Video games have come a long way since their inception. As the capabilities of platforms improved, developers not only set the bar higher, but they helped mature our sense of what was really entertaining. It was this honest foundation that pushed the gaming further and further into the glitz and glamor that now surrounds a multi-billion dollar industry. With gaming having entered an age where getting the customer to buy the product is more important than having them enjoy it, it seems the industry forgot the small but brilliant things that netted it fame in the first place.
Clan Systems – Remember a well-developed version of these in recent games? I don’t. Forgetting to promote competition seems to be common faux paus among today’s developers. The Call of Duty series is a prime example of this, as instead of creating an actual clan system, they left a completely useless tag system that everyone could exploit. Games like Socom: Confrontation are still popular because their clan system is developed to the point that clans have mottos, viewable rosters, menus and exclusive spots in the game.
Simplicity – A symptom of trying too hard to push the envelope is forgetting the most brilliant thing of all: simplicity. Some of the ingenuity in video games is bred from the simplest ideas imaginable, like the cruise mode in the multiplayer of Midnight Club: Los Angeles. How complicated is the idea of simply placing cars on a track without a time limit? It’s mindless enough to be the bread and butter of any game with customization and yet it seems the racing genre is completely oblivious to it. Need For Speed: Underground was popular not only because of its customization options, but because players would sometimes stop races to go back and play around on the tracks.
Customization – Hello? This feature is still a staple in any successful video game, and yet for some reason it’s an element that’s either been forsaken or stripped down to bare minimums. Developers don’t make customization whacky enough, nor do they think far enough outside of the box to make it interesting. Sometimes it’s appropriate to make every customization item applicable to the game’s theme, but it’s even more appropriate to appreciate that your audience (or these days market) has a wide range of ideas and interests.
Creativity – Now this idea isn’t here to criticize the story of new games on the market. My whole “originality” quip more or less aims at things like character design. It’s not enough to simply have a convincing plot. Games like Tokyo Xtreme Racer: Zero could get away with just having cars on a road because they gave the drivers their own stories. The game didn’t even have a central plot; the player started off with a car, money, and opponents that wandered the streets of Tokyo at night.
So where was the creativity? The character could be anyone…From a restaurant worker with a penchant for fast cars to caffeine addict who’s coffee intake affected how many risks he took on the road. Every character had a quirk, and their bare text profiles gave them the faces that developers never really bothered or even had to put in the game. You found your next opponent and you read what made them distinctive.
Some of the racers were lone wanderers and others of them were segmented into teams who sometimes held interesting relationships with other racers. Personality traits were such an important factor that a picture of the car your rivals drove and small stories as to how and why they were tuned however they were sufficed over a picture of the driver. In four lines or less, these small descriptions of each opponent told more of a story than a cutscene ever could.
As for customization, from stickers and body kits to performance upgrades and in-depth tuning, everything surrounding the car was left to the player. As long as you had enough in-game currency, you were perfectly capable of taking a simple car and turning it into the ultimate racing machine to fit your driving style. You ran through teams, unlocked a more descriptive profile for each racer you beat and earned more cash to buy new performance parts or cars you unlocked along the way. That was the beauty of Tokyo Xtreme Racer: Zero.
And that’s the story of a series that never needed flashy graphics, cinematic button sequences or even a memorable face to provide weeks of entertainment and replayability.