Sci-fi in Gaming - What Can Improve?



  • Hello forum dwelling Allies,

    I have a some partially meandering thoughts on my mind that I was thinking about asking for a Frame Trap but since I can't narrow it down to a concise question or point, I figure we can keep it loose and discuss it here.

    With the recent news that Mass Effect Remastered will make changes to the original 2007 game, there has been debate online about the Mako vehicle being altered or "refined" from it's original form as well as a few other refinements in the remaster. A few Kotaku posters in the comments section of this article (Kotaku: The Mass Effect Remaster's New Look Isn't Doing It For Me) brought up some points about the Mass Effect sequels that I've struggled to articulate myself, but I agree with them. As a disclaimer, I've only played ME1, ME2, and watched my friend play Andromeda.

    These summarized points were taken from Kotaku posters, NOT me:

    1. Making an earthbound Mako vehicle would rob Mass Effect of its alien characteristics.

    2. Mass Effect 1 was imaginatively alien (Eden Prime is a hellscape by human standards, Volus and those religious jellyfish-looking species are extremely strange) whereas the sequels, generally speaking, slowly became more humanlike. The Mako felt like a human vehicle meant to navigate strange planets whereas in sequels, every planet feels very Earthlike—even the Reaper ship has plain ol hallways and corridors.

    Just for visual reference, these are the cool alien species that I'm talking about:
    1_1613578419505_Codex_ME_-_Volus.png 0_1613578419505_Codex_ME_-_Hanar.png

    But this isn't really supposed to be a Mass Effect criticism and I don't want it to go in that specific direction. I feel like these criticisms of sci-fi video games starting to feel too human (pun intended) can apply to a few recent games.

    --

    I feel like Halo has always been a pretty solid example of a standout series where the sci-fi gameplay made it play and feel so much different than it's marketplace competition like Quake, Unreal Tournament, or Counter Strike.

    The Spartan commandos wear these space suits and receive biological augmentation that allow them to survive alien planets and warfare. In gameplay that translates to having no fall damage, you can take a lot of bullets and explosives, and gravity is relatively low. Likewise the alien enemy, the Covenant, has visually unique alien weapons that were useful in a different way than the Spartnan (human) weapons. So art and gameplay have this wonderful synergy where human weapons and alien weapons have their own different feeling and benefits.

    Other cool bits of Halo that I think enhance the unique feeling are the vehicles that control really wonky and the alien version of human-like things still feel relatively different. The Covenant military bases have things like forcefields, gravity boosts, and their vehicles might use lasers instead of rockets. Things like that to make the world feel... alien and imaginative—especially for a shooter.

    Visual examples:

    0_1613580048693_H5G_Render_John117-Profile.png
    0_1613580064541_H2A_Render_PlasmaRifle.png !
    0_1613580106104_H5G_Render_GravityHammer.png
    0_1613580813674_H2A_Campaign_T26A_GSA_Render.png

    Then skip ahead to Halo 4 and beyond, and again, the art direction and vibe is still relatively sci-fi but everything feels less ambitious and more human. Halo 4 felt a lot more like Call of Duty than it did Halo. The enemy in Halo 4 are the Prometheans and their weapons are essentially just orange versions of the human weapons or even orange versions of the older Covenant weapons. Basically, take what already exists and make it orange...

    Halo is more of a game that you need to feel rather than read about, but maybe this video will show you an example of how the uniqueness of Halo got watered down a bit in the newest sequels:

    Youtube Video – [00:29..]

    --

    So these are some loose thoughts I've had on my mind for a few weeks now. Personally, I don't think games are necessarily doing a bad job, but I can't help but think back to playing Mass Effect or Halo for the first time and being pretty impressed by their vibes and feel whereas some newer sci-fi just does outright feel human-like or simplified in some ways. I can't put it into worlds but the Citadel in Mass Effect 1 might just be a "space government council" but that part of the game is so fleshed out and weird feeling that it sucked me in immediately. There is a whole damn species of insects that just do administrative work at the Citadel for goodness sakes!

    So I guess to get the ball rolling, what works for you in sci-fi games, what would you like to see improved? Have any rebuttals to my points above?

    One thing I'd like to see improved would be differentiation within one single environment. So if I go to a planet in Mass Effect 4, one side of it might have an entirely different culture or ecosystem than the other side. Stuff like that...

    Crosses fingers for Halo Infinite and Mass Effect 4



  • As long as 343 are developing Halo I have very little faith that it will be anything more than a raging dumpster fire.



  • I would love it if Sci-Fi games explore more scenarios and problems that are unique to their own setting. For example, there's so many interesting angles that Mass Effect Andromeda could tackle with the story of being transported to another galaxy, but instead, the cliché thing of saving the galaxy from a savage species overshadows everything else that is potentially more interesting. Like, the game should have been focused on the story of a group of very different lifeforms banding together to somehow co-exist with a different group of lifeforms in a totally new world that might never accept them. It could essentially turn into this overall quest to not only learn about new species we never heard about, but also learn more about ourselves and the ones we thought were familiar. Like, imagine a quest line where one of the lifeforms in Andromeda requested help to deal with an animal species that is wrecking their settlements in one of their planets, but you had to find ways to cooperate and share knowledge with other lifeforms who may or may not have the technology or knowledge required to deal with them. With the way Andromeda is structured, this aspect is so minimally explored. I feel like a more imaginative take on this subject could have been so refreshing for the genre.