Got Soul?

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…..

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2 /B/romments

  1. John G.
    Posted June 8, 2010 in 11:18 pm | Permalink

    As much as I would love an update of the classics I think they’d be missing that special something that made the originals so good, especially if they try to “modernize” it for a wider audience. For modern games, just of the top of my head, Ico and Shadow of the Colossus had soul in spades and hopefully the team’s upcoming game will too. Heavy Rain springs to mind as something more than explosions and graphics (Well, maybe not graphics. They were pretty impressive.) but as great as it is it’s missing that tiny little something to make it extraordinary.

  2. Posted June 8, 2010 in 11:48 pm | Permalink

    Good call on Shadow of the Colossus and Ico. Great examples of modern games that do indeed have soul. Also, agreed, Heavy Rain was certainly a notable achievement, but I would say that it’s mostly a great example of a team playing around with a fancy new camera. 😉 Mind you, the high-tech forensic sunglasses and the time sensitive “emotional response” mechanics were fantastic.

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