Sunday, 30 September 2007

Stranded in a Sea of Silicone

by Rabbie Macintosh

Initially, I’d love to be able to say that this article is about breasts. However, I can’t, as it is about something that you’d normally associate with the kind of person who hasn’t seen a real pair of breasts without parting with a considerable sum of cash.

Over the last few years, the face of gaming has changed significantly.

Now, please accept my sincere apologies for the lengthy pre-amble that I am about to embark upon, but I don’t want to give the impression that I’ve only
just arrived on the gaming ‘scene’ – I believe that I’ve certainly seen and done enough on consoles and actual computers over the years to be able to share an enlightened opinion with you. What that opinion is, I’m not entirely certain, as I’m letting my brain wander between the various hemispheres of my limited intellect until it arrives at the right spot by accident.

I first got into gaming with a Commodore 64 in 1986 – and have been going since then, getting most major consoles on the market and additionally a fair share of gaming quality PC’s – safe to say, I’ve paid my fair share towards the technology boom enjoyed by the companies in pursuit of the best profits, er, games.

There have always been great rivalries between the various factions of Hardware developers. Sinclair, Amstrad, and Commodore. Sega, Atari (remember the Jaguar?), and Nintendo carried this on in the early 90’s, but it’s worth mentioning that Commodore tried to prize their way in here, but failed, with the CD32, which indecently, is believed to have been largely responsible for their downfall. A trend emerges from all this, and it seems to be that eventually, all great console developers eventually meet their end. Looking at the successive generations of consoles, only Nintendo have been able to avoid bombing out at some point. But they’re the exception, as they were very quick to embrace innovation, and genuinely offer something new. This, along with a near fanatic army of lifelong fans, has guaranteed they will remain for a number of years yet.

The current generation of games sees the 3 great foes, Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo, battling for our hearts and TV’s with their latest generation of offerings. Technology has always been an expensive hobby, but these days, it’s moving into the realm of idiocy. At least with the previous generation, you could get the most from a console with a normal television. Nintendo, maybe to their credit, have not deviated from this line of thought. Sony an Microsoft have basically asked you to shell out an additional £300 minimum for a shiny HD TV to fully utilise what they are offering you, making your minimum purchase around the £600 mark. Depending on how much you like gadgets, this quickly rises above £1,000 – then games on top - £40 – 50 each. Quite soon you find yourself very poor indeed.

Then, there are the target audiences. I’ll be honest here. I’m a sucker for marketing. I actually believe all the hype that they spin. I’m hopeless and completely beyond help. I fall for it time and time again. On no less than 3 occasions I have found myself in a line outside a gaming retail outlet waiting for the very latest release of something, what exactly, I couldn’t honestly tell you. Over the years I estimate that I have spent over £25,000 on consoles, televisions, games, controllers, PC’s, online subscriptions, and the like. Please be aware that this is not a boast, it’s an admission of idiocy.


So, Sony and Microsoft want to get their mitts on the ‘serious’ gamer, the kind of person that will happily sit down and plough through 6 hours of their life in a mystical world full of intrigue and adventure until the story plays out. The sort of person who looks at information such as frame rates, resolutions, textures and sound modes. The person who will analyse the layout of a level, and maybe even look at the statistical odds of success of any given section before undertaking it.

Nintendo are different. They want the more relaxed gamer. They are more interested in people that want to have fun. The kind of person who w
ill happily pick up the pad/wand/glove/other unusual and original control device and just dive in to the game. They may not play another game for months, but they will remember their console experience more fondly.

So, the obvious choice is to go for the Nintendo console, the fun angle. Simplicity itself. It gets to live for a further generation, and Microsoft and Sony can taste crushing defeat. Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. The decision between the various consoles is mired by the choice of Software available. The latest, greatest, best marketed and shiny games tempt the consumer one way or the other. The truly damned try to go for all, and discover that only 5% of the software market is unique – and that they have just shelled out a c
onsiderable sum of money for a shiny book-stop.

Then, in the way that it inevitably comes about, there is the rivalry. Oh joy, the fanatic baying of the hordes, locked in an eternal struggle to see who’s expensive toy will ultimately reign supreme over the inferior products of the competitors. Power versus functionality, graphics versus speed, online play versus social life, the debate is endless. The internet, once it was firmly established that everyone had a voice, seemed to be the ideal place for these electronically minded enterprises to fight the newest incarnation of the console war, but they quickly realised that they didn’t have to, as people would do it for them, in huge numbers, for free. Imagine if that kind of enthusiasm could be generated for actual combat. The concept is terrifying once you think about it. Religious extremism would seem tame in comparison.I’m rapidly running out of space, and getting no closer to something resembli
ng a point, so I think that I’ll try to establish that one now.

Ultimately, there comes a point when technology will cease to be as innovative as it at this present time – there is only so far one can push graphics before you cease to notice differences. There will always be the 'next generation' of systems, but we are going to eventually ask ourselves why we continue to shell out large sums of cash for something that takes no significant step forward. Surely we should be more concerned about the enjoyment derived from a console, and therefore, we find ourselves back at Nintendo.

Ironically, this is the one manufacturer that I ow
n no consoles from – you see, SEGA won my loyalty back in the summer of '94 with the Megadrive II.

Funny how these things come about.


The fun is back, oh yes siree,
It's the 2600 from Atari! (or from Little Man, What Now?)

5 comments:

Edwin Hesselthwite said...

Excellent first post! Welcome to the team Rabbie!

Charles Pooter said...

Another Little Man joins our band. Welcome!

Pritchard Buckminster said...

Welcome indeed.

Having just this morning staggered from a coccoon of indifference to reality caused by over indulgence in Halo 3 I can agree whole heartedly with what you say. Possibly the finest FPS ever does nothing new *gasps*. Still roxors the noobzors tho (etc etc).

Ted Hoffman said...

Welcome!

'there is only so far one can push graphics before you cease to notice differences'

I wonder if this is acutally true. I don't know if I am getting slower or games harder, but I can no longer play the more advanced (non nintendo) games to any level, but I still enjoy seeing the improvements in graphics that they contain.

The latest generation of consoles are the first to have any games that could fool me for a moment that the graphics are in fact 'real '. But this is in a small miority of games and doesn't last long. I suspect the next consoles, in 5 years time or so, will have games that can sustain this effect for longer. But I our minds are very good at picking up slight flaws in charactor animation, human faces etc, and it may take many more genreations of games to really iron this out.

Dan said...

when is someone gonna write an article about Speedball 2?