I love talking to gamers about games (duh, right?), and for the last month or so I've been conducting a thoroughly unscientific poll. Somewhere in the conversation I pitch this question: What upcoming game are you most excited about? Without exception, every respondent can name at least one title (usually several) that he or she is genuinely eager to play.
This reaction bodes well for the industry, especially when you consider the befuddlement most people exhibit when asked which upcoming book or movie they're most looking forward to - but that may say more about the people I'm talking to than anything else. Regardless, it's fun to see a gamer's eyes light up when the conversation turns to the pending release of a game he or she has been waiting years to play.
So which games am I hearing about? Here they are in no particular order:
Metal Gear Solid 4
Grand Theft Auto 4
Wrath of the Lich King expansion for WOW
Mario Kart Wii
Gran Turismo 5
Street Fighter 4
Resident Evil 5
Star Wars: The Force Unleashed
Final Fantasy XIII
Animal Crossing Wii
No real surprises here, but I do find a couple of things notable about this informal list. First, it's an actual list - 14 titles spanning a variety of genres across all platforms. This sort of variety rarely occurs in other media. If you had asked readers last year to name the book they most wanted, I'll wager 9 out of 10 would have chosen the final Harry Potter. Less than a month away from the release of GTA IV - a game likely to see the biggest launch in video game history - lots of us have plenty of other titles we're equally or even more excited about.
Another notable aspect of the list is that it's full of sequels - 11 of the 14 titles are new iterations or expansions of pre-existing series. For better or worse, video games have clearly succumbed to the same sure-fire-hit market-driven pressures faced by Hollywood - to be expected from an industry that recently surpassed the music business in total worldwide revenues.
But more than anything else, the list grabs my attention not for what's on it...but for what isn't. The game we gamers ought to be trembling in anticipation for is strangely missing. At the risk of hurling myself into the Abyss of Bad Predictions Driven by Wishful Thinking, I say the game that will matter most - the one we'll remember as pivotal in this generation of video games - is Little Big Planet.
Why? Because *if Sony gets it right* Little Big Planet could be the most perfect creative storm ever to hit a game console. It pulls together an incredibly exciting mix of entertaining elements, and it hits the "something for everyone" target squarely in the bullseye.
Unlike GTA, Halo, and Metal Gear games, LBP has the potential to appeal to a much wider demographic. So-called hardcore gamers will be drawn to its classic platforming elements and its fluid integration of Mario 3.0 physics. They will also do everything they can to revise and subvert the game's default charming style by generating their own user-created NSFW levels and environments, and Sony would be wise not to stop them. Casual gamers will find its pick-up-and-play design and real-world visual elements appealing, and even kids will be able to design and build their own worlds *if Sony gets it right.*
Sony's "Play/Create/Share" mantra is compelling and contageous. LBP's integrated content-creation tools are fully available to the player at all times, and players can upload and share their creations with other users. Halo 3 has proved what can happen when you enable players in this way. LBP's toolset dwarfs Halo 3's, and from all appearances it's even easier to use.
LBP was designed from the ground up to enable local or online cooperative play. Developer Media Molecule's take on teamwork and friendly competition to complete levels is positively Nintendo-esque. Gamers are clearly looking for more of this style of gameplay, and the industry has not been listening to them. Is there any other way to explain the sales of Carnival Games? Gears of War in co-op mode is cool, but you can't exactly gather the family around the HDTV at Thanksgiving for a friendly play-together session - at least not at my house. I realize not every game needs to be family-friendly, but LBP clearly provides that option within an incredibly sophisticated and flexible design.
Other possibilities like PSP interoperability and frequent content upgrades boost LBP's potential even higher, in my view, especially if Sony can respond and adapt to how users play the game and how they want to push it forward. They keep saying the right things, promising us that LBP will be a paradigm shifting, community-driven game.
Little Big Planet will be incredible...*if Sony gets it right.* Put it on your list.