The video game player of 2012 has something that has never been available before in the past 30 years. It’s something that, for those of us who grew up playing games, is unbelievable and startling all at the same time. To explain what I mean by this, let me point this out: when I was a kid, my first video game systems were a Pong machine, an Atari 2600, and the Nintendo Entertainment System, each of which was referred to as “revolutionary” in their time – and they were. Fast forward 30 years, and here we are on the verge of the next, next (next?) generation of game systems, with the PlayStation 4, XBox 720, and Wii U all announced. Add to that a steady supply of powerful PCs on the market, and you have some game power unlike anything even imagined 30 years ago.
The game has certainly changed, if not in basic terms, than in execution over the past few decades, but the one company that seems least fazed by the change is the one that has fallen behind in recent years: Nintendo. In a recent interview with Digital Trends, a representative replied to claims that the Wii U would not be a powerful system, even compared to the current generation of consoles (PlayStation 3 and XBox 360), much less their next iterations:
“We do not focus on technology specs. We understand that people like to dissect graphics and processing power, but the experience of playing will always be more important than raw numbers.”
As the original Digital Trends article noted, this presents a conundrum for developers who may be more hesitant to develop for the Wii U if they are unable to present as much of a game as they could on the other home consoles. However, on thinking about the quote, I started to wonder if maybe we didn’t have things backwards: what if Nintendo is the one that is right, and it’s just the rest of us who don’t really understand what we’re missing?
To understand this, take a look back at what some might call the “glory days” of home gaming: The NES, Genesis, and SNES days. At that time, “high quality graphics” in a game meant 16-bit at best. Realism was something merely alluded to, and while graphics could be impressive for their time, you would hardly compare what you saw them to what is able to be accomplished today with ease. Developers were limited by the technology of the day in terms of what they could produce visually, which led to a simple conclusion: a great game had to contain more in the story if it was to be worth remembering. A great game had to draw the player in by narrative and gameplay, not by shiny landscapes.
The idea of game quality has changed over the past 11-12 years in particular – the birth of the PlayStation 2 was the dawning of a new age, where graphics were no longer as limited as they had been. Slowly, over time, the defining criteria of whether a game was worth playing was no longer how great it controlled, or how wonderful the story was. It became a matter of graphics, shininess, and “newness” that seemed to rely less and less on the foundation of storytelling. As an example of the quickest victim of this style of crafting, look at the Call of Duty series, which has been criticized as of late as presenting a lackluster story to support a graphical update to the game engine.
Modern Warfare 3 is one of the best selling games of all time, and the story still puts me to sleep.
Maybe I’m just getting old – maybe I can’t understand these “new games that all those kids play” – but for some reason I’m the type of player who wants some substance behind a game. I can remember playing titles like Final Fantasy 6 and getting involved with the plight of the characters. I play titles like Battlefield 3 and wonder why I’m playing the single player campaign at all, when the multiplayer is vastly superior. With a few notable exceptions (I’m dreaming fondly of you, Metal Gear Solid 4), story has seemingly gone by the wayside.
Nintendo has had a rough decade in the 21st century – the Nintendo 64, GameCube, and Wii have all performed lower than the competition, with the fewest titles of any home console in each generation. As developers flock to Sony and Microsoft to create the new “pretty princess” of games, Nintendo has simply stuck to their formula of “make the game good, then make it look as good as you can” and hoping that it works. Some games have succeeded, and others have failed, but I still can’t help but wonder what it would be like if the entire gaming world had Nintendo’s point of view.
What would the games of today be like if, instead of relying on phenomenal graphics to make a game, they relied on story and substance…and then let the graphics back that up? How much more fun would our games be if every one was written to have the same high quality style as series such as Metal Gear? Most importantly, how do we get the developers of these games to realize that we would love them forever if they would simply give us the next great story?
Chris has been a gamer since he was 2 years old. When he’s not waxing idiotic about “how things used to be”, he’s probably sitting at home playing a game or reading about them. He does not accept invitations to be stalked, but he gladly accepts worship, warships, and pie.
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