Monday, August 8, 2016

The Last Game

No Man's Sky comes out this week, and a lot of words have already been written about it. In an article about a player who managed to buy a leaked copy of the game, Vice's Austin Walker touches on the idea of The Last Game, which he defines as such:

The Last Game: One infinite leisure product that can be a permanent, pleasurable escape from our bills and our bodies, from our politics and our pain. It is not so different from the desire milked by films like Interstellar, which promised us that while "mankind was born on Earth," with all of its dirt and hunger and difficulty, "it was never meant to die here." We want to ascend so badly; to procedurally generate an escape. But the challenging truth is that we aren't going anywhere anytime soon—and more, that wherever we go there we'll be, with all of our dirt still on us. 

Reading that, I couldn't comprehend where the idea that such a game would be attainable, but I am a gaming dinosaur. Where as the infinite playablilty of the games I grew up on is relatively low, there's an entire generation whose first game was Minecraft. Procedurally generated, infinitely moddable, enormous player base, supportive of many play styles, and doing it all with multiplayer, on basically every modern gaming platform (and many non-gaming platforms), for less than $30. Everyone knows what it is. All of your friends are playing it or have played it. Its value proposition is extremely difficult to beat.

But it's not The Last Game, which means there's room for improvement. It gets frequent updates and there's a legion of mods made for it, but it's still controlled by developers. It's got a huge number of biomes, but it's largely terrestrial. Its creative roots make it a little goal-less. Much of the fun almost requires friends. No doubt, Minecraft can have an enormous theoretical playability potential, but it's not infinite.

This chase for an endless game has resulted in some really weird interactions for me with other video game enthusiasts. I've seen plenty of game reviews with hundreds of hours put into the game telling me that it's not worth playing at all. I had a conversation with someone who purported to put 500 hours into Destiny and tried to convince others that it wasn't worth $60, comparing the game to cigarettes. It didn't seem to matter to that person that the game was fun. They felt like they were promised an infinite amount of things to do, and it took them 500+ hours to determine that they'd not only exhausted the playability of the game, but that it wasn't worth what they'd paid for it.

Ever since No Man's Sky was announced, it's seemingly captivated an audience that believe it could be The Last Game. The hype for the game is essentially out of control, with fans both clamoring to get their hands on it while avoiding any information that might temper expectations. An enormous day one patch seems to communicate that the game needs a large amount of post-release support, or it shipped in a state of 90% completeness. Regardless, it's likely not The Last Game, and that's going to cause an awful lot of hand wringing. No Man's Sky might blow some minds, but it'll still be a disappointment to people expecting it deliver on the promise of an infinite world.

This might just be old man brian here, but this feels like the new normal. I was going to write a review of the wonderful Quadrilateral Cowboy (it's fantastic, get it), but consider how it compares to The Last Game. It's $20 for a 3 hour story, with a definitive end and limited replayability. For many consumers of the Minecraft generation, it won't even register on their radar. It's not multiplayer, or social, or exploratory, or infinite in any part of its scope. Sure, it's unlikely to get bombarded by negative user reviews by people whose unrealistically high expectations have not been met, but there may come a day when a well-crafted game that does meet most expectations doesn't sell enough because it's not The Last Game.


POSTED BY: brian, sci-fi/fantasy/video game dork and contributor since 2014