We've come a long way since pannum et circences, you might say, but I beg to differ. Sure, pannum is no more bread or even brioche than ready made, mass produced, streamline packed, subliminally advertised junk of all sorts and circences is a far cry from slaves or convicts slain in an arena for fun, mostly because the arena is digital now, as are the gladiators and their likes. Nonetheless, it would seem that the pursuit for enlightment, knowledge and cold hard scientific fact has become rather unfashionable in the face of the most basic needs of simple nourishment and enterntainment.
Nothing wrong with that, really. Or perhaps we need a modern day Nero to burn this global Rome to the ground. I know I shouldn't be so lucky to turn to a pillar of salt.
So, gaming, then. Gaming, it appears, has become a major vertent of entertainment, today. Long gone are the days when an Atari 2600 was a kids toy and video games were merely novelties for the very young. It has becomme acceptable for adults to enjoy video games, and why not, when you think about the way games and their themes have grown to encompass just about all other aspects of entertainment.
I started gaming in the very early 90's, as a consequence of the dissemination of home gaming systems (I had a Sega Mega Drive for my birthday! Oh joy!), as opposed to the iconic arcades of the late 80's. Therefore, I have only a mild recollection of passing by arcades and wishing madly to go in and try out that dazzlingly wonderful world of flashing lights and beeping sounds that seemed so much fun from the outside, but, alas, no persons under 16 were ever admitted, and by the time I was 16 (and I had three home consoles under my belt), arcades were no more. Also, personal computers had grown to the point where they were afordable enough that just about every household had one sufficientely powerful to run games most arcade machines dared only dream of. And now, the market is veritably flooded with games and gaming systems, and I thought we'd take a look at the wide picture.
First of all, I'd like to make a remark on the evolution of games. My long gone Mega Drive (known as Genesis, across the pond) came with two standard gaming controllers. each had one (1) 8-way directional button and a grand total of three (3) buttons, plaus the start button, which was usually assigned to pausing the game, and, if it wasn't, odds were there was no option to pause the game (Hello, Mortal Kombat, who had the start button used to block, as punch, mid kick and high kick took up all of the other buttons, how do you do these days? How's the arthritis treating you?). Now, my X-Box 360 came with one standard controller with one 8-way directional button, two analogue thumbsticks, four action buttons, two shoulder (or bumper) buttons, two triggers, start feature button, back feature button and the iconic X-Box Dashboard button. You'd think that with this greatly enchanced range of controls (even more so when you think of combinations), games could offer a much wider range of complexity, but I just don't see that happening.In fact, it seems to me that game mechanics have become simpler than ever, but not "streamlines" simpler, rather "dumbed down" simpler. See, one game I used to love to bits was Jane's Fighters Anthology. Long before computer games came in ultra thin DVD cases (as some of you might remember, if Alzheimer's allows you to), they used to come in these shoeboxes you could fit nearly anything into. That was enough for a jewel case for the game disc, plenty of promotional material and a propper instruction manual, and Fighter's Anthology had a big one. Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw once complained that "The Witcher" came with an instruction manual "you could bludgeon goats to death with". Well, that's his opinion, I din't think it was all that large, but maybe that was because I had read all of Fighter Anthology instruction manual, and that wasn't stapled together, it was properly bound, like a book. It had a good half-inch thick spine, and it wasn't merely "press Ctrl to fire" (obviously), it was a comprehensive manual of flight physics, tactical maneouvers, dogfight strategies, flight patterns, weapons selection and stuff I can't even begin to remember (that was almost fifteen years ago, you know). Some of you, Yahtzee among them, I suppose, might shudder at the thought of a game needing a manual the size of a small Thesaurus, but bear two things in mind: first, you didn't need to memorize the whole thing, not by a long shot, to be able to play the game; and second, all the added content contributed immensely to the enjoiment of the game. All I'm trying to say is I miss chunky manuals. Refering players t online tutorials all the time seems to be today's trend, but I still like the thought of being put in command of my character or whatever my role is and to be expected to know the controls, rather than being condescendingly taught to press X not to die.
Another thing I'd like to talk about is the inordinate quantity of systems available for today's gamer. Step into any games store and you'll find a dozen sections. Often enough, this means developers have to make each game available to each system. Most any game you can buy today has a version for PC, X-Box 360, Wii (a silly name for a silly console, wouldn't you say?), Nintendo DS, Playstation 2 (it's still kicking, the old girl!), Playstation Portable (another odd concept, if you ask me, but I'll let it slide in face of it's performance) and Playstation 3. I suppose you can plainly understand the pressure on game makers not to ostracize any gamers and try to cover all their bases, but how do you think it reflects on the quality of games? This isn't to say that the quality of a game is inversely proportional to the number of platforms it can run on, but wouldn't you say that a game that is developped for a particular platform has the potential to be much better than another game which was made bearing in mind that each aspect has to be compatible with each of the platforms it's goimg to be run on? Frankly, I think that diminuishes a gamer's experience. If I had my way, everybody would realise that with tons of games comming out each year, genres would be sufficientely distributed across the plethora of platforms that if each game was developped for a single system, it really wouldn't be that much of a deal. or maybe we could go the other way around and decide that each console was best suited for a particular genre, and gamers would buy a console based on their preference of genre rather than agonize over specs, politics and predictions of what might come to pass in the gaming panorama. Wouldn't it be great if there was a console best suited for mindless FPS types, another for single minded racing game types and so on? It would certainly simplify things a lot. Or maybe we should all plainly discard the thought of consoles and focus on developping games for the PC.
On the subject of hurting the games industry, hello, there, Electronic Arts. Hopefully, you've realised by now how moronic ypu concept of renting games was when you created that presposterous arrangement for Spore. I can only hope the expansion pack doesn't excpand on that idea, even though I'm only scarcely considering it. But you thoughts on The Sims 3 are worthy of punishment by St. Catherine's wheel, followed by decapitation with a rusty spoon. Ostracising players who try to improve their own gaming experinece as well as others' by adding custom modified objects is not OK. Not even in the planes of Oblivion (now that was a great game. Not perfect, not by a long shot, but the potential was all there). Now I'm told that Command and Conquer 4 will have an online based player progression, and after I read up on it for a few minutes, I don't think that's a bad thing, but I can't help but wonder the way's You'll find to muck it all up.
On a lighter note, olly olly oxen free, Starcraft 2.
Pax vobiscum atque vale.
ArabianShark is not a hardcore gamer, but, surprisingly, neither are most game developers, I hear.