Classicism of the Gaming Industry

14 Jun 2004

The evolution of gaming has been one that has spanned almost three decades now, originating with the ever-popular Pong. Pong, which was little more then a simply display of white lines and a bouncing white box, introduced the world to the notion of electronic games. Since then, we have seen electronic games evolve, first with the console wars of the 90's, and now, into the world of PC's. Along with the platform in which games have been played, we have also witnessed the advance of technology, namely in how we view the games we play. Some people see this as the way the industry is headed, until we get the equivalent of the "Holo-Deck" type imagery that was seen in the Star Trek shows. Others, however, see the ever evolving nature of graphics as the downfall of gaming, with the simple reasoning that developers are too focused on the eye candy, rather then the game itself. While I'm not adverse to eye-candy, even my sweet tooth can handle so much.

There are many such arguments about the nature of games, and the gaming industry, in that the dedication to making the game pleasing to the eye detracts from other areas of game development, particularly story. Games these days continue to push the envelope further, and further, demanding more powerful machines to play the games we've come to enjoy. Looking back at games, and when they are released, a trend can be seen in their success. In the early days, the graphics meant little, as there was rarely anything more impressive then chunky, pixilated images, distorted beyond belief on the screen. So, naturally, in a time when electronic gaming could not support the Tri-linear bit mapping, and large polygon counts, and smooth edges to create the realistic edge of an image, to compensate, something else had to sell to the customer: Gameplay.

The lack of impressive graphics meant that developers needed to do something to hook potential gamers. They did this by putting much of the developmental resources into the gameplay aspect. This much can be seen when looking over the 'classics' of the electronic gaming scene, games such as Street Fighter 2, Final Fantasy 4 and 6, Dragon Warrior, Wing Commander, Leisure Suit Larry, and even the legendary Pong. None of these games can even compare to today's gaming graphics, in which the visuals presented to us assault not only our sight, but our eyes as well. We are immersed in intense realism, with surround sound, tools that the pioneers of the gaming industry did not have.

When comparing these 'classics' of the console wars to today's games, it is seen that there are large differences in how each one plays out, and how each on sells. It is the opinion of many gamers that these 'classics' have much better gameplay and story, even though they are lacking in the department of visuals. Compared to today's standards of electronic gaming, the main selling point is the visuals of the game, not the story. This results in mindless shoot 'em ups, repetitive childish puzzle games, and flashy images, none of which contribute to the actual story telling, or gameplay. Of course, because gamers have developed as well, it is unfair to say that story and gameplay are all that is required to make a successful game.

The inclusion of peer-to-peer playing over the internet has seriously changed the dynamics of the electronic gaming market, adding extra bit of developmental requirement, meaning the budget is again fractioned off. The popularity of online gaming has begun to dictate the way many games are heading, but none of the gamers these days wish to sacrifice the visuals of the games they have come to expect. Instead, developers take funds from the only sections they can, story and in game development of plot and character, both of which become inconsequential to the overall affect of these new generation of games. These are then transferred into making sure the game appears both visually appealing and smooth for gaming online (aspects such as net coding, frame rate, connectivity). The outcome of such budget allocations is the MMORPG (Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game). The game then becomes a framework for the gameplay using impressive visuals, and relying on character driven gameplay. The independent story becomes non-existent in these sorts of games, replaced by a persistent world in which the players create the story.

Gamin 'Purists' would argue that the trend, since the days of the Console Wars back in the early 90's, have seen the slow decrease of quality of gaming, at least in the story and gameplay sense, being lost in a rush of visuals, sound, and online gaming. Modern day developers, some of which once produced the 'classics' of the Console Wars, have, as always, changed direction, in order to cater to the largest demographic. Is the gaming industry endorsing the death of story-oriented games, allowing itself to be controlled by a group of people that care only for the mindless, flashy action a game can provide, many of which would rather pirate, than pay? There are few developers and producers remaining these days willing to create games that retain the qualities that made the 'classics' classic, and attempt to cater to this new breed of gamer. Developers like Bioware, Lucas Arts (provided it is not the next Star Wars rehash), and until recently, Black Isle Studios are examples of companies that still release games with rich story, and gameplay, without sacrificing strong visuals. But, with the closing of one of those studios, and another canceling development of the highly anticipated Sam and Max, the light is looking dim on the idea of story and gameplay, and the death of the classic video game.

While the idea of the MMO is not a bad one, it is a concept that is ushering in a new wave of gaming and gamer, an amalgamation of genres, so to speak. The quicker pace and action of the First Person Shooter slowly making its way into the story driven, character developed Role Playing genre. Regardless of what happens, it's a sure thing to say that the 'classics' of the console wars are a dead breed, being replaced by a new generation of gaming, ripe with opportunity to create their own classics, and earn their own following of 'purist' gamers, in time.