Can anyone feel that? A horrible wave of energy is flowing through the game industry. Lots of little pieces are finally fracturing, coming loose from the failed attempt at a puzzle, and falling into the correct alignment. Gaming is experiencing both an evolution and a demise simultaneously. That is to say, they are overlapping for a small bit of time. We are at the tail end of the demise and can finally see what the future can, and most likely will, bring us.
It seems that the FPS craze is finally dying off. After several failed attempts at franchise reboots as shooters the message has finally set in. Not everything is better as a shooter. There are things that first person are best suited for, just as every genre has their strong suits, but the shooter is not the end all genre for everything. This is not true for all shooters, but the overly hackneyed “corridor” shooter needs to be shelved as a video game trope. Borderlands is a series that, although having its own faults, showcases that a nonlinear shooter without competitive multiplayer can not only be good, but sell well too. Syndicate, The Walking Dead, X-Com — these all failed due to a lack of meshing between the genre and the concept(X-Com was never released but I believe the failure of Syndicate, whose original gameplay was similar to X-Com, caused the company to shelve this interpretation of the series). They also share another aspect in common: shoddy, rushed coding. While Syndicate wasn’t a terrible game, the single player was dull and contrived. The Walking Dead, though, was a poorly coded game. Everything from the movement to the story, combat to the animations, everything was hurried through to get the game shipped. The idea that we can patch it up to playable level later has ruined launch day. Nintendo still outputs fantastic games and is not afraid to continuously push back release dates to ensure quality. Twilight Princess for the Wii, and Gamecube, was pushed back so many times I’m surprised it never landed itself on a Vaporware list somewhere. While I don’t see this practice changing, I’m am glad to see the number of day one patches beginning to dwindle.
Indie games just saw the biggest boom in reception and media last year. Telltale Games and thatgamecompany were recognized for their works by most major journalism medias. Journey and The Walking Dead were heralded by many including several game of the year awards. Indie companies have had a good time with the PC crowd but I think what really gave them a push was Sony’s initiative on the PS3. The Pixeljunk series, Papo y Yo, Sound Shapes, The Unfinished Swan, and Retro City Rampage; Sony got exclusivity on these without having to push for it. Neither Microsoft nor Nintendo really have a place for digital indie games. Microsoft used to with XNA(remember The Dishwasher campaign) but entry and patch costs are extreme and the only way onto the main area of the dashboard is with a publisher. Nintendo…well…the WiiWare shop was never a contender with XBLA or PSN. [Find out about the Wii u shop]. Another hint at evolution: Graphics have pretty much hit their plateau. While there is still room for improvement the gap between this gen and next gen is pretty small. It might even be the smallest jump since the inception of gaming. Hopefully this will help designers focus on art direction instead of pushing polygons. Personally, every game that employs the ultra-realistic graphics look the same to me. There are games that aim for realism but sprinkles in style and that works, Bulletstorm is a good example, but the traditional gray and brown palette shooter aiming for pixel perfect graphics only works for military shooters, something that has reached critical saturation. Pixel art is coming back, or has come back depending on how long one has kept up with the indie scene, and is slowly become over saturated. Don’t get me wrong, i still love it and have not grown sick of it but it seems like every indie game uses it now.
Gaming is also moving forward, quite rapidly now, in the hardware department. I’m not talking about graphics and storage. The way we are going to experience gaming is changing. Nintendo introduced new input devices to the mainstream, with the DS and the Wii, and that started a spark in the gaming realm about how we interact with games. Today people are using full body “virtual reality” in their house. 3D gaming, while not taking off the way I had expected, is still phenomenal. Very rarely will I choose to play a game in 2D if I have the choice. In Part 2 I will dig deeper into these peripherals and just how immerse gaming can be now and in the years to come.