Evolution of game genres

October 4, 2009

Games have changed so much over the years, and yet we still continue to confine games to such basic categories or genres. You have action, RPG, racing, puzzle, fighting, sports, and a few more. But there have been many games that blend genres to both expand these categories we all know about and create new genres of games. And this is both a good thing for gamers and a good thing for the industry.

Recent releases like Fallout 3 make people who see screens or quick videos of the game scratch their head when they finally play it. “I thought this was a shooter!” they proclaim with their limited knowledge of the game. Sure, on the surface, Fallout 3 is exactly like a shooter. But, it’s really not, and if you try and play it like a straightforward shooter, you’re ruining the experience for yourself. It’s an RPG, but a more accessible RPG than one like, say, a Final Fantasy game. It blends an open world, shooting gameplay, and covers it all in RPG goodness.

People classify the differences between a game like Fallout 3 and Mass Effect with games like Final Fantasy and Persona. Fallout would be a Western RPG, and Final Fantasy a Japanese RPG. The different may seem simple, one is made here in the West, and the other made in the land of the rising sun. But a game like Fallout 3 would never see the financial success it does over in Japan, and in most cases, Japanese RPGs don’t sell like hotcakes over here as well. JRPGs tend to appeal to a completely different audience, and are less about gameplay innovations and more about a lengthy adventure, memorable characters, and an engrossing story. WRPGs, especially recently, have been more about moral choices, open worlds, and gameplay that is open to all different kinds of gamers.

Basically, JRPGs are more linear and incredibly story driven, and WRPGs are more open and expansive, allowing the player to play the game how they want. And technically, while they seem like completely different games, they are all stuck under the same category: RPG. The industry has grown and expanded so much over the years that you can have two “RPGs” that play completely different but follow under the same basic guidelines as an RPG always has. And this is a very good thing.

Also, the combination of genres is very much present, especially within the last couple of console generations. You have games like Grand Theft Auto, which combine free roaming elements, action/shooting elements, and driving elements. Also, Puzzle Quest, a game that seamlessly blends together an RPG and a puzzle game. And of course, as mentioned above, Fallout 3, bringing together an RPG and a shooter. Another game similar to Fallout 3 would be Deus Ex, which again looks to be a shooter, but is an RPG at its core.

Both these combinations of genres and expansions of genres create new and different ways for people to play, and they give gamers many different choices in terms of games, as well as those who like something new to play. Creating a game like Resident Evil 4 and making it the way it was made the Resident Evil series shine once again, making it more fun and accessible for those who normally never play survival horror games in the tradition of the original Resident Evils. More recent releases like the new Alone in the Dark and Dead Space follow this trend as well.

The industry also learns to grow, being able to evolve old franchises and take them to the next generation, and use those ideas to create new franchises or games as well, which could lead to more innovative products. Games don’t have to be completely new or innovative, trying things completely differently just for the sake of innovation, they just have to work. And taking elements from other games and combining them with a familiar formula is the safest route, and generally leads to more success than trying something completely different. Although I don’t discourage completely new ideas in the industry, I just feel like it’s not a bad thing when one game plays similarly to another; if it does some new things that could help future game development, and it helps create new categories or genres of games in the process that stretch the possibilities of old genres, then it’s a very good thing.

The cover system in the original Gears of War, something that was simple yet effective, has been used in many games since. You see it in games like Metal Gear Solid 4, a stealth action game, and Uncharted, a Tomb Raider style adventure game. And both games seem to have benefited from it. So, not only can you combine different genres, you could combine different elements from the game genre to make something work as well. What’s better than seeing some of the best game ideas come together in one perfect package? Sure, it may not be completely original, but I guarantee there is a good chance it will work, and the game will just be fun to play. 

Pretty much to sum everything up, the expansion of different game genres is good for gamers and for developers, as is the innovation within the games that expand the genre, even if those things that innovate are simple. It’s good that the gaming industry can continue to strive from old ideas and attempts at combining two things that normally would seem like they wouldn’t work. As gamers, all we can do is continue to support these ideas if they work, and hope that it will only further benefit the industry in the many years to follow.