I recently reread an article I had written upon the death of the Playstation 2 talking about how my wife had bought it for me when I asked her to marry me, and how it had brought us together as a family. It's easily one of my favorite pieces of writing ever, and it made me all nostalgic.
So when Father's Day rolled around and my wife asked me what I wanted, I decide to fire up the old PS2 and play some of the titles I had never gotten around to. Things like the first Half-Life, or Dragon Quest VII, or Katamari. She obliged, and over the last week I've had a steady stream of PS2 gold come in one at a time from various used game vendors across the country.
And even though I am having the time of my life playing the games, I realize now just how far gaming has come even in just the last ten years. It's not just graphics and online play. I'm talking about things that the gaming industry finally got around to fixing in the seventh generations systems that we had put up with from gaming's beginning. Things like...
Autosaving: We make jokes all the time about how easy games are, and I'll touch on that a bit more in a minute. The thing that I love these days is the fact that saving a game has become completely automatic because frankly, why would someone playing a game through the first time know when it was a good time to save?
I started playing the original Half-Life, and do you have any idea how many times I had to sit through the opening scene where the sample explodes because I fell into any number of the one-hit kills in the action that follows it? It was at least a dozen before I realized I had to save every few seconds myself. Then there as the fact that I had to repeat it all over again anyway because I got fed up in one place and quit, only to find my save file now had me stuck getting whacked by a fan in an inescapable loop until I started a new game. Which brings me to...
Stopping Whenever You Want: In the previous example it was late, I was tired, and I was done being beaten by a stupid vent fan. All I wanted was to go to bed by that point, but I had to wait for the reload. I didn't, and now I was back listening to the two scientists bitch at each other while I waited to press a freakin' button.
That's not to mention that games from this era were still regularly making it impossible to pause cut scenes or to skip them. Gamemakers were basically saying, "Look, we spent oodles of money on the mini movie and you're going to sit there and watch it!" That's fine, David Lynch, but some of us have kids that call out in the night, dogs that need to go outside, bladders to empty, laundry to switch over, etc. It's just ridiculous how long it took developers to figure out the pause button for cut scenes or other mandatory exposition. A poopie diaper doesn't care how gorgeous the renders are.Flashback Ten Things You Probably Didn't Know About the Sega Dreamcast
Glitches Fix Themselves: No matter how much you playtest a game, when it goes out into the general public and millions of people start playing it things will be discovered that you messed up. That's just the nature of handing humans a toy.
In the olden days, well, you were screwed. If your game was glitchy then they might tweak future runs of it to fix it, but the game you bought was just shitty and you had to deal with it. Now, you don't even think about how easily and effortlessly they are updating your project. I let a year pass between playing Doctor Who: Eternity Clock. The first time I played it for review it was so glitchy as to be actively annoying. A year later? Almost seamless. You couldn't get that on an SNES.
You Always Have Someone to Play With: I grew up in the fighting game boom of the '90s, and let me tell you something. No game in that period every perfected an AI that could really make you feel as if you were playing an opponent. Ditto for Battle Mode in Mario Kart, or any number of games that require another human intelligence to enjoy.
Online play makes that happen easily and effortlessly now. If you're an adult, getting someone over for an evening of gaming might mean days of planning, placated spouses, babysitters, etc. yet if I want to play Team Fortress 2 all I need is a server. Sure, you end up with some strange angry person yelling at you sometimes, but it's not really any worse than that cousin I had whose mom drank while she was pregnant. Better really, since I don't have to hide my stuff.
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Arcade Mentality is Dead: Once upon a time video games made money by beating you. You lose, you put in another quarter to win. It was that simple. Something you were supposed to be doing for fun was basically beating you up for your lunch money.
And even after games went to home consoles gamemakers thought in those terms for years. Making a game hard to beat was seen as the actual goal. They couldn't care less if you enjoyed yourself. You had an active antagonist embedded in the code who wanted you to lose.
Now games are about storytelling and atmosphere, You can have that murderously difficult experience if you want. Most any game comes with a setting designed for that, but they also come with a setting that is more the speed of people who just want to see what all the fuss is about. Developers put so much effort into their work that they no longer punish us for enjoying it. That's progress.