PS4! Xbox One! OMG!
Notes of a Nerdy Old Man
You have probably noticed: the next gen is upon us. The Playstation FOUR! The Xbox, uh, ONE! OMG! Amaze!
First things first. I am about as excited for these as as I am for Frasier reruns. I know somebody here tracked their preordered package from Amazon. Maybe somebody here actually cares about marginally improved graphics or live sports on their console or voice commands. But this is not my first rodeo.
For a bit of perspective, the first game I ever made was a Dreamcast launch title. That dates me. We were just a few years past the age of the 2D sprite. Models of angular people twitching at 10 frames per second still had that new car smell. Tekken on the Playstation was a jerky fest of stray pixels, but it was awesome. Panzer Dragoon on the Saturn had long vistas of jagged water texture, but it was gorgeous. So when screenshots came out of billowy robes and curvey armor in SoulCalibur, minds were blown. It felt so new and so radical and so revolutionary. My mom can’t tell an RTS from an FPS. She has never heard the term “polygon” used outside of a geometry textbook. But she could instantly tell a Saturn game from an Xbox game—even if she just saw them out of the corner of her eye.
Technology only gets better. While Siegfried was fighting Cervantes, the console makers of the world were busy working on shader pipelines, multi core CPUs, and motion control. On the XBox, Panzer Dragoon Orta had no more pixelated water. Instead lush greenery cascaded down a canyon, and actually reflected in the rippling (rippling!) water below. Then the PS3 and XBox 360 came out with more shaders and more memory and more cores. Now we have the PS4 and the Xbox, um, One with more memory and bigger frame buffers and arguments about which massive franchise “only” runs at 720p resolution.
It looked great in screenshots. Hey, it looked great in game. But were the games “better”? Were the games more engaging? Did the games get you thinking any more?
Big console games now look a lot like big console games ten years ago. Sure, we have sparkly shaders and deferred rendering and reliable networking. We also still have RPGs and racing games and FPSes. People love slaying dragons, driving fast, and shooting each other, so they sell tons. But when games look roughly the same a decade on, that’s stagnation. For a creative medium, stagnation means death.
The thing is, the game biz has been anything but stagnant over the past few years. While the Activisions and EAs of the world have ground out more FPSes and football games, crazy stuff has been brewing. The big consoles stopped being walled gardens where big budget games frolic with other big budget games. A tiny indie flower grew. (Ha! Totally obvious metaphor alert!) More importantly, people liked it. People liked things that weren’t FPSes with reflection mapped bullets. Nintendo kept the Wii’s walls as high as possible, but Wii players really loved World of Goo. Minecraft has graphics that are the butt of jokes, but it has resonated with a huge audience.
This is hardly a new thing. The last console generation saw me sitting in an office full of PS3 and Xbox 360 beta dev kits discussing how Mr. Fantastic could stretch if Fantastic 4 was brought to the then-next-gen. A massive franchise meets a truckload of expensive proprietary hardware—you can’t get less indie than that. Splayed out over a 360 dev kit was a copy of Edge magazine, open to an article about Introversion’s upcoming Darwinia. We had NDAs and genre conventions and approvals for every decision. The Introversion guys seemed like video game cowboys riding unicorns. And this was 2005—well before downloadable anything on a console.
What’s changed? The mindset of gamers. Indie is now a thing. What really sold this to me was the Indie MEGABOOTH at PAX. PAX is a massive show, and the MEGABOOTH is the biggest thing there. Despite being vast, it is packed the whole time. It is full of gamers who paid money to be there and are spending their PAX time on Monster Loves You instead of Assassin’s Creed.
For a long time in the 2000s, it looked like the whole game biz would just become some teensie software vertical cranking out slightly tweaked versions of FPSes each year. Indies are the fresh air invigorating the world of games. We are pretty excited to see where it leads.
Disco Pixel's Trevor Stricker: 'What it takes to be long-term successful in games is the same as it ever was.' - Indie MEGABOOTH
Talking with the Indie MEGABOOTH about being a cranky old man. Also, a long term perspective on why some games make it.
Jungle Rumble trailer. Mofongo Tribe kicking butt… in HD!
Trevor’s giving a talk at Southern New Hampshire University today. It’s called “Guts of Game Design” and is an overview of some formal game design theories. Here are links to more information.
Mechanics, Dynamics, Aesthetics
Player Experience of Need Satisfaction
8 Types of Online Players
http://www.mud.co.uk/richard/hcds.htm (old school web page!)
Trevor spoke with the Pocketoid guys about Jungle Rumble, making games in Japan, and being indie.
We’re getting excited to show at PAX Prime in the Indie MEGABOOTH!