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An Ongoing Tribute to my own lameness.....

General random thoughts about gaming, both within and outside of the MMO genre.

Author: Jimmy_Scythe

Dying Novelties, Part 5: Lookin' to the Fyoo-Chah!!

Posted by Jimmy_Scythe Tuesday August 28 2007 at 9:55PM
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Throughout history, several have laid claim to the ability to predict the future. I am not one of those people. I do have some ideas of where the industry will be headed in the next ten to fifteen years, but I fully admit that most of my conclusions will probably be wrong. I'm hoping for about a 50/50 outcome, but that really is a tall order statistically speaking. At any rate, lets wrap this series up with a few predictions about the video game industry.

  1. This will be the last console generation. -- We've known for quite some time that there is a level of performance that we can't go past lest we create fire hazards in a box. I'm going out on a limb here and expecting that the current console generation will last for about ten years. The exception will be Nintendo who will, most likely, release one more console five years hence. While it is possible to put just a little more ass into a console, it's almost impossible to do without some kind of extreme cooling system. Yes, console manufactures could go the PC route and concentrate on hardware accelerated physics and AI, but that isn't something that can be captured in a screenshot or sold via in-game footage. With the exception of the Wii, consoles have always sold on graphics alone, and we are about to hit the wall in terms of what we can achieve graphically while staying within a mass market price range.
  2. PC gaming will finally go completely indie. -- With the development budget of console games reaching the seven and eight digit mark, it's unlikely that developers are going to want to risk spending even more money to produce games for the already marginalized PC market. Yes, PCs are far superior to any console, but that's kind of the problem. If developers are already sinking left and right while making console games, imagine the bloodshed that occurs to devs that exclusively produce games for the PC! Not only is the graphics hardware an issue, but compatibility issues create a nightmare of customer service budget hemorrhaging.  I expect  AAA developers to completely abandon the PC in the years to come.
  3. Speaking of AAA games.... -- They present most of the problem with the gaming industry. In our single-minded pursuit of "BIGGER, LOUDER, MORE!!" we've actually reduced to the profit margins to the point that only a few high profile players can even make games. Most games, currently, lose money. There are a lot of ways to attack this problem, but no one outside of Nintendo even wants to admit that a problem exists. It's for this reason that I see AAA games slowly dying away. You'll know the end is near when EA is the only publisher of AAA titles on the planet and all game development is done in Pakistan.
  4. The future is portable. -- Show of hands: who here DOESN'T own a cell phone? Next time you're out and about, count how many people are playing games on cell phones, DSs, and PSPs. I guarantee that you'll be shocked. The current hot rumor in the portable wold is that the next DS will have cell phone functionality in order to compete with the iPhone. Of course, a similar rumor was floating around just before the GBA was unveiled. Big N made the DS to compete with cell phones and PDAs, Sony made the PSP to compete with the iPod. Who knew that Apple would combine the two? I know that some of you are going to yell N-Gage at me, but that's not really a solid argument. Nokia was a cell phone company that tried to play the video game game. Nintendo is a game company that will probably be more than happy to let Verizon, US Cellular, T Mobile, or some other company play the cell phone game with their hardware. For a fee, of course....
  5. The future is downloadable -- Direct download games are kind of a double edged sword on the PC. On the one hand, they are completely doable and are being done. On the other hand, they make piracy incredibly easy. This isn't so much of an issue on consoles or on cell phones. In fact, some of the best games on the Wii and Xbox 360 are direct download. What's even cooler is that most of the direct downloadable games on consoles ring in at under $10 while cell phone games are usually around $5. Smaller, cheaper games, without the overhead of packaging or buying shelf space at big name retailers (*cough* Wal Mart *cough*) are a win win situation for developers. It can take as little as six monthes to make a portable game and as little as $300,000. Combine that with a direct line to your customers and the money just rolls right in. The best part is that you don't have to look like a complete social retard by standing in front of the game aisle at the age of 30+.
  6. Everyone who wants one will have their own MMORPG. -- Remember in part three where I said that virtual social environments were more popular than virtual game environments. Well, this will probably be the end result. Second Life and Active Worlds already have areas that are a lot like MMORPGs. However, Neither of those are all that reliable or smooth which leads me to think that the virtual spaces of the next ten years or so will be more like a combination of IMVU and Ventrillo. Basically, you'll be able to make you're own area, a "home" if you will, and people can visit it or you can visit the homes of others. the catch is that you'll have to pay a monthly fee to be able to have more people to connect to your "home" beyond, say eight people. To twist the knife a little further, you'll probably have to pay for items and scripts to place in your "home," but there should also be a way that you can create  your own stuff and give / sell it to others. The result? Everyone who wants to run their own MMORPG will pay for a huge area and either ask for donations, or sell in-game items to the people that play in their "home." It's really not all that different from private servers really. Expect a lot of stock areas and artwork. It'll be a lot like the Diku flood of the mid 90's. You know, that time when there were something like 6,000 MUDs that all looked alike and were some variant of Diku. I'm also figuring that the World Forge project will be in a fairly workable state within the next ten years and that too will allow everyone that can rent a server the ability to host their own MMORPG. Yeah.... It's gonna suck.....

And that's basically it for my predictions. I guess now would be a good time to clear up any possible misunderstandings so that we're all on the same page.

To begin with, I realize that consoles and cell phones only have limited memory capacity for downloadable content. The answer is to use proprietary (as in, not editable without the original hardware) storage media or allowing someone unlimited download access after purchase on just that one device. Next, I realize that the iPod was not around when the GBA went public, I was merely pointing out that there was a rumor that the GBA was going to also be a cell phone shortly before it was released.

With that out of the way, I think this sums up the logical outcome of current trends. If even one of my predictions comes true I'll probably die of heart failure. At any rate, the video game novelty won't completely disappear; it'll just get toned down from the eleven that it's currently on, down to a more reasonable seven or eight. The "hardcore" years are finally coming to a close.

Dying Novelties Part 4: Those that refuse to die...

Posted by Jimmy_Scythe Tuesday August 21 2007 at 7:53PM
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For the past 3 installments of this series, I've been pretty negative. I've pointed out that games are novelties, both on the console and the PC. I've also pointed out the slim hope that is held out by the MMORPG genre. Even so, very few novelties ever die completely.

 

This week I want to focus on a different hope. I want to focus on those video games that have actually stood the test of time. Yes, video games are a novelty, but so was Backgammon about 5,000 years ago. You could say the same about most sports as well. There are several novelties that are still with us today such as the Slinky, Etch-A-Sketch, and Magic Eightball. The real question here is: Will Video games be the Reversi and Chess games of the future, or just another Rubik's Cube clogging the toy aisle?

 

The only way to avoid trivialization, that I can see, is to make games that are timeless in the same manner as Risk and Monopoly. Obviously this is going to take a totally different design attitude than what is currently the norm in this industry. This is the reason that we look back, or more accurately at, games that people still play today despite the games being extremely long in the tooth. The hope here is to extract a set of guidelines for making games that will last across multiple platforms for generations. After all, we've had Monopoly since the American Great Depression and people still buy it.

 

So let's take a peek at some of the undead titles that are currently residing on emulators, cell phones, console anthologies, portable systems, and even in web pages. Some of these games represent whole genres that should have died years ago, but persist through the efforts of a strong online community.

 

Rogue-likes

 

These games have been around for freakin' ever!! Spawned in the early '80's, these ASCII tributes to ugliness and complex user interfaces are still being made and played to this very day. You can download a remake of the original or check out many of the newer rogue-likes at the Temple of the Roguelike. There have never been this many Rogue-likes in development before and the community just keeps getting bigger and bigger. Not bad for a whole genre that doesn't use any actual graphics.

 

For the uninitiated, Rogue-likes are RPGs that use ASCII characters rather than tiled bitmaps. Practically everything in these games is randomly generated. Scrolls, potions, weapon attributes, dungeon layouts, they all change from one game to another. These games also feature permadeath. While the game will autosave when you exit, it will erase your save and start you over if you die. While this all may seem pretty harsh, you never really feel that you died randomly in a well designed Rogue-like. Every time you bite the dust in Angband or NetHack, you know it was your own damn fault. While it is possible to finish the original Rogue in about eight hours, it'll take you at least 50 attempts before you get good enough to do so.

 

As a side note, there is a new generation of Roge-likes that are raising the bar in excellence while making the interfaces even more cryptic for beginners. These new games open up deeper interaction with the environment as well as greater depth in character development. Check out Dwarf Fortress and Incursion to get a taste of what the newest Rogue-likes are about.

 

 

 

Shmups

 

Short for SHoot eM UPS. These are the classic vertical and horizontal scrolling 2D shooters of days gone by. Guess what? They're still alive and better than ever! While there are scores of people that are playing Don Pachi and Giga Wing, the big buzz in Shmups is in the Asian doujin scene. Games like Warning Forever and Gunroar keep the genre kicking on both sides of the Pacific. Not all doujin Shmups are free like ones previously mentioned and can't technically be sold outside of their respective countries, so you need to be careful when downloading. Web sites like Shoot the Core also keep the community informed of the latest and greatest titles.

 

What's interesting here is that Shmups are actually older than Rogue-Likes. This whole genre dates all the way back to Spacewar! circa 1962. This genre envelopes everything from Space Invaders to Smash TV. Impressive not only for it's age, but also the fact that 2D games are supposed to be dead. Even 3D games that play like 2D games (Pandemonium, Klonoa, R-Type Final, etc.) are supposed to be dead. But be honest, if you see a Galaga machine at the local bowling alley, aren't you just a little bit tempted to slide quarter into it and play a round or two? I always give these games a whirl when I encounter them "in the wild" and I'm hopelessly addicted to just about anything made by Kenta Cho.

 

So what's the big deal here? Well, this is a genre that requires an almost Zen-like level of concentration. You have to be able to move thought into action without any transition in between. If you take the time to consciously make a decision, you'll probably bite it. These games are short and intense. Just making it through five minutes on one of these things makes you feel like you've accomplished a feat that is beyond most mortals. As soon as I pass 75 levels of Titanion I'll probably make a vid of it and post it on Youtube. Yeah, it's that gratifying. If you've never played one of these, it's like the accomplishment of eight hours of Zelda packed into three minutes. Hard, fast and casual are the words that best sum up this entire genre.

 

 

 

Tetris

 

They will probably be playing this long after our great, great, great grandchildren are all dead. I personally don't think that there's anyone on the planet that hasn't played this game. Seriously! If I'm in a plane that goes down in some remote jungle somewhere and I crawl from the wreckage and start playing tetris on my cell phone, I'm pretty sure that some native bushman will emerge over my shoulder and go "ah TETRIS!!" After sharing a laugh and brief moment of recognition, said bushman will probably kill me and take me back to the village to be served as the evenings long pig. But you get the basic idea....

 

While Tetris isn't the only popular puzzle game out there, it's certainly the most played and timeless. The modern manifestation of the puzzle game is the "Match-Three Colors" games like Bejeweled and Chuzzle. Although more traditional falling block games like Columns, Klax, and Meteos are also popular.

 

Ultimately, the formula remains largely the same. This is pattern matching in a form that can only be done within the context of video games. The same thing that drives people to do Crosswords, Sudoku, and Word search puzzles in newspapers is the same thing that drives people to play these games. This is why the most popular puzzle games on the market right now are Match-Three Color games without time limits. It's leisurely pattern matching that draws the casual crowd. Even the speedier games like Tetris and Columns start the player off at a fairly slow pace. In later levels however, Tetris can take on the properties of a Shmup as you have to almost intuitively place the pieces in order to keep everything going. The hook, as with Shmups and Rogue-likes, is to do better than you did the last time. There is literally no end to these games, so the challenge is to keep it going for as long as possible.

 

So the guidelines go as follows:

  1. Games should have enough pattern to be coherent, but enough randomness to keep the player on their toes.
  2. Games should completely engage the player for however long they choose to play.
  3. Difficulty should ramp up over time spent. Starting slow and picking up speed as the player progresses.
  4. Dead space should be minimized as much as possible. The player should always be doing something and a game should only last as long as is appropriate for the gamer.

Four not so simple rules. While I'm sure that a further study of these games would reveal several more universal guidelines to game design, this is really all I have time for today. Notice that each one of these rules can apply just as easily to FPS, RTS and MMORPG games as they do to the olde skool games of the past. Next time you play a game, ask yourself how many of these rules were really taken into consideration.

Dying Novelties Part 3: The Unpronounceable Acronym.

Posted by Jimmy_Scythe Sunday August 12 2007 at 1:39PM
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MMORPG has to be spelled out. I once heard someone pronounce it as more pig, but that just sounds really dumb. Sure, you have to spell out FPS, RTS and RPG, but adding three other letters steps away from the whole purpose of having an acronym in the first place. You might as well say the whole genre title, since it will take you just as long. Still, you can't help but to feel a little smug when you drop this on your non-gaming friends and family. Not only do you have an important sounding acronym, but you get to make them feel stupid in the process. It's a novelty that you can enjoy even if you don't like and/or play MMORPGs.

So, as you may have guessed, this week we'll be talking about the novelty of MMORPGs. More to the point, it will be about the novelty that drives MMORPGs. Those of you that have been reading this series are probably nodding and thinking "It's about damn time!" Those of you that dare to care about this series are probably yelling "Get on with it already!!" at your monitors. So without further ado...

The problem with talking about MMORPGs, in and of themselves, is that you really can't do so without also talking about MUDs. I could go into a long spiel about the history of MUDs and dovetail it into the history of MMORPGs, but I think that there are enough articles covering that floating around the internet as it is so I'll spare you. It's enough to say that the two are so related as to be practically siamese twins. The only real difference between the two being that MUDs are text and MMORPGs have graphics. One person actually stated, on the forums here, that they believed a game could only be considered an MMORPG, not a MUD, if it had graphics. Long story short, they both have the same attraction and, for the purpose of this article, can be used to investigate the draw of these games.

For those of you that have never played a MUD, imagine a series of chat rooms that are linked together in a very specific way so that you can only get to a particular room from a connecting room. The links between rooms are designated in ten directions (north, northeast, east, southeast, south, southwest, west, northwest, up and down respectively) and each room displays a description upon entering like a MOTD. Furthermore, each room can contain a series of objects that you can interact with. For instance, if you enter a room and the description reads: "it's pitch black, you can't see anything" you might type "clap" and enter twice to turn on a lamp and get a room description. You can also pick up and carry some objects. And some objects are "mobile" and move freely from room to room. Ultimately though, MUDs are just collections of fancy chat rooms where you have to specify when you're interacting with objects or talking/emoting with another player. The line blurs when you interact with another player character that acts as an object under a player,s control. This is just meant to sum up so I won't go into all of that.

Back in the late 70's and early 80's, this was a big deal. It was amazing enough to just be able to interact with a virtual environment, but to do it with 20 or 30 other people at a time was downright awe inspiring. The original MUD was hosted for free on a university computer so people either had to play from a dumb terminal on campus or pay for phone service to connect. I've heard stories of people that paid hundreds of dollars a month in phone bills just to play. And you thought $15 a month was bad.....

It would be really easy to chalk all this up to the ability to interact with the environment in a manner such as Zork, or Colossal Cave, but MMORPGs have grown to several million players world wide and we've been able to interact with virtual environments for 30 years now. We've been able to do so graphically since, at least, the release of Kings Quest. So it's obvious that the novelty here is multiplayer, right? Um... Not exactly....

We've had multiplayer games for almost as long as we've had MUDs. Gauntlet and Contra spring immediately to mind, with Space War! and Pong representing the very earliest multiplayer games. Online multiplayer games have also been with us forever with Legend of the Red Dragon and Hundred Years War representing the point of origin on BBS. Later games like Air Warrior and Doom would refine online multiplayer near to the point that it's in today.

At this point  you're backing all way up to the first M and thinking that it's the massive number of players, but that's also not quite accurate. You see, the novelty here isn't really any part of the acronym. It's not really anything that's readily apparent on the surface or hard coded into the game. To understand this, you have to think of features that aren't included in any other online multiplayer game. Things like messaging, buddy lists, guilds, systems for managing parties of gamers. Am I the only person that thinks this sounds a lot like MSN / Yahoo messenger, ICQ and MYSpace? You see, the major draw to MMORPGs isn't so much a novelty as a driving force of human nature. The "novelty" of MMORPGs is community and the need for social interaction. This is the reason why MMORPGs hold the key to a future for the gaming industry. This is also a reason why gamers should be concerned.

Why concern? Because it wasn't WoW that got the cover of Business Week and a write up in Time Magazine, it was Second Life. Because purely social web MMOs like Habbo Hotel and Club Penguin are making astronomical profits and headlines to boot. Because the numbers speak for themselves and they're telling the boys in marketing to drop the G from the end of the acronym. Up until now, MMORPGs have tacked community onto multiplayer games. In the future it seems, multiplayer games will be tacked onto the back corners of online communities. See a problem?

It also doesn't help that MMORPGs are designed almost exactly like single player RPGs. EQ may have forced players into grouping by making enemies too strong to defeat without the Tank, healer, Buff wizard and Damage dealer combo but, from a design stand point, that's exactly the same as The Bard's Tale. Socializing isn't really integrated into the gameplay beyond who you need for your group and knowing your job. Many modern MMORPGs have a player search function so you don't really need to socialize beyond sending invites and a few macro'd communications to your team. The most popular MMORPG out is WoW and you don't need to interact with another player at all if you don't want. Sadly, it's the fact that you can solo through WoW that makes it so popular. The "hardcore" gaming crowd is antisocial by nature. Any game that incorporates social interaction as a major component of gameplay is doomed to fail with the core gaming demographic. Thus forcing MMO developers to aim for a market outside of the the core gamer demographic.

Don't believe me? Go look at the subscription numbers for A Tale in the Desert. Back in '98 they released an RP/community focused MMO called Underlight that almost no one has ever heard of. What's the first thing you hear of when people start talking about Asheron's Call? Bet you it's not the alliance system. This was a very loose political pyramid scheme that was much hyped at AC's release. Too bad nobody cared. Even casual friendly and community oriented Puzzle Pirates only has 34,000 paying subscribers. Given, that's not a bad number when you consider that it only cost about $3 million to make Puzzle Pirates, but it just shows that gamers want to play games rather than talk or piss around about who's in charge. How many rants have you read about guilds detracting from the enjoyment of a game? Yeah....

There are ways to make socializing and community part of the game without distilling everything down to a glorified chat room. Some of the best board games ever made so this seamlessly. Monopoly, Settlers of Catan, Diplomacy, all integrate and rely on social fencing that isn't specifically referred to in the rules. One of the greatest computer games of the early 80's, M.U.L.E., did this to a degree that has never even been attempted in the computer/video game industry before or since. Seriously, go here, gather together three other people and play this game. You'll know pretty quickly what I'm talking about.

So there it is. The greatest hope and despair of the industry. MMORPGs hold the key to something greater, but with development being considered expensive in comparison to $20 million dollar single player games it seems rather unlikely that the full potential of the genre will be realized by the commercial segment of the industry. With core gamers being antisocial by nature and uppity about indie games, it's highly unlikely that small development houses and freeware developers will even be noticed if they do manage to realize that potential. We'll just have to wait and see....

Dying Novelties Part 2: The PC Years

Posted by Jimmy_Scythe Sunday August 5 2007 at 7:50PM
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Last week I dropped the bomb that video games are a novelty item and then discussed the video game crash of 1983. I also promised that I was going to apply my thesis to MMORPGs this week. Well.... I lied....

We still have a little ways to go on this journey. I had originally intended for this to be in three parts, but that number has multiplied into five. This week I'm going to talk about PC games, next week I'm going to talk about MMORPGs, the week after that I'm going to discuss those anomalies that transcend novelty, and then I'm going to wrap it all up with some predictions. Whew! That's a lot more work that I had in mind when I started this. Anyway, on to the PC games!

When we last left off, PC gaming as we know it didn't really exist yet. The aforementioned crash happened long before the PC and Mac took over the home computer market. In fact, there were more home computer brands than I care to list right this moment. Suffice it to say that PC gaming didn't really start until the early '90s. Since I was a “hardcore” PC gamer for much of that decade, I'm going to relate this section through the filter of my own experiences.

I bought my first PC at Radio Shack in 1994. It was a 486DX 33MHZ with 16 Megs of RAM and a 256 Meg hard drive. It had no CD drive or sound card. I bought it with the excuse that it was going to help me with college. To drive home the fact that this was an excuse, I flunked out of college that same year. But damn there was some good gaming to be had during that period of unemployment and $400 a month checks from my GI Bill.

Between 1994 and 1996, I upgraded that system constantly. Fist I installed a sound card and CD drive. Then I bought more memory. Then I bought an overdrive chip that made it function like a 75MHZ Pentium. Then I bought an external 14.4 modem that later got swapped for an internal 28.8. I played Doom, Master of Magic, Civ2, Warcraft, Duke Nukem, Quake, Mechwarrior 2, etc. and ad nauseum. I used programs to play games online such as Mplayer, Kali, and TEN. At one point, God help me, I subscribed to AOL just so I could play Harpoon Online. It's funny how you can be barely employed and still afford all this stuff when you live in your parents attic....

By 1997 it was time to move out of the house and get a new computer. With a new full-time job, that paid slightly more than minimum wage, I was able to rent an efficiency apartment and build a completely new computer from off the shelf parts that I ordered through a local computer repair shop. It really wasn't much of a life. I worked 60 hours a week much of the time only to come home to a single room furnished with a futon, bookshelf and a cheap computer desk complimented by a plastic lawn chair. For the first year, I didn't even have a TV. I didn't really need a TV though, I HAD THE INTERNET!! In all of it's 56K dial-up glory. With an ammo crate full of games and access to infinite porn, what more do you possibly need? I should also mention that I eventually owned a Playstation ($100 from a pawnshop) and a Nintendo 64 ($80 also from a pawnshop). Between 1997 and 2000, I bought so many games that the wall-to-wall bookshelf above my bed (futon) was stuffed with PSX and computer games. Most of which, I never completed.

You also shouldn't think for even a second that I stopped upgrading. In those three years I overhauled my machine twice and went through about four graphics cards. Yeah, I was working a lot of overtime back then. I vaguely remember one day (I worked 3rd shift) where I had just gotten off a 72 hour week and the landlord came over because I was behind about three months on my rent. I just handed him a gangsta roll of twenties to cover it and had him write me out a receipt. It was a crazy time in my life, and looking back I realize that I was working just to play games. I had no other life. Work, go home, play games, sleep, wake up and do it all over again. It's hard to really track the series of games and upgrades since I just wasn't in any physical or emotional shape to pay much attention. It all must have gotten to me though since I took off one weekend at random and met the woman that I would later marry. That last bit changed quite a bit of my gaming life.

At this point I want to discuss just how it got so out of hand. I decided to step up to PC gaming because I was tired of games that were marketed to ten year olds. At the time, games like Under a Killing Moon and Civ2 offered themes and thoughtful play that just wasn't meant to appeal to anyone under the age of 19. I had also always been fascinated by military flight simulators and the PC had those in droves back in '95. Let's also not forget that Doom had just come out the year before and there was nothing like it to be found on the Genesis or SNES. So it had the novelty of “mature” content. Although most of the time the “mature” label meant that it had titties and bloodspray, not that it dealt with subjects and references that kids wouldn't get or couldn't enjoy. It's kind of the difference between Fight Club and Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers. Both were violent, sexual and surreal, but a 12 year old could understand and enjoy HCH while being confused and frustrated by Fight Club.

Another Novelty that hooked me was the graphics. PCs have always been at least one generation ahead of consoles in the graphics department and I'm no more immune to it than anyone else. The shiny factor was the biggest draw to it. Yeah, my first PC cost me $1000 and the second one came close to $700, with subsequent upgrades clocking in at about $500 year, but it seemed worth it just to keep within the specification of the newer PC games coming to market. Speaking of the PC game market, it was larger than it is today by an order of magnitude. If you get worked up over one or two PC games coming out next year, imagine being that worked up over four or five titles a month! Every six months the new graphics cards came out and every month a new game was announced that took advantage of the rumored features of those new cards. I don't think we'll ever see another time like that in PC gaming.... And that's kind of sad...

Back on track and still looking back, the largest amount of my free time was spent playing FPS and RTS games online. The online multiplayer thing was another big, big novelty. While I could play Street Fighter or Tekken against another person in my living room, the PC allowed me to play against 8 to 32 other people at all hours of the day!! Counter-Strike, Team Fortress Classic, Rainbow Six, Starcraft, Red Alert, Starsiege: Tribes, I played all of those games religiously. I found a sense of achievement and self worth in being good at something. More to the point, I found validation in being better than someone else. I'll admit that's really, really sick, but I worked endless hours doing manual labor for shit pay. You take your ego boosts where ever you can find them in that situation. Eventually voice chat would come along and ruin this for me. Hearing the cracking adolescent voices issuing out of TeamSpeak has a tendency to reduce your victory to the level of beating a toddler at a game of Tic-Tac-Toe. There were other factors that made online play less than desirable, but I wouldn't notice those until a little bit later.

Related to the online gaming was the novelty of exclusive genres. FPS, RTS, and MMORPGs were all exclusive to the PC and couldn't really be done anywhere else. Even single player RPGs felt entirely different from their console counterparts. The problem here is that the market became flooded with “me too” games in these genres. Sin, Dark Reign, Kingpin and Warzone 2100 are just a few examples of games that did the bare minimum to be included in their respective genres but were unremarkable in every other way. At the height of the RTS genre, there were around 35 titles on the shelves and most of them looked and felt like Starcraft. I don't even want to consider the number of FPS games that were out at that same time. Buried under mountains of crap titles, it became very easy to get burned out. The result was players buying the one or two standout games in their preferred genre and then just playing whatever mods that were available.

And that leads us into the novelty of modding games. The PC let you try your hand at being a real-life game developer! While there were, and still are, thousands of players that produced mods of varying quality, most gamers only had enough discipline and interest to make one or two maps and call it a day. While I did dabble in modding, I never attempted to make a total conversion or any scripting that would take me longer than an afternoon or so. I still kind of wish I hadn't trashed my UT Triple-M mod (Triple-M stood for Midget Madness Mod). There was something to be said about fighting off hordes of makeshift midgets armed with chainsaws. Anyway, this phenomenon allowed me to play UT, Half-Life, and all the Quake games for several years without ever needing to buy another FPS. Of course, I still bought other FPS games.... I just didn't need to and didn't care that I didn't need to. As a side note, RTS games didn't get modded that much. Aside from Total Annihilation and Warcraft 3, I can't really think of any RTS games that got major overhauls from the community. At any rate, mods kept me glued to my desk chair long after I had completed the single player game and gotten bored with the online play. Even that wears off though. You eventually realize that you're just playing the same game with a different skin.

And that's really it as far as PC gaming “hooks” go. Those five things are what kept me going strong in PC gaming for just a little over five years. All good things come to an end though, and by 2000 I had experienced all that the PC had to offer. It was all just beginning to get stale. I think that 2000 was a turning point for the entire game industry. The death of ideas was becoming readily apparent and many other PC gamers were beginning to notice that next quarter's games were quite a bit like last quarter's games only prettier. FPS games were also moving onto consoles, with Quake 2 appearing on the PSOne and both Quake 3 and Unreal Tournament getting online enabled ports to the Dreamcast. Hell, even Starcraft was being ported to the N64!! The next generation of consoles was set to deliver the exact same things as the PC and suddenly spending $500+ every year just to play the same tired genres just didn't seem worth it. I didn't really get it yet, but something was about to happen that would force me to accept this.

That something was being laid off from a job that I had held for three years. At the beginning of 2000, I was laid off and was unable to find work for six whole months. When I finally found another job, it paid less and provided less hours than I needed considering that had about six months of back rent due. My land lord didn't know I was unemployed and just figured I'd pay in full when I got around to it. Three months later I would get fired from that job (telemarketing) when I got sarcastic with one of our ever unwilling “customers.” Not long after that, I was evicted. Faced with low funds and forced to move, my “hardcore” days were officially over.

It wasn't all bad though. I made some friends at my new job and discovered life away from the computer. One of the closest friends I had at the time lived with his mom in a household of five where he was the only one that worked. He got sick and was terminated before me, so eventually no one in his household worked. It was strangely surreal how I adjusted to finding entertainment without dropping $50 bucks a week on games. While I was a telemarketer, I picked up a Dreamcast on the cheap ($100) and I still play the damn thing. I would go over to Grevan's house and we would watch movies, play N64 games like Gauntlet or Mario Tennis, sing welfare carols, and just generally hang out and bullshit. This made me see through several myths about gaming that I otherwise wouldn't have recognized. In summary:

 

  1. Gameplay first, Graphics second – And I don't just mean technical achievement in graphics either. I played Mario Tennis, Powerstone, Chu Chu Rocket, etc. because they were good games. Most “hardcore” players won't touch these games because of the presentation. Their loss really.....

  2. Storyline gets in the way of the game – The best games that I played during this time had practically no storyline at all. Why? Because they were games and not interactive movies. Because they were games, they were also mostly multiplayer affairs as well.

  3. Online gaming is over-rated – Playing Offline over a LAN or on a console with people you know is considerably more fun than playing online. Why? No dropped games. No cheating (you can see what the other player is doing at all times), Playful shit talk rather than hateful insults. NO LAG!! Online play is more of a last resort that you take when you there isn't anyone around to play with and the bots bore you on their hardest levels. I think that Danni Bunten said it best: “No one ever said on their deathbed, Gee, I wish I had spent more time alone with my computer.”

  4. Games are a past-time not a lifestyle – All things in moderation. Spending time doing other things makes the games that I play that much more interesting. The best games don't demand endless hours of your life, they give you entertainment in what ever time you decide to spend with them. Terms like “hardcore” and “gamer” are just marketing tools to make you spend your hard earned lifeblood on something that should really just take a backseat to the business of living.

 

The major problems with the industry actually started on PC games that emphasized the very things that detract, overshadow, or just don't add anything to the gaming experience. Because of this, the driving force behind the industry, novelty, is growing stale and many of the “hardcore” and “elite” are losing interest.... Fast!

Next week I'll discuss MMORPGs and why they may be the key to something bigger but are still held back by the single-player design mentality. Later days.

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