Virtual reality gaming is on our doorstep and I’ve had a chance to have a sneak peek at the PlayStation VR, I say sneak peek because the PlayStation VR isn’t quite complete. Tracking still isn’t one-to-one and there’s still work to be done on the image quality – edges are rough and objects seemed a little less clear than their HD display – but Sony seems clearly determined to iron these out before it comes to market. It has a good catalogue of games, it’s comfortale and almost affordable. There has been reports of severe motion sickness whilst playing with the PlayStation VR so will not be for everyone.
My first gaming console was a Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) the simple A and B buttons were my trusted allies. I would play Mario for hours throughout the day, then later on in the night when I should have been sleeping, my mother would catch me, eyed glued to the television, playing Contra on mute. Fast forward 15 years, and I find myself doing the same thing. (although my bedtime hours have differed since my adolescence) I was not a complete hermit – I did occasionally venture outside to play with sticks, climb trees and stock up on vitamn D from the sun. Later my console collection followed the familiar evolution from the NES, the Sega Mega Drive, PlayStation, Xbox etc. Throughout my childhood we all heard a family member/friend saying “I would have loved this game when I was your age” whilst playing my beloved games in the nineties. I’ve recently finished playing Dark Souls 3 and The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt and was simply in awe by the graphical advances that have been made. Travelling through the world of The Witcher 3 and whilst being grateful for being part of the gaming world at present, in the back of my mind is a voice saying “I would have loved this game when I was younger” – today, something has changed in the formula – online gaming.
When online gaming really became mainstream on consoles, the gaming world itself changed. And everybody had tickets in hand, ready to jump aboard and sail off into true expansive gaming. Will VR have the same effect? I cant help think it won’t. Remember when the Wii was released? Everybody was fascinated by the idea of remote play (including myself). Of course it was innovative and exciting, and whilst sales went through the roof, the concept quickly faded away, we reverted back to “traditional” methods of gaming. We thought we were ready for it, the technology simply wasn’t. Will we see the same problem when a fully fleshed out VR system is released? Are we ready for it?
I do not mean to sound cynical. I also don’t want to just sit playing Contra until the early hours of the morning (even with volume) either. I’m not a stubborn old school gamer, and of course I’m open to innovation in gaming technology – I’m simply content with what we have presently.
I remember my auntie saying “wow they look like real people” as she walked past the television whilst my uncle and I played FIFA ‘98. I felt smug that she noticed, it was almost justification that we werent wasting our time. 18 years later and I’m still getting excited for certain releases. Yes, things have changed, games aren’t mainly intended for just children/teenagers anymore and more releases are being certified 18+. I have recently returned from seeing “Hardcore Henry”, there was a lot of hype behind this movie. It’s shot from the POV as you would play first person shooter game, almost like Hollywood were saying “Look! We can do it too!” Most of the audience seeing this will be gamers. We know movies based on video games is not a new phenomenon; remember the Super Mario movie in the early nineties starring Bob Hoskins, or Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson in Doom? Unfortunately I do too. Hollywood have unsuccessfully been making live action movies based on video games for decades. But with the advances being made in technology, could gaming outshine movies?
Gaming is not gunning for Hollywood and nor should it. They are different entities, and as far as I know there is no competition. But healthy comparisons could and should be made. Speaking of which, a comparison can be made between gaming and TV shows too, Telltale Studios have gifted us with their fabulous episodic gameplay to our precious gaming world, where your actions do have consequences later on in the game. With the rise in popularity of TV box sets, is this a coincidence? Many other developers are now following in Telltale’s footsteps by creating games with an episodic nature. They’re the virtual equivalent of the ‘chose your own adventure’ books I used to read, this method can also transcend genres depending on how you play. And with VR coming into the fold, who really knows what the future holds for us? Is the boat being rocked now more people are jumping ship? Lets see where we are in another 20 years.
I myself fit the mold of stereotypical 20s bitter male gamer, the least surprising part is that I’m a male, but the average age of a “gamer” is 31, and gender is almost 50/50, so what is the taboo? It’s big business, and can be as big, if not bigger than movies. Grand Theft Auto V brought in $800 within the first 24 hours of being on sale – the money is certainly there. And sure, the development time was probably longer than say Avatar, but I known which one I preferred.
When I was younger, (in my FIFA ’98 days) most households with children contained some kind of a gaming console, and now with our culture changing, and it being cool to be a ‘nerd’ a lot of people have a gaming console of some sort with them most of the time. Wether it be Candy Crush on a mobile phone, or a hand-held console for those moments we use them for instead of talking to other humans. Gaming has become transcendent – it is almost commomplace to see/hear a Hollywood actor in a video game nowadays, a lot of people still assume gaming is aimed at children – when Kevin Spacey lent his acting chops to Call of Duty, and Keifer Sutherland added his voice to Snake in Metal Gear Solid, I doubt a child would care, or even notice – but I did. And why use a Hollywood star? Because they can! And probably to give Troy Baker and Nolan North a week off work.
Now tonight, I will be queuing at midnight at my local gaming shop to purchase my new addiction; Dark Souls. This franchise now I’m in my 20s is what Zelda was to my childhood, and as previously stated, I am still excited.
LETS FINISH WITH SOME MATHEMATICS. (what..?) If tonight there are 50 people with me buying the game tonight we will collectively spend around £/$2,700. Now! If we all went to see “Hardcore Henry” at midnight and we hid snacks in our coats, we would spend around £/$400. See my point? But we may love Hardcore Henry so much we’ll go twice! But more than likely we won’t – we’ll save our money for the Dark Souls 3 DLC.
Can you imagine (stick with me here) buying a jacket from your local high street shop. “Fantastic choice sir, that is one of our most popular items” the shopkeeper would say whilst counting your hard earned money. “I will go and collect your order from the back”. After a few minutes, said shopkeeper returns and gives you the jacket, “But this jacket has no sleeves? Or buttons?” “Oh no sir, you must return tomorrow and pay extra for those, maybe you’ll get the buttons and sleeves, maybe you won’t, but it’s only 79p each time you come back”. MADNESS. We wouldn’t tolerate that, so why do we within the gaming community? That silly metaphoric shopkeeper is the greedy gaming corporations we seem to have rolled over for, begging the question – do we actually own our games anymore?
Do you remember when you last purchased a game and it came with a full description on the back and a manual on the inside? Back in the “old days” I would study that thing religiously after purchase, itching to get home and play. Things are slightly different nowadays, if indeed you do actually buy a physical copy of a game, mostly you will be greeted with nothing on the inside, if you are lucky you may get an advertisement or a promotion for the upcoming DLC for the game you think you own. You might say: “But we get games within games! This means more content!” That’s not the point I’m making. Sure, individually they are not bank breaking (hence ‘micro’transactions) but this idea that was made acceptable within mobile gaming has snuck its way into our precious games. The chief financial officer for EA reported their profits from these ‘microtransactions’ were above $1.3 billion – is it getting out of hand? With those kind of profits, we should expect more in return.
Not all games contain microtransactions. And, if you want to do this, and you’re happy to, more power to you. I do not mean to sound old and cynical, I’m also not saying we all should start a revolution, myself personally just can’t comply anymore. Now if this means I run the risk of not having a new coloured gun in Call of Duty, or a simpler way to get a new player on Fifa, etc, so be it.
I understand we are now in a digital age. (who needs manuals right?) and I do look forward to certain DLC, for example I gave my money for The Witcher 3 and Bloodborne’s DLC because it seemed worth it, they weren’t pulling the wool over my eyes. These are fully fleshed out content. Microtransactions (hopefully) have no place here. Practically all big releases are coming out with a season pass as an optional purchase with the game, a lot of gamers have FOMO (fear of missing out) so will blindly pay the extra £/$20 (sometimes a lot more) for the season pass in the hope it will be worth it. Most of the time I felt cheated for paying extra for something that should have already been in the game.
Are these companies not making enough profits? Are they worried their game will fade away, and the DLC is being used as an expensive throwback? Or is it just a business ploy to keep a trickle of cash flowing into their pockets all year round. The point is, we comply, is this the new norm? We dont use cheat codes anymore – we simply pay for them. And yes, things could be a lot worse, and this is indeed an exciting time for gaming technology, and as time and technology advances, there should not be any room for exploitation.
I remember trading in games at the local shop when I was younger, usually about 4-5 of my own for one of theirs, this was almost a right of passage throughout my teenage years. My pocket money wouldn’t stretch too far so I used to spend at least an hour carefully choosing the one new game I would be bringing back home with me whilst my over-played trade-ins sat on the counter like worn socks looking at me. Generally I would be disappointed with my selection (the internet was still taking baby steps towards the powerhouse it is today so any web surfing research was out of the window) but there are a few games, throughout the years that have stayed with me.
Final Fantasy 7, Zelda Ocarina of Time and Broken Sword 1 & 2 are a few of the games I truly worshipped, and still do to this day. Although the gameplay has aged and the graphics would now be deemed old fashioned. The turn-based combat system in Final Fantasy 7 was a bold move to make, and it worked wonderfully at the time. The point-and-click adventures during my time with George Stobbart in Broken Sword conceived timeless charm and the all new Z-targeting quests I would embark on as Link in Zelda Ocarina of Time were pure adventure. I don’t know how or why I was drawn into the world of video games, but I am glad I have been, especially in what I would consider the golden age of true innovation throughout the 1990s.
The subject I’m thinking about involves modern day gaming and developers possibly straying away from true innovation and imagination. I am not completely clinical – not all modern games are terrible or lack creativity. (The Last Of Us, Heavy Rain, The Witcher amongst others are considered, rightly so, masterpieces. But we do not need to use our imagination as much as we embark on our virtual adventures, we are almost spoon fed what we are seeing and controlling which inevitably dissipates the individuality for each player. I’m sure my experience with Final Fantasy was different to most other gamers because the game almost forced you to use your imagination and personal creativity, whether your internal voice sounded different reading on screen text, from using our creativity by filling in the virtual gaps for what the developers wanted to show you if they had the technical capabilities.
Video games are now being created with budgets as big as Hollywood movies, pulling in millions in profits, so if it ain’t broken, don’t fix it? I’m not saying I miss the blocky graphics and fixed camera angles, but I miss its charm. Is it nostalgia? Or creativity? Imagine being at a board meeting and somebody pitches the idea for PaRappa The Rapper. The argument can also be made that this is what the gaming world would have wanted if they had the same technology 20 years ago. But if this was the case I’m sure much would have changed.
“This is Snake..” the first line voiced by David Hayter in what was arguably gaming at its peak back in 1998. The player would experience the fast paced, exciting but clostraphobic game that defined the stealth genre. Fast forward to today and I have the fifth console installment of the franchise, Metal Gear Solid: The Phantom Pain and after completing the gruelling monologue, I am introduced to the open world, literally, as the latest instalment is an open world game. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but with more and more open world games being released and some which were once linear games transforming into open world, I can’t help but wonder if the market is becoming too bloated.
I’ve seen countless interviews from game developers informing the viewer with delight that this new game would be the biggest open world game they have seen, with almost a tip of the hat to other developers that doing this was the future of gaming. Now whilst playing through The Phantom Pain I find one of many patterns emerging – calling in that helicopter, waiting 2-4 minutes for it to arrive, get back to Motherbase, then getting back on the helicopter, loading another mandatory, and eerily similar side mission, waiting through loading times and then being dropped back into the gameplay – this process eventually takes me out of the gameplay, which inevitably made me lose interest in the entire game after a while. I’m not saying all open world games are terrible, or boring – but is the line becoming blurred between quality and quantity? Are games wasting our time? Yes its cool that you can play tennis and do yoga in Grand Theft Auto V and you can throw horseshoes at posts in Red Dead Redemption and yes, I may be nitpicking, but I also remember crusing around the city in Grand Theft Auto: Vice City blasting V-Rock through the radio, never feeling bored, lost or overwhelmed.
Does creating an open world game always work? Nope. Do you remember Mafia 2, Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag or Watchdogs? Hell, even Need For Speed jumped on the bandwagon with Need For Speed Most Wanted. It’s not all negativity though, I’ve recently finished playing The Witcher 3 Wild Hunt, which again had massively expanded from its predecessor, I would consider this open world game absolutely brilliant. I sat there for 2-3 weeks and happily invested 200+ hours into the game, and this is okay – if you have the time. This is another issue with modern open world games, they are almost an investment – you really need to dedicate your time to them.
Now I am not a fan of games with 4-6 hour campaigns either. I also would have thrown Star Wars Battlefront out of the window but it was digitally downloaded on my PS4. But is creating an open world game always the answer for innovation?
Most of us have played open world games, and understand, by definition, know that they will be large. But the majority of them fail to offer a compelling sense of direction coupled with good story telling. “But look at all the side quests and optional things you can do in Skyrim!” My friends would tell me, then later on I would find my very own character lost in some cave for which my character level was too low for, looting crates and dead bodies in the hope for extra currency and/or XP, only to find junk I already have by the saddlebag load of hiding in my inventory. Side quests, if done well can be a brilliant addition to main quests, but most feel like the player is going through the motions, waiting to dig into the main course. More often than not I would embark on a side quest happily due to the XP on offer, I would bring up my map and sigh as the location was a good 10 minute treck on horseback – yes I know fast travel is available, so there are two decisions – you can chose between a loading screen or a long run through the games landscape.
I am (as you probably can tell) playing through Metal Gear Solid: The Phantom Pain again – and I find myself asking the same questions. I adore being immersed in a story and gameplay, maybe I’m becoming bitter as I simply do not have the time I would like to play the modern day open world games…..maybe I’ll go back to playing The Last Of Us for the 50th time this year.
We all remember Led Zeppelin reuniting for their infamous 2007 show in London. It was household news. The squeaky clean presenters reporting it on the news in their expensive suits pretending they are fans, were probably wondering why this was their job to report. But for millions of others this was the answer from the rock gods in heaven (or hell) they thought would never become a reality. The prices of the tickets however, were outrageous and over 20 million die hard fans applied for tickets online hoping they would guarantee a place in one of only 20,000 available tickets. Now, the reason for this show was to pay tribute to Ahmet Ertegun, not because the members of the band had a few too many moths in their collective wallets. Led Zeppelin have always maintained their dignity in terms of what legacy they want to leave behind, this is something whilst albeit frustrating to fans, it is something to admire. They have not released the typical “greatest hits” compilation CD to line their pockets every few years hoping that their music will live on through the decades. With the death of their drummer John “Gonzo” Bonham the three remaining members actually did call it quits, the drummer for the 2007 show was in fact the son of their late drummer. Despite the huge anticipation of a full world tour after the London gig, they again stuck to their word and have not played together since.
Now bands reuniting after many years of being on hiatus is not uncommon, and does not only apply to the rock genre. (I have no doubt a Spice Girl reunion would cause world wide chaos). My issue is bands reuniting at the wrong time and if they are doing it for the right reasons. It seems if you do split up for whatever reason, your music will somehow be cherished and then the alloted anticipation grows throughout the music world hoping they will kiss and make up. Band’s who do indeed reunite and come back, seem to come back stronger. Band’s who weren’t getting radio play in their relevant time are now headlining festivals and completing global stadium tours. Does this boil down to their music ageing like a fine wine? Or simply their fan base has grown since the split. Whatever the reason, their does seem to be some sort of niche in this ever growing reuniting business.
This also applies to bands who promise they are on their “fairwell tour” which also seems to draw crowds twice as large due to the bittersweet fact the fans are under the impression they do not have another chance to catch a glimpse of their musical idol’s. Cher has had countless fairwell tours and are extremely successful. The self proclaimed “the world’s most dangerous band” Motley Crue have recently finished their final trip around the world as a band, and whether a tip of the hat to the rock world that this was indeed their final outing, the 4 members of the band signed a contract which would not allow them to tour again when all is done, this also applies to the remaining members not being able to use the name Motley Crue later on in life and simply changing the band members which is something again which is becoming more common.
Guns & Roses are the most recent band to be coming out of retirement and although the band has been touring using the Guns & Roses name, it was only lead by frontman Axl Rose. The original members of Guns & Roses have all gone on to having successful solo careers. So why the need to rekindle their musical relationship? Should they have taken a leaf out of the book of integrity Led Zeppelin have religously followed? This tour is and will be exciting. I simply hope it is not too late for them, and they are doing it for the right reasons