Sorry, I Have Standards
at Backward Progression Of Gaming
©2011 Nicholas Laborde
We’ve come an extremely long way in such a short amount of time, considering the interactive entertainment medium is relatively a young one.
Since the dawn of the era of the video game, not only have developers constantly been refining and moving forward, but technology has also advanced at an alarming rate, especially in the last half-decade since the release of the current generation of consoles, smartphones and communication devices that serve up an ever increasing number of new games and applications daily.
As such, nearly every year we see some sort of drastic improvement, whether it be something as subtle as improved shadows, or something as development-changing as id Software‘s “megatexture” (to be used in a major release such as Rage, which is using id Tech 5).
Or the huge advancement that Team Bondi are doing with the ‘uncanny-valley’ syndrome and character expressions and interactions with AI and players. Something that will raise the bar very high for others to follow.
While we are at the beginning of a new decade and all the forthcomings it will bring, we are also at a standstill. Graphics, for the most part, have seemingly reached their peak.
Processing power (in terms of consoles) does not need to be increased much more, and as a result, all technical aspects are within an arm’s-reach of the ceiling. Which of course is always designed to be broken naturally.
We know the “end” is near (with the “end” being the point where technical specifications can no longer rise), and there’s nothing we can do to prevent it. [Ed: technology will always evolve,but there is a point as to where it can rise to a level where it is no longer visibly different, which concerns gamers more visually]
Whenever some sort of new invention (not necessarily technology) is made available, it’s going to be showcased. Even if someone makes an improvement to said technology, it’s going to be showcased.
The term “showcase” is interpretable and debatable from a dozen points of view. For example: the Unreal Engine (more specifically, Unreal Engine 3). How many games can you think of that use UE3? Okay, now think about that, and think of how many of those are true-blue AAA titles.
Early in the incorporation of the engine, many infamous “6 hour tours” were available. If those games had simply developed their own engine, or used one that had already been established, these games would not simply have been a showcased flop, they would most likely have been successes and been able to have much more content.
You may, at this point, be pondering why on Earth I‘m talking about this as if it’s a terrible thing.
Tech demos are interesting, as long as they stay as tech demos. I’m not going to waste my hard-earned money on something that simply won’t hold my attention.
And, my gaming brethren, that is what gaming has come down to today: a festival of uninteresting titles that warrant nothing but one play-through and maybe three rounds of the generic online multiplayer that’s tacked on to it.
Wait, they’re supposed to be fun – RIGHT?!
Never in my life have I regretted this many purchases in such a short span of time.
We’ve all had the disappointing or downright terrible game appear in our collections before, but in the past few years, the number of those titles appearing in mine have been growing exponentially. There’s a problem with games today: they’re progressing, alright. But not in the right direction.
• For example, look at the FPS map design here.
While being humorous, it is also saying a lot about how games are designed these days.
In the 90′s, developers knew their technology and the range of what was plausible in a game. As a result, games were generally better designed and pushed the existing tech to its limits. Not to say that that doesn’t happen anymore, but it does not occur quite as often.
Let’s take Call of Duty: Black Ops, for example. Now, if you don’t know already, Call of Duty is a series that I am a veteran of; I’ve been there since the original on PC in 2003, and (sadly) have played and completed every title since.
Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare is widely regarded as one of the best shooters this generation, sitting among the ranks of GoldenEye and Half-Life 2. I still go back and relive the vivid campaign, and enjoy some classic fragging in the addictive online multiplayer.
But that’s the ceiling. World at War was the same exact game with a reskin, Modern Warfare 2 was a decent sequel to CoD4, and Black Ops? Well, I enjoyed the campaign, for what it’s worth, using the tech available for the Call Of Duty series thus far, and it’s basically a reprint of Criterion’s BLACK that came out at the end of the 1st-gen Xbox cycle (awesome game by the way).
And that was it. I played maybe five total rounds of multiplayer outside of my review sessions, finding it bland and unattractive.
Games are no longer producing (or even encouraging, for that matter) innovation and creativity, and that is why we are at a standstill.
The modern dictionary defines the term ‘rehash‘ as “to rework, reuse, or make over (old or already used material)“. Not only does this term describe the current gaming industry in a nutshell, it describes everything that is to come for many years.
There’s nothing new anymore. Everything is a copy of something else. Shovelware abounds. To quote one of the best movies of 2010, Inception, “True inspiration does not exist.” It’s hard to think about that in perspective; nearly every idea you could possibly think of has most likely been thought of before, and most likely has been executed as a result.
Here are two examples of jamais vu: Uncharted 2 and Medal of Honor. Uncharted 2, as with its predecessor, did absolutely nothing new. Nathan Drake, also known as Dude Raider, was your typical Hollywood action movie hero. The platforming mechanics were from Tomb Raider, the cover mechanics and gun play Gears of War-esque, and the list continues.
But it was a great game. Instead of imitating what it borrowed, it captured the essence of the ideas it used and improved upon them, creating a captivating, entertaining, and ridiculously fun game that came to define the PlayStation 3.
Medal of Honor, on the other hand, was your generic shooter rehash. The campaign was mildly interesting but never really picked up, and was the only highlight of the mediocre title. The multiplayer was ripped straight from Battlefield: Bad Company 2, and never even attempted to differentiate itself or try anything new (it serves as the first real disappointment from DICE). As a result, the game is already dead, only a little over two months after its release.
There’s a problem here, friends. I speak not only to you, the average consumer, but to the developers, publishers, and CEOs: we’re in trouble.
If you know your history, the Gaming Crash of 1983 was attributed to many things, most notably being the fact that every game was a clone of another game, and innovation was absent.
Consumers, as a result, became uninterested and stopped purchasing these products, resulting in our two-year limbo period, before Nintendo bailed us out.
What saved us? Innovation. Creativity. Inspiration. Productivity. Nintendo did not let that era of despair stop them from bringing the fun back to us, and capitalized off of the moment (a pastime of American culture, oh joyous capitalism!), forever sealing themselves in history as the company that saved gaming.
EA is one of those companies that tried over the past few years to make new intellectual properties. Due to poor sales, and piracy being at an all-time high, they have vowed to not make any more original titles for a very long time, and a tacked-on multiplayer mode is to be expected in all of their future titles.
As I write this gloomy article, I’m listening to my Halo: Combat Evolved soundtrack. The beautiful symphony is just as enjoyable now as it was in 2001, and still serves as my favorite score of all time. How many things have aged this well? I’m not even mentioning the brilliant game that the original Halo was, but only the soundtrack.
Only a select few modern titles can even have the credentials to be remembered more than a few months from now. Titles that fall into that category are excellent titles such as the Mass Effect series, the BioShock series, Amnesia: The Dark Descent, the Uncharted series, LittleBigPlanet and its sequel, and the slowly-dieing Metal Gear series.
All of these quality titles are or were unique, different, creative, and posed new ideas in one way or another. Those are generally big-name titles; that’s not even going into the smaller games.
While I could go on to name more, compare the numbers of what we call “quality titles” that we have now with what we had ten years ago, and you’ll see a tremendous difference.
I Know A Place
There is no refuge from this storm of infamy. We’re going to continue this declination, and it’s going to be a hard fall. While we may not experience something as dramatic as the crash experienced in 1983, we will come very close.
My personal advice on how to “save” the industry? Look to the indie developers. I’m having more fun playing Super Meat Boy than I ever could have hoped to have achieved with Black Ops. Indie games are not only games, but they are creative, profound forms of expression.
They show us how fun games used to be and what they can be. They are our only hope, and I have a feeling that they will be the very thing to help us out of the hole we have dug.
History repeats itself, I can assure you that from personal experience. Whether it be obvious like the parallels between the fall of the Roman Empire and America’s current state, or subtle, as with the current state of the gaming industry, what has happened before will happen again. In fact, it won’t happen again.
It’s already happening, and it won’t stop unless we fix it.
©2011 Nicholas Laborde
Filed under: Console gaming, Editorial, GameBanter, Xbox 360, Xbox 360 News, Xbox Originals Tagged: | Amnesia: The Dark Descent, Battlefield Bad Company 2, Bioshock, Call Of Duty, Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, Call Of Duty Black Ops, DICE, epic, Epic Games, games, GEars Of War, Gears of War 2, Gears of War 3, GoldenEye, GoW 3, Half life 2, halo: combat evolved, id software, Id Tech 5, LittleBigPlanet, Mass Effect, Medal of Honor, Metal Gear series, mobile gaming, Modern Warfare, Modern Warfare World at War, R.A.G.E Engine, Shovelware, smartphones, Team Bondi, Tomb Raider, Tomb Raider 9, Uncharted 2, Unreal Engine, Unreal Engine 3, Unreal Engine 4, Video game