Hello everyone. I'm back after another long hiatus, brought on by that pesky "Real Life" stuff. This time, I'm coming at you with another multi-part article. In it, I want to discuss two concepts which should be near and dear to any gamer's heart:
In the past several weeks I've become hopelessly obsessed with these two concepts. I've thought about them so much, and contemplated how they fit (and how they don't fit) into my concepts of "Good Game Design", that I'm practically humming with nerdly thought-energy. I'm also itching to get as much feedback and as many opinions on the issue as I can. So please chime in with your thoughts, your experiences, and any anecdotes and stories which you can muster.
I was just thinking that gaming is the most sensual of all forms of all creative expressions save tribal dancing. It incorporates sight, sound, and touch. Tribal dancing and mystical ceremonies, of course, incorporates smell (burning torches, incense, etc.) and possibly taste (alcohol, herbs, feasts, delicacies, etc.) It seems to me that some interesting game ideas open up if you allow for taste and smell. How could game designers make games that utilized smell and taste?
Smell seems to be right around the corner. Consider The Scentscape. Imagine crawling through a dungeon and smelling the reassuring aroma of your burning torch. Imagine really being able to smell that famous "napalm in the morning," or the exotic flowers and plants in games like Riven. I don't imagine many people would want to smell rotting corpses, but I suppose that could be done, too, just to add to the horror. This could, of course, become part of the gameplay in adventures and such--an "aroma puzzle." Or it could heighten the feeling of immersion if you could smell a creature before you could see or hear it!
Sony's Playstation 3 was released as more than just a game console. Some may argue that it was released as everything BUT a game console. It was expensive, it played Blu-ray movies, and it didn't really have significant launch titles as far as I recall. It quickly became the victim of smack talk among the gaming community.
I bought my first HDTV in 2004. I was already a fan of home theater and had adequate 5.1 surround at the time. Blu-ray and HD-DVD hit the market, and it was time to jump on an HD format. I chose DVD over Divx many years prior - a no-brainer, honestly - and elected to go with Blu-ray for this next generation of media. I purchased the 60 GB PS3 - The SKU with the wincingly high price of $600. Some might have called it crazy, but for me it was a Playstation that had HDMI out, played Blu-ray discs, had backward compatibility with PS1/PS2 games, and ushered in Sony's next era of gaming at home.
It was a worthwhile investment... that lasted for about 3 1/2 years.
I love progress. I love seeing gaming hardware evolve. We love our games. We love good, solid gameplay. Every so often we love seeing a new gaming console hit the market. A new generation arrives, and we hop aboard.
The evolution of the hardware is sometimes expected, sometimes innovative, and sometimes shocking. WOW! Look what this baby can do! I have got to get my hands on one of these! New ideas breed new hardware. New games arrive. Gaming is revitalized. Developers get new ideas. People spend money.
People. Spend. Money. It is a cycle that is required. Eventually we hit a lull, and it is time for some new hardware to shake things up. People stand in line for new hardware for days. They are excited about spending their money on new hardware. It might be terribly expensive, but who cares!? It is the latest and greatest! Well... OK. Maybe it is the latest, but it isn't the greatest. Hardware developers are biting off more than they can chew, and early adopters PAY for it - literally. They pay with their pockets - possibly twice per console.
For several years now I've had a theory percolating that seems to have borne itself out one too many times not to now instead be considered a fact--videogame players will not support anything financially en masse outside of an actual videogame. What do I mean by this? Well, TWiT.TV's newest show, Game On!, is just the latest in a series of examples of videogame players failing to support something that on the surface should have been right in their wheelhouse. Game On! was slickly produced, had an attractive, personable and knowledge hostess in Veronica Belmont, and a similarly competent, over-the-top co-host in Brian Brushwood. Several days back, TWiT poobah and host extraordinaire, Leo Laporte, declared that the show's initial 12 episode run (it actually came to 13 official shows, counting the final episode, plus some test pilots) would be its one and only due to being too expensive to produce (it was easily the most elaborate TWiT production) and not gaining enough traction quickly enough. According to Laporte, without at least 50,000 regular genuinely engaged viewers/listeners, no one in the videogame industry would even consider advertising, making it financially prohibitive to keep running.
Now, I won't blame all of Game On!'s failings on the audience--after all, it was very me too and stereotypical on many levels, with fast cuts, silly skits, and loud noises seemingly targeted to the dated idea of the ADD teen hipster gamer, but in Laporte and crew's defense, he claims a previous attempt at a more thoughtful videogame show that also failed, arguably even more spectacularly (I never saw it/listened to it, but I'll take Laporte's word for it). Now, obviously, being one of the co-founders of Armchair Arcade and considering my own body of work, it's pretty clear which side of the fence my interests fall, but it may be a simple fact that no matter what your approach--crazy, intellectual, pandering, going-your-own-way, etc., it's never destined for anything more than niche success. It's great to carve out that niche, but when you try to go "big," the end result is the same--failure.
I often wondered why it was so darned hard to get a mainstream publisher interested in a videogame book. It took me years to really understand why--while you can usually be guaranteed several thousand sales of a good videogame book, that's nothing in comparison to other books on technical topics that can easily sell double or triple that amount. The economics just don't work out (in solidarity, most bookstores that still exist got rid of their videogame book sections long ago). Same thing with us lamenting the change in original vision of both G4 and TechTV, for example, in merging into the monstrosity that is now simply G4 and has only the slightest hint of videogame or technology coverage, instead featuring generic content targeted solely at a similarly generic 18-34 male demographic that is sadly far more valuable to advertisers. If gamers really supported these networks at even 25% of the levels they support the latest, hottest videogame, we'd still have the pure content ideals we all seem to crave. The fact is, not enough of us support these things with our eyeballs, ears, and pocketbooks to make a difference, and I'm not sure if the truly collective we - which based on the latest industry sales figures is a theoretically monumental force to be reckoned with - ever will.
(Spoilers ahead). Let me start off by saying I only finished Mass Effect 3 last night, having read no reviews or anything before or during gameplay. Afterward, I posted about it on Facebook, and in the comments became aware of the so-called "universal outrage" over the way the game ended. After some quick reading about Why Mass Effect 3's Ending Was So Terrible, I became enraged about the outrage. This all culminated in the following ejaculation: GROW UP, GAMERS. Every friggin' game can't end with the Ewok cuddle patrol dancing and chanting "You sure are special, kid!".
Just to sum up for folks who aren't interested in experiencing the "moment" for themselves, the main character (Shepherd) ends the game with a very tough decision.
My, how plans change. I was all but dead set on waiting for Windows 8 to come out and then getting a new kick butt PC, but the more the Windows 8 story has publicly evolved, the more I realize that that's probably not a direction I want to go. This led me to go on a search for a new PC now, one that I've decided may end up lasting me until it no longer makes sense to have the type of PC we traditionally consider "killer." Let me explain why I think this is an inevitability...
After checking out the latest, typically profound Stuff No One Told Me comic, The weight of things, it got me thinking yet again about my own life and habits, and in particular an area that relates to Armchair Arcade's mission, which is primarily to chronicle the complete history of videogames and computers. As a co-founder of Armchair Arcade, I've obviously been a part of shaping said mission, which is no surprise as it's clearly a reflection of my own life. As I used to like to say, I have three basic loves in my life: family, working out, and of course, technology, with a big focus on videogames and computers.
As you probably know by now, I have a ridiculously large videogame and computer collection--more stuff than can be appreciated in one lifetime, stuff I've been accumulating for the better part of my 39 years on this planet in one way or another. It is in that particular area that that comic speaks most to me, as, as much as my collection brings me joy, it also feels like the beast I must constantly tend to, and, most sad of all, constantly feed, with little time available to stop and smell the actual "roses," which is usage of the very items that elicit the warm and fuzzies in me, both in recollections of positive childhood memories (again, as in the comic) and to satisfy my present desires.
I think as much as we'd like to think otherwise, I do believe we can have all of the same feelings of "weight" about digital goods, i.e., items that only exist as bits of information stored somewhere other than a physical medium we retain all rights to, like a record, cassette, disk, optical disc, etc. Again, there's a certain burden of guilt of lack of usage because there's simply not enough hours in the day. It's part of the reason why I avoid any and all MMORPGs--not for fear of addiction, but rather for fear of not being able to put time into it to make it worth the effort. "First world problems" as they say...
Naturally, abundance in that area also breeds indifference. I always like to use MAME as an example. It's something we would have practically murdered for as kids in the 1980s, but shortly after gaining the ability to replicate literally thousands of arcade games in the late 1990s, we as a whole became somewhat indifferent to the idea. It's there, it's free, it's accessible, it's everything we hoped for, but the "chase" is over. The dream has been realized and it's overwhelming. In other words, it's all in our possession without barriers and it somehow became far less special than when we had to plunk down .25 or more per play. In fact, digital subscriptions like Netflix and OnLive can feel like that too, where we can somehow complain about the lack of selection despite hundreds or even thousands of possible on demand selections that we couldn't possibly have the time to explore even a portion of.
So, can I rid myself of my possessions like in the comic and set myself free? Although I've fantasized about it, probably not. I don't think most of us could or ultimately would want to. You'd have to be at a very specific point in your life with very specific responsibilities. I guess all I - all we - can do is acknowledge the problem, try to keep it under control, and for goodness sake, try and really enjoy this trip through life a bit more. To put it another way, think about and smell those "roses" now and again, whatever form they may take...
They say hindsight is 20/20. (Actually, I think it's more like 10/40, but what can you do?) So, if you found yourself suddenly zapped back to the dawn of the videogame era, what choices would you make? Which systems would you rather have had? And what impact do you think these changes would make on your personality today?
Of course, most of us back then could only afford to support one, maybe two systems (assuming one was older). It would have been nice to have enough money and time to have all of them.
Now that I'm older and hopefully wiser, I've put together a list of the systems I wish I had had, and roughly when. I'd very much like to hear your thoughts and see your lists.
1977-1982: Apple II. There's really no doubt about the importance of this system during this period (and beyond), but it saw the birth of countless genres and franchises. Ideally, I would have been able to expand and keep this system after getting a new computer, since it was still seeing important exclusives well into the 80s, especially the Ultima games and Sierra On-Line adventures.
My second choice for this period would be the Atari 2600, a very capable games console with a respectable lineup and of course immense popularity.
For those who didn't catch it, those bizarre rumors of Nintendo releasing an analog joystick add-on for the 3DS are true. What's bizarre about this $20 add-on - besides how quickly this will be released after launch - is that it will require a AAA battery. Some are speculating that this is for some type of rumble feature - something Nintendo has tried a few times before on their handhelds and never supported beyond a few games here and there - but it could simply be because of the way the expansion clips in and is utilized that may it require a power assist. This of course does nothing to help the 3DS's anemic battery life, so why Nintendo didn't address the REAL issue here (hint: it wasn't the lack of a second analog stick) and make it a combination rechargeable battery slice and analog stick combo is beyond me, but then Nintendo has not been making much sense in the past year anyway, be it the anemic Wii game release schedule or the seemingly panicked series of "corrective" responses to a tepid 3DS launch.
Frankly, Nintendo doing a HUGE price drop for the 3DS shortly after launch spurred sales enough where you think they wouldn't have to do this analog stick thing (which, by the way, adds another set of shoulder buttons!), but these days there's no telling what's going on behind the scenes over there at Nintendo HQ. Perhaps Nintendo has projected that the sales boost won't be sustained, or perhaps they're somehow fearful of the wide 2012 release of Sony's Vita, but I really doubt either scenario. While I've gone on record stating that I believe this is the last sustainable generation for a dedicated mainstream gaming handheld in the light of already good enough smartphone and tablet gaming (which will quickly get ever more powerful due to the amazing amount of competition in those spaces, outpacing anything possible in dedicated gaming handhelds), there is still this generation to keep the proverbial good times rolling at least somewhat like they were before the iPhone kicked off the smartphone craze and threw a monkey wrench into the whole portable gaming thing.
Naturally this analog stick add-on kind of minimizes Nintendo's other announcement of 3D video recording with the 3DS, which is rather neat, but it will probably be more of a novelty than anything particularly useful anyway given the handheld's inherent power. There was also the usual announcement of additional entries in their popular franchises, which of course Nintendo has been leaning on almost exclusively of late.
Oh, and one more thing... If anyone thinks for a minute that this analog stick add-on doesn't mean that a combined 3DS hardware revision isn't coming sooner rather than later, then I guess you probably also think that Nintendo is fully in control behind the scenes these days...