Have you ever tried chilli and dark chocolate
together. One is spicy, and intense, the other is mellow, bitter and a little bit sweet,
you wouldn’t think this weird pairing would taste nice at all ,but amazingly it kind of
does, the chilli cuts through the sicklyness of the chocolate, and the chocolate tempers
the chilli’s heat to make something that’s much nicer than the sum of its parts. Now, what does this have to do with video
games, well I’m glad you asked, because although video games don’t yet come in an
edible form, they can be thought about in the same way. By combining different types
and genres of games together, we can create a brand new experience. Whether that’s rise to ruin, which combines
city builders and tower defence which requires you build progressively more and more elaborate
defences to keep your constantly growing and resource hungry town safe. Or Northgard, which
compresses the kind of longerm 4x strategy you’d normally find in a marathon-length
turn based game like civilisation down into about an hour and a half by borrowing mechanics
from real time strategy games like starcraft. The problem is though, that these genre mashups
don’t always work out well, particularly in the triple A space. Mass Effect, a series that’s 3/4s great
is an excellent example of this problem. The franchise, for those who don’t know, prides
itself on being a mix between character-focused narrative, and third person shooter horde
combat, which ends up being a bit of a problem. You’re forced to murder dozens of sentient
creatures with lives, hopes and dreams without a care in the world, only for the gameplay
to abruptly come to a stop and get you to debate whether sparing a single life is the
right thing to do. You can have a nuanced debate about the true nature of justice and
law as it relates to morality with Garrus, but regardless of the results of that conversation,
he’s gonna shoot dudes just the same. These two elements are great on their own, but don’t
really mix very well, mass effect isn’t alone here- Assassin’s creed’s dabblings
in management gameplay or RPG systems were never bad – I mean they weren’t great either-
but they robbed the games of a lot of their identity and unique feel without really doing
anything interesting with the new mechanical space. In games that pull in multiple genres,
there’s a greater variety of things going on, and they probably appeal to more people
as a result- but the the price they pay is that they’re less focused and, to be blunt,
blander than a more focused experience. Needless to say, I’ve got my issues with
this mishmash style of game design, but it might surprise you to know that I love games
that hybridize different genres together- so long as they do it well. For example, the brilliantly cute Yoku’s
island express is a fusion of a metroidvania, and a pinball game. You play as yoku and this
massive ball he’s attached to and you’ve got to explore an island which is made up
of a variety of pinball boards, gradually unlocking new abilities to travel to new areas-
and this is where yoku really distinguishes itself. Unlike super metroid, hollow knight
and any number of other classic metroidvanias, Yoku’s unlockable abilities aren’t bound
by the fact that they need to have combat application, because pinball games don’t
really need enemies, the board itself is the obstacle- this really frees the developers
up to lean into creative movement-based unlockables that gives the game a unique, whimsical feel
whilst still staying true to the joy of exploration that’s key to the metroidvania’s appeal. Katana zero is another really interesting
example, styling itself as a mix between ultrahard oldschool 2D action games like hotline miami,
cuphead and ninja gaiden, but also with a strong influence from narrative, dialogue
driven games- the end result being some of the juiciest, punchiest text boxes I’ve
ever seen, where you can interrupt someone talking to get a unique response- it’s a
brilliant synthesis of two very disparate genres that lets the game seamlessly transition
from high-intensity action to some gripping cyberpunk grime without missing a beat and
keeping up an impressive tempo all the way through. Both games are comprised of two seemingly
unrelated halves, but by finding a middle ground between them, the devs of katana zero
and yoku’s island express were able to make something that feels familiar, but neither
genre could accomplish alone. And this is why genre fusions are so important, whilst
they’re difficult to pull off well, they can be used to create utterly new experiences,
that allow us to see tried-and-tested formulas in a new light, as well as learn something
about ourselves, but I’m getting ahead of myself. The trick to making a great genre fusion isn’t
to make them broader, more generic experiences, but instead to go the other way and focus
down on a particular element that each constituent genre shares. To explain what I mean, let’s
take a look at the roguelike genre, which has seen an explosion of genre fusions recently,
and how it was successfully hybridized with Arkane’s prey to produce a much better game
than the original. Prey, that is the base game, no not that one,
this one, was a game released a few years ago, and was about as pure of an immersive
sim as you can get, it’s got hacking, it’s got nonlinear level design, and of course
it’s got the most important part of an immersive sim, sneaking around in vents. The game is…
okay, it’s got some very fun ideas, and the setting is interesting, but I always felt
like it was being held back a little by adhering to the principles of the genre a little too
rigidly. The addition of human characters you can deal with lethally or nonlethally
felt pretty arbitrary, getting around talos 1 was a bit boring once you knew where to
go, and the emergent combat mechanics like physics objects or enemy lures were fun but
are just way less powerful than more conventional and boring methods of dealing with enemies So what changed with Mooncrash? Well, first
of all, there’s permadeath, Prey:Mooncrash is set in a simulation, and so when you die,
you just have to boot it up again, meaning you’ll go back to nothing but your crappy
wrench- this prevents players from stockpiling good weapons and forces them to rely on cool
fun emergent systems like emping robotic enemies or explosive barrels, which require some really
satisfying systemic knowledge to pull off. Each time you die, the Pythas moonbase’s
layout also gets shuffled. Some areas will have hazards like radiation, others will be
without power, some might have a dust storm, and each run will have different routes and
transport networks blocked off by rubble. Loot spawns also get mostly randomised with
a few exceptions like this jetpack. These random elements pose interesting challenges
to the player that test not their memorisation of the optimal route and techniques, but their
ability to work on their feet and use their knowledge of the mechanics to succeed. The
Huntress boltcaster, a near useless weapon in prey owing to the easy availability of
guns that actually do damage, becomes a vital lifeline for distracting enemies in mooncrash,
because more often than not, you won’t have the firepower, ammo or time needed to deal
with a threat like a telepath. As you may have noticed, many of these elements
situations are stolen straight from classic roguelikes like angband or dungeon crawl stone
soup. However, rather than adding a new gameplay theme that competes with everything else Mooncrash
has going on, they actually harmonise with and supplement the Immersive Sim mechanics
to focus the game on systemic and mechanical mastery. Rich Wilson, Arkane’s lead level
designer says it best: “So why did we pick the roguelike genre specifically? A big part
of it also is the kinship between the genres- roguelikes generally rely on a player’s
internalisation of systems, they don’t rely on rote memorization and they allow for expressive
players and emergent situations and a lot of those core values also speak to what we
do in immersive sims as well.so there’s a lot of overlap there.” And it’s that overlap that’s really important,
because in finding a single gameplay theme that both roguelikes and immersive sims look
at differently, you can combine the two to make something unique and special. In this
case, the fusion of roguelike and immersive sim manifests in the form of Mooncrashes’
five playable characters, all of which occupy the same world, for example, a shotgun picked
up by Vijay the security officer won’t be there when Andrius the test subject might
need it. This meta-level resource management combines the small scale improvisation and
consequential choices of a roguelike, with the broader, more abstract systemic and spatial
knowledge that’s core to the best immersive sims into something that’s completely new
and creates great puzzles where you have to work together across lives to make sure each
of the survivors can make it out alive. The best way to make a genre fusion work is
to find these areas of overlap, because they’re going to be the way you can create a singular
but unique identity out of two or more disparate elements. Slay the spire, despite being still
half roguelike, creates a very different experience to Mooncrash, focusing on the rougelike’s
love of risk and reacting to unexpected opportunities- something it shares with drafting modes in
games like magic the gathering. Spelunky is different again, this time themed around,
high-pressure split second choices also found in tricky platformers. Each of these titles
are easily recognisable as both a roguelike and their other parent genre, but have an
identity and feel all of their own, and it’s important to really zero in on what exactly
that is. The Rougelike, whilst being a great example,
isn’t the only genre which has been fused enmasse recently, match three games have also
shown a similar sort of divergence. Battle Chef Brigade mixes things up with 2D brawler
influences to create a game that revolves around time pressure and flowstatey combo
creation to simulate the feeling of high intensity resturaunt work- Quzzle Quest and You Have
to Build a Boat layer in RPG and Strategy game elements to turn the tactical appeal
of thinking a few moves ahead into something much more taxing, with players now being forced
to plan several games ahead to maximise efficiency. Of course, you’ve also got hunni pop, which
is a crappy porn game mixed with a match three because, from a certain point of view, they’ve
both got elements of *ahem* manual dexterity involved. Sometimes, when looking for an overlap between
two or more genres, it’s right there in front of you. In sanctum, a shooter/tower
defence game, the crossover is, you guessed it, shooting at stuff- and so you make a game
where on top of building mazes and setting up fortifications, you’ve also got to run
around helping to defend areas yourself. And there’s stuff like armoured enemies your
towers can’t hit, or bosses that can destroy your maze mid-level creating openings you’ve
got to defend that really bring the two together into a nice blend of strategy and split-second
tactics. Easy Stuff. However, whilst I reckon you can successfully
fuse any combination of genres, sometimes the connection between them is less obvious.
A lot of the time it helps to look not at mechanics they share, but in the kinds of
ways they test the player and get them to think or feel. For example, Platformers, Adventure
games and a sprinkling of RPGs are a genre mashup that more or less forms the basis of
the modern day metroidvania, can be united around a fundamental feeling of discovery
and personal growth- a central theme that informs everything symphony of the night to
metroid prime. And yes, that does mean that Yoku’s island express is like a fusion of
a fusion of a fusion, genres are weird. Portal and its spiritual predecessor Narbacular
drop, a fusion of first person games and puzzlers, would also be a great example of this. These
two games deal, primarily, with paying attention to your surroundings and changing perspective,
both in the sense that the first person viewpoint means you’ve got to look around and observe
the environment to find out what to do, but also in the sense that level elements can
serve unexpected functions when looked at through the lens of your portal gun, for example,
large drops can be used as catapults to throw you across the level, and weighted boxes can
also be used as a weapon. As more and more games have copied portal and carried on the
genre fusing tradition it established, so have games like The Witness and Antichamber
carried on the trend of games that are, fundamentally, about perspective. Antichamber uses mind bending
physics to get you to see puzzles differently, and The Witness’ best levels are all about
using environmental features to fill in, block or create new bits of each of its grids. Genre fusions are a great way for developers
to create new and interesting kind of games, whilst building off of established formats
and mechanics, but these kinds of games are just as important for people on the other
side of the screen. Besides being, well… y’know, fun, genre fusions can be a great
resource for a bit of introspection as we can use them to better understand why we like
particular titles and why others can’t hold our attention. To continue along the First Person Shooter
theme, Borderlands is another genre fusion that this time incorporates Role Playing Games.
The franchise really goes all in on a visceral sense of empowerment, with guns shooting colourful
particle effects everywhere, and the RPG stats all scaling exponentially to give you the
feeling that you’re a walking badass demigod who deserves to be showered in shiny loot
at all times. Unfortunately, in order to encourage players to chase ever shinier and more powerful
guns, battles can’t be won with fancy gunplay alone- enemies just have too much health and
deal too much damage. That means that – to me at least – Borderland’s combat comes
across as a little bit shallow and lacking in the kind of moment to moment tactical flair
of some of my favourite RPGs. Conversely, I am a massive fan of Soulslike
games like Dark souls, and yes, demon souls- playing it doesn’t make you special because
it isn’t very good. Soulslikes started off life as another rpg Genre fusion, this time
borrowing elements of spectacle based and difficult action games like shadow of the
colossus. Here, it’s tiny decisions like whether to roll, parry or to sneak in another
hit that make the difference between glorious victory, and many crushing defeats- with bosses
requiring persistence, reactions and a good sense of tactics to take down. Gear and stats
are… mostly an afterthought, with player skill taking the forefront. It was only by looking at games that exaggerate
particular elements of the RPG genre, that I could figure out why I enjoyed it in the
first place. I like decisions that matter, and high stakes gameplay, and I’m not so
fussed about number crunching or escapism. Other people might feel completely the opposite
way, but they’ll only find out for sure by experimenting and playing lots of different
kinds of games. It’s this knowledge that makes it so important to broaden our horizons,
because it’s actually a great way of getting us to appreciate the games that we already
love. Analysing my love of Terraria and Subnautica
two survival game genre fusions over the last year or so made it great fun to go back to
minecraft after a long time away and get stuck into it’s brilliant sense of discovery. Not every game should be a genre fusion, nor
force themselves to stray outside their comfort zones if they like particular games just the
way they are. But the main thing to take away from this look at how we can smush games together
in weird and wonderful ways, is to understand that it#s only by experimenting and figuring
out how games are put together that we can come up with cool new concepts that may become
established genres of their own, and also learn how we can make the games we already
have even better. So, the next time you’re eating boring peasant
food like bacon or a cake, just think about how much better I am than you as I tuck into
my delicious fusion meal of wasabi, condensed milk and veal with some bleach on the side,
yum. Hello Hello Hello and thanks for watching!
This is a video that i’ve had kicking around for a little while but it got shunted to the
front of the queue after Mark Brown decided to release a video with the exact same topic
as the one I was working on. So… here we are, hope you enjoyed me talking about Prey
again! With that news out of the way, time for me
to plug a youtube channel and this time it’s not going ot be a gaming one, but a comedy
one- Cracker Milk is a great sketch channel from down under and after watching their best
video named Handbag Goblin I have been a devout viewer ever since, go check those funny people
out. Aaaand last but not least, what would an architect
of games post video credits section be without a patreon thankyou- if you’d like to support
the channel and get special bonuses like cut content, early access and monthly updates
feel free to head on over to patreon.com/architectofgames to give me some dosh. Top tier supporters
also get thanked by name and they are: Alex Deloach
Aseran Auno94
Baxter Heal Brian Notarianni
Calvin Han Colin Haman
Chill Daniel Mettjes
Derk-Jan Karrenbeld Feetsalot
Jessie Rine Jonathan Kristensen
Joshua Binswanger Leit2
Lucas Slack LunarEagle1996
Macewindow54 Manuki
Patrick Rhomberg PhilbytheBilby
ReysDad Samuel VanDer Plaats
Strategia in Ultima Yaron Miron
Chao Thanks for putting up with these weird credits
things, I know they’re not very professional- I hope you enjoy them I guess and I will see
you in the next video!