How to Make a Video Game Immortal
Over the years many video games have shaped the face of how we play them today. Beginning with “Pong” in the early 1970’s- the first video game to ever be widely played, and “Donkey Kong”- the game that popularized platformers and introduced the character, “Mario.” Though the 1980’s saw video games’ initial rise to prominence, less than forty years later there are games made using graphics so detailed that you can see the individual pores on characters faces (Ex: Detroit Become Human by Quantic Dream), as well as games in which part of the gameplay is deleting files from your computer (Ex: Doki Doki Literature Club by Team Salvato). Because of how much video games improve, in terms of graphics, mechanics, and overall quality over the course of a single year, majority of video games become outdated quickly. However, there are always a few notable exceptions, such as World of Warcraft, which launched in 2004 and Minecraft from 2009. What caused these games to remain relevant, despite being released a decade or more ago? Well, an excellent set of examples that can be looked at is the contents of “The Orange Box.”
“The Orange Box” is a video game compilation developed by Valve Corporation and released in October of 2007. Available on PC through Steam, Valve’s game store, as well as on PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, The Orange Box contains five games: Team Fortress 2, Portal, Half-Life 2, Half-Life 2: Episode One, and Half-Life 2: Episode 2. It should be noted that all of these games were created on the Source engine by Valve, and all but two of them (Half-Life 2 (2004) and Half-Life 2: Episode 1(2006)) were first released as part of the Orange Box. It also should be said that both the Portal and Half-Life franchises take place in the same universe, sharing not just the same engine but also many game files- to the point that there are folders labeled “hl2” in Portal’s game files. Out of these games, only TF2 and Portal are still relevant today- Half-Life 2 only living on in nostalgia. So, what separates these games? It’s a more fundamental aspect of them than you may think.
Let’s begin with the longest franchise of the bunch: Half-Life 2. Throughout the game, you play as Gordon Freeman- a scientist who used to work for Black Mesa as you work to free humanity from the Combine. The game is played in a first-person shooter (FPS) format, and the gameplay consists of completing levels either through exploration, defeating enemies, puzzles, and a few sequences involving vehicles. Overall the universe it sets up, characters, and plot seem to be what launched it to popularity and why people remember it. However, though those were excellent for Half-Life 2’s success, they also caused it to have a much shorter lifespan than the other contents of the Orange Box. For games that are story-driven, they usually have very little replay value because the player already knows how the story ends. Also, video games are a primarily visual medium at this point, therefore accomplishing world-building is heavily reliant on graphics, often more so than dialogue. Half-Life 2 seems as though it attempted to go for realism, but its graphics simply could not stand the test of time to continue coming across as intended, making it possible for serious moments to come across as funny. For example, The G-Man, who is supposed to be enigmatic and mysterious, looks kind of goofy because of the ancient graphics.
Next let’s move onto Portal, which canonically takes place in the same universe as Half-Life, and is even considered a spinoff on the Half-Life Wiki. Despite also being in a FPS format, Portal at heart is a puzzle game. You go through a series of test chambers and use a Portal Gun to solve the various puzzles, all with running sarcastic commentary and directions from the AI, GLaDOS (Genetic Lifeform and Disk Operating System). What truly separates Portal from Half-Life 2 is that while other people are interacted with in Half-Life 2, throughout the entirety of Portal the character you play as, Chell, is completely alone with only a voice over the intercom and various robots. Also, the environment of the game is incredibly sterile for the most part, due to being in a scientific research facility, and the graphics overall are relatively simplistic, which overall helps the game. Because of how streamlined everything is, there is no need for fancy graphics. The main draw of Portal is the unique mechanic of the Portal Gun, which allows you to create two portals and go between them. The game is very polished, streamlined, and simple regarding its graphics, story, and characters. What made Portal stand out has always been its unique mechanics, dark yet witty sense of humor, and overall interesting lore. However, what allows Portal to remain a timeless game is how streamlined and polished the graphics, story, and characters are. It hits almost the perfect balance between intrigue and simplicity that is rare to find in video games which allows it to be accessible to both casual fans and serious gamers. The one inherent drawback of Portal is that because it’s a puzzle game, it lacks almost all replay value because once you finish you already know all of the solutions, so you would be unable to solve them again.
If I were to create a formula for how to make a video game that would completely stand the test of time, I would base it off of World of Warcraft (a game so addictive that its effects on individual lives can often be compared to drugs), Minecraft, and Team Fortress 2 (TF2). TF2 is, just like the other two, in the format of a FPS. However, it shares no other connections (other than those already mentioned) to the Half-Life universe. The overall game looks very cartoony which helps it to age well because though they are less detailed than most modern graphics, it was a stylistic choice that didn’t attempt for realism, which allows the character models to not look dated. There are nine characters, or classes, whom you can choose to play as (Scout, Soldier, Pyro, Demoman, Heavy, Engineer, Medic, Sniper, and Spy), each with their own mechanics, abilities, appearance, and personality. The fact that TF2 is multiplayer allows for the game not to be focused on any sort of narrative, and to have infinitely more replay value compared to any single-player game. The feature that truly cemented Team Fortress 2 into its practically immortal spot is the community. Using the Steam Workshop (Created by Valve), players are able to create everything from playable maps to items that they are able to sell in the online shop. This ability to customize your characters easily and create new content yourself helped the game to lack a serious competitor until Overwatch’s release roughly nine years later. Plus, even despite this age-difference Team Fortress 2 is still on an even playing field with Overwatch rather than becoming irrelevant. The two games are inherently similar, both using similar marketing tactics (online videos featuring the characters and giving a sense of who they are), similar mechanics (FPS with two teams facing off against each other with a set cast of characters who each have unique abilities), Because while Overwatch is newer, has a more diverse cast of characters, more strategic elements to it, and more in depth lore, TF2 is a well-established game in terms of fan base, reputation, and lore; free to play, in comparison with Overwatch’s forty dollar price tag for the base game; and allows for, as well as thrives off of, community input which allows for the players to feel a stronger sense of ownership and comradery.
One of the absolutely key factors in the longevity of video games are their graphics. Paintings are almost never remembered because of how realistic they are but rather how beautiful they are. Games with stylized graphics are almost always going to last exponentially longer than their counterparts who attempt to look realistic because that is one aspect of video games that is always improving and will never stop improving. Also, games that run smoothly have relatively polished mechanics and are just fun and interesting to play will always be the best games. The final factors that help to ensure longevity are multiplayer compatibility (which adds far more replay value than a single player campaign), and customization (which allows for the player to feel more connected to the game).
So, after all of that I think we know what video game will last forever. It has all of those aspects to at least some degree, and is one of the most famous multiplayer video games of all time. You can customize large amounts of the gameplay and it has multiple modes that are equally fun. You can collect resources, build things with them, and even battle other players. Its unique style is practically notorious, and the fan base has permanently changed the nature of online videos. It’s far more recent than the Orange Box or World of Warcraft and will probably last even longer. Whether you love it or you hate it, you certainly know the name of the most immortal game of all time: