Angry Birds, Apple, Facebook, and smartphones may be digging the grave for retro and modern video games, and it’s up to you to stop them. Are you a bad enough dude to rescue the past, present and future of video games?
Big Business Fears
There’s plenty of evidence proving that there is a war brewing. Most of the industry has bit back in criticism; some even acknowledging bigger threats for the console gaming industry. Some such as Valve’s president Gabe Newell claim to see an end to the console and handheld business thanks to Apple, and after further review, the possibilities chill to the bone. Handhelds and consoles could go the way of the dinosaur, and this could change the face of modern and even retro gaming forever.
Other companies such as Nintendo have very strong opinions towards supporting console and handheld gaming. Nintendo’s shareholders agreed that smaller markets may work better for the company, and they’ve asked Nintendo CEO Satoru Iwata if he would start making games for smartphones. His response was venomous, stating that Nintendo will never make games for any other machine then official Nintendo products. I’m totally on board with this, though I think that Nintendo just won’t admit that smartphones and Facebook are quickly becoming competitors on the mobile frontier.
Though Nintendo is just stuck being, well, Nintendo, the interview with Newell got me thinking. He posts his thoughts on the potential (and in his opinion, hopeful) end of handhelds and consoles. Aside from this being a PC/Mac versus console fanboy flame war, I wanted to seriously sit down and think about the end of the future; not only modern gaming, but retro gaming as well.
In order for something to be retro, it has to first become modern. We all cut our teeth on various different platforms as they were being released in the 1980s and 1990s. Consoles became less popular after the video game crash of 1983, something that was well deserved due to over-exposure, barely playable games, and too much competition. While the console market has regained popularity, it has not returned to the lack of value that we saw in the Atari age. Some would beg to differ, sighting the Wii as the new dumping ground for shovelware. While we are allowed to criticize a developer’s choices, change is always occurring. We’ve seen companies dabble with virtual reality, motion sensor technology, and touch screens. While console games are getting bigger in a lot of ways, we haven’t seen that big push beyond consoles. This could be console gaming’s end—a lack of evolution in the right direction.
Picture: Questionable games ruining it for the Wii.
Motion Controls: Path to the Future or Gimmick?
The big question that I think is on gamer’s mind is whether or not motion controls is what we need. Motion controls seem to fit with the casual gaming craze. Let’s not forget our mothers moving with the controller while joining us for a game of Super Mario Bros. While that works for them, it may be a small step in the right or wrong direction to something beyond gaming. Imagine a world where we can move freely in a fantasy world we create and mold without standard controllers. Senses could play a big part in changing the way we game. Our bodies could be digitally altered to what we wanted. We could become a part of the game, instead of controlling it. While motion detection feels like a step in this direction, it’s not the final piece in the puzzle. We’ll more than likely not see a world where gaming is truly a secondary life, but it’s fun to imagine it being a possibility.
Console games aren’t there yet, but there’s many steps we’ve taken that went from broken gimmicks to game changers. When comparing something like Sega’s Activator to Microsoft’s Kinect, we see a huge advancement in gaming. Like it or not, the point of the enhancements is to get further into the game world. Enhancing the fantasy to not only push the buttons, but to jack into a network where we live, breathe and feel games. That is where we, as gamers, are headed next. This is the future of gaming, despite what Newell thinks.
Are Handhelds The First To Die?
While we mostly have Nintendo to thank for handheld gaming, we really have Angry Birds to thank for modern mobile gaming. It’s unclear on whether Rovio’s game is a huge step forwards, or backwards. Nintendo began creating Game and Watch, which eventually led to the path of the Game Boy. Twenty years later the Game Boy has evolved into the DS family, enhanced gaming thanks to touch screen simplicity. It caters to all crowds, both hardcore and casual. Angry Birds never had this sort of upbringing. It brings gaming back to quick and casual spouts of fun. Though Angry Birds could’ve launched on a handheld other than smartphones, the reason it’s popular is because it launched on a smartphone and for a reasonable price (free on Android, about the price of one or two Mp3s on iPhone/Windows Phone 7.)Though the game uses physics and cute characters to attract the masses, the price point is what shows proof of a gloomy end, and it may begin with the video game handheld industry.
With the economy on life support in various parts of the world, everyone’s looking to save some cash, including gamers. Nintendo has spent years trying to hook casual gamers, and smartphones are capturing an audience that would normally purchase a DSi or 3DS. Though Nintendo could start lowering prices, there is a significant difference between both platforms. Both Sony and Nintendo, the two big handheld system creators, create games that can be either simple or deep. The games are more fleshed out, and include styles from all different types of genres. While smartphones have different genres of gaming, there is a system limitation which does not allow for such expansion. Smartphones, for the most part, are not designed for gaming exclusively. This will be the key factor that Nintendo and Sony rely on to push people to spend the extra money towards a more fulfilling and broad genre.
While Sony’s upcoming Vita launch will release a higher end handheld gaming device, and Nintendo has had difficulty showing the importance of its 3D update to the DS line, smartphones take what they’ve always been good at –fast, casual gaming—and add a touch of the Nintendo DS touch screen action. Smartphones have been bringing things backwards, recapturing simple fun games without the requirement of becoming a hardcore gamer. Angry Birds has become the Super Mario Bros. of the current generation. With this change in mascots comes recognition of a new, yet not quite polished form of gaming: Smartphone gaming. This is not your father’s game of Snake, it’s living, breathing proof of a gaming experience that is selling games and merchandise by the millions.
How To Defeat Smartphones
Much like a boss fight, there’s always a weak spot, and smartphone games are plagued by tons of them. While some of the games are simple and fun like Angry Birds, Cut the Rope, and Fruit Ninja, many of them are buggy, bloated or just plain bad. Yet, despite higher prices, console and handheld video games these days are completely playable. Massive control and camera issues are showing up less in modern games. Though there are some examples of today’s games with bad play control, developers are now able to code with ease thanks to superior development kits and a better understanding of the experience. For the first time in almost six or seven generations of gaming, we are coming closer than ever to making the player’s preference the only thing a player has to worry about. Smartphones are newborns stuck in the Atari age of programming—get an idea, keep it basic, create it, and hope for the best. Some developers are even deliberately trying to destroy phones, creating viruses and information- stealing apps and games. Safety is, and has never really been a concern with consoles and handhelds. Buying a game won’t steal your credit card information, bank account info or the things you search for on the internet.
Short, sweet and infantile, smartphone games will eventually expand to meet current gaming trends. While awaiting this change, gamers have something else to look out for: Facebook. The social networking giant has been making a killing on app purchases and downloadable content from games like Mafia Wars, Farmville, and anything else companies like Zynga publish. The market is there, but mostly caters to the Sims/World of Warcraft crowd: People who need to invest a large amount of time into something tiny, growing it to something they care about. Facebook is a smaller threat, and while smartphones can load mobile versions of the Facebook gaming craze, they aren’t as well put together. This leaves handhelds to triumph once more.
Hope for the Future
While handhelds may not be as doomed as smartphone developers and Nintendo shareholders want us to believe, consoles have more possibilities of massive overhaul. Though Newell would love for PCs and Macs to rise up as the dominate platform of gaming, it’s doubtful at this stage in the game. Even though anything’s possible, a greater threat could involve cloud-based gaming. Though this gets deeper into a future topic for Hot Button Topics (Physical v.s. Virtual-coming soon!) it’s clearly a danger, yet an evolution to the way we game. It’s really too early to tell, but to retro gamers, it’s the death of a physical collection. However, the cloud may play an important role with storage, never having to worry about save files becoming corrupted.
Between motion detection, 3D televisions, and online gaming, consoles are on a path to innovation beyond just graphics. We’ll remember a time when the Wii was brand new, and we’ll begin to treasure it as the bronze age of retro gaming. We’ve talked a lot about the beyond, but let’s travel back in time to understand that this direction was inevitable. Games are, for the most part, advanced ways to tell stories. From the bible to scripture, novels and poetry, we went on to see beyond just words with pictures (both still and moving.) Now, we create places to get lost in—the television our gateway into this world. Someday we may physically join a world we can use as leisure, sport and fantasy. No matter how you feel about modern gaming, the future is the sole reason we always get excited when a new console launches: A new world awaits us, and we couldn’t be more excited to start playing in it.
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