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Blended Systems as a Tool to Revolutionize Properties

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27th July 2012; By KnucklesSonic8

When it comes to resurrecting something that has lost potency or deciding to channel the inner workings of a system in a new way, it's interesting to observe how a lack of direction can overpower any desire to keep a universe thriving. Misplaced emphasis can lead to outcomes where the final execution isn't sure what it wants to be, and instead of having a beaming vision through which players can form connections and attachments, not so much as a flicker is produced in the name of strong design. It goes without saying that the complete revisiting of how a team once handled a property is no easy task. Besides just the worrying uncertainty of how any new leadings might be received by those who have grown accustomed to a certain play style or atmospheric touch, there's also the matter of having the right motive for wanting to correct an onset of hardening or wavering relevancy. One approach that can emerge from that process of reflection and discovery is that of bringing in tools from neighbouring genres to create a sort of overlapping effect. When these core aspects are paired up with potentially contrasting systems, can this still lead to the emergence of a positive gameplay environment?

For the purposes of rooting out any possible ambiguity, I'd like to concentrate on one particular game principle -- that of simulation -- and show how it can and has been utilized as a core, introduced element for new dynamics to spring from. So before even tackling the above question, it would be good to first touch on the exploration of simulation concepts found in proven successes within the genre itself. Let's briefly use RollerCoaster Tycoon, a very recognizable property, as a point of reference. Without going into great detail about the structure and the design, the game's environment was shaped in such a way that it pushed for a connection to park visitors in a way that was relatively unobtrusive. Despite the occasional sadistic desire to kill off a whole chunk of them by drowning, they were valued customers, and as such, players were able to develop a sincere interest in their well-being and take their reactions into consideration as they continued with the development of their custom parks. Granted, this was ultimately for monetary gain and not for overseeing the happiness of others, so I suppose the sincerity might've been a bit of a show. Still, RollerCoaster Tycoon can still be recognized for its level of immersion in the way that it gave the customizable building component meaning.

When we look at how modern spins on established properties and concepts come about nowadays and the nature of how these end up playing out, it is not often the case where the realizations of changed gameplay adhere to simulation principles; that is, unless they are paired up with those of a genre it has shared a close marriage with in the past. If you think back not too long ago with the likes of BATTLESHIP (the Nintendo-specific versions in particular), the approach the team was locked into was presumably set to position the property within the same frame as the original board game. The transitions to other elements extrapolated from neighbouring genres were hardly boastful since they were of an obvious nature and failed to venture beyond the top-down strategy combat the property has always been known for. What we ended up getting was a title that was serviceable but failed to do anything more with its direction when there was potential to do so.

A counter argument that could arise in discussing this very subject would be that there are great risks involved when you start playing around with something that has been recognized for one thing for so long. True as that is, there have been standout expansions within established franchises that have made names for themselves as individual entities for the reason that they essentially bended their own self-imposed rules. As one example of this, FIFA Soccer 12 sought to incorporate elements from a whole other genre for the betterment of the overall product and the brand's longevity, bringing these features together in a way that was innovative and fresh. So no, this isn't a good excuse for a team to continue reveling in the spotlight with the same trick year after year. Such behaviours can easily lead to tired attempts and jaded consumers, thus emphasizing the importance of not only switching things up sporadically, but also bringing about innovative changes when this need for modernization and the opposing threat of paint-by-numbers sequels become a reality.

This stance of market-prompted repositioning is done a lot in the board game scene, with travel versions being created for those who either cannot or don't care to invest time into a full game, as well as content expansions to extend experiences or vary the pitch slightly in the case of card and strategy games. What often ends up happening in these cases is a stripping away of much of the core principles to streamline the core concept into a more abbreviated form, one that is more palatable especially for party settings. Yet, this very same approach has a great risk of the end product not being sustainable for the reason that it may lack substance beyond a fifteen-minute excursion, if that; in which case, it would be more accurate to refer to such a strategy as a downgrade, rather than an improvement. Interestingly enough, such wonky trimming normally does not fly in the gaming industry, but this doesn't stop slight tweaks of a single concept from sneaking under the radar.

On a related note, when you look at Monopoly, being the successful brand that it is, indeed few board game properties have seen such widespread expansion in their product lineup. Some would argue, however, that aside from the likes of the card renditions and the electronic banking editions, these new additions are merely new skins of the same old shtick. I would agree with such comments. But it is at this point that I'd like to make mention of one particular effort -- a videogame -- that successfully capitalized on some of the very things I've been trying to iterate.

Released in 2001, Monopoly Tycoon for the PC was more than just a hybrid. It was an innovation on everything Monopoly stood for, proving gutsy in its concept delivery as well as the spreading of it across a mission-by-mission progression. Some of the noteworthy systems put in place included the presence of commodities; shared land agreements with the ability to later lock out competitors from building on certain pieces of land; examination of building efficiencies to determine if resources were being used to the full; polling residents living in a block to understand their demographics and respond to those needs; the adjustment of sale prices and rent to offset dropping profit margins; the limitation of having shops close sometime after nightlife had taken effect; as well as the passing of time and how building up the city would lead to more developments as the decades passed from the 1930's onward. In the midst of all that, the game still mirrored design elements seen in the original board game, with utilities, Chance Cards, and auctions still playing fairly important roles. In these manners, Monopoly Tycoon is an excellent example of how a property can be revolutionized while still paying tribute to the base foundation.

When you have the opportunity to liven up a property and trigger growth, choices made during the development process should be dictated by a clear directive, one that produces calculated and restrained distance in terms of the correlation between present and future approaches. Simply regurgitating what the mass market or a specific audience already associates the property with, even if it is a new entity by definition, is not forward thinking. When you bring about a blended style in the respectful acknowledgement of pre-existing principles and deepen that through the tailored incorporation of organized restructuring, that is real movement. Indeed, it is that special merging of old and new that, in this case, is central to growth. Without it, cycles form, properties are weighed down from within, and the industry continues to be stifled into a period of stasis.


Feature by KnucklesSonic8

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