When I first started playing videogames in the 1980s, I wondered when games would evolve to the point where characters and environments would be so realistic that I could hardly tell the difference between the virtual world and the real world - respectively .
Over the years, gaming has definitely moved forward in leaps and bounds with very powerful graphics and game engines, digital surround sound, motion capture technology and even professional writing that marvels even the best movies in Hollywood.
Some game “franchises” that come to mind are Mass Effect , Halo , Uncharted , Assassin’s Creed , Dead Space and even Madden Football . All of these game series take us to places that are so realistic and engaging that we suspend reality and take on every explosion, kill, score and sacrifice that the games have to offer.
But with all of the advancements that have happened to date, does this mean that gaming has truly evolved since the early days of the industry? The answer is obvious, yes it has, but not in the way you might think.
First let’s look at where gaming first started. We will use Pong as an example.
When you start up the game, there are two paddles and one (square) ball that you have to keep in motion or the other person scores a point. Pretty straightforward right?
Ok. Let’s fast forward a bit. This time we will use Contra as an example.
When you start up the game, you and your friend play as two soldiers with highly powerful guns that kill off anything and everything that stands in your way. After all of your enemies have been killed, the game is over and you, of course, save the world. Pretty cool, but linear.
Note: I’m not looking down on any of these games. I’m simply providing simple examples to make a point .
Fast forward again. Let’s look at Metal Gear Solid - easily one of my favorite games of all time. I don’t think I’ve played completely through one game more times in my life, actually I know I haven’t. But for as great as M.G.S. is, it presents you with a beginning, a middle and, that’s right, an end. Like thousands of games before it and since, it doesn’t present you with the option to truly push the environments, characters and story to the point where new, unforeseen possibilities are, well, possible.
To put it differently, the potential that gaming has never has been backed into a corner and engineered to fight it’s way to freedom.
Up until recently, gaming has provided fantastic, memorable experiences in all shapes, sizes and platforms that, when the final battle has been won, simply rolls the credits and provides the inevitable “Game Over”; at least until you start a new game.
But this is where gaming has truly evolved since the early days of the industry. Gaming has finally started to provide endless possibilities for where you, the player, can take the experience.
First, as opposed to the linear (but really fun) games of yesterday, games of today are all about “choice”.
I can’t remember the last time when I played a game and it didn’t provide me the option to either go in guns blazing or to sneak around the opposition to reveal additional possibilities for reaching the next stage. Both have their pros and cons (more kills vs. less kills, more of one type of XP (kill count) over another type (stealth), etc.). But regardless of what results from the choices that you make, it’s the fact that you have a choice that matters.
The Splinter Cell: Blacklist video below (from Ubisoft ) highlights how players have the “choice” to proceed through the game differently; e.g., utilizing stealth instead of killing everything in your path.
Next is multi-platform gaming.
Apple launched “the App” and their mobile operating system ( iOS ) back in 2007 with the first iPhone. And even though this was not the birth of mobile gaming, it sure kicked the mobile gaming industry into high-gear. More and more people who wanted to develop games could, and gaming companies of all sizes (eventually) took notice of the trend; including the social network service Facebook . Due to this recognition, the multiple platform gaming experience took flight.
Now, you can not only start a game on your phone and continue playing on your PC, MAC, Tablet or Next-Gen Console (Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, WiiU). You can also interact with your friends from almost anywhere in the world ( sorry Antarctica ), and develop characters and weapons all while you’re waiting in line at Chipotle .
Another aspect of how gaming is evolving to have endless possibilities is through character development.
It’s not a new aspect to gaming to develop a character, characters or environments throughout a game so that you can totally annihilate the competition or rule the (virtual) world. But what is new is the level to which you can customize a character for the road ahead.
Take for example, Dead Space 2 ; easily THE BEST survival horror game that I have ever played (and I’m really looking forward to Dead Space 3 - coming in Q1/Q2 2013).
Throughout the game you collect power nodes and credits to build-up Isaac Clarke’s (the main character) suit and weapons. Honestly, this is nothing new. But what is new, and can be seen in a few other games today ( Batman Arkham City comes to mind), is that when you “complete” the game, you can start a new game with all of the equipment progress that you made in the previous completed games. So your character develops every time you complete the game.
There are literally thousands of examples that I can give for character development, but for now I want you to understand that unlike Super Mario , Solid Snake or even Sonic the Hedgehog , you can now customize your character and grow that characters abilities over time. Just as another example, I will mention Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim . You can definitely customize and develop your character in this game. Oh man can you ever...
One other example of how games are evolving to have endless possibilities is through downloadable content or DLC.
I’ve previously touched on how DLC has changed the industry by offering new story content, customizable weapons and vehicles, as well as, expanded gameplay that makes the title(s) feel anything but linear. But what I haven’t touched on is the fact DLC has become an expected element when it comes to a game’s release. Over the last six months, I know I haven’t seen a single game that didn’t offer some type of additional content either when the game is released or within a month or two after the game hits the shelves.
Besides offering DLC on all of the major gaming platforms, apps on mobile devices also get their own DLC in two forms: in-game purchases and, usually, free updates.
Article after article has been written on how “free” apps have become some of the most lucrative games in history all because when people play them and want to progress faster, they can buy in-game content (in whatever form that may take) to add to the experience - “Donuts” in The Simpsons: Tapped Out comes to mind.
Personally, I believe that what makes mobile games truly successful is the fact that developers release “free” (yes, free) updates to games that add-on new levels, more options and even more social aspects to games. Some of my favorite games on my smartphone are just that because the developers have listened to the gaming community and added-on great content for free .
One series that comes to mind when I think of free updates is Cut The Rope . Since it was initially released a few years ago, the developers have provided new levels in the form of “boxes” that provide new puzzles for you and your friends to solve. The solution is usually simple, but getting to that solution is anything but. If you haven’t tried out this great game, you can demo it here online.
The final example that I will give of how gaming is progressing towards having endless possibilities is with games like (the new) SimCity , LittleBigPlanet (series), Minecraft , World of Warcraft and even the new game Don’t Starve . These games are all about creativity.
With games like these, the possibilities are already endless because the developers have given gamers the “keys to the kingdom” (so to speak). They have provided an environment where you have to mold and shape the world, characters or both in order to survive, thrive or just create something that was born out of pure imagination.
The success of these types of “creative” games are paving the way for players to push developers to continue to develop “endless” games. The attractiveness of these types of games comes from providing millions of people around the world with a mechanism to (virtually) live-in and develop a life (or lives) that, in the real world, could never exist.
But with all of the examples that I have given here, is having an endless game really something that will be the next, defining genre in the industry? Isn’t the ending the goal? Well not to get poetic, but I believe that as in life, the “journey” IS the goal.
I leave you with a quote from Hideo Kojima (designer / developer of the Metal Gear Solid series) who, back in the summer of 2012 commented on his next game entitled Metal Gear Solid: Ground Zeroes .
In an interview that was conducted with Mr. Kojima, he noted that the goal of his next title will be a “Game without Game Over.” For a man who has defined the stealth genre and sold millions of games for over 25 years, I know that this next title will again pave the way for the next wave of gaming. A wave that will finally eliminate “Game Over”.
For your viewing pleasure, here is one of the latest interviews with Mr. Kojima on his next title: Metal Gear Solid: Ground Zeroes :
Thanks for reading, and please let me know your thoughts in the comments section below.