Friday, May 24, 2013

The Future of Gaming, or Why I'm a Retro Gamer

Before you read what I have to say first read the following article. It's the reason why I wanted to write this. I'll wait.


Done? Great!

Honestly I've never been a fan of XBox right from the start. It just never appealed to me. When the first one came out I was high on the Dreamcast and when 360 came out I was anticipating PS3. I never have nor do I think I will ever give two shits about XBox. Not to say I have a vendetta against it. If I'm at a friends place I won't oppose playing some Halo multiplayer or something like that. I just have zero interest. So hopefully that context will give you an idea where I'm coming from in this post. This is not to shit on XBox. This is to shit on the potential future of video games as a whole.

I've always liked staying on the up and up with gaming. Ever since my family got the NES I would look to see what else was out there and what was coming next. It was always exciting because it always seemed like things were getting bigger and better with every generation. However with the advent of more and more gaming either incorporating or requiring online it's brought on as much great as it has horror.
I think back to the Jim Carrey classic The Cable Guy. In the movie Jim Carrey's character predicts the future in the same way that he stated what would logically happen in time. The quote is, "The future is now! Soon every American home will integrate their television, phone and computer. You'll be able to visit the Louvre on one channel, or watch female wrestling on another. You can do your shopping at home, or play Mortal Kombat with a friend from Vietnam. There's no end to the possibilities!" That movie came out in 1996. And while there were technically online features in gaming and other mediums (i.e. The Sega Channel, eBay has been around for a while, etc) it wouldn't become the standard like he was stating til about a decade later. It seemed like such an amazing feature to have! You're telling me that I could fight against/along side someone in [Insert Game Here] who is literally on the other side of the planet? That truly is an incredible technology and when I really sit down and think about it, it still blows me away. For example, I've been playing a lot of multiplayer in Assassin's Creed Brotherhood lately. You and approx. 7 other people are all essentially on a killing spree on one another. The part that blows me away is the lack of lag. We've gotten to the point where every match I've been in there has been 0 lag. It's amazing all things considering and I feel a lot of gamers take it for granted. We live in a pretty amazing age of technology and have made a ton of progress in such a short time. Keep in mind that thirty years ago games were limited to a 2D plane (mostly) and have very simplistic features. Now we've got games that expand across entire worlds with a landscape larger than some real life locations and offers enough material to keep a gamer busy for an entire year, or more depending on what you're playing. The only problem with this advanced technology is that the web portions are being used for good and not for good as well.
I'm probably gonna be repeating many details that were talked about in the article I told you to read. I apologize for those repeats but I'm trying to expand on them.
For the last few years it seems like one of the biggest scares/rumors is "always on." The definition of this is that a game and/or console would always need to be logged in online regardless if you're playing single or multiplayer. Aka if your internet is down you can't play. Two major, recent examples of this are Diablo III and Sim City. Both are games that are sequels in already very successful franchises. They both had games before that had an option of online but didn't require it. But in these new installments it was required to always be online and they both had big server issues upon release and it caused a lot of uproar because of it. Right off the bat I've got to say that I see the positive aspects of being connected while in single player mode. It can add in features that otherwise wouldn't be available. But you should never ever ever (getting back together) remove the option for offline play. Even if the only offline play is local multiplayer against each other. There is no reason why a game has to be 100% online (unless it's an MMO or something). With the article I read I got an impression that this is a direction gaming could be going in just to play, period. This of course is first and foremost an issue of cost for the consumer. Here a gamer spent hundreds of dollars over the course of five years (usual console cycle, sometimes longer, especially recently). Then that said console's time has come to an end. A new console comes out with tons of new features and exciting new games. But what if you want to revisit your old games? Well as the article showed us that is an entire console generation's worth of games lost to the ages. The only way they could be retrieved as of that point is if they're ported to the newer console. But why would you want to spend more money to play a game you've already had for years? ESPECIALLY IF IT'S A PHYSICAL COPY! And that can be a staggering number of games lost and potentially never revisited. Sure you'll always get ports of the more popular games, but what about the obscure titles that have a cult following? One of my favorite games of all time is Illbleed for the Sega Dreamcast. It's a very bizarre and very obscure survival horror game. It never gained major popularity and it came late in the Dreamcast's life. It's not known by many but it's still a great game. It has never been ported/remade on any future consoles. If I lived in a world where the idea of always online existed for the Dreamcast I wouldn't be able to play that game today. Cause again as the article stated once the servers are closed they are closed for good. No more online play for that game.
I can see from an economical standpoint it makes sense. It's a way to fight piracy, keep people from swapping games so easily, etc (what with the fee for playing a used game). And this is a market after all so they've got to make money somehow. But this cannot be the future. Video games are thriving more than ever so there's no reason why this would be a necessary route. And if anything my concern isn't just with "wah I can't play that game anymore unless I pay to buy it again!" It's more to do with the history it leaves behind. Just imagine if there was literally and entire generation worth of games you could never go back to unless they were re-released. And we all know for a fact that gamers are nostalgic crazy. Here's some context. The Super Nintendo during it's entire lifespan released nearly 800 games between the 3 major regions (Japan, US, Europe). Imagine if Nintendo had a similar method to what looks like may be happening and once they stopped making games for the system they couldn't be played as is again. Sure there would be the inevitable re-release of games like Super Mario World and Metriod. But could you guarantee much outside of that? What if you're like me and you have a very particular title that you enjoy above all others and it isn't one of those obscure games? That right there is so much history of this industry lost to time all because of this crazy new method. Even the Dreamcast with it's short life span wound up releasing over 500 games (a lot more came out in Japan than America). And then to put it in a modern perspective there are currently a little under 800 games for PS3 and nearly 1000 for XBox 360. Granted a very large chunk of those are cross platform so this list isn't as high as it seems but think of all the experiences you've had the last 5-6 years with this current generation. I don't want everything I've done on my PS3 since 2007 lost forever, being forced to wait for a re-release just to restart my experience. That would be really sucky and it shouldn't be happening for the sake of nostalgia and for the sake of history.

The problem here is that game companies are thinking too much in the here and now. A lot of backwards compatibility is being dropped (with the exception of Nintendo). New technologies are not just being introduced and offered but forced upon the player. And online interactions are not just becoming a feature but a requirement. I think I've talked about going back to the past enough so I'll try and focus on the other topics. And with tech being shoved down people's throat to play the game makes for a really unappealing experience. Much like I said earlier with how there should always be an option for offline play, there should also always be an option to play the game with a standard controller unless the entire game is based around a special controller (i.e. Rock Band or the first Steel Batallion). When you do this you take a big risk alienating not only your core audience but any appeal for an extended audience. Granted this has worked recently with the Wii but they're Nintendo. They're the Disney of gaming. 9 out of 10 times they win in life with everyone. However while Nintendo has been riding it's yacht in a pool on a cruise ship doing it's own thing, Microsoft and Sony have been continuing their bitch slapping bout that started back around the turn of the century. You see, with Nintendo being innovative with what they're doing Sony and Microsoft has done little by comparison in the grand scheme of things. For example, the Playstation Move? Wii controller but finer tuned. The Kinect? The PS2 had the very primitive Eye Toy that did something similar. It's been a game of copycatting for years. Not that that's any news. It's been a game of one upping for a long time, if not since the beginning of gaming. It just seems like there's less individuality among the two companies. Yes Sony has been innovative with inventing the blu-ray disc and Microsoft has kicked a ton of ass with their online gaming. But that's one of very few differences.
A part of this is the lack of individuality in the games. I'm not even talking about the creativity of the games itself or how there's been 80 quadrillion modern warfare style games in the last five years. I'm talking about exclusive games and perks. For every exclusive game that gets released there's at least four multiplatform games that get released as well. Making 80% of the overall market basically playing on "the same console" with little to no differences. It's not like back in the early 90s when the Super Nintendo version of Shaq-Fu was drastically different than the Sega Genesis version of the game. But that's because the hardware was still very primitive and they had their own unique features under the hood that would give off different results. Rarely were two games actually alike between those two consoles because of that fact. But these days from what I can tell the only difference between Final Fantasy XIII on 360 compared to PS3 is that on the 360 it's on 3 discs whereas the PS3 is on one because of it's larger space size. The lines have blurred and they honestly look the same in the end. People would ask me the last few years what the console best suited for them. Basically my response was if they had a family or wanted something casual I would say the Wii. But then for the other consoles I would say "Do you like God of War or Halo more?" "Would you rather play RPGs or Shooters?" It was all relative cause so many similar games came out for each. The biggest difference was the fact that PS3 has blu-ray and free online gaming, but the XBox was cheaper and provides a more casual hardcore experience (The PS3 is pretty hardcore with it's setup). And while the current details seems to provide a wide range of differences between the PS4 and Xbox One I imagine it'll turn out the same in the end. I took a look at some of the games that are set to be released for XBox One. Wanna know how many I recognized because they're set to be released on PS4? Well, quite a few. The consoles haven't even been released and it's already looking that way. It makes not just the average gamer hard to decide but more so the average consumer. I can imagine when they're both released seeing someone standing in Best Buy holding a PS4 in one hand and an XBox One in the other asking, "What's the difference?" Well, average consumer, even us gamers aren't able to tell much anymore.
So not only is it confusing to a consumer to decide on a console, but can you imagine how confusing the online material will be to those same people? Not necessarily with the features of online, but more the requirements. If the XBox One rumors come true and it has to not just register the game online but also check in online I can imagine it'll sprout a ton of confusion and frustration from consumers. Being someone who has roughly a decade's worth of customer service experience on the job knows that it is impossible for something to be idiot proof. No matter how "user friendly" it is or "easy to use" you claim it will be, there will always be someone who just doesn't get it and needs you to hold their hand every step of the way. Having these kinda sorta always online setups takes that idiot proof idea and makes it even less idiot proof. I frankly think this overly online focus on these consoles is not just going to scare off consumers but straight up annoy consumers. I've backed Playstation since the beginning. Have stuck to their end of things for the most part (Dreamcast had so much potential!). So far I've owned the PS1, 2, 3, and Vita. Never had a PSP because of lack of money as a college student. But looking ahead at PS4 and seeing it more as a general entertainment box/facebook(esque) machine is a big turn off for me. I already have a kick ass DVD/BD player and it's called my PS3, which also already has apps for Netflix, Hulu Plus, Amazon Instant Video, and YouTube. I have no use for the photo portion or the music portion of the console, and it always plays my games beautifully. Basically to me the PS3 is the ultra-mega console that IS my entertainment center. I honestly can't think of what more I would want because I don't always have the time to utilize all the features on my PS3 on a regular basis. And as far as online goes?
I'm pretty much a single player person almost exclusively. I'll play online here and there (more recently with AC Brotherhood) but not much. My friends list is limited and chances are I'm not playing the same games they are. I don't interact much with that list via the PS3 very often. So when the PS4 was introducing a share button and was getting hyped up about the social networking aspects of the PS4 I frankly didn't care. Matter of fact if it is something that is going to be more of a focus then I'm even turned off by that. Why would I want to invest in a new console that forces me to be social when I don't always want to be with my games? They can talk about online features until they're blue in the face. I just don't care and I feel it's putting a focus on the GAME console that is slowly turning into Tivo or some such shit.

Maybe I'm just not the person for these new consoles. Maybe this is what REALLY hardcore Nintendo fans felt when they made the Wii more focused on the mass market instead of the hardcore market and their precious new console was flooded with shovelware and games very aimed for families instead of more "hardcore" titles. They're going the way of the world. And the way of the world now is connected to their social networking all the time whether via phone, computer, or even game console now in this case. It's a world where nothing is standalone anymore. Don't get me wrong, I love the convenience of having my PS3 wear many hats with entertainment. But that's because that's what it does best. If I want to check Facebook or my e-mail I'll go on my laptop, cause that's what it does best. Yes I do have an iPhone but that's more a temporary solution for things like internet, games, and music. In the end I'm the type of person who likes to have a dedicated product that is used for a dedicated purpose. My favorite console is Dreamcast. It's a straight up console. That's all it does. I like to have an iPod specifically for music. I don't want my phone to be my iPod as well as everything else. I want to get a new camera so I can take pictures with something other than my phone... or Vita. I'm the type of person who doesn't necessarily want it all together in one thing. Maybe a little for fun but not as a dedicated piece of equipment. My iPhone to me is a phone with some fun gimmicks attached that get me a fix on a long trip or while I'm waiting at the DMV. But can you imagine how quickly the battery would go out if I used it for EVERYTHING! It wouldn't last all day and then it would be a big inconvenience.
This might be a time for change for me with the coming console generation. I've seen and played the Wii U and I'm not interested in that console, not with that TV tray controller. The PS4 with it's intense focus on online still doesn't have me quite sold. Then the XBox One is turning me off more than the rest because of many rumors and the same reasons I didn't want an XBox in the past, lack of interest in the first place. But you know what has had me excited the past couple months since I picked one up? The PS Vita. I love the shit out of my Vita. Since buying it I've already cranked in over 20 hours into Persona 4 Golden and plan on picking up some of the other excellent looking games for it. I can play my Playstation roms on it which is great cause I mostly have RPGs and the standby feature comes in handy there. It's sleek, it's compact for all it's power, and I can play it easy in bed.
I'm back in the portable scene and I'm coming to realize how much I missed it. Now that portable is out of it's awkward 3D phase (which was more awkward than the 3D on home consoles of the mid 90s) I'm more likely to get into it because it's more appealing visually and in controls. I guess what it took for me to get back into it is to have a console that packs similar power to a home console or something. In the way that TV seems to interest people more than movies now, portable has been coming out with more and more that has interested me while the AAA titles have been the same old drag over and over again. I'm thinking of skipping this next home console generation in favor of the portable generation. I've got the Vita. What will come out next? I'm not terribly interested in the 3DS but there are some games coming for it that I would buy the console for (Shin Megami Tensei IV mostly). But I'm gonna stick with the Vita for the time and see what comes next. I am working on my Dreamcast collection which is keeping me busy so who says I really need to focus on a current gen? As long as I'm happy with the consoles I have that's what matters. Chances are I'll get something later on to keep on the up and up, but who knows. My main focus for what comes next is portable. Less complicated and less forced tech/features. Just straight up games is their focus. Come to think of it, that 3DS is starting to look even more appealing now...

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