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.

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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.

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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.

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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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E3: The Wrestlemania of Video Games

Ever since 1995, the Electronic Entertainment Expo has been at the forefront of video game excitement, hype and anticipation. It’s seen the unveiling of some of the most significant pieces of hardware and birthed lots of well-loved, well-received games that have a firm place in the annals of gaming. Why? Because E3 is the resounding, undisputed, media-fuelled event in the gaming calendar.

The Tokyo Game Show, The Playstation Experience and even the Game Developers Conference are all left in the dust. Are they all big shows? No doubt about it. But I’m sure they’d all like to whip up a storm even half as effortlessly as E3 does.

The first-ever show took place in, what would become, its usual home of California; with the exception of two consecutive entries in Atlanta, Georgia from 1997-98. It had the pleasure of showcasing the price-point and release date for the brand new Playstation console. The N64 was shown off to the public, as well as Nintendo boasting the Sega Saturn. How time flies eh?

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Spyro The Dragon, Parappa The Rapper, Crash Bandicoot and Sweet Tooth.

Almost a Sony Mt. Rushmore.

Fast-forward to 2018’s instalment, and whilst we’re probably not getting a new iteration of hardware from any of the big-hitters, we should be in for a smorgasbord of juicy, gaming reveals to sink our lucky teeth into.

The countdown is ticking down, day-by-day; seven more days to be precise, until a mass congregation of hungry gamers converge in the halls of the Los Angeles Convention Center.

The yearly titans are in full-force once again to wow the world with their presentations; Sony, Microsoft, Nintendo, EA, Bethesda and Ubisoft amongst others. They will all look to capitalise on the mainstream media attention by throwing fastballs to appease consumers, and the odd curveball in there to throw a proverbial spanner in the works.

Maybe that’ll be a new exclusive, ‘Spanner in the Works’. The hardships of Young Spanner, desperately trying to impress Mother Spanner by performing every chore imaginable. Until ultimately, Young Spanner goes all out to impress her and rebels against his Mother’s wishes. Sadly…he has a screw loose.

I should probably copyright that idea. Absolute money.

Anyway, this is the kind of tomfoolery that makes E3 so interesting. I still fondly remember squealing like a pig when the N.Sanity Collection was announced at E3 2016. It was a europhic moment that came out of left field, leaving the audience in a state of uncontrollable hysteria.

CrashNSaneTrilogy

3 games. 3 platinum trophies for my collection. Thank you Vicarious Visions for your superb reimagining of these wonderful games.

Final Fantasy XIII revealing that it was going to be playable on an Xbox console was earth-shattering. The series was synonymous with the Sony brand, and with the PS3 struggling, it was seen as something of a bombshell and a huge win for Microsoft in the ongoing console wars.

The list goes on…

-The first-ever appearance of the Nintendo DS (that would go onto become the most successful series of handheld consoles of all-time).

-Valve’s President, Gabe Newell, appearing during Sony’s 2010 E3 Conference to announce Portal 2, despite publicly lambasting Sony in the past.

-Sony’s one-upmanship of Microsoft in 2013, effectively winning trouncing the Xbox One with the announcement of a cheaper console, allowance of third-party game use, and not needing a constant internet connection; unlike the Xbox One.

-PS Move, PS VR, Wii U, X1, PS3 etc. All different consoles and devices that have been showcased at E3.

By digging deep into E3’s history, I discovered a fascinating little tidbit.

E3SegaSaturn

299.99

Did you know, that the Sega Saturn was released in North America…DURING Sega’s 1995 E3 Conference? It was a ballsy move that was done to try and fast-track Sega’s new console to success, ahead of the impending arrival of the Playstation. It failed spectacularly. Especially as Sony’s Conference soon followed and their Head of Development calmly walked on-stage during it, uttered ‘299’ and left. Absolute genius. The much-cheaper price tag had instantly crushed the Saturn’s momentum and ended the console’s chances of success in one fell swoop.

https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2015/may/14/sega-saturn-how-one-decision-destroyed-playstations-greatest-rival

E3 is capable of the spectacular. So my hopes are high.

Not just for Sony though, this is a multi-faceted gaming website after all. I just want great games to come out. I like games, even if they’re on the Xbox and I can’t play them. As I type this, I’m crying internally thinking about Cuphead. *sad face*

It’s like Christmas for gaming. E3 is pre-Santa.

Santa

Where are we landing boys? Tilted Towers?

FYI, there have been leaks of E3 games all over the internet, but I’ve tried to avoid them as to not ruin the surprises for myself. So if you wanna forego my nerdy predictions and childish desires, then feel free to scour the internet and see what undercover info you can get your impatient hands on.

From a Playstation perspective, we know that The Last of Us 2 is going to feature, which, personally, is enough to own E3 alone. Hideo Kojima has promised more of Death Stranding, meaning we get more than Norman Fetus and the ambiguity surrounding this tightly-coiled egg. Also, The Ghost of Tsushima has the potential to be a game of the Year candidate, so we’ll thankfully get more of that here too.

In addition to all of this, maybe Bloodborne 2? More on Medievil? More classic remasters? Syphon Filter? Horzion Zero Dawn 2? We’ll just have to wait and see.

SirDanielFortesque

*Incoherent mumbling*

Microsoft have tended to falter in recent years and it’s been a while since they really wowed people. They still release quality games year in and year out, but the exclusives have certainly been left wanting. The Xbox One generally feels like it’s inhaling the dust of the Sony behemoth that is always one step in front of it.

Can Microsoft strike here? I’d like to think so. It’d be nice.

A cool, new exclusive to shock the system would be cool BABY! (wrestling joke there for you, it’s a dual website remember). A new Halo game surely beckons too, perhaps another successful Forza game and maybe a new entry from Gears of War? As far as surprises go, would it be cruel to suggest a new Perfect Dark? Time will tell.

MasterChief

The one and only.

There’s probably another 2-3 years left of this generation of consoles, and that’s plenty of time for Microsoft to leave a serious footprint and maybe even change the landscape a tad.

As for Nintendo, they’ve had a great couple of years since they released the Switch with strong sales. They’ve had some stonking, hit titles with Mario Kart, Splatoon 2 and of course, Zelda: Breath of the Wild. I wouldn’t say Nintendo could do much wrong here, especially with a new Pokémon game already announced, we’ll see what they do…Super Smash Bros. anyone?

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E3 is always a cool event. I’ll be following all the coverage and if I see anything that takes my fancy, then I’ll be sure to channel my thoughts into a piece of work. Maybe reviewing a press conference or two too.

Until then, enjoy E3…you’ll be hearing the scream heard around the world if we get a Simpsons Hit and Run remaster, you can take that to the bank and bloody well cash it.