For gamers, it’s worrying to think that our golden age has passed. We look back at all of the glorious gaming nirvana of the earlier systems and still, to this very day, lament the passing of some of the greats. Across all mediums, it’s obvious that the ninties was not only the growing stages of gaming, but they were the best days too. Nostalgia is a tough beast. Some say that it clouds our vision, because we tend to tie strong emotions of our childhood with the games we used to play. I don’t agree.
There have been some fantastic games released in the last few years, but I feel that our capacity to re-invent the wheel is becoming more and more difficult. Games 15-20 years ago didn’t have any benchmarks to rely on. They were forced to innovate, or the industry would implode. Their market was niche, but still very dedicated and growing. Games like Chrono Cross defined what we thought a JRPG should be. Others like Quake not only introduced us to 3D, but a raft of other gameplay and presentation innovations.
But as time moved on, developers started to run out of ideas. The ability to great life-like graphics took over, and we then suddenly found that our industry had become a space race. Developers, fueled by the new GPU manufacturers, faced to create new engines to take advantage of upcoming technology took over the mindset of creating a great game. I have no doubt in my mind that the GFX race killed a lot of the creativity out of the industry. Industry players that could not afford to develop games that required huge amounts of money to develop, due to expensive new hardware, simply folded or merged.
We now look at a completely different landscape today. Games are carefully shaped for market and pumped out, all using the same engines, all looking and playing exactly the same. Our thrust for innovation takes a back step, as innovators are forced to tone down their gameplay evolution to appeal to the mass market. Indie games breathe some life into creativity and originally, but are cut short due to high development costs and low returns.
Compare this to years ago, when 2D was king. 2D games cost significantly less to produce, as they don’t require costly licensing fees and powerhouse development PCs to make. The obsession with creating 3D environments as the only way to make a fun, immersible experience is infinitely flawed. Many great games, especially those by developer Atlus, still don’t use them. Their focus on creating beautiful, colourful environments and trying brilliant story and built-from-the-ground-up game play overrules any need for over complication and massive budgets.
Games lost their soul as soon as the market became ridiculously profitable. Nowadays, its a tens of billions dollar world, with countries like Australia putting down over $9 billion, thats right, billion, per year on games. Last year, it was one of a very few markets that actually rose against the recession, rather then faltered. For that, at least, we can be thankful, games aren’t going anywhere.
My point is, I’m not asking developers to all go back to 1995 when they consider producing a new title. My wish is that designers would remember why they starting playing games in the first place. Rather then pandering to the market, make the market pander to them. Who else can remember glorifying the greats as a kid, or as a teen. Creating an experience that leaves you breathless, leaves you thinking, begging for more.
There are many things that need to change in our industry for it to truly move forward, and for that, we need to look to the past.