Gaming History 101

Know Your Roots

Opinion: The State of Games

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Normally we focus on retro here at Gaming History 101, but I don’t think it’s ideal or responsible to ignore the present either.  Despite the handful of modern reviews and the potential plan to re-introduce the Gaming History X podcast, I still think the strength of our site is to remain retro focused.  I still get psyched waiting for E3, seeing the new hardware and software on the market, and reflecting on things to come.  Right now is a weird time for console gaming.  The PC trumps the consoles yet again but I feel this time around there was never a loss of momentum for the complicated pseudo console that has been the PC and from the time of the PS4 and XB1’s release that gap has only grown wider.  Meanwhile Nintendo is this awkward dichotomy of complete control over the handheld market and a niche presence on consoles and some disturbing trends that are exploiting retro fans are emerging.  When you suddenly see the cooperative gaming development, media, and zeitgeist all get together and remember the games of the past to provoke interest, those of us that never forgot may be tempted to get a bit elitist and a bit resentful.  I personally took issue with the concepts of Gex suddenly entering the world of big press podcasts, the fact that IGN is desperately seeking to keep hold of its massive audience while juggling the departure of major talent and the lack of regular game releases of note, and don’t get me started on the people that just plain like to generate revenue on playing emulated games completely without context and making fart jokes over them.  Then I realized I have no reason to care.  Let everyone do what they want to do, besides I’ve always conceded that retro content is something to be shared and not competed against.  Just as there will be indies who give content away for free to the enjoyment of all, there will also be businesses attempting to make a quick buck off of it.  Since we here at Gaming History 101 have no ads, no income, and are not a business, we are in the unique position to have, literally, nothing to lose.  With that in mind I would like to take our retro context and take a look at the state of gaming – consoles, PCs, handheld, mobile, and potentially VR – and give a quick oversight as we approach the 90 day mark to E3.

Gaming on a Macro Level

Last generation (360/PS3/Wii) was fantastic, far more than I think most of us realize.  In a decade we will look back on that generation and potentially find it as influential, if not moreso, than the jump from 8-bit to 16-bit.  That generation ushered in HD graphics, online communities as a commonplace activity, dabbling in unknown markets like 3D displays and motion controls, and lets not forget the largest franchises that even today attempt to make sequels and most suffering dearly for doing so.  It gave us BioshockUnchartedGears of WarMass Effect, and about a thousand other games that couldn’t make this short list and I think I can safely say that we haven’t seen anything like that yet on this current generation.  In fact, most of what we’ve seen this generation has begun to look a lot like last generation thanks to the glut of remakes and remasters that have continued to come out and get announced with no end in sight.  I think it’s safe to say we rushed into the next console generation because the gaming audience – that’s us, the gamers, and not the media, development studios, or manufacturers – forced it upon the industry because we weren’t comfortable with the last generation lingering so long.  Gamers were so eager to move on that many of them completely sold off last gen’s collections consisting of literally a lifetime of top notch content, most of which can be found on used game store shelves for a few dollars, that not only shadowed the garbage that made its way to release but blows away the games of the last two years on PS4, XB1, and Wii U.  Even worse, gamers had no idea what they wanted out of these new consoles except for the nebulous term of “new”.  New gameplay, new design, bold and crisp new graphics, oh and of course new games.

ryseSorry to say, it hasn’t happened.  I commend Ryse and The Order 1886 for providing some of the most stunning visuals I’ve ever seen and making good on the hype videos from E3 2013 more efficiently than the half decade we waited for Killzone 2 last generation and it still didn’t hit that initial video’s fidelity.  I also must admit to being completely psyched on the rote Watch Dogs for not only having amazing graphics in the reveal at E3 2012 but also seeming to usher in this generation single-handed.  Unfortunately, if you’ve played these games, you know that the experiences they provide are not at the level that their visuals and concepts suggest.  Even titles like Far Cry 4, Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor, and inFamous: Last Light, while great titles, offer nothing new to the gaming landscape and have been rightfully criticized for being nothing new.  Hell, even Assassin’s Creed Unity failed to deliver after the fantastic Black Flag.  Sure the Wii U has delivered quite strongly in recent years with the excellent Mario Kart 8Super Mario 3D World, and Bayonetta 2, but just like their peers these games offer nothing new and are mere re-hashes of old concepts.  It forces gamers to look back at a better time, at better games, and memories of experiences forgotten from the last gen.  Additionally the more popular console changed manufacturers with the Xbox 360 owning the hearts and minds of last generation and it has since been replaced with the Playstation 4 as the go-to console, leaving many former 360 owners completely unfamiliar with the worlds of UnchartedKillzone, and God of War.  Enter the remake/remaster to the rescue.

gow3remastWhat we will remember this generation for is the overuse of the re-release with slightly improved fidelity, at least early on, in the form of the remaster.  Some are more justified like Grand Theft Auto V or Legend of Zelda: Windwaker that genuinely improves graphics, gameplay, and brings a game no longer compatible to the forefront.  This is something that is needed for the first time with this generation being almost completely incompatible with former consoles (save for the poor Wii functionality in the Wii U).  PS4 cannot play PS3 games, which for the first time ever would have been a fantastic addition.  The XB1 isn’t backwards compatible, but the 360 wasted that function on a library almost forgotten from the original Xbox.  Sony, dropping the PS2 compatibility two years into the PS3, was forced to find a creative way to make those classic franchises it was releasing consoles for relevant again in the form of HD remakes.  There’s no denying that compared to 480i and sometimes 480p resolution on the PS2 that bringing up the framerate and graphical resolution to 720p/1080p on those PS2 titles was a welcome coat of paint, especially when you are getting the entire series in one disc for $40.  I will always push people to pick up the Sly Cooper CollectionTeam Ico Collection, and God of War collection, especially since they are around $20 and offer 30-50 hours of gameplay each now in high definition.  That’s a far cry from purchasing The Last of Us Remastered for $50 to replay a single game that hadn’t been out for a year, especially with a slight jump from 720p to 1080p and a welcome but unnecessary jump to 60 fps from 30.  Nowadays it seems like these remasters are releasing at a faster pace than the originals and often they are being done on games that never needed that treatment anyway, like The Last of Us, God of War III, Halo 3 and 4, and the rumors of Gears of War and Uncharted getting collections as well.  These games already are the best looking games on last gen, there’s no need to improve them and I have no desire to re-purchase them.  Still, many gamers that abandoned their consoles for less than $100 and sold back those stellar games for pennies on the dollar did so and without anything new to buy they shell out $60 on buying them again with lazily increased resolution.  I mean the top game of last month was Majora’s Mask, a near failure on the N64, brought back out on the 3DS.  We are desperate and we are being exploited.  I hope we see some stellar surprises at E3 because this remaster trend isn’t funny anymore, it’s making me not want to play my consoles.

Where the Console Manufacturer Is

wiiuVSps3The first out of the gate this generation was Nintendo, so lets start there.  Nintendo is in a unique but scrambling position as it attempts to balance the most overlooked handheld market so far, mobile, and attempts to recapture the lost progress on the handheld market with the 3DS while also trying to remind everyone the Wii U exists.  I think it’s time to officially declare the Wii U a Gamecube with its overuse of unpopular games (good and bad), one or two strong first party releases, and inability to compete with its peers.  The tablet is a waste money and an accessory that even Nintendo can’t figure out how to use but are too deep into the console cycle to remove it.  Third parties that came with outstretched arms and released special versions of games abandoned the console after they failed to move even a fraction of the copies celebrated on other consoles.  Nintendo’s own games are suffering consistent delays as it “struggles to develop for high definition” and despite most of the first party releases being fantastic iterations, their value is based solely on your interest in the likes of Mario KartSmash Bros., and Pikmin.  On the 3DS front it’s a much better picture with the New 3DS being purchased in droves despite its lack of enough features for me to justify the purchase from my 3DS XL, but as we’ve seen already in this article the need for new hardware has driven many gamers to buy it.  Monster Hunter 4 has had the biggest US release ever, Majora’s Mask is being played by almost everyone who vowed not to, and people are whipping out the 3DS on a regular basis.  On the flip side the actual Nintendo aisle at any big box retailer is a battlefield with parents trying to figure out the difference between “Wii”, “Wii U”, “3DS”, “2DS” and “New 3DS” all while staff and customers alike try to figure out what’s compatible with what.  Couple that with the largest “me too” in history that is the Amiibo, a series of Nintendo figures that sell for $12.99 and do basically nothing, but because a handful of them are hard to find get picked over by man-children such as myself to be put on a shelf and forgotten for all time or re-sold on eBay in the most pathetic of modern day trends.  That plus the mobile initiative, which will provide a Mario branded endless runner that I feel isn’t a bad thing but I won’t be joining in on, and to my shock also bolsters interest in the upcoming Project NX, a new console Nintendo plans to announce in 2016.  In short, I don’t understand how any of it is working but it appears brand equity blows away common sense.

playstationSony came next so I will now pick on the terrible way it is wasting the sales lead this generation.  With more than 20 million PS4s sold worldwide Sony clearly found the perfect spot between price and hardware.  There’s no denying the PS4 outperforms the XB1 in almost every release and for $400 performs like a gaming PC twice the price.  Sony abandoned any forward thinking by relying on classic disc-based requirements to play the games even though all games are installed immediately and completely unnecessary, but it was all implemented so that the sacred rental and resale market could stay afloat.  Unfortunately many games without Internet connections are nearly unplayable, everything seems reliant on being constantly online, and some updates take so long to download that a single day rental may not be long enough to download the patch for the game, let alone play it.  Resale, rental, and trading games may be more valuable if it weren’t for the fact that almost every Sony exclusive can be beaten in under 10 hours not to mention the fact that at this point we’re getting about two exclusives per year.  First party has also had some disasters with Drive Club not only being criticized as a gorgeous, but lacking gameplay title (along with so many others), but also not working for weeks after release.  There was even to be an advertised Playstation Plus version that has failed to emerge and appears to be something Sony hopes to sweep under the rug.  The PS4 does have some strength thanks to third parties, with the lead version of most console games rightfully being on Sony’s platform and I would argue few PS4 owners feel like there’s nothing to play, just nothing new.  On the PS Plus side it’s been a decent run of games knocking it out of the park but many of the aforementioned 360-to-PS4 and PS3-to-PS4 customers that abandoned last gen understandably want to know when the PS4 games are coming.  Sony’s push for indie has been mostly reflected on smaller, lower budget titles being part of the PS4 Plus campaign and there’s a vocal group that want to see launch titles like Knack and Killzone: Shadow Fall make the jump to free.  This is a problem that the Plus program introduced and I fear that these games will remain unpurchased and unplayed by stubborn gamers who refuse to purchase games on the basis that it will eventually go free.  That said, the Plus program when properly appreciated as a source of suggested free content – much like Netflix Instant – can be ideal for gamers on a budget that always want something to play but don’t always have money to shell out.  On the handheld side the Vita still exists and has a recent push of Japanese titles I never expected to hit the West alongside a strong indie title offering that is almost always free on Plus, but if the Vita is supposed to be an active product it doesn’t look like Sony acknowledges that much.

forzahor2Microsoft is the variable in this whole fictional “console war” that keeps things interesting.  After the apparent hubris and subsequent fallout of the Xbox One’s launch, all current campaigns on the Xbox One seem promising.  Phil Spencer, now head of Xbox, seems to be batting a thousand with his release schedules, programs, exclusives, and attempts to fight sales giant PS4 head-on.  The $350 price drop, throwing away the Kinect, endless bundles, strong first party offering, and Games for Gold program all offer an astounding argument over Sony’s apparent package, but perception and brute strength are still clear winners and you can see why.  Still, for the price the Xbox One is an incredible deal and game for game there’s no denying the Forza Horizon 2Sunset Overdrive, and Titanfall are all excellent games that blow away Sony’s 2014 offering.  On the other hand, the Master Chief Collection that promised online multiplayer, upscaled graphics, and smooth 60 frames per second on the entire 4 game run of the main Halo series looked like a steal at $60 but technical difficulties and my own personal issues with the make good tarnish what is Microsoft’s largest brand.  There is no way Halo 5 can release delayed or with any problems otherwise Microsoft’s strongest franchise is also the quickest to be forgotten.  It also appears with the sales of Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare and Destiny that non-exclusive shooters remain an Xbox staple despite the pathetic party system that apparently forgot the stellar architecture of the 360’s online component.  Xbox One also struggles to keep up with the PS4 on a hardware level with the resolution and sometimes framerate being dropped on almost every third party non-exclusive, but hopefully Direct X 12’s promise of more graphical optimization can come to the rescue.  As for the Games with Gold initiative that is trying to compete with Sony’s solid PS Plus program, Microsoft’s strong focus on a single console allows the freebies on Games for Gold to be a bit more enticing, especially with full games like Rayman Legends recently joining the club.  Couple that with the optional EA Access program that for $30/year will give you almost the entire EA library on the Xbox One and there’s no lack of full high budget games to play on the cheap for Microsoft’s console.  It’s not the most popular, but it’s quite the value conscious console and at this point the home of your better exclusives.

PC-Gaming-Master-Race

PC, while it is a viable platform, has less to do with direction because it’s the wild wild west.  Unlike consoles, there’s no centralized manufacturing, no license to deal with, and frankly no consistency.  One major concern thus far is Steam.  Yep, that’s right, I’m the big bad guy who says Steam is a cause for concern.  It’s got somewhat of a monopoly in the virtual sales world because it’s the most robust and user friendly of the online stores.  There’s UPlay, Origin, Windows (Games for Windows may be dead but you watch games return in Windows 10), disc-based media, and digital platforms like Desura, Green Man Gaming, Amazon, and Good Old Games, all of which sometimes offer Steam codes but make more profit and prefer to sell you the games as a direct download themselves.  Most people I speak with that do PC gaming hate or completely avoid the likes of anyone but Steam – one guy even purchased Far Cry 3 on console because he refused to use UPlay as his client or UPlay integrated with Steam.  This is a problem because although Valve has done incredible things for the PC market and while I genuinely believe it has the best interest of gamers in mind, no monopoly should ever exist.  If Gabe Newell were to disappear today and a new CEO take over, there’s no telling what they could (not would, could) that instantly turns your favorite games platform into your most hated.  PC needs to be careful because it’s almost solely run by gamers and I have to sadly admit that the general populous is not as strong as a centralized leadership being kept in line by competition.

Where to Go From Here

3dsNintendo probably just needs to keep on going.  It has dug into a hole so deep with the Wii U that a new console seems like the only option but if I was smart enough to know what the right change is I would work for Nintendo R&D and not just run a retro fan blog.  The New 3DS/3DS is working, stay the course, Nintendo always knows what to do on handhelds and if they stumble they always recover.  I think the mobile option, while not anything a core gamer wants, will be a good way to get the brand out there and try new things.  The NX reveal will define that, otherwise there’s a strong library on the Wii U provided you are the right audience and you should know by now if it’s for you or not and I personally don’t think the new Zelda game will have any effect on that opinion.

morphSony needs to get its head out of its ass and start getting strong games on the console.  It got bogged down last generation with fun new technology and accessories that gave us failures like 3D displays and motion controls – for the record neither of these aspects on the Wii or 3DS account for those consoles’ popularity – and just focus on strong games.  Morpheus, while totally awesome in tech demos, is a subdivision or 32x concept that needs to be more a hobby than a strategy.  Sony opened the PS4 generation by stating that the bells and whistles on the console are limited because its main focus was on games.  Prove it, because that’s the only thing I haven’t seen a strong showing from Sony on.  With Uncharted being delayed into 2016, the announced exclusives for the year out, and my complete lack of interest for the God of War III Remastered and rumored Uncharted Collection, I need a good reason to care about my PS4 because I don’t right now.  I have a PC, my non-exclusives have another home that can do it better, sell me on what I can’t get: Sony properties.  Also please do something about the Vita, I need more games and my interest in ports is running thin.

xb1Microsoft needs to own the value it brings to the XB1, which to this point it seems to be doing.  Microsoft can afford to take risks, make crazy games, and even lose some money gaining player base.  Windows 10 integration will be a good thing and potentially Direct X 12 could solve the graphical comparison problem, I just hope that Microsoft is smart enough to not port over all its games to PC and remove the need for the console altogether.  The exclusives already on the books later this year, like Rise of the Tomb Raider, assuming it doesn’t get delayed, can give Sony a run for its money come holiday season.  Couple that with the bombshell that is Halo 5, possibly Crackdown 3, presumably Forza 6, and while I don’t think it’ll come out this year Quantum Break are a slew of high budget exclusive titles that can continue to force Sony to put up or shut up.  Sure, right now PS4 owners can hide behind visuals, but like the PS3 eventually the games themselves start to take over the competition.  With a lineup like that in 2015 I can’t see why you’d rather have a PS4 unless of course Sony does what it needs to and pulls some punches around E3.  Needless to say, of all the console manufacturers right now, the potential offering award belongs to Microsoft.

Clearly I have demonstrated what I think, but what do you think?  What’s in store for gamers and these manufacturers for the remaining 9 months of 2015 and what do you want from your consoles?  Answer in the comments below.

Written by Fred Rojas

March 26, 2015 at 2:27 pm

Posted in Blog

Tagged with , , , , , , , ,

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