I really, really love the Halo 3: ODST live action trailer
. It tells such an evocative tale with nothing but emotive actors and sergeants shouting unintelligible gibberish. The final scene is what really brings it all together, though. Another funeral, this time off-world. The young man we've been following is now older, tired, his scarred face like worn leather. Beside him is a younger man, his appearance cleaner somehow. When weapons fire is heard in the distance it is the younger man that looks up with a fire in his eyes and determination in his heart. He dons his helmet, eager to join the battle.
The older man, however, does no such thing. When he looks up it is almost with exasperation. He places the helmet on as if he's going back down into the coal mines to breath more black into his lungs. The purpose, the fire, the spirit is gone. There is only apathy.
About six years ago I joined a rather infamous website called Wii60.com
. The original goal behind the site was to simply post really, really
bad photoshop images making fun of Sony and singing the praises of Microsoft and Nintendo.
My own God awful attempt at humor.
Now, I could sit here and try to tell you about how Wii60.com was my first foray into writing about games and trying to be a games critic. I could tell you about how the actual owner of the site had rarely shown their face and in his absence many of us wanted to create a respectable site worth reading. I could discuss how none of us knew, nor cared, whether the owner of Wii60.com also owned The Sony Defense Force
. I could even tell you about my insistence that we'd need to expand beyond the Wii60 idea if we wanted to be taken seriously, or the argument I had with the owner over review standards that finally caused me to sever ties with the site.
No, I won't discuss any of that in detail. What I want to discuss is that burning passion I had when I first joined that site, the purposeful debates and discussions I had. How certain I was that Microsoft and Nintendo had the best interests of gamers and the industry in mind and Sony was treating it as nothing more than a money-making play thing!
I was naive at the time. I watched Microsoft's conferences and their plans for Xbox Live and thought "this is the future!" I still remember watching that first demonstration of the Marketplace, explaining how users would be able to make and sell their own products online. You want to sell t-shirts? Do so on the marketplace! Bumper stickers? Marketplace! The idea of user-generated content was even tossed out there, allowing consoles access to mod communities. As the Xbox 360 would have USB ports, there was no reason a player couldn't hook up a mouse and keyboard and have access to all the same tools as their PC playing counterparts. Hell, Farcry
had already been allowing such tools on the original Xbox!
It was just another piece of the Xbox Live dream, connecting everyone together and enriching the user experience!
A user experience that doesn't really exist. The Xbox Live Marketplace never became the content center Microsoft promised it would become. In fact, the Xbox Live Marketplace is one of the most strict and locked-down services out there with a little corner dedicated to "Indie Games" with very little care or moderation. What started as something good became something worthless to anyone that wasn't a big name studio, and now smaller developers are reporting much better prospects off of services like Steam. This is nothing to say of Valve's
(and other companies'
) problems working
with the system as a AAA developer.
In hindsight, guess they were always honest about using games just so they could get their all-in-one media box into homes so they could subvert everyone to being Microsoft slave drones.
I remember staring wide-eyed and awed as developers focused on the number of enemies on screen and advanced enemy A.I. Years later, most games are focused on small and cramped corridors with only a handful of foes in order to squeeze the most out of the graphics processing. That, or sacrificing A.I., physics or a tolerable bug-count just to fit more on screen at once (I'm looking at you, Rockstar). Many modern titles play as if they have half the budget of a game on the Playstation 2, yet because they're pretty we're expected to be happy about them.
Then there was the promise of the Nintendo Wii. In some ways Nintendo screwed up. The WiiMotion Plus should have been how the system worked out of the box, friend codes were a disaster and, in that typical Nintendo fashion, they did little to communicate with or help third parties along. Even so, Nintendo themselves did right by their audience and their own promises. The real problem was the lack of imaginative third parties.
When I saw the Wiimote and Nunchuck in action my mind immediately went to a game like Morrowind
. The Wiimote would control the sword and the nunchuck the shield, or perhaps the Wiimote would be a magic staff. Yet it never happened. Instead developers shoved a bunch of half-hearted attempts at games on there, or failed to provide any marketing that would matter to the sort of folks that owned a Wii, and then shrugged their shoulders saying "I guess it doesn't sell!" An underutilized system that could have been an excellent home for studios that wanted to continue making good games at a more manageable cost. Imagine if Free Radical had chosen to make a new TimeSplitters
on the Wii, for example?
And why the Hell didn't anyone think this genre wouldn't work with a Wiimote but would be perfect to try on the pre-Kinect 360?
In the meantime, Sony, a company I hated a mere six years ago, has developed games with the intent of providing a strong modding community. They've been creating new IP this late into the console cycle while Microsoft has resorted to milking Halo
and Gears of War
. The Playstation Network is attempting to get games into the hands of gaming enthusiasts instead of trying to shove television services down everyone's throat.
Everything I thought about the "next-generation" six years ago turned out to be wrong. All of my starry-eyed expectations were waved aside in a desperate attempt to make the most amount of money possible.
That's not to say this generation hasn't had its fair share of excellent games. Assassin's Creed
, Dead Rising
and now Dragon's Dogma
have become some of my favorite games for a variety of reasons.
Yet when I sit down and listen to developers discussing the next-generation, I cannot help but sigh. I feel like that war-weary trooper in the ODST
trailer. I've heard those gun shots before. I know what they mean. I also know that no matter how hopeful, how optimistic I am, that things aren't going to turn out sunshine and daisies. If studios cannot afford to stay afloat even after having financial successes, then what can we expect from the next-generation?
So if you ask me if I'm excited about the next slew of consoles, well, I'm really not. I bought the Xbox 360 because it was an excellent gaming machine, not the all-in-one media center Microsoft has been yearning to get in every home since God knows when. I look at my Wii and realize there are still so many games that I haven't had the chance to play despite the alleged "lack of good games" on the system. I still have plenty of games for the PS3 to get through as well, a fact I've already lamented over
No, I am not excited about the next-generation of consoles. I do not look forward to driving the cost of games up more. I do not look forward to hearing enough bound-to-be-broken promises to rival that of the next Presidential election. I do not long to see how "safe" more companies need to get in order to guarantee a hit seller.
I'm tired of it all, and I'd like to retire from that aspect of games. I'd like to retire, sitting here with my notably-weaker-than-the-Vita 3DS and enjoy this game of Theatrhythm
, because what is supposed to matter is how much fun I can have. If I've learned anything from this past generation, it is that horsepower and big budgets mean nothing when it comes to actually having fun. A new slew of consoles isn't going to change that.