Every year we get a deluge of the same types of game that came the year before. A large portion of modern Triple A titles fall neatly into a select few genres.
Along the way certain genres have fallen by the wayside, below we explore some of these “forgotten formulas” and examine where they stand in today’s industry.
The Space Combat Simulator
In 1999, Freespace 2 was released and was almost universally acknowledged as one of the best if not THE best space combat game ever made.
…it was this great game that seemed to be the death knell of the entire genre.
If you grew up playing games like X-Wing or Wing Commander then you were likely a fan of Freespace 2 and for good reason. The state-of-the-art 3D engine, the tight combat and the compelling storyline all culminated in a fantastic voyage through the stars.
Unfortunately it was this great game that seemed to be the death knell of the entire genre.
In 2003, EVE Online was released and from that point on almost all notable forays into space seemed destined to take place within a single persistent multiplayer universe.
Now its been 14 years since the genre hit it’s peak with Freespace 2 and while there have been several worthwhile space combat games, none have managed to capture and hold audiences.
A few days ago a trailer was released for a new entry in the X Series, entitled X Rebirth. It was jaw droppingly gorgeous and just possibly expansive enough to draw back players into the single player space combat genre.
The 3D Platformer
When Super Mario 64 was originally released in 1996 as a launch title for the Nintendo 64 the platformer genre took a flying long jump into the future *Wa-hoo!*
The analog stick became a standard in the industry but…was eventually usurped by the First Person Shooter.
Never before had players felt so connected with their onscreen avatar. Mario ran, jumped, dove, punched, back flipped and ground pounded in perfect unison with a player’s input thanks in large part to the introduction of the analog stick on the N64′s three pronged controller.
The analog stick became a standard in the industry but the 3D Platformer steadily lost more and more traction and was eventually usurped by the First Person Shooter.
Nowadays the torch of the 3D Platformer is almost solely tended to by its originator in the form of the Mario Galaxy franchise.
It’s been 17 years since Super Mario 64 and while running and jumping are still very much a staple of the video game formula, for the most part “courses ” have been replaced by open world exploration thanks to the success of franchises like Prototype, Infamous and Assassin’s Creed.
The First Person Puzzler
Cyan’s Myst, released in 1993, single handedly invented, perfected and laid to rest the First Person Puzzler genre.
For years after many developers would try in vain to capture the same sense of wonder that came from exploring a mysteriously uninhabited island while trying to suss out how all the abandoned contraptions functioned.
While many “Myst Clones” would attempt to cash in on the simple yet addictive formula, none would ever come close to the original.
Not even Cyan was capable of recreating the magic…
Not even Cyan was capable of recreating the magic with multiple sequels (Riven, Myst III: Exile, Myst IV: Revelation, Myst V: End of Ages), reboots (realMyst, Uru: Ages beyond Myst) and even an attempt at creating an MMO based known as Myst Online.
Now 20 years after the release of Myst, Jonathan Blow, best known as the creator of the indie darling Braid, is hard at work on a game called The Witness, which unabashedly draws inspiration from Cyan’s body of work.
The Light Gun Shooter
From Duck Hunt to House of the Dead, the Light Gun Shooter was where it was at when it came to capturing the coin-op arcade experience in your living room.
…the Light Gun Shooter was where it was at when it came to capturing the coin-op arcade experience in your living room.
But when times changed and our bulky CRT monitors were replaced with sleek LCD and Plasma screens and the technology behind Light Guns ceased to function because, according to my very rudimentary understanding, Plasma, LCD, and DLP monitors don’t have an “off” state between refreshes which was used to pinpoint the player’s aim.
The Dead Space series made a valiant effort in 2009 with their Dead Space Extraction title, a Wii exclusive that successfully used the WiiMote to revisit that old point-n-shoot feeling.
The most recent successful outing of the genre comes in the form of Twisted Pixel’s 2011 title, The Gunstringer, an Xbox 360/ Kinect exclusive which casts you in the role of an undead marionette sheriff bent on revenge.
The Text Adventure
This may seem an odd choice of genre to desire a comeback, after all the text adventure was just a necessary step in the evolution of the point and click adventure, right?
While graphics, sound effects and mouse controls helped make the genre more accessible there is no denying the immersive quality of simply typing what you wanted to do into a prompt and seeing the results printed out on screen.
Infocom released Zork in 1980, the player was tasked with exploring a dungeon made of twisting subterranean passages which plunged ever deeper into the heart of “The Great Underground Empire”.
The game was filled with Tolkien references, subtle humor and dastardly puzzles. Never before had a game so completely fleshed out a game world, thanks to it’s lengthy descriptions of the areas or “rooms” you visited.
When Sierra Entertainment created King’s Quest in 1984 it successfully merged graphics with text input and the genre seemed to have made a successful transition into the age of graphical gaming.
But eventually the text parser was abandoned in favor of more immediate input solutions. The mouse seemed like a natural choice for exploration but unfortunately gave rise to the infamous phenomena known as the “pixel hunt” whereby instead of actually exploring an environment the player would simply click indiscriminately everywhere on screen in hopes of triggering the next scripted game event.
Today, there are no recent examples of commercially produced text adventures. This isn’t to say the genre is dead just that it was gone “underground” (get it?)
Quest, by Alex Warren is a wonderful piece of software that can be run in your browser, as a desktop application and even on your mobile device which allows aspiring adventure authors the ability to construct and share their creations.
At textadventures.co.uk there are litterally hundreds of worlds waiting to be explored.
What do you think of this list of underutilized genres? Is there a glaring omission from one of these categories? Would you prefer another genre make a resurgence? Let us know in the comments below!