Thursday, September 19, 2013

What's What 2 - A primer to the wide world of gaming

In What's What, I described some of the biggest genres in gaming through elaborating their associated acronyms. At the time, I acknowledged that I was only scratching the surface of the plethora of types of games out there and, after receiving quite a bit of positive feedback from gamers and non-gamers alike, I thought it would be a good idea to try and outline some of the less acronym heavy genres out there. Today's post is primarily aimed at the non-gamer but should hopefully inspire gamers to try out something new if they usually stick to a favourite type of game.


One major point I only very briefly touched on in my previous point is that games seldom confine themselves to a single genre. While not technically a genre in and of itself, the concept of borrowing elements from one style of game and fitting it into another is very common. RPG elements, are probably the most commonly ported cross-genre. I feel this is probably a product of the highly desirable qualities of persistence and ownership that comes with customizing and leveling a character to suit personal tastes. Also, the notion of powerups, temporary boosts to skills or abilities, a trope of the platforming genre, are frequently found in other games. Some games even go so far as to splitting themselves into discernible sections with each chunk adhering to the rules and gameplay of a specific genre. Hybridization can sometimes make the task of assigning a genre to a game quite difficult but is an excellent way to put a fresh spin on old ideas and to reach a wider audience.

Prototypical Game - Super Mario Bros.
Platformers were one of the first major genres of games to emerge and are so called for their tendency to have players navigate by jumping from platform to platform. While many games mix it up, the basic setup of controlling a character by jumping and running from a world which scrolls from left to right is instantly recognizable to gamers. As mentioned above, powerups are extremely common to platformers and run the gamut of providing the player with temporary invulnerability, the ability to throw a projectile, or simply provide a boost like better speed or higher jumping. Platformers are also distinguished by frequent deaths and multiple lives which encourages the player to master each tricky jump through trial and error as opposed to intense planning.

Simulation (usually shortened to sim)
Prototypical Game - Gran Turismo
Simulation racing games pride themselves on mirroring real world physics and presenting an accurate driving model that makes each vehicle as true to reality as possible. More modern games have even gone as far as modelling damage such that handling is subtly affected by changes in wind resistance if the fender is bent. Simulation racers have covered everything from street legal vehicles, Formula 1, and off road. In any case, the focus is on mastering handling and choosing optimal lines through corners. Sim racers are also well known for offering a robust garage over world where cars can be customized both visually and mechanically down to minute details like valve timings and gear ratios. The simulation racing genre, when played with maximum realism settings, can be unforgiving to the novice and is even used by some professional drivers to hone skills off the track (iRacing boasts testimonials and is frequented by racing legends such as Dale Earnhardt Jr).

Arcade Racer
Prototypical Game - Burnout
As opposed to sim racers, arcade racers are all about pedal to the metal speed and taking big power slides through corners. This isn't to say that they don't require skill to master but they are much less apt to provide any knowledge on how real racing works. Arcade racers also frequently employ Duke's of Hazard style jumps in the middle of tracks and generally skip any attempt at real world damage modelling. Further, arcade racers occasionally stretch into otherworldly settings with spaceships and hovercrafts often lining up next to real life supercars. One other defining characteristic of arcade racers is the frequent implementation of powerups ranging from nitrous boosts to missiles for firing at opposing racers.

Athletic Sports (Sim/Arcade)
Prototypical Games - Madden / NBA Jam
As with racing games, sports titles are split into two different sub-genres as well. Sims tend to focus on accurately portraying a television style presentation complete with dynamic colour commentary and half-time reports. Electronic Arts and 2K Games are the two biggest sim sport game developers and annually release new iterations for pretty much every sport (yes, even cricket). Arcade sports games tend to not have annual releases but usually provide gameplay exaggerated to the point where the original sport is barely recognizable. NBA Jam, for example, feature players jumping twenty feet in the air and literally setting the net on fire when they land over the top 1080 dunks.

Graphic Adventure
Prototypical Game - The Secret of Monkey Island
Graphic adventures usually focus on weaving an intricate story and can be imagined as if a novel was played instead of read. The majority of graphic adventures are comedic but have been known to cover heady topics such as post traumatic stress and drug abuse. The fundamental gameplay generally consists of collecting items and applying them to objects within the world in clever yet logical ways to advance the plot. Combat is rarely encountered and is often dealt with through dialogue as opposed to an outright action sequence. Graphic adventures were at their height in the early 1990's when Lucasarts was releasing classics at an incredible pace and, much to my delight, have started to experience a resurgence with several high quality titles released in the past few years.  

Prototypical Game - Tetris
The term puzzle may be somewhat of a misnomer in that many of the most recognizable puzzle games don't actually require logical solutions but rather focus on manipulating a game board and pieces on it. Puzzle games are probably best explained by doing and I would highly recommend playing a game of Tetris if you have never played one before (Google search 'free Tetris' and you will easily find a version to play). Puzzle games are well known for their simplistic yet compelling schemes that are just as easily played for five minutes as five hours. Whether you are stacking blocks, shooting orbs, or bouncing on a pachinko board, game mechanics usually take minutes to master and can be easily enjoyed by gamers and non-gamers of all ages.

I will cut this one off here knowing full well that a ton more genres exist to be covered. Hopefully, reading about some of the different genres has inspired some gamers to tread the waters of something new and given an idea to non-gamers of just how varied gameplay can be. I will probably revisit this type of post again at a later date but don't intend to do so for a while.