The Sequel

The games industry is massively sequel driven, almost to the point of self-parody. There is a game unironically titled “Final Fantasy 15”. We’re on the fifth named version of Grand Theft Auto, and the eighth actual version. We have eleven Call Of Duty games, a number I had to look up, as they stopped numbering them after four. There are seven Halo games, five battlefield games, an insane amount of Mario games, six The Elder Scrolls games (correction – 5 The Elder Scrolls games, 13 expansions and 1 spinoff), and none of this even approaches the insane amount of sports games, with their yearly releases. Madden released “Madden 25” two years ago, to paint the picture for you.

I would be willing to bet that >90% of games that sell over 1 million copies get a sequel or downloadable content, know as DLC, and I don’t think that many people familiar with games would take that bet. This is constantly a source of complaining among consumers and critics, but it just makes too much sense to stop.

The first reason to make a sequel is the same reason that so many films get sequels, people liked the first one. This is all assuming that the original was a hit, but the sequel will have a following of people already interested in watching/playing it before a single marketing dollar has been spent. People love things that are “the same, but different”, which perfectly describes a sequel. People get attached to the characters and the world, and would like to revisit it again. Sequels seem like a safe choice to people, and therefore they are a safe choice for publishers.

There may be some film-specific benefits to sequels. You don’t have to do a lot of casting again, and everybody works well together. I don’t know how serious those are, and they aren’t really relevant for games, where the same studio is working together regardless, and voice acting and motion capture is relatively minor. Still, there is no denying that sequels to popular games are going to get more immediate attention, have a loyal following, which equates to basically guaranteed sales, and be built on top of a proven base, just like movie sequels.

However, sequels have special benefits for games, especially mechanics driven games. One of the things that helped me finish Monochrome was the knowledge that I would be making a sequel. I knew that I could basically create a game that was very simple, but fun, and strip out a lot of features. Then, when making the sequel, I could redesign the game, and add back a lot of features that were stripped out of the prequel. In other words, I had the benefit of creating a game quickly, as well as also being able to later create the game that I really wanted to create. Not only that, but Monochrome served as a great learning experience for me, and I feel quite strongly that I could not have made as good of a game as I will make, without first making Monochrome.

Sequels also allow the reuse of art assets, or media. It’s fair to say that my art assets are fairly cheap to create, so for me this is not a huge benefit. For a studio employing 100 or more artists for 3 years to create a game, the ability to reuse those assets is enormous. Creating 3d models, animating them, and creating the textures that get wrapped to them is quite a lot of work, especially to do it correctly. So textures, sound clips, music, character models, menu images, and others can all be reused. As a cherry on top, the tone of the game has already been figured out, or, if it was off in the first game, can be done even better.

Code can, I imagine, usually be reused for the next game. Entire enemy behaviour can be plugged from one game to the next, with little change unless the design has changed. Logic code can be copied, again unless the design has changed again. If the studio has created an engine for the game (which is kind of a nebulous term, but usually refers to a content creator, or editor, and the rendering system, but may include AI or physics code), this can be reused for the sequel, which is a massive time saver. The general structure of the program is going to remain familiar to the programmers, and the sequel provides an opportunity to look at the entire code base and hopefully refactor some of the ugly hacks that exist.

For myself, as the retrospectives have hopefully showed, I look at the sequel as being a great opportunity to:

1) build upon a game that is already fun
2) quickly get a prototype up and running
3) learning through experience, code much cleaner
4) make the game I wanted to make with Monochrome

I heard someone once complaining that Hollywood is always remaking the good movies from the past, when it makes more sense for them to remake the bad ones. I thought that was funny, and it made a lot of sense to me. Likewise, while I’m happy with sequels to good games, I think that interesting games with flaws would do best with sequels.

Making a game is a great learning experience, and I’m sure that most game developers are acutely aware of the successes and failures of their games. I remember watching one of John Carmack’s keynote speeches back when he was with id software. He seemed frustrated that RAGE wasn’t getting the sequel that was planned. Overall I quite liked RAGE, and I believe the criticisms that it was derivative of other games were spectacularly shallow. It wasn’t without flaws though, some of which I might detail in a later post, but I’m as disapointed as John Carmack is that no sequel could be forthcoming.

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