So you read my first post, right? About how flash games are so frickin’ cool that they’re redefining the way we play and enjoy video games, right? And remember, kids, it’s okay to lie. In slightly more seriousness, I think there’s a couple cans of worms about flash games that I haven’t yet cracked open. Namely, exactly HOW the heck these little internet timesuckers can have the enormous effect on big game companies that they’re having. Now I know what you’re thinking: “Yeah right, you’re telling me when I play games like Mass Effect and Zelda, they steal crap from flash games?” ABSOLUTELY. If flash games were a rock (work with me here), they’ve been dunked headfirst into a pool (that’s the big console game market) and are making some cool ripple-y things.
So the first thing I’m gonna talk about is the meat-and-potatoes kind of flash games. There are tons of categories, but some of them include: Shooter, Puzzle, Platformer, Racer, Action-Adventure (yeah, that’s specific), and Tower Defense. Some of these broad categories have more creative innovations than others. I mean, okay, a platformer is a platformer (in most cases), and in a shooter… you shoot crap. If it’s shiny and has awesome techno music, you have a 4/5 game rating instantly. But the puzzle category is unique because it allows a game developer to put together aspects of any other category with a problem-solving aspect that makes the game unique (and totally flippin’ awesome). The same idea is true with tower defense. There are so many different things you can do with a tower defense that it’s mind-boggling. All you have to do is have some sort of automatically firing structure, and baddies that come in waves. Ta-da, it’s a tower defense, feel free to put whatever crap you want in it to make it not suck. I even saw one once that had insane rockin’ electronic music (DDR style, hooray), and the “enemies” were all music notes that came down the path to the beat of the song. Click on this link to check it out, it’s pretty epically amazing, and I don’t say that about everything (but I do say it about a lot of things…).
Okay, so now that you’ve wasted some time listening (and fighting against) some awesome music, you’re wondering when I’m getting to the point. The point is, flash games are a proof-of-concept for big game companies. WRITE. IT. DOWN. It is absolutely UNBELIEVABLE how many big game companies use the ideas and gameplay elements of flash games almost verbatim to enrich their gameplay experience. Example: if you’ve played Mass Effect 2 (and if you haven’t, you should because it’s totally mindblowingly awesome. And c’mon, who doesn’t love Yvonne Strahovski?), you’ll remember the loyalty mission for the Geth character, Legion. You go to the main Geth mothership, break in, and either blow everyone up or rewire them to stop being such crazy insane cyborg killing machines (literally). Now, inevitably, you get to the important spot with the core or whatever, and inevitably, it takes time to load or whatever. Now here it comes: Oh no, the Geth have been alerted to your presence! It’s a good thing there are these missile turrets that you can HACK to fire at the Geth… you know… the Geth that come at you in waves… of increasing difficulty…? All of a sudden Mass Effect’s gameplay has turned from “Choose Your Own Adventure: Now with Bullets!” to a true blue Tower Defense. The only variant is that you have 3 characters that can assist your missile turrets with the blowing up of the baddies. Makes it all interactive, and stuff. Yay.
This little tactic is pulled in more games than I care to count. “Hey, (protagonist)! You’ve found (object of importance)! I must (extract it/charge it up/cast a spell), and I won’t be able to move while I’m doing it! You must defend me against enemies until it is ready to be (fired/moved/destroyed)!” It’s classic.
Let’s not forget another example of flash game appropriation: the upgrade system. The vast majority of flash games have some sort of upgrade system, and it’s often one that lets a player balance his or her playing style. For instance, upgrades that are used in an inventory style: you have a ton of upgrades but only a certain amount of slots in which to equip them, so you must choose what you want to improve. Or better yet, the game developer makes one choose between paying up to improve a certain weapon, or saving to buy a better one. This is used all the time in major games by major companies. But I can hear the critics: “Don’t you realize, dear blogger, that games have had the idea of an upgrade system since the dawn of time and before? It’s not original in flash games, so it can’t be ‘stolen’ from them!” (By the way, that was more polite than any critic I’ve encountered. Generally I’d see the word “asshat” and a couple “L2write n00b”s splattered about). The fact is, it goes back to the “proof-of-concept” idea: while upgrades may have been introduced before the rise of flash gaming, the concept of testing, mutating, and improving the upgrade system aspect of a game gets kicked into overdrive in the flash gaming community, given the remote shelf life of most flash games. There’s ALWAYS a better one coming out, again and again. It’s survival of the fittest on a very small time scale. They’re like the Zerg of video games: always mutating. So, while the concept was created by someone else, it has been perfected by the flash game community, and every game company that puts out a game with an upgrade system, from BioShock to Fallout to even the new Zelda game (I know, I was weirded out, too), has to look at what flash game developers have done if they want to choose from a variety of upgrade systems that fit their game, and if they want to be creative and effective in implementing it.
Now that’s how flash games have infected the big-boy gaming world, but how about the reverse? Are there any top-of-the-line game companies that feel like getting their hands dirty in the flashy-gamey world? The answer is YES! A couple of years ago, EA games created their flash gaming division, “EA2D” (clever, right?). It has since been eaten up by BioWare, which has been eaten up by EA (wait, what?). BUT! They put out their first flash game, “Dragon Age: Journeys” as a way to stir up support and excitement for the first Dragon Age game. It was meant to be a teaser that enveloped the player and gave them a taste of the gory, fantastical goodness yet to come in the full game.
Only it sucked. EA2D apparently did not play a lot of flash games before they decided to make one, and all of the conventions that make flash games entertaining and intuitive, and decided “Nah, we’ll just make a mini-version of the real thing!” It’s slow-paced, needlessly complicated and way too short to really make me want to buy in to the concepts. Also, there’s this whole thing about choosing your race, class, and *background*?? In the full game Dragon Age, it really makes a difference where you come from, as your starting quest is different and you get different dialogue options, but the game devs for the flash version were like, “Hurr hurr, let’s put it in and see how they like it,” when it makes absolutely no difference and just makes the game even more needlessly complex. Play it here (haha, no, please don’t, but I’m being polite):
But there is a light at the end of the tunnel! EA2D wised up a little bit, and got Evan Miller (aka Pixelante) to make another promotional game. And this time they did it so, so right. This game blew my mind. It’s a hack’n’slash that only uses the mouse to control your character, and by god it works wonders. This thing is quick, intuitive, innovative, and the upgrade system (look, look, upgrades!) completely allows for a personalized style of play. And it’s so FLASHY! All of the good things of the first game, but none of the bad. Not to mention, I giggle like a schoolgirl whenever I tear through hordes of enemies just by clicking them. So, way to go EA2D. I wish more big game companies took your route by making awesome flash games that make me want to buy the real thing. Play it here, and then maybe go buy Dragon Age because it’s… EPICALLY AMAZING.
So there you have it. When digital worlds collide, great (and sometimes not-so-great) things happen! But let’s face it, wouldn’t you rather play those great things for free, than having to go out and buy an XBOX360 and pay 40 bucks for every great thing made for that system? Wait, really? Remember, kids, it’s okay to lie!