Compromising Consistency: Dead Space 3 and Other Sequels

Decisions, decisions...

A couple of days ago, NowGamer posted an interview with Antony Johnston, the writer of the first Dead Space game.  In the interview, Johnston perfectly sums up a sentiment that I think needs to be stressed in regard to sequels.  If fans expect multiple installments of their favorite games, they must be willing to compromise as these series grow and attempt to appeal to wider audiences.  While its predecessors were true survival horror games, Dead Space 3 incorporates cooperative play, and adopts a more action-oriented approach.  Many fans of the series have argued that this is a slap in the face to the audience that made Dead Space 1 & 2 so successful.  Johnston argues that these changes are a “necessary evil in order to broaden the fan base,” and an unsurprising one at that.

“I know the developers always wanted to go bigger, in terms of scope.  And I’ve mentioned before that the universe we created was huge, with lots of elements, which simply didn’t make it into the first game.  So to get that story told, to round out the universe, it was inevitable the settings and environments would open out a bit, become a bit more epic in scale…otherwise you’d just have the same game on a different ship each time, and that’s pretty dull.” – Antony Johnston, Dead Space writer, via NowGamer

Capcom utilized the same strategy with the Resident Evil series.  As the series became more profitable and the opportunity for mass appeal presented itself, they did their best to retain some of the survival horror elements, but the focus on action was heavily increased.  In the transition from RE4 to RE5, the series essentially became a cooperative action game.  For survivor horror games especially, cooperative play is a real game changer.  It easily lends itself to action, and it is a lot harder to be frightened when your buddy is there to hold your hand and bail you out of tight situations.  Still, RE5 outsold RE4.  They tried to go even more action-based with RE6, and as we now know, their strategy failed.  Still, based on their previous results, can you blame them for trying?

 

Don't be scared buddy!  I got your back!

Don’t be scared buddy! I got your back!

 

Maybe Dead Space 3 would have done fine if it just stuck to the formula.  Perhaps the fan base is large enough and loyal enough that sales could slightly increase without trying to appeal to a broader segment, but at what point does that stop working?  Dead Space 4? 5? 6?  How many games can they sell to the same group of people before the base gets fatigued and stops buying them?  Ironically, they are tweaking the “survival” horror approach, because they want to survive.  Eventually, if these games keep coming out, they will have to do something to get new people interested.  Unfortunately for current fans, the best time to do that is before the series becomes irrelevant.  In other words, now.

I have read a lot of articles over the past couple of years dealing with this same topic.  I already mentioned the uproar surrounding the action-first emphasis of RE6.  People were skeptical before Skryim came out, because Bethesda wanted to appeal to a broader audience.  People are even complaining about the new Wind Waker remake, because the graphics were redone in HD.  I understand their reservations.  After all, there is a definite charm to the original cel-shaded graphics.  However, if you are looking for a cel-shaded version of Wind Waker, it is out already.  It’s called Wind Waker, and you bought it ten years ago.  This is not a port; it is a remake.  By definition, something has to be remade.  At what point are we being unreasonable?

 

Treason, apparently...

Treason, apparently…

 

This next one hits close to my heart.  After Dark Souls II was announced, fans went ballistic over an Edge Online interview in which director Tomohiro Shibuya said, among other things, that the game would be “more straightforward and understandable.”  I urge you to follow the link, as it is a really interesting article.  In context, the quote is not as bad as it has been made out to be:

“I will follow the same concept as Dark Souls, but there were a lot of hidden story elements that some players may not have caught before, and I’m hoping to make some of that a little bit more clear or directly expressed to the player as well – not just in the story, but messaging.  A lot of elements were very subtle in Dark Souls, and that was something that was characteristic to Dark Souls.  But I personally am the sort of person who likes to be more direct instead of subtle, so I think that part of me will [result in] a difference [for] players when they pick up Dark Souls II. It will be more straightforward and more understandable.”
-Tomohiro Shibuya, Dark Souls II Director, via Edge Online

Obviously, the fans, including myself, want the game to be just as confusing and punishing as the previous installments, because that is one of the reasons they were so great.  However, there will not be a sequel if there is no potential for growth.  Have you ever tried to introduce Dark Souls to your friends for the first time?  If you do not want them to quit, you have to spend a good deal of time prefacing the game with disclaimers and tips before they get started.  For those who do not understand the overall concept and game play mechanics, the learning curve is very high, and the rage-quit potential is astronomical.  Souls  is my third favorite game series of all time, so I definitely share the concerns about Dark Souls II.  However, I understand the need to be flexible.  Sometimes, it feels like gaming has grown up but gamers haven’t.  Arguing for a compromise is reasonable.  A refusal to compromise is a tantrum.  The whole “If I can’t have my favorite game, no one can” attitude is unproductive.  I want my favorite games to have sequels.  If that means compromising some elements to make that happen, then so be it.  After the compromises, there is at least some chance the sequel will still be enjoyable, but there is no chance it will be enjoyable if it never is created.  Can we not look for a win-win scenario?

It is even worse that the loyal fans who are so adamant against base-broadening changes are sometimes the same ones downloading pirated copies.  How can devs expect sequels to grow when their fans are not even buying the current game?  You do not deserve a voice if you refuse to contribute in some fashion.  I have heard the excuses.  It may be “futile to try to stop piracy,” and DRM may be “annoying,” but piracy is still wrong.  Period.  As I have said before, arguing that DRM is too intrusive is like arguing that rape whistles are too loud.  If you are going to pirate games, go nuts, but do not pretend you are some kind of barrier-breaking, system-defying hero.  Excuses aren’t the same as defenses, and they certainly do not justify complaints.

 

Modern-day Rosa Parks.

Modern-day civil rights heroes.

 

My goal is not to condemn fans.  I am a fan myself, after all.  I understand that the arguments against change stem from the same passion that helped make these games successful in the first place.  That passion is important and admirable.  For those of us who bought these games and advocated for them, we feel like we played a part in their growth.  Thus, it seems like we should have some say in their future.  However, making games is still a business, developing games is not cheap, and resources are best committed to games with a chance for large profits.  If we want our games to have a future, we might need to be a little more flexible.

Of course, this only applies if we actually want these games to have sequels.  Here is a question for you all.  Would you prefer your favorite game series to stop releasing installments and go out with dignity, or compromise and continue to produce sequels?  In my view, even at its worst, at least a sequel cannot diminish the positive experiences I have already had with the series, so I say bring them on.  What do you think?

Thomas Shamburger
Thomas is one of the original creators of "What's Jump?" As a lifelong gamer, writer, and comedian, his goal is to provide readers with humorous, entertaining, and thought-provoking perspectives on current gaming news and culture. His early career successes in the business world helped to pave the way for the site's launch in 2012. As the Editor in Chief of "What's Jump?" he combines his passions for gaming, writing, entrepreneurship, and comedy.
Thomas Shamburger
Thomas Shamburger

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