Oh no, he's gone off on one again (call the medic!)

· by Steve · Read in about 6 min · (1127 Words)

Caution - proceeding beyond this point may expose you to dangerous levels of opinionated ranting.

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us…”

It’s funny how this famous opening paragraph (from Dickens' ‘A Tale of Two Cities’, you philistine 😉 makes me think of the modern games industry on the cusp of the next-gen (soon to be current-gen) consoles. I’m a 30-something former hardcore gamer with decades (count ‘em) of experience across platforms uncounted. I’m now an occasional gamer, picking up the odd game here and there where they grab my attention. I still have an enthusiasm for games and game technology even though I indulge it less. I only read one games magazine anymore, namely Edge since it actually contains interesting discussion on the subject of games, unlike most others, which have more often than not descended into hormone-soaked juvenile fanboyism.

And yet I find myself staring at hoards of games cluttering the shelves, and just thinking ‘seen it’, ‘done it’, ‘seen AND done it, about fifty times’. I’m just not inspired by 99% of what I see on the shelves. I’m totally unmoved by the over-excitable claims that you can see John Madden’s arm hair in the latest version, or that in the latest Project Gotham Racing your cars will be even more impossibly shiny, and that when you drive over a sewer grate it will go ‘clank’. Give it up already - I’ve done all of this before. Too many times. I don’t care that it’s even shinier this time, it’s the same damn game anyway. What, do you think I can’t tell? That I’ll be too busy watching those accurately physically modelled female body parts that I won’t notice? Answer me this: when will I get to do something new?

And I realise this is the core reason I don’t play many games anymore. It’s not so much that I don’t have the time - if I really wanted to I could adjust my schedule. But when there’s a choice between doing something new and interesting (e.g. coding something and working toward new and interesting goals) and basically repeating what I’ve already done several times in my gaming life (just with new images) - there really isn’t a contest. The occasional game I do play is either because it’s special enough to catch my eye, or it’s just to ‘keep my hand in’ so I can still call myself a gamer, or perhaps even as a sense of duty to the medium I used to love.

Take the PSP. I can’t believe the level of hype and overstatement I’m seeing in reviews of this console since it’s UK release last week. Reviewers claiming that it’s the most important thing to happen to gaming in recent years. I have one word for this - b*ll*cks. Yes, the PSP is a very nice little piece of hardware. Yes, it’s a great technical achievement. Yes, it’s very, VERY shiny. But stop stroking it for a minute and take a hard look at the games; doesn’t anyone else feel like they’re re-playing exactly the same PS2 games, just staring at their lap instead of straight ahead? It’s absolutely not revolutionary - it’s just a great job of miniaturisation and exploitation of current tech. As a game machine though, it’s the same controls, same games, same everything. Fundamentally as a game experience it changes absolutely nothing, and once again repeats the industry standard of dressing up the exact same thing as last year in a new set of clothing.

The DS is a bit different and offers at least some ray of hope. It’s not as shiny or good looking, but it does actually do something different. The interface method in particular actually makes me sit up and take notice - I can play a kind of game I haven’t played before. That’s what as a gamer I’m looking for - new experiences, not old ones with more glitter and spray paint. I’m hoping that the fabled controller for the Revolution might show some similar level of innovation and give me something new to try.

Anyway, this isn’t meant to be a DS vs PSP rant. It’s more fundamental than that - in a way, they are just a representation of the greater dichotomy in what the industry says it’s doing and what it actually does. Most money these days is pouring into the faster-shinier-but-strangely-familiar projects, mainly because today’s hardcore gamers are lapping it up like sheep at a drinking trough. Those gamers over 30 though - what do they get? Mostly boredom at the number of reruns and nostalgia of the time when games brought something new to the table. Yes, I’m quite aware that an awful lot of old games suck when played today, that’s not the point. The point is that in their time, they were frequently experimenting with new ideas (and for a second, lets just forget about the nightmare years of Ocean turning out crap licenses by the bucketload, even though EA seems to have taken on that role now). That experimentation was incredibly valuable. Let the ‘kids’ evangelise over the next gen consoles as much as they like, to me they’re just crushing the remaining life the game industry had by mandating yet more formulaic and repetetive (but good looking) titles due to the enormous sums of money involved.

What triggered this spleen venting? I’ve voiced my opinion on this before, it’s true. Well, I recently read the second part of Greg Costikyan’s article on The Escapist (first part second part) and it fired me up again. I can’t agree more with what he’s saying. My only beef is with his opinion of middleware (that you often have to rewrite large chunks because they don’t suit your project). I think that’s true when using a fully pre-built engine with in-build genre assumptions, but OGRE was built specifically to do away with those kinds of assumptions. So it’s really a case of picking the right middleware.

I really hope that an intermediary such as the one he’s describing in the second part of the article comes about. It could very well turn the industry around for people like me (and I can’t help thinking that we’re in a growing majority). If so, I look forward to OGRE (and Kadath) being part of the toolset that underpins the new breed of games.