Friday, September 14, 2012

The end of Video Games as we know them

Perhaps it's due to the recent rumors putting the next consoles from Sony and Microsoft into 2014, and the fact that the Wii U has such a huge head start.  Perhaps it has to do with the ever changing dynamic of how we play games on other devices besides just our traditional consoles.  Or it could be in the not so silent death throughs that the traditional controller are going through as touch, motion, and voice controls become more and more saturated in the market.

The moral of the story is that videogames are changing, and perhaps it's for the best.  The traditional controller has held back the evolution of the video game for too long now and by supplementing in touch, motion, and voice commands it can finally be phased out.  In no version of virtual reality are you holding a controller, so why are we clinging to them like mice on a piece of drift wood out at sea?  Overzealous use of new technology which doesn't have the proven speed and accuracy of the traditional controller.  But when these new means of control are implemented in ways that take into account their limitations, they are truly inspiring.

How we interact is only part of this shift though.  Gaming has moved from dedicated consoles to our phones and other devices.  Can these really provide the same types of deep engrossing experiences that a console or even handheld console can provide?  The power is there.  The 3rd party support is there.  But it never quite reaches the level of play seen on a dedicated system.  The reason is all in planning, gaming on those devices is an after thought, like brick breaker on an old-cell phone.  Sure it works, you can spend time with it, and with a few select examples it works as well if not better than a console (PvZ).  But they never provide the deep experiences that can draw us into a whole new world, where you forget for a little while that you arn't in some magical far away land.

The same way a great book can transport you to far distant worlds you have never been, a great game can do the same.  Simply touching a screen is not enough to do this.  You don't feel like you have the kind of direct control that is offered in so many console games.  Anything where you play god (PvZ, Field Runners, etc) isn't going to be as affected by this disconnect because you expect your actions to be carried out on your behalf.  But when you are directly taking control of the character, these types of experiences feel off.  Additional control options are required to do so, and must be implemented from the start for that purpose.  This is why the new Sony Xperia should be one to watch.

Finally, we may be seeing the end of traditionally defined console generations.  Nintendo claimed that the direction of the Wii was not to compete with the 360 and PS3, "too many powerful dinosaurs" yadda yadda yadda.  When a system launches, early adaptors move first.  The games offered won't push too many boundaries of what the system can do, but will be markedly better ports than the other systems out.  As systems hit their stride with large libraries of quality games and developers grow more accustomed to the hardware and start producing real master-pieces, this is the time when the majority of consoles owners buy.  Finally in the autumn of a systems years, the hardware is pushed to the max and the system slowly disappears as it is overshadowed by the next generation.  What if system launches were staggered by a few years?  At every point I listed above, what if another system where at each of the other points?  Every system would retain dominance for a time, then full of proven games, and finally slowly overshadowed.  Perhaps this is a crazy idea.  Perhaps this idea could support two companies vying for our money, but three?

Certainly not when systems are abandoned before the launch of their successors.  For shame Nintendo.

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