I want you to look at the two screens of the games to the left. The top is Civilization V, and the bottom is Call of Duty: Black Ops II. Now, what’s the difference between the two? No, it’s not that they’re completely different genres.
It’s that one changes from game to game, and the other doesn’t. “OH BOY” you say, another blog that bashes CoD. You tell me I’m beating a dead horse. And maybe I’m am. But let me clarify before I continue with the rest of this post:
I do not hate CoD. I actually think it absolutely nails the feel of a fast paced FPS. The camera controls and multiplayer are virtually unparalleled in the genre. (And don’t you dare compare it to CS. It’s a completely different game.) I only think the way they iterate on their games could be improved.
So, with that said, we can continue. CoD is Activision’s money printer, the revenues never stop. Every yearly iteration breaks records, and every year Bobby Kotick and his smug little baby-man face roll in the dough. It’s the same every year, both the game and the reception. And that is what I’ll talk about. CoD, Civilization, and why it’s much more rewarding for both the developers and the players to change, at least a little but hopefully a lot, their sequels.
Call of Duty
So let’s get the bad baggage out of the way. There will be some fanboys that will insistently refute this argument, but besides some minor graphics and game play tweaks, and some gun additions, the bulk of the game stays the same. And we won’t talk about the campaign, because no one even cares that it’s there in the first place. And why does this happen? Because the masses give them no reason to change it and the devs get 2 years MAX to alter the game.
I’m inclined to think that Infinity Ward and Treyarch don’t enjoy doing the same things every year or so, because not a whole lot of people are into repetition. Making revisions to the same base of game on a predictable cycle can’t be all that engaging. And on the player side, if the internet is any indication of gamers en masse (which it may or may not be), everyone loves to hate it, mostly for reasons involving repetition and failure to improve on the product in any noticeable way.
Now, I see the argument brought up often that if you look at CoD as a sports game (there’s no cause for alarm, please move along). But do you think that I approve of roster updates every year? NO. I don’t. The same problem I have with sports games like FIFA and Madden I have with CoD. Another argument that gets discussed is, “if you don’t like it, don’t buy it”. Although I’ll save a more expansive look on that topic at a later date, to summarize, ignoring something won’t make it go away. Westboro Baptist church comes to mind.
Okay! Hopefully we’ve fully established that CoD, even though it may be unfathomably popular and profitable, is not the ideal way one should make a sequel. It’s lazy and uninspired. So now we can talk about a better example of this, the Civilization series, particularly the change from IV to V.
So recently I got back into Civ V. My first introduction to the franchise was with Civilization Revolution for consoles. I thought that it was a great product in an of itself, and I’d heartily recommend it to any budding gamers wanting to see what all the hubbub is with arguably one of the best strategy games of all time. It’s kinda like Civ Lite, if you will. But that’s not what we’re here to talk about. I bought Civ V at the soonest opportunity I could after Civ Rev, i.e. the next time it was on sale. Even though at the time I had to turn down all the settings to the lowest they could go just to get a playable frame rate on my poor little Mac, it was still fun. Really fun. And so I bought Civ IV. I also loved that one, but I was constantly reminded of how the series had changed so drastically from one game to the next. And I thought to myself, “I like this change. Both games are great, and I really admire the that Firaxis had the balls and talent to change fundamentally how the game plays, while still maintaining the feel. I’d like to work for them one day.” Needless to say, they did a awesome job with taking the IP and molding it into a vastly different game and yet still having it be the same, a very delicate balance. It was like taking David and turning it into Venus de Milo, both amazing works of art, but vastly different. A bold analogy, I know.
Sure, there are still some flaws, as there will always be; The AIs are way too aggressive, random generation can screw you over, etc. But it changed, and it wasn’t a minute change, either. It was big and obnoxious Two more sides, people! TWO WHOLE SIDES! And, you know, a lot more, but hexagons! It stuffed it into your face, it said, “Look at me! I’m different and I’m proud!” And, more importantly, it executed it well. Like a beautiful circle of awesome, Firaxis was pleased by the warm reception, and gamers gave a nice reception to the change.
Civ V is a shining example of how a sequel should be given, enough change where it’s different from it’s older sibling(s), but it still maintains close ties to it’s source material. This is hard to do. Heck, I actually don’t really blame the CoD devs for not wanting to step out of the box. They have hundreds of millions of fans, and should they make one mistake, a year-long storm of endless hyperbole will rain down upon them. And maybe I’m making a mountain out a molehill. Perhaps they really do feel that they’re changing the formula at an acceptable rate. Perhaps they know what they’re getting into when they get the job.
In the end I suppose it’s a question of what you’re willing to put forth the effort for. You might be working on a mega-popular smash hit AAA game or you might be a single man or woman snapping your fingers at your keyboard like I am, trying to make a game, but sooner or later you will have to ask yourself what you want more: A potentially disastrous game, or one that plays itself safe, but isn’t all that great.
To my audience of .75 people: Nitpick my post! Tear it apart! I want to know what I can do to become a better writer! Did I demonize CoD? Glorify Civ? Tell me!