Sunday Thoughts: The Third

The ancient Romans had a saying: Omne trium perfectum – everything in three is perfect. Three is a common theme in storytelling. There were three little pigs, three musketeers and three blind mice. Goldilocks had three of everything and each of her actions took three attempts to find the perfect balance. Snow White was visited three times by her stepmother. The number three lends natural cadence to a phrase too, making it more memorable so it’s often used for reinforcing concepts and titling: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. Hear no Evil, See no Evil, Speak no Evil. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.

Even modern storytelling has evolved into sets of three, with contemporary screenwriting more often than not taking on the three act structure in preference over the five act structure often favoured by, among others, William Shakespeare. Three really does seem to find favour in a special area of the human psyche that just seems perfect for telling stories.

Or perhaps three is all we can happily endure before we become intolerant of a conceit?

[drop]Casting a sideways glance to the world of filmmaking, and one of my favourite subjects, the three Star Wars films. The second improved on the first and the third started strongly but lost its way slightly before the end. They tried to make a fourth Star Wars movie and it was terrible (although that didn’t stop them from making two more after that). Pirates of the Caribbean is a similar story: the first one was good, the second one pretty solid too but the third was about an hour too long and lacked clear focus. Alien, The Matrix, Lord of the Rings. They all lost their way a little, at least in terms of delivering the story, in the third instalment.

So what does this mean for gaming? Well, for story driven games like Uncharted, it means a certain amount of narrative re-hashing and some fine tuning of tried and tested mechanics. You’d be a fool to call Uncharted 3 a bad game but it’s difficult to miss the similarities between this third and the previous game in the series. Killzone 3, which I personally preferred over the second, was also criticised for not doing enough to progress the franchise. Fable III was a similar story and even God of War III is considered to be slightly less impressive than the second, relatively speaking.

Think back through gaming history too: Tomb Raider 3, Sonic 3, Driver 3, Call of Duty 3 Mortal Kombat 3 and Street Fighter 3. Maybe even Halo and Gears of War lost a beat in their third instalments.

Of course, there have been instances where the third game has been a greater achievement but there are often extraneous circumstances for that. Grand Theft Auto III was fantastic but was it a true sequel to GTAII? Similarly, was Fallout 3 a true sequel to previous Fallout games, mechanically or even in terms of necessary narrative?

It could be argued that the GTA series has been delivering sets of trilogies: GTA, GTA London and GTAII. GTAIII, Vice City and San Andreas. GTAIV, The Lost and the Damned and The Ballad of Gay Tony. It could even be posited that they had a spin off portable trilogy with Liberty City Stories, Vice City Stories and Chinatown Wars all exploring the expanded worlds (and portable markets). In each instance, the third game loses a little bit of momentum. Perhaps the willingness to explore leads to a wider focus.

[drop2]So is it a new viewpoint, a new generation of hardware or a whole new set of ideas that are needed for the future? Where do our beloved trilogies go from here? Will publishers lean on spin offs and sub titles as the last few Halo games have (although a Halo 4 is on the way, on this generation of hardware)? At least two of the third-in-a-trilogy games I’ve played this year very definitely close the story arc off and make it very difficult to take another step – at least chronologically – in that story.

It’s unimaginable that there won’t be another Uncharted but perhaps stretching the series to “Uncharted 4” is a psychological step too far? Maybe we’ll see a little sub-trilogy like the GTA series or Ezio’s trilogy in the Assassin’s Creed series? One thing is for sure, the third might have lost a little potency but it won’t be the last, for any of the games mentioned above. After all, the only numbers that dictate that decision will be the ones that come back from retailers and all the number threes that we’ve seen recently will be big sellers that almost require more to be made. Even Super Mario Bros. technically never had a fourth instalment, at least, not outside of Japan where Super Mario World on the SNES was subtitled as Super Mario Bros. 4.

Perhaps the psychological lure that the number three has is simple enough to break with a new naming convention and some fresh ideas? As rumours mount for new hardware on the horizon, let’s hope that new ideas come with it. After all, we can’t keep going with the same franchises forever, no matter how good they are now, can we?

– PAGE CONTINUES BELOW –

49 Comments

  1. some IPs now have such huge public awareness in them that they will never die, they have become far too profitable and recognisable to die.
    no sensible publisher is going to say, after CoD:5 Modern Cybertron, “right lads, we`ve smashed sales records yet again but im now bored of it all so lets let te name die and make that KungFu Panda FPS”.
    its an interesting topic though, gaming has never been as large as it is right now and unlike professional sports or movies our heritage only stretches back to the early eighties so whether or not the public will cease to buy into your call of duties and your gta`s like movie-goers stopped buying into westerns or the nightmare on elm street series is unknown.
    Great topic.

    • tell that to Tony Hawk and Guitar Hero :D

  2. Well, how about playstation 3? Is there no room for playstation 4? Well written and well researched piece, I can’t imagine all of that came from your knowledge base!

    • silly, playstation doesnt have storytelling.

    • very nice of you to say… I have to admit that I wrote this in 20 minutes after realising that I’d told Kris I’d do it and I’d not remembered to do anything. So, no research or planning, unfortunately!

      • ha ha, 20 minutes!? That’s just great…

  3. Novelty wears off, you become accustomed and nothing ever surprises you or leaves you in awe. This is why almost all games or movies become victim of higher scrutiny, or as i like to call it….nitpicking.

    We are all guilty of it in one way or another but as humans we get bored easily and want something new in our lives.

    • Your last comment is very wrong. If history shows us with franchises, we crave more of the same. We want surprises but tolerable surprises that don’t jar us and cause us to distance ourselves from any given title/film/piece of music. It’s the very reason why so many creators take little risk as they don’t want to alienate their fanbase. This is very much the majority rule, I feel.

      • we crave it and then slam it down for not having the same feeling. We want it but then despise it.

        This isnt to say everything is like that, far from it, and its not to say we dont enjoy it. But something new and fresh gives us that feeling that the 3rd 4th or 5th doesnt.

      • the trends disagree with you roy, the later ultima games were better than the first four, and the elder scrolls 5 is the best game ive played in years.

      • yet all the examples in the article dont. Weird that.

      • ah but they do, its one thing to highlight critical opinion from those who play games for a living but when you check the sales figures for all those games you`ll find they all outsold their predecessors, especially GTA 3, it can be difficult to break what is called in music “that difficult third album” but its been done enough in other industries that i wouldnt be at all surprised if in the next few years its done in ours

      • I bet GTA 4 sold crap loads but it is still one of the worst of them all. I bet loads went and bought MW3 but CoD 4 is widely known as the best. Sales figures are a strange phenomena. They scream “SUCCESS!!” but what you feel in your heart after viewing/playing is a different tale to tell.

      • It’s a tricky one to debate as it’s not cold, hard fact. This is Peter’s interpretation of events (whether a handful of titles or one game). Same goes for me. It’s opinion. However, sales figures don’t lie but we need to throw that out of the window too as there’s more consoles around when there’s a sequel so it always makes sense that a subsequent outing outperforms its predecessor as long as it’s on the same hardware.

        The big thing here is to look at media as a whole. People don’t normally like change. We say we do but we seek psychological comfort from familiarity. Sure, many of us want them to push the franchises further and take more risk but it’s a financial risk and it’s something juggernaut franchises are unwilling to entertain… most of the time.

        From football kits (subtle changes each year) to film sequels to game franchises and more. We don’t want to be truly caught off guard. It’s a rule of thumb but a bloody strong one. The only thing I’ll say, from a personal perspective, is that I’d love to see them pushing their luck more often as we have a staggering array of games to enjoy so it’s not like we’ll lose out in the end. If anything, we all gain something new and wonderful!

      • my point was that artistically, in terms of storytelling (and critically) the third instalment is often not up to scratch. In terms of making money, they often to get bigger and bigger with each iteration – up to a point…

      • Super Mario Bros. 3 certainly was the best of the series. SMB 3 is the 1%. Occupy Nintendo! XD

  4. So far (and I’m part way through Uncharted 3), it’s been the most incredible ride so far. They have a formula that works. It was nigh-on perfected with Uncharted 2 and I didn’t expect them to try and reinvent the wheel. I think of it like the Indiana Jones films. You know what to expect and simply unplug your brain and enjoy the ride. Quite why the likes of Eurogamer ended up marking them down for that is beyond me as the games industry seems to suffer with utterly atrocious levels of “variation of a theme”.

    ND are masters in their industry and will maybe put Uncharted to bed this generation. I’m also sure they’d love to try their hands at something new which I’d personally love. Know when to put a franchise to bed and know when to refine something and make money from it.

    • I agree… mostly :)

      I thought Uncharted 2 was amazing and I think Uncharted 3 is more of the same – which is a little less amazing now I’ve seen it before.

      I think that my issues with the third are simply based on the fact that they spoiled us all with the second, which was probably the zenith of modern videogaming. I did expect a little more from 3 (and I’m nowhere near finished that yet so I might be premature in my light criticism) and I’ve been slightly disappointed that it is /only/ as good as 2 – which might be the best game of this generation…

      Not exactly massive criticism is it?!

    • I’m craving for more Uncharted! ND have played it well in that they haven’t tried to rush the character progression and at the end of each one has left me longing for more. Even though we have now played as Drake for 3 games, we still don’t know that much about him and that mystery keep me wanting more.

      The day the story of Uncharted starts the drag is the time Drake should hang up his boots!

      But for now, more Uncharted please!

      • was it just me then that hated the weird bit at the end of Uncharted 2 ?

  5. Ewoks. Nuff said.

  6. First of all, LOTR lost it’s way in the third one? really, disagree with that!
    As for series now, call of duty has only come into light after a third, same with Fallout. I just don’t wan’t to see the point where it becomes the same thing each time (Call of Duty now) and ruin the series. They need innovation, not really creating a new IP but making sure they add a new feature every time, tweak the gameplay, new story. Don’t wan’t to see the point where Uncharted becomes generic.

    • Really? You think the last, tedious hour of the third LotR movie was as good as any point in the second one?

      I’ll concede on that point if you really want me to because I wasn’t a fan of the LotR movies at all… I liked the books much more :)

      • Actually you have a point there and I’m inclined to now agree with you :P Well I love them, I’ve only read bits of the books which is stupid as I should just read them.

      • In my opinion Two Towers was the weaker film. The final hour tied everything up nicely if you ask me.

      • Did Cb seduce you to get you to his thinking again, Origami? :P

      • he always does! I don’t know how.

      • All of LOTR is tedious.

    • This is why assassins creed is so good imo. They’ve kept the core gameplay from the original but built extra mechanics in with every game, I’m currently playing revelations and its awesome because of that, they’ve grown the gameplay with each installment

  7. I completely disagree with “even God of War III is considered to be slightly less impressive than the second” because it received more critical acclaim than all the other God of War games and it’s the very large majority of the fans favourite in the series, proof = look at the question ‘What is your best GoD OF WaR game ?’ on the largest God of War fan page on Facebook, https://www.facebook.com/godofwar.page?sk=questions

    • Fair point, although I’d argue that it is being touted as the favourite of a “large majority of fans” simply because it’s the most recent (and visually attractive). Critically, it’s the least popular of the core trilogy on Metacritic.
      In the interests of full disclosure: I didn’t enjoy any of the God of War series particularly but I think the handheld offerings were probably my favourites. It’s just not my type of game and I only mentioned it because my impressions are that, in very broad general terms, the third wasn’t as well thought of as the second. Ultimately, though, my aim was to spark discussion and since you replied with your own thoughts on the subject, I’ll take that as a win ;)
      Thanks for joining in!

  8. “Wait, this looks familiar…”

  9. Your opinion aside, I loved the three prequel Star Wars films more than the orginals. I also cant understand crticism of Return of The King. It was a great book and traslated into an amzing film. Did J.R.Tolkien really lose his way when writing the book?

    In my opinion, I dont think you can really tell when you’ve had enough of something until it goes wrong. It could be the first game, it could be the fifth. All I know is that I am always a forgiving person and there have been many a time where a bad sequel as given way to a greater threequel….

    • “I loved the three prequel Star Wars films more than the originals” :O No no no…

      • sweet jesus, you hear that some people have this opinion but to actually see it said…… wow :)

      • It is my honest opinion :L Deal wiv it bruv XD

      • I liked the three prequels as well. Sure, they threw some BS in there and have plotholes but there are enjoyable. I wish they didn’t make Darth Vader go NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO as it is very cheesy.

    • I really like Phantom Menace, a lot. The other 2 didnt match up to the feel good atmosphere that created.

  10. A well written article but I disagree with your GTA points. You say they ‘could’ be construed as individual trilogies and in your opinion are saying that GTA 2, San Andreas and TBOGT are the weaker games. I have to disagree. For me TBOGT is what GTA IV should have been from the start, and I hope GTA V continues in that vein. In terms of scope and fun and taking the genre to the next level, San Andreas was a step above Vice City (despite VC being my personal favourite).

Comments are now closed for this post.