Questioning genre, with a side order of brutality.

Think.Play had a meeting of ground breaking proportions; it was our first! We had near record breaking attendance and some earth shattering organization which resulted in an awesome meeting of minds and games.

The first half of the meeting consisted of David Davoodi and myself leading a discussion of genre disguised as a discussion of Borderlands, the hit “First Person Role Playing Shooter” of 2009. The second half had the five remaining attendees facing off head to head in a Soul Calibur IV tournament that was nothing short of huge amounts of fun and laughter.

The discussion of Borderlands started by introducing the game for people who had not heard of it or played it before, describing basic game-play elements so everybody could get on equal footing. Davoodi did some excellent hands on explanation as he played through the first bit of the game with a newly created avatar. Shortly after, we dove into discussing of what we thought characterized FPS games and RPG games respectively. After some time, we came up with this list:

First Person Shooter

  • Perspective (First person)
  • Guns (a variety of)
  • Camera Controls (lack of)
  • Multiplayer
  • A.I. (is Binary; shoot, or run)
  • Pushes technological envelope
  • Balance/Synergy (in regards to game environments and guns)
  • Reflex/physical skill (you can miss, you don’t shoot first)
  • Ammo (it exists)

Role Playing Game

  • Leveling up
  • Skill Trees
  • Classes (character choices)
  • Questing (in general or side quests)
  • Balance/Synergy (in regards to character “builds”)
  • Motivation for continued play (the player is driven to perfect her/his avatar)
  • Item Driven (loot, searching for items)
  • Wants to be story-driven (doesn’t always succeed)
  • Hit Points (healing)
  • Cool Downs
  • Bosses

After discussing the quintessential characteristics of both the First Person Shooter and the Role Playing Game, we started to notice many aspects across both genres that are present in Borderlands. As advertised, Borderlands pulls heavily from both genres to create an amalgamation of the FPS and RPG.

Borderlands

  • Perspective (First person)
    • Borderlands is played in the first person. It follows the classic FPS screen where your gun resides in the lower right corner, and your enemies and the environment lie dead ahead.
  • Guns (a variety of)
    • Like other FPS games, Borderlands’ weapons consist of guns, guns,  and more guns. In fact, one of the selling points of Borderlands was the “content generation system” used to randomly generate guns on the fly as they were dropped from enemies or opened from chests. Unlike other FPS games, the sheer number of guns that can be generated is a frightening number, somewhere in the millions.
  • Camera Controls (lack of)
    • Because Borderlands is played in the first person, there are no real camera controls, other than your movement.
  • Multiplayer
    • Borderlands can be played on single player, but there is support for up to four players to play cooperatively online. The game encourages multiplayer by increasing the difficulty of enemies and the quality of weapon drops based on the number of players.
  • Ammo
    • Ammo exists in the game. Unlike other FPS games, ammo can be directly affected by equipable items and skill tress. These effects range from damage increases to ammo regeneration.
  • Leveling up
    • In Borderlands, doing tasks and killing enemies gives you experience points which help your character to level up.
  • Skill Trees
    • Every character in Borderlands has a unique set of skill trees. A skill point is awarded at each level increase, and can be used in these skill trees to increase abilities, or to grant new ones.
  • Classes (character choices)
    • When you start the game, you are given many choices that can define your play style. Perhaps the most prominent of these choices is your character.
  • Questing (in general or side quests)
    • The game’s storyline and progression is driven by sets of interlocking quests where on completion of one quest, another is gained.
  • Motivation for continued play
    • Because of the vast number of guns available in Borderlands and the scaling difficulty of high level areas, the urge to continue playing is present. Playing to get a piece of gear or a weapon that is better than your current is a compelling reason to keep playing.
  • Item Driven (loot, searching for items)
    • As stated before, Borderlands has a lot of weapons. This combined with the fact that they are randomly generated makes for a continued search for better loot.
  • Wants to be story-driven (some argued that Borderlands does not succeed)
    • Borderlands has a background story to give your time on the planet Pandora (setting of the game) meaning, but it doesn’t do much for the game most of the time. Quests are still very much the driving factor for progression through the game.
  • Hit Points (healing)
    • In Borderlands, you have a health bar and a shield bar over that. Pretty standard. Like other RPG however, there are healing affects to be gained and health regeneration to be granted from various items, party members.
  • Cool Downs
    • Every character also has a unique skill that has a cool down period. There are skills in every skill tree that modify this cool down time to make your character more skill-heavy. This is a great example of a character build.
  • Bosses
    • Like any good RPG, there are plenty of bosses in Borderlands.

While discussing and creating this list Davoodi demonstrated Borderlands game play mode, and showed off the unique graphics display of the game; aesthetically the game draws from the rotoscoping effect seen in cinema. But all together, none of these characteristics or aesthetics struck us as new or innovative.

Is Borderlands a new genre of video game? We tossed different ideas around about what makes a new genre, and how genres build upon a preexisting foundation established by games past. This is the reason we were able to create lists of elements we come to expect from FPS and RPG games. A paradigm has been created that puts those genres into a box and if something wants to be labeled as such, must meet certain expectations of players, developers, and culture. This is ultimately the reason we decided to call Borderlands less genre-creating and more genre-combining. Looking at the list for Borderlands, it’s fairly easy to see that it is merely a combination of elements from both its parent genres, but it doesn’t do anything new.

Advertisements

One thought on “Questioning genre, with a side order of brutality.

  1. Great write-up of a great discussion, Jon. This kind of analysis can be very valuable in proceeding to ask deeper questions, such as: What is the concept of genre? What does it do, and why? How is it useful, and how is it limiting?

    I also like your last sentence, in which you state that Borderlands doesn’t do anything new. The concept of “new” (or “original” or “innovative”, etc.) is very interesting. Among other things, it underlines the tension between production and reception: if it’s new to the creator but not to the audience, do we call it “new”? I think we tend to prioritize reception (the audience), but certainly not in all cases.

    Hopefully we’ll have a chance to follow this line of thinking more as the academic year goes on!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s