A couple weeks ago I posted about how I just don’t have the time in my life anymore to play games as much as I’d like to. As a result, I’m buying fewer games, but spending more time with those games, trying to get as much out of the experience as I can. One of the byproducts of this approach is that it has largely freed me from the “new release” cycle of gaming, where I needed to play all the new games when everyone else was playing them, just to feel connected to the conversations of the moment. Now I pick and choose, buying games that I am really interested in, and often buying them months after release, when the price has dropped, or picking them up during digital sales on Steam, PSN or XBox Live.
One of the things I’ve noticed recently is that my gaming tastes have changed over the past few years as well, and they now resemble my taste in movies more than ever. Specifically, I find myself more interested in low-budget and overlooked games than in big budget, AAA releases. And I’m not necessarily talking about indie games. I’m talking about console games that, if they were movies, would be put in the “B-Movie” category. They could fall into this category for a variety of reasons. The most common reason is that they were made on a small budget compared to their more high-profile brethren. But, they also could have had a rocky development cycle, or a really short development cycle (as a lot of licensed games have). Or maybe they’re a port of a game that was put out on another platform. Whatever the reason, I want to play these games.
But wait, you might say, you don’t even have time to play all the “good” games. Why would you spend time with games that are, in many cases, not very good at all?
I will answer that by going back to my movie analogy. My favorite genre is low-budget horror movies. The reason I love these movies so much is that I’m always fascinated to see what the director, the cast, and the special effects team do with the limitations they have. Do they set the movie in one location? Do they overly rely on digital effects, or do they invest in practical effects at the cost of something else? What things does the movie prioritize, and what does it compromise? Does the story rely on a bunch of tropes, or really try to do something different? And if it does use tropes, how well does it execute on them?
I think the same way about low-budget or “B-category” games. What did the devs decide to prioritize versus compromise? Does the game have some really interesting systems but really bad visuals? Is the story the strong point, but the mechanics are bad? What’s the game’s strongest quality? What did the developer decide to build around? What are the interesting qualities of this game, despite the fact that it might not be very good overall?
In many ways, as someone who enjoys thinking about the process behind the product, “B-games” are so much more interesting to play than most big-budget games.
Don’t get me wrong, I still play a lot of big-budget games, and many of them are awesome and very interesting. But there is something about those mid to lower-tier games that fascinates me. And the reasons I’ve been thinking about this issue now are twofold. First, I am fascinated by the discussion around Aliens: Colonial Marines, and I will be grabbing it as soon as it drops in price. Second, since we are entering the end of this console generation, there is a whole library of games that are available on the cheap. Games you would never think of paying $60 for can be gotten for under $10 in most cases.
So, over the next year I’m going to revisit some of the “B-games” I’ve played, trying to finish the ones I can and figure out why I left the ones I didn’t finish. I’m looking forward to writing about them.
I’m sure everyone out there has their own definition of a “B-game,” but here’s a list of some that I’ve played that fit my definition:
Velvet Assassin The Saboteur
Legendary Alone in the Dark
Alpha Protocol Dark Sector
Binary Domain Brink
Clive Barker’s Jericho Damnation
Deadly Premonition Far Cry Vengeance (Wii)
GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra Hellboy: The Science of Evil
X-Blades Rise of Nightmares
Section 8: Prejudice Shadowrun
Two Worlds I & II The Conduit
Wanted: Weapons of Fate Wet
Raven Squad: Operation Hidden Dagger The Club