Several times throughout gaming’s history, more recently (past 5 or so years) however, many games have been released that are little more than better developed demos with systems one would expect to find in a completely created game. By all accounts, the core mechanics to the games are barebones with little creative variety added to them. With that said, those core mechanics can be well-developed by themselves. Those qualities lead to what I would call “Proof of Concept” games.
A great example of this would be the original Assassin’s Creed. Many likely have fond memories of the game, and rightly so, but if you look back on it, the game was nothing more than a singular concept, with little variety, framed within a story. The only full-fledged part of the game was the story, which held it together.
Other aspects of the game, the combat, assassinations, stealth, escaping from guards, etc. were incredibly repetitive. Fortunately for the game at the time, the idea of Assassin’s Creed was so refreshing that, while many reviews did mention the repetitiveness of the game, the series became an instant hit.
To be fair to Assassin’s Creed, it does have a lot more going for it than the next two games I will be talking about, which I would argue are in fact nothing more than Proof of Concept games, meaning that you could describe them as little more than an in-depth demo.
The first and most obvious game, which likely popped into your head as well, would be Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes. I’m not going to be really adding anything new to the discussion, and criticism, about the game as nothing more than a glorified demo – many have already done that before me. However, I do think it is valuable to add to this discussion as not only another example of what I am getting at, but also to help clarify what it is I am getting at exactly.
Stephen Gillespie’s review of Ground Zeroes here at TechRaptor both summarizes the game perfectly and helps explain the point I am getting at:
It’s a nice little palette cleanser that doesn’t have a huge amount of substance to it… There isn’t a lot to Ground Zeroes on paper, and this stops it from excelling, but what is there is a lot of fun.
Ground Zeroes is in the situation that what is in the game is actually pretty great, but there just isn’t enough of it. That is essentially the driving factor behind what creates a Proof of Concept game. Ground Zeroes did not have enough content, but that driving factor may crop as a lack of variability, like in Assassin’s Creed. In both there is a distinct lack of there not being enough of the game there to justify describing it as a complete game (although Assassin’s Creed likely is an exception to this, but still the criticism of repetitiveness is still valuable to this discussion).
A game that is currently catching a lot of flak for this criticism is Titanfall. I have no doubt that at the core of Titanfall is actually an extremely entertaining game. I said as much in my first impressions during the beta. However, my feelings and experience did not go much further past what I did in the beta. I, like many other gamers, lost interest in the game incredibly quickly.
Titanfall fell prey to the feeling of repetitiveness, which set on rather quickly. The repetitiveness was an issue regardless of game mode, what Titan you used, loadout, etc. Each match had a certain rhythm to it, which if you have played Titanfall I think you will know what I am talking about.
At its core, Titanfall is an entertaining game with a cool concept at its core, but Titanfall as it is right now doesn’t really capitalize on the concept. It needs something further than the generic modes that you can find in any FPS. Game modes and objectives should be molded around the core, unique concept of the game, which is the Titan’s themselves and the way that pilots interact with them.
So, in terms of a Proof of Concept game, Titanfall likely fits it better than any other game. The core of the game is there, and relatively developed, but it lacks any kind of support to foster prolonged interest. There is a support system around it, but one that I would expect in any FPS or multiplayer game for that matter. There is nothing unique to it to foster the gameplay of Titanfall. The various modes and types of matches are, at best, slight variations of things we see in nearly all FPS games.
More than that, the variability between the different Titans and loadouts does not lend itself to a lot of distinct variability either. Basically, I think Titanfall has found itself in the same issue as the original Assassin’s Creed, however, Titanfall is in a far more precarious position because it’s concept is not unique enough from the genre it fits in to stand out completely. At the end of the day, regardless of giant robot, the game is an FPS.
Seeing as these Proof of Concept games do quite well economically, I would imagine that many will be seen in the future. And, I must stress that these games are not necessarily bad games, but they are most definitely not achieving as much of their potential as they should to release a game that they claim to be its own, engaging game. I’m also not saying that these games like Titanfall have to exhaust all potential ideas before releasing the game, but at least enough to keep players interested until the inevitable sequel.
The main worry, and why I discussed this issue, is that I think developers and publishers can take advantage of us consumers by just releasing the kind of barbones game that looks a lot more impressive than it really is, like Titanfall, which uses many key concepts and systems many multiplayer FPS games use.
The cynical side of me thinks that games like Titanfall deliberately kept potential ideas out of the game, likely with the excuse of the worry about their lack of testing, to eventually put it in the sequel just so the sequel has something fresh. That is not to say that Titanfall or any other game here actually did that, but I am saying that it is not unreasonable to believe that they did not do it, and that it is not unreasonable to think that any game has not done or will not do it in the future.
We should all be wary of these “Proof of Concept” games and ask ourselves whether or not something like Titanfall actually has enough there to distinguish itself from other similar games.