Usually when I write a blog, it's a topic that I rolled around in my head, similar to my Christian days where a sermon would form in my mind long before it proceeded from my mouth. And the topic at hand, as you very well may have guessed, is the title : What happened to gaming?
Let me start by saying, like many of you, I grew up with gaming, and gaming grew up with me. I feel like I have evolved with the medium. When I was a kid, Nintendo ruled the day. The 8 bit days were without a doubt their most prominent. If you look at the major franchises that we have, a lot of them got their came to their own on the old NES. Games like Mario, Zelda, Contra, Metal Gear, Mega Man, Metroid and Ninja Gaiden, just to name a few. Not to say they all started there, or couldn't be had elsewhere, just that the NES was a breeding ground for games to come and flourish.
Continuing on the the early 16 bit days, while Nintendo was content to stick with the NES, Sega was hard at work pushing their next gen system. Before long the Genesis was a force to be reckoned with, forcing Nintendo to offer a machine capable of competing on that level. That, of course as you all well know led to the first true console war. This was to some, the greatest console war, that still rages on in debates today. The important thing to take away from this generation though, is Sega brought a new flavor to the table. It didn't matter how good Nintendo's games were, Sega could offer experiences that couldn't be had on the SNES. Sega truly does what Nintendon't (or didn't in this case).
Fast forward the 5th generation, and Sega through multiple blunders, knocked themselves out of the console war leaving only Nintendo, and newcomer Sony with the Playstation. While this rivalry was not as hard fought, nor as close in terms of sales, in my mind was a much greater war. The reason I say so is the gap in appeal was quite vast. If the Genesis and SNES were Pepsi vs. Coke, than the PS1 vs N64 was like CD vs. MP3. Sure they both did the same basic thing, but the appeal of one vs the other was totally contrary. And while I can decisively say you could get a Genesis or SNES without missing out too much, I have a much harder time saying that about the PS1 or N64, both had exclusive access to some of the most groundbreaking games that were to ever hit consoles.
But this was the golden age, this is where gaming wasn't afraid to take risks. Where anything and everything was tried. In my opinion, this was the peak of gaming, thematically, we had the broadest selection of games.
If you wanted a 3D platformer, boom it was there. We had Banjo, Mario, Crash, Rayman, Croc, Gex, Conker, and even Glover (a friggin' hand was a character!). Today, that's the exception to the rule. How is it, that after almost 9 years on the market, the Xbox 360 has about 70 video on demand apps, and around 10 3D platformers?
Back then we had fighting games. Talk about a golden age for that genre: Street Fighter, Marvel vs. Capcom, Tekken, Killer Instinct, Mortal Kombat, Rival Schools, Soul Calibur, King of Fighters, Last Blade, Fatal Fury, Power Stone, Virtua Fighter, Fighting Vipers, Toshinden, Last Bronx, and Darkstalkers. Sure, many of these exist today, but to think that multiple games in each of these series were released in about a 5 year period makes me miss those days.
But what bothers me the most is how many of these games and certain genres just don't exist today due to not being marketable enough. I'l give you some examples.
Puzzle games. Now there were some puzzle games released to retail this generation. You have Bejeweled, Tetris and some compilations, but that's about it. There were no sequels to Columns, Tetris Attack, or Dr. Mario on store shelves, at least not for consoles. No, you had to go to handhelds and even then only the DS had a respectable selection. You had to go to digital to get these games for consoles. Why are puzzle games no longer viable for a physical console release?
But there are also sub-genres that are no longer viable too. When is the last time you saw an on rail shooter get the retail treatment? Yes, the Wii did get games like Umbrella Chronicles and Dead Space Extraction, but those are only a handful of titles on a platform that had a native controller that allowed it. Additionally, it was a platform with
very low risk to develop for due to low development costs and massive popularity.
This is why I still hold onto my Wii, it's because it got games that you just couldn't get anywhere else. Take a look at games like Sin & Punishment Star Successor or Tatsunoko vs. Capcom. If the Dreamcast was a viable console today, it would have games like this. To me the Dreamcast was the last system to really want to try quirky and unique things. Look at games like Jet Set Radio, Shenmue, Project Seaman, Segagaga, Skies of Arcadia, Virtual On, Chu Chu Rocket, MDK 2, Ikaruga, Phantasy Star Online, and Space Channel 5. All of these games are exactly what I'm talking about. That was a machine built for gamers, and did it all without the likes of EA.
Which leads me to the big publishers. Back in the 5th generation we didn't have the big publishers. If you look at most AAA third party games, almost all of them fall under one of them. You can probably name them along with me: EA, Activision, Ubisoft, Capcom, Sega and Square Enix. I'm not exactly sure where along the line this happened, but it did, and it's let to a lot of stagnation.
So instead of getting old classic revitalize, and given their proper treatment, we get a new Call of Duty, Madden, or Assassins Creed every year. And you know what, I partially blame gamers. Some of us are guilty of buying these games every year because we know exactly what to expect. Not that there's anything wrong with sequels, but a little more variety would go so far. I imagine most of us here at Destructoid were groaning with EA's presentation of sports at E3 this week. I'm sure the core gamers here, were yawning at yet another Battlefield, and Assassins Creed this year, but the fact is we are the minority. These games sell because people are running out and getting them. While at the same time they are leaving games like the Wonderful 101 on the shelf. At the end of the day, that's the real problem.
But you, the core gamers aren't innocent either. Yes you, reading the user blog on a core gamers site. You (in all likelihood) are the ones complaining about games being 1080p and 60 frames per second. I know because I'm regularly in the comments section. I get that in the 90's we talked about blast processing but we were kids then, we bought into that hype. But there's no excuse now. Power makes a difference, but bear in mind the most powerful console of its generation has NEVER been the most successful. That should speak volumes on which console you should chose. I'm not even championing the Wii U (even though it is my console of choice), I'm just talking about games. More often than not, when people argue the PS4 vs. the Xbox One, power comes into play, rather than content. Frankly, I am fed to the teeth with that. The thing is, PS4 and Xbox one are basically carbon copies of each other with only marginal differences. It literally makes me wonder why there are 3 consoles on the market when two are virtually identical. Say what you want about Sega's blunders in the 90's at least they offered a console that offered something more than earlier access to the same games on Playstation and PC.
I take this all the way back the year 2000. The Dreamcast had numerous killer apps, online play, $150 price tag, and ran games beautifully. The PS2 steps in on a mountain of hype, $300 price tag and only the backwards compatibility and DVD player to back it up. The system didn't have much of anything to offer until a year after it came out. Yet, gamers by the masses left the Dreamcast on the shelf, and chose the PS2. The core gamers at the time knew the story. Unfortunately, even I bought into that hype at the time. But now that I look back, 2000 was the turning point of the industry, where the masses dictate the winner, not the core gamers dictated by compelling original content. That is where gaming has gone.
But not all is bleak. I do see digital distribution as shifting the tides of change. The indie market has been a bright spot in this time of brown shooters, an annualized sequels. Seeing the 16 bit worlds of Fez warmed my heart. Seeing games like Journey, and Limbo gave me hope that developers would start trying new ideas again. And now that the indie revolution is in full swing, we can start seeing more ambitious efforts, and even in 3D. No Man's Sky looks to do what should have been done this generation, an open world exploration game that allows you to traverse the universe on your own terms. When Lucas Arts failed to allow us to do things like this in Star Wars, they ceased to exist.
Games like Pushmo Wold remind me that puzzle games can and do exist, now with an internet connection allow me to share my own puzzles with the world.
And Nintendo, for all of their woes with Wii U, showed us a glimpse of hope this week, that even AAA games can be new and breathtaking again. The very premise of an open world Zelda, along with games like Splatoon, and Code Name Steam, Xenoblade Chronicles X can breathe some life into a stagnating scene.
So yes I ranted like an old man about the wrongs of the industry in my sermon... er, I mean blog. But I walked away happy from this E3. If for no other reason than I saw some hope. Hope that has slowly been building the last few years and is just starting to become visible to the gaming world. Who knows, maybe in 2015 others will jump on board and start demanding some originality. Maybe gamers will start demanding less HD remakes, and more new IP's. Consider this gamer optimistic.