Gaming Like A Sir: 2013 Is A Year To Get Excited About (And Maybe A Little Sad)
2013 is a supernova. Glorious, resplendent and immeasurably beautiful. Also it’s a dying star.
I ain’t gonna lie, this is not a column friendly to the uninformed. I want to have a discussion. I want to discuss the industry, the glorious interactive arts, and I’m going to assume that all of you know your gaming history a bit. It makes for a more intelligent debate, a deeper exploration of the issues and frankly, without making a challenge or starting a dick measuring contest – we all know our industry much better than we admit.
It’s cool, I understand – you want to get laid so you tone it down a little. You pretend that you don’t intimately know every single reason why Mass Effect 2 ruined the franchise, why Mirror’s Edge needs a sequel so badly it hurts to think about, or why Arkham City is so much more than just a Batman game. I lived in isolation for many years. I lived on farms, moved all over the country and only settled much later. It meant something strange about my upbringing – I thought everything I liked and how much I liked it wasn’t socially acceptable. Sadly it was the truth then. Happily, very fist-pumpingly, pelvis-thrustingly happily, it is not the truth now. Now we accept each other much more. Unfortunately, those same feelings of wanting to hide the hardcore are still strong. This is my way of working on that.
I know… I know…
It’s not like this is going to be all obscure references, just maybe catch up on the last thirty years of human culture – in case you missed something.
This generation is nearly over, and there are some sexy things on the horizon, but it will not let go without a final pièce de résistance. Translated, shit is going to be craycray. It will be magnificent in its final days. The most polished, refined and complete games always release at the end of a console cycle. And for obvious reasons, developers know their shit now. They’re experienced and they have huge stores of work from previous games running on the same hardware to leech and learn from.
The result of this comfortable relationship is that games become more ambitious, but less innovative. Developers know what works and now they want to do as much of it as possible. Give a quick wave to Mass Effect 3, Diablo III, Assassin’s Creed 3, Dead Space 2, Sleeping Dogs and Borderlands 2. All recent examples and chosen quite deliberately. These games are all excellent, and they’re all disappointing at the same time. Except maybe Borderlands 2, which is just so great. There is very little surprising in these games. Almost nothing innovative. There is only evolution, refinement and careful artistry. The focus is on how much they can cram in, how interesting it can be made, and how many different things can fit together.
If released at the beginning of the console generation, they would have been overwhelming. Even though these games do everything we would have wanted just a few years ago. Even though there is so much that is right. Now we play and can’t help feel, at least in some areas, some disappointment.
I’m not excusing some of the genuine idiocy on the part of the developers, but I am saying that for what it’s worth – we are far harder to please than we used to be. This is a good thing, it forces excellence and demands innovation. We press ever onward and march ever forward. We expect ever more and so we accomplish greater and more magnificent things.
It’s called progressive. And it’s what makes humanity great.
But what happens when we don’t make progress? Or if our progress slows down? My personal prediction, not that its a difficult one to make, is that the new console generation is going to be woefully underwhelming. Enthralling maybe, but devoid of that child-like wonder that I felt when I first saw Gears of War, or Mass Effect, or Modern Warfare, or BioShock, or Oblivion. I will be impressed, for sure, but not shocked.
I hope I’m wrong, but here’s why I’m not.
I have only lived through one console generation. It’s a strange thought.
Of course I had a GameBoy, and I had a Sega Genesis but I was a young kid back then. I didn’t play games for the story, or the graphics or the level design, or the gameplay even. I played them because they were the most fun I knew how to have by myself with my pants on.
I slowly shifted to the more hardcore side of gaming from PC games like StarCraft and Age of Empires. Fundamentally though, I only became a serious gamer when I got my PS2. That was the first time I ever played games that weren’t strategy games or kids games. I played God of War, Mortal Kombat, Ratchet and Clank, Crash Bandicoot, SSX Tricky. These are the games which began my lifelong love affair with gaming. Throughout my PS2 gaming, I slowly upgraded my PC and began to play more and more on it.
Then I bought a gaming PC, a real one. One that growls at lesser computers making them spray terrified battery fluid everywhere. So I caught up on the greatest that PC gaming had to offer. All the classics and all the new stuff. It was my first taste of the HD world. The current generation. It was a huge leap, at least a far more obvious one. Everything was exciting and utterly unexplored. This happened in 2007, six years ago.
2007 was, is and will ever be the year gaming changed. In 2007 we got BioShock, Modern Warfare, Crysis, Peggle, God of War 2, Halo 3, Mass Effect and the Orange Box, just to name a few. Seriously, 2007 was bananas, without their pajamas, on meth. It also did something strange, it showed us the true meaning of graphical beauty.
The industry didn’t know what the hell to do and so it tried everything. From Crysis to BioShock to Peggle. And errrverything in between. As people realised that we had gaming systems powerful enough to create objectively beautiful worlds, graphics became secondary. Have you noticed how few of the games in the post 2007 world used graphics as a selling point? All of them? Yes, I know every game will push how it looks as a plus but I mean how many games used the way they look as a primary draw for gamers. Some maybe, but I argue that even then they had to do more to get recognised. Who is to say Crysis looked better than any game I’ve named? The world of gaming had turned away from the frantic rush toward visual fidelity and onto the mesmerising and truly beautiful artistic side of things.
It was an important moment. We decided graphical horsepower comes second to artistic brilliance.
That’s what happened. So what happens now? Well, innovation. The new console generation will usher in an age of innovation above refinement. New and unstable above tested and reliable. We get new IPs and developers take more chances. Maybe even a Mirror’s Edge 2.
But we also lose something in the process. We lose the completeness of our current games. We lose the certainty and the scope. Now we try new things and wait for the refinements to come that will make the game truly great.
Crysis 3 or Dead Space 3 or BioShock Infinite would not be better games if they ran on much more powerful hardware. Whatever Cyberpunk 2077 ends up looking like, in a world where the Witcher 2 exists it’s going to take a lot before my jaw drops.
I am glad the new consoles will usher in some innovation. We lack new triple A IPs and we could use some more risky games from developers.
That said, I think and hope that the new consoles do not revolutionise. I hope they refine.