While the video game industry is often criticised for churning out endless sequels, playing it safe or simply lacking in innovation – at the top end at least, the indie circuit is always refreshing – perhaps instead of trying to copy the success of other games, it should look to the real world games for inspiration.
That's right, I'm talking real world as in board games and adventure novels. Iain Livingston recently released a new edition in his Fighting Fantasy series, marking the 30th anniversary of his first single player adventure book, The Warlock of Firetop Mountain. Now these novels may seem a little antiquated by the standard of a modern RPG gamer, but the simple branching narrative, dice rolling and character building, basic RPG elements found in these books, are a standard in modern RPGs. Indeed, with the inclusion of unlockables and character levelling in almost every genre, you could argue that this type of book helped inspire a huge aspect of contemporary gaming – and it should continue to do so.
Of course Livingston's latest creation, Blood of the Zombies, has been somewhat updated for a modern audience. He claims to have written it for the ten year olds of today, as well as the ten year olds of 1982 – the undead shamblers being a popular topic for such a book considering the likes of Left 4 Dead, The Walking Dead and everlasting popularity of the Romero movies.
On top of that the book is available on iOS and Android platforms. It works like an eBook, but the character stats are built into it, as well as the dice rolling, removing the need for separate items; a clever modern adaptation to a product that's stood the test of time.
Now you could argue that this is just a salute to the old days and that not many people are buying these types of books, but Icon Books isn't the only company putting these types of novels out. Black Library, the publishing arm of Games Workshop is also actively looking for this type of novel in its annual author submission window, so it's clear that this type of “game” is still very much alive, if not seeing some sort of resurgence.
Perhaps it's the simple, narrative driven nature of these books that is maintaining and growing its audience. It keeps things easy to understand, but delivers a quality product. This is something that indie developers are tapping into with their clear but effective graphics, intuitive gameplay and engaging stories. Gamers like this sort of thing and video game designers should really take note of this.
It's been said that perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away. These gaming books represent a simple, streamlined system that has worked for over 30 years. Video games have built a pedigree all of their own, but it doesn't hurt to look elsewhere for inspiration on how to do things right.
Board games are another type of game that developers should really take note of. They aren't your grandmas scrabble or monopoly anymore, these are really immersive, competitive and very deep experiences. Settlers of Catan is the classic, but branch out beyond that and you have a very varied landscape of board games that not only stretch your mental capacity, but allow you to do so with real people. They're sitting across from you and next to you, something that many multiplayer video games miss out on these days.
Older PC gamers may remember something that was once a lot more common place in titles, hot seat gaming. Console players of a similar pedigree will remember the all too common split screen or simpler two player option on huge lists of games.
But you just don't see it as much anymore.
Now I'm not suggesting that online multiplayer isn't great, it is, it's wonderfully convenient, but it's no replacement for local multiplayer and often it leads to the in-person two player experience being overlooked by developers. This not only means that you miss out on all the fun of playing with a real person sitting next to you – the added banter, messing with their controller or having physical feedback as well as auditory on what's happening in game – but it means extra expenditure too. It means two copies of the game and two of the console, instead of just a pair of controllers.
Now I know that sometimes this is down to hardware limitations. Sometimes it's just too much to render two environments simultaneously on the same machine, but that's not always the case. Split screen, hotseat multiplayer is not seen as important as it once was.
Well I'm here to argue that it should be. Playing with real people, right there next to you is far better than playing online. Board games have that, on top of the fact that some of the greats like Fantasy Flight's War of the Ring, or Descent Journey's in the Dark, provide wonderfully unique experiences in their own right.
The two worlds are going to collide soon too, so they better learn to play nice. As augmented reality grows into a more feasible technology, expect to see many a board game with attack animations, and fancy digital renditions of what's happening. Perhaps video games should take a note there and include some more real world features? We're not talking Rob the robot here, but how about some kind of achievement badge that displays something when you complete a game?
But that aside, video game developers should really take note of the other gaming mediums that are drawing more and more attention away from the digital one. Board games, card games, adventure books, they're all very old school, but also wonderfully contemporary. The roots have not been forgotten, they've been built them to create some true masterpieces of gaming – and there isn't a control pad in sight.
So to developers I say take note, but to gamers I say it too. If you haven't played a board game since your family forced you to sit down for another sickeningly long monopoly session, or you think the idea of playing through a book seems silly, I urge you to try them out. They take a slower pace than Call of Duty, but they let you do something much more important in the end than the actual game – enjoy the company of others. You can still smash their face into the dirt and teabag them if you want – not necessarily recommended – but you do it face to face, over a game that's beautifully artistic while exercising your imagination more than any of the latest AAA titles.
Perhaps some MegaGames board gamers could suggest some favourites to help out the noobies?