Some videogames have SOUL, and others do not. Further, it is entirely possible for a game to be very fun, addictive and entertaining, but still have no soul. Those three components can be *engineered*.
For a videogame to have soul, it needs to have a level of inspiration behind it that goes beyond anything that can be planned, engineered or forced into existence with bundles of cash. Some examples, IMO, includes venerable titles such as Dragon Wars (NOT Dragon Age), Freelancer, X-Com, The Bard’s Tale, Starflight, Star Control 2, Wizardry, Ultima IV, SSI’s The Summoning, Dark Forces…etc… These titles had people behind them that worked purely from a love of their craft, AND they had the (relative) freedom to make whatever they wanted using whatever process best suited them. Of course budgets and deadlines still existed, but as long as something could be made on time, there was total creative freedom within the deadlines. Those are games where almost every detail is part of a greater whole that came from a place of inspiration and artistic expression.
My buddy Jeremy Soule and I have given a name to this place: “The Maelstrom”. Jeremy’s music often comes straight from the Maelstrom, and those pieces are haunting, powerful and resonant pieces of music that will live on for hundreds, maybe thousands of years. It’s sad that those ancient games I mention will have a tough time resonating for so long, and are, indeed, already forgotten by most. However, I do believe that if the original team and/or a talented team inspired by the original work were to re-create those titles with a modern engine, basically giving the titles a massive graphical facelift but sticking extremely close to the mechanics and details of the original, they could become modern hits….and their soul would shine through.
Notice that I don’t include ANY modern games in that list. If I really thought about it, I’m sure there are some. However, IMO, we’re still at the stage of playing around with brand new, fancy cameras with a ton of new features that allow us to do utterly new things with our craft. And in this stage it’s FAR safer, from an investment risk perspective, to just focus on engineering fun, addiction and entertainment into the latest graphical extravaganza than it is to experiment with an inspired/talented team and see what comes out.
Clearly though, we ARE nearing the end of this stage…..