Has Gaming Peaked?

Video games have seldom failed to innovate over the many decades of their existence. The bar continues to be raised to new levels of air superiority and the progression of games development continues to be treated like a precarious game of Jenga. As one developer slides out a block with inch-perfect precision; another will grab it from their hand, add another for good measure, and slam it down on the top of this ever-expanding, beast of construction.

The continuing evolution can be compared to that of the ‘mine’s bigger than yours’ skyscraper war that continues to escalate to untold heights. At one point, New York upheld their dominance over a 66-year period in which their structures were unsurpassable. Eventually, Kuala Lumpur got a taste of the pie and got in on the act with the impressive Petronas Towers. But that was soon dethroned by Tapei 101.

…AND then Dubai decided they’d grown weary of the child’s play before them and ultimately usurped everyone by unleashing the behemoth that is the Burj Khalifa – obliterating the previous record by over 300 meters.

Skyscrapers.jpg

This same philosophy has been a constant throughout the video game scene, dating as far back as everyone’s favourite, back and forth, bleep-bloop-a-thon; Pong. Pong was the equivalent of the Empire State Building, but now, it’s been left far behind in the dust to bigger and greater powers that be.

I’ll be completely honest with you valued reader, the classics such as Asteroids, Pac-Man and Space Invaders just don’t hook me or stimulate me to a great extent. I can’t play them for more than 5-10 minutes before wishing I was bitten by a mosquito so that the scratching the bite would give me something better to do. Whereas human beings that are 10 and 20 years my senior, used to invest every waking second of their time into these past pleasures. Relics of a bygone era that have transcended generations of ‘bigger and better’ games.

That’s not to say these games are bad, not by a long shot. It’s just that those simple mechanics have been reworked, revamped and injected with Bane-levels of energy, vigour and more importantly…the future.

PongGIF

Safe to say, we’ve come a long way since this.

Technology has continued to excel. Technology has continued to advance beyond the realms of unthinkable possibility. And technology has made gaming’s journey a mind-blowing field of dreams that we continue to walk through and discover new secrets on along the way.

…But…

Are we coming towards the end of this creative boom?

The bigger the steps that gaming takes, the less room is being left to do something new. Resulting in tiny baby steps that serve only to prolong this extension and extort more money from consumers in the meantime.

The pipeline isn’t as fresh as it once was; concepts and genres are being regurgitated for an easy buck and few mechanics are truly ground-breaking anymore. Not to mention the unwelcome influx of shady business practices such as DLC and Loot Boxes. These ugly strategies seem to be more frequent than ever, which in turn starves us of new prospects and the need for those companies to invest in new ideas and IP”s.

It still may be sometime away, but the looming dread of gaming arriving at its zenith seems closer than ever.

Take graphics as a key proponent of this argument, graphics are one of the most obvious ways we can analyse just how much development has been made over the years.

Starting from Pong’s primitive use of pixels, we’ve walked a long and winding pass that taken us through such places as Commodore City, Sega Saloon and the ever-popular Nintendo Necropolis (my inventive alliteration DIED at this point).

During this period we had Prince of Persia, Bubble Bobble, Sonic The Hedgehog, Street Fighter II, Streets of Rage, Earthworm Jim, Kirby, Mortal Kombat, Chrono Trigger, Mario Kart and Zelda.

Not a bad line-up?

*Side note: here’s a shameless plug to my recent Bubble Bobble article.

https://gamesandgraps.com/2018/10/30/retro-rewind-bubble-bobble/

Fast forward to the Nineties and some of the powerhouses are really starting to emerge at this point with the undeniable presence of the N64 and the Playstation.

The step-up was big, and with games like Mario 64 , Metal Gear Solid and Gran Turismo flexing their sleek muscles, the landscape was beginning to change for the better.

SuperMario64

Sony not only took the burden of having to try and go one better than they did for the PS1, but they took that burden and piled more burdens on top of it. They really hit the weights. Piling on plate after plate, gulping pixel protein and pushed themselves to deliver a never-seen-before piece of hardware that could exceed limits. But they did this, over and over with the almighty PS2 eventually being dwarfed by the PS3 and so forth.

The next generation of video game consoles were very much in effect a decade later with the PS3, Xbox 360 and Wii primarily owning the console market. They were the standard bearer.

Now in 2018, The PS4, Xbox One and Nintendo Switch reign surprise. I didn’t think The Last of Us could be topped for looks, it didn’t seem fathomable for a game to move in motion as seamlessly as Forza Horizon; but in the last few years or so…oh boy…boy…BOY!

God of War, Uncharted 4, Horizon Zero Dawn, Spider-Man, GTA V, The Witcher III, Halo, Forza, Gears of War, Zelda, Battlefield 1 and many, many more have continued to astound. When one title steals the spotlight, there’s another right around the corner to supercede its predecessor.

However, where we are right now in terms of graphics, it’s good, it’s damn good. But it’s not getting THAT much better. For instance, the leap from PS1 to PS2 was monumental. PS2 to PS3 was incredible, PS3 to PS4 was the point at which I would say the leap merely became a hop. Killzone: Shadow Fall looked stunning as a PS4 launch title, but was arguable a slightly flashier version of Killzone 3 on the console before.

We’ve hit a wall, albeit a sexy looking wall gleaming with thousands of pristine pixels. 4K and HDR has upgraded the quality of the projected image, but at the end of the day, it’s still only fractional in the context of change. 8K will be next, whilst that will be phenomenal no doubt, it’ll never represent anything like the grand canyon jump we made over a decade ago.

Wall

True story, I just spent 5 mins browsing through pictures of walls until I found a SUITABLE WALL. This is the one that resonated with me the most.

But that’s the visual side of things, in terms of gameplay, as I’ve said, the same tired and tested tropes are being recycled to the point of over-saturation.

Now, to pretty much contradict myself once more, I do enjoy lots of this. My games list is a constant ‘one game bought, two more added’. There’s just so much out there that I’m more spoiled than a silver-spooned, home-schooled child that will remorselessly smash the family porcelain if I can’t have my diamond encrusted gold chain to show off to Moriarty my invisible friend.

That being said, the last two generations of gaming have been structured similarly in that there’s been on over-reliance and emphasis on favouring a particular genre. A genre that will be abused and exploited for every penny for an easy cash-grab.

First-person shooters had limited success on the PS2 and Xbox 360. Outside of Timesplitters, Halo, Killzone, Half-Life, Medal of Honor: Frontline and Call of Duty 2/3 and I can’t think of too much else. Then the PS3 and 360 arrived and it was just one FPS after another. Putting together a quick 4-8 hour campaign, tack on multiplayer and deliver it at full-price.

Our recent iteration of hardware has seen a HUUUUGEE surge in open world games. Makes sense though. We’re operating in a exciting time of sophisticated game engines running off of ultra-powerful machines. The PS2 is now essentially a Nissan Micra to the Bugatti Veyron Super Sport that is the PS4 Pro.

 

Pertaining to this super computer power, it’s led to the creation of vast, sprawling worlds. So vast that I can just picture a developer using a single finger with a pointed claw, clawing at the disc to fit in one last palm tree into their game. But that’s just me.

There’s just nothing much new out there. I won’t get into the whole remaster/remake debate(not yet anyway, stay tuned), but between this, the ‘big’ games with repetitive side missions, collectibles etc. It’s just easy to do.

How much GENUINE originality has there been in the gaming world since 2014?

You do get plenty of it in the independent scene, but sadly they don’t get the time or success that they need to properly excel and it usually becomes inconsequential to the broader horizon. On the other end of the scale, your more mass market companies *cough* EA *cough* Ubisoft are more than happy to indulge in their incurable disease of sequelitis.

EAMoney2

So many of the same franchises have carried over two and even three generations of consoles now with no signs of ceasing. Again, not saying that’s a bad thing; just merely stating a point to discuss.

Needless to say it would be ignorant of me to bypass one of the truer examples of growth that has exemplified change within the gaming industry. That would be the relative success of virtual reality.

But Andrew…where are the hundreds of millions of sales that would financially represent success? Is there anything like a 1:1 demographic for VR that would suggest a sustainable future for VR technology and investment?

VR shouldn’t have worked. It’s a gimmick that’s been the dream of many, myself included, for so very long. If I’m not mistaken, 2016 saw the release of the main competition with regards to VR: Oculus Rift, HTC Vive and Playstation VR. With all the peripheral devices and the cumbersome nature of the hardware, it’s easy to see why people would be put off, especially with something that is a mostly untouched market.

PsVr

Guarantee he’s playing a game involving an ice-cream.

Sales seem to be going really well so far and with over 200 current PS4 VR games to play at the moment with Beat Saber and many others to come, the future is looking bright for this true innovation.

And if you’re not sold on the idea of your room becoming a virtual world space, trust me, I have one, it’s immersive, impactful and everything becomes…well immersive. There’s no other way of putting, no lexicon can accurately summise how powerful this tool is. One word – immersive.

On the other hand, we can’t all stand around all day admiring the arse of VR. Time doesn’t slow down for anyone and this is supported by the recent news that the PS5 has a date with destiny in the near-future…probably Destiny 3 to be honest but ANYWAY.

What does the future hold for gaming? Will the raw power and engineering of our next generation of beasts allow a new genre to take centre-stage? Will some crazy new computer chip allow gaming to literally look like real-life? Or are we going to stagnate and toil away in the comfort we already know? Just with prettier pencils.

– Andy.H. –

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Retro Rewind: Darkwatch

It’s a new day (yes it is) and yet another brand new series for you lucky readers.

Retro Rewind

Looking through the tinted spectacles of yesteryear, this new idea will try and unearth some gems that have long since gone under the radar. Plus, I can also give you an insight into some of my favourite games that have helped shape my preferences and gaming identity.

I’ll dispense with all the pleasantries and get straight into the meat of the article.

Darkwatch.

What a damn fine game.

It oozed style and tight gameplay whilst bonding the parallel universes of cowboys and steampunk vampires. Such cohesion shouldn’t have been possible with such vastly opposing genres and themes, but Darkwatch pulled it off.

DarkwatchTrain

Plot in 60 seconds.

An naughty outlaw by the name of Jericho Cross robbed a train. He inadvertently freed a bigger, naughtier demon by the name of Lazarus. Ol’ Lazzy gets the hots for Jericho and chomps a chunk out of his neck; passing on vampirism to him. Jericho aligns with a female by the name of Cassidy to take down Lazarus. She works for an organisation called Darkwatch.

Jericho combats his new maternal cravings for the red stuff and uses his newfound powers to become a big, strong, unstoppable boy.

Throughout the game, he can either be an angel cowboy or a devil one. The consequences of your actions will become apparent as you go on; and especially during the games final battle. One fight is an arse, one is an even bigger arse


DarkwatchKeggersKeggers. The cause of so many deaths.

I remember playing the demo for this game and I had so much fun. Bear in mind it was 2005, and FPS games were in limited supply, as opposed to the oversaturation in the  generation that would follow. It had a unique theme, a horribly unsettling setting and solid gunplay.

I genuinely lost count of the undies I unashamedly soiled in the wake of…Vipers.

Imagine your worst fear; you feel your body shrivel up and turn numb in panic. Every pore of your body perspiring and creating your own Olympic-size, swimming pool to splash around in the hope that you’ll drown to avoid your fear…unless your fear is drowning; in which case…forget it, Vipers are worse.

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*Cries in soiled underwear*

This is how me and my best friend felt playing this as unknowing 12-year-olds.

Oh, and banshees; their penis-curling screams could make you involuntarily ingest your own genitlia as a defence mechanism.

The atmosphere was always tense, the dark and dingy environments made you very aware of how isolated you felt. Let me tell you, slowly walking through a cramped sewer and turning around to see a Viper charging towards you…I can actually feel myself leaking thinking about it.

DarkwatchBanshee

Fortunately, you had an extensive range of weapons to take down these menacing beasts. Ranging from your default revolver; The Reedemer, to dual pistols, to shotguns with hatchet blades on the handles, to thermal sniper rifles etc. There was such a diverse arsenal that the gameplay never felt boring; plus certain scenarios would force you to change up your loadout regardless.

They guns even kicked like a stick of dynamite that had just given birth to its own tiny herd of baby dynamite. Note: dynamite is also a weapon you can use too.

Scintillating sound and design aside, the narrative is serviceable. One of the longstanding criticisms of this genre is the never-ending stream of -seemingly- tacked on stories; placing the emphasis on having efficient shooting mechanics instead. But Darkwatch does a good job of just about making you care about the characters, even if Jericho Cross isn’t the most effervescent individual to grace a screen.

I’ve never cared for morality choices in games, but the ones in Darkwatch at least had  some effect on the game. Your abilities hinged on which side of the fence you chose, with some being more powerful than others.

In addition, another major plus for Darkwatch? Co-op! A dying tradition that some games are desperately trying to keep alive. Local co-op. Take control of two Darkwatch members and battle through death together. It makes the game a bit easier too, but that’s not saying much. Some of the shootouts are just brutal. Finishing this game on the hardest difficulty was not for the faint of heart, but it’s JUST doable.

Despite being in development, Darkwatch 2 never got further than a brief showing at GDC 2006. It looked like being deeper and scarier. Alas, it never came to fruition. One of my biggest annoyances that I’ll ever experience with games.

Darkwatch is a HUGELY underrated FPS game that sadly never got the sequel it deserved. It had so much potential it was untrue. A interesting dynamic with endless possibilities for the future. This could’ve been the benchmark for FPS games, showing that creativity is a good thing. Also that you don’t have to create a generic, linear hallway shooter with about as much personality as a lump of coal…in a sock.

The concept of a steampunk, vampire-cowboy should have had High Moon Studios rolling around – filthy rich – in the green paper.

Maybe one day…one day…Kickstarter? Ever heard of it High Moon? Some of us are MORE than willing to help you get this long-awaited sequel produced.

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