Saturday, April 26, 2014

The future of gaming

So, when I say Sega Genesis and Super Nintendo, what comes to mind? Rarely are they the same images. The Genesis had Sonic, Streets of Rage, Phantasy Star, and Shinobi. The Super Nintendo had Mario, Zelda, Metroid, and Star Fox. All different genres, each with unique audiences in mind. Then, if you had a lot of money back in the early 90’s, you could buy a computer gaming rig. You had to buy special graphics cards and get the newest version of Soundblaster, but it was worth it for revolutionary games like Mechwarrior 2, Wing Commander 3, and Doom. No matter what you had back then, you had a completely different experience than the kid across the street.

Now fast forward to the early 2000’s. This was a time when graphics finally started to approach realism. Consoles were even starting to give computers a run for their money, and for the first time, many PC games made their exodus from the office to the living room.  Still, as in the early 90’s, each system had its own unique style. The PS2, which was first out the gate, was the big seller back then. It had a little bit of everything, but seemed to particularly thrive on Japanese heavy hitters like Capcom, Konami, and Square. The Gamecube, on the other hand, was devoted to more party games like Mario Kart and Smash Brothers Melee.

Finally, you had the Xbox. While I loved the Xbox (it was actually my favorite console that generation), I noticed something peculiar about it at the time. That is, it really didn’t have an identity. Rather, it was the first console to rely pretty heavily on already entrenched titles from the PC. Granted, there were huge exceptions to that like great original games like Halo, MechAssault, and Knights of the Old Republic. Yet even these games were touted for the wrong reason: it reminded people of what they played on the computer. Halo, as wonderfully creative as it is (the first two Halos are high up on my top 50 list), was developed originally to be a console gamer’s Half Life. By 2005, the Xbox even had two flat-out poor man ports of Doom 3 and Half-Life 2… where their mediocrity could only be enjoyed by those without a keyboard.

By 2013, consoles have finally hit the low watermark: redundancy. Simply put, why on God’s green earth would I pay half a thousand dollars to play an inferior console game that’s already available for only a marginally more expensive, and more versatile, laptop? Seriously, does anyone have a cogent answer to this? I would really like to hear it, and I’m not being sarcastic. The Xbox One is seriously trying to sell itself by ignorantly strutting around with a glorified webcam and offering the dumb opportunity to watch football… on my TV. Wow. Awesome. I guess there’s always Titanfall, right?

If anyone doesn’t think this market is on the verge of collapse as it’s currently defined, is living in Microsoft or Sony fanboy land. The future of hardcore gaming is already here: it’s called a computer. The future of casual gaming is also here: smartphones and microconsoles like the Ouya. This time last year, everyone thought the Ouya was a joke… most still do. It’s true that it was largely a flop, but it latched onto a profitable idea: most people don’t want exclusive gaming platforms anymore. They want games to go along with their Netflix, not the other way around.

While I have purchased an Ouya, and personally love it for its old school emulators, I realize that’s not gaming’s proverbial powder keg. You know what is? Well, as of last month, it’s Amazon’s Fire TV. Years of console gaming’s laziness has brought this on. Now, in addition to watching the newest episode of their favorite show, families can use Amazon’s own proprietary controller to play Angry Birds, Minecraft, and even Madden. It’s great for the average consumer… and the ultimate nightmare for Sony and Microsoft. Grab some popcorn, folks, console gaming’s going up in a ball of flames.

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