if it basically mobile quality games and "benchmark" games within 10 years for pc.

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post #10 of 67 (permalink) Old 11-14-2017, 07:10 PM
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My first real taste of this was Oblivion after playing Morrowind. I thought it was ridiculous then.. until Skyrim came out and confirmed that the future of games is only going to further get numbed down. There are few games worth playing these days... and the list only seems to shrink every year.


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