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Sequels make a splash in gaming

Mark Bemenderfer | Tuesday, November 15, 2005

The market is becoming increasingly saturated with sequels, a double-edged sword for the industry.

Sequels allow developers to flesh out gaming worlds, giving increasing information to a ravenous gaming culture. The ever-increasing popularity of games such as “Resident Evil” and “Grand Theft Auto” are great examples of developers building on an established franchise.

To keep a franchise alive and growing, there must be signs of constant innovation, as well as remaining true to what made the originals appealing to gamers. “Resident Evil 4” showcased this by making a huge departure from the established norm, doing away with the standard villain archetype and introducing several plot twists to the overall continuum.

Developer Capcom also kept the franchise fresh by updating the gameplay mechanics. Unlike the previous versions, “Resident Evil 4” utilized a new camera and aiming system. The new camera made the action more personal, as the gamer was kept close to the hero at all times.

“Grand Theft Auto” is another example on how to constantly keep a franchise appealing to gamers. Developer Rockstar has established a library of recurring characters upon which to draw and focuses heavily upon character development. Since the entire “Grand Theft Auto” universe spans almost half a century, the gamer is given the chance to watch their favorite characters mature and develop.

For example, the GTA universe was introduced to media-mogul Donald Love in “Grand Theft Auto 3.” In the spin-off “Vice City,” which was set roughly 20 years in the past, it was shown how Love learned how to become an entrepreneur. The player meets Love again in “Liberty City Stories.” Taking place chronologically between the other two, this is where the player helps Love implement what he learned in “Vice City.”

Because the stories are presented in a non-chronological manner, Rockstar can take a character and create a truly memorable video-game persona through the use of character history. But the popularity of “Grand Theft Auto” is due to more than just sound development.

The soundtrack is different for each game and can be a draw on its own. The series has featured artists ranging from Michael Jackson to Quiet Riot, each context sensitive in the time period the game is based.

The basic gameplay is also updated from game to game, with the games controls and content being the biggest area for innovation. The latest console version of GTA “San Andreas” featured an aiming system from another Rockstar game, “Manhunt.” Rockstar has also increased the variety of vehicles found within the game, including planes, motorcycles and helicopters as the series progressed.

While having established sequels can be a great way to elaborate on an idea, it should be noted that they could also be detrimental.

“Tomb Raider” is a great example of a franchise that was driven into the ground by lack of real innovation. The majority of the games released felt like clones of the previous ones, with heroine Lara Croft having to adventure though some lost tomb in hopes of raiding it. While it remained true to the title, this didn’t translate to an ultimately fun experience for the gamer.

“The Angel of Darkness” was supposed to be the re-imagining of the franchise. Featuring a darker, edgier Croft, the game was taken out of the crypts and into many modern day settings. It even featured another playable character, one that was rumored to even start his own franchise.

The game was marred by technical issues, however, and was inevitably too little and too late. Another “Tomb Raider” is in the works, but it is safe to say that interest has reached an all-time low for the series.

Putting money into sequels also means that original, creative games tend to get overlooked. Their mega-budget cousins often overshadow games such as “Katamari Damaci and Call of the Cthulhu.” This can discourage developers from trying to break from the established norms and try something completely innovative.

With the X-Box 360, Plasystation 3 and Nintendo Revolution all looming on the horizon, developers will bank more heavily on established brand names. It looks like sequels are going to play a major role in the industry for at least a few more years.