I was sitting with a friend a couple of days ago, we were talking about the new game releases and how magnificent the technology of game making has advanced through the decades. Suddenly he struck me with a question that I did not see coming.
He said… “Don't you think that games are getting more realistic than it should be? I mean we play games to escape reality, not to find ourselves on another real world. What happened to the old games? Where did that line go between reality and games?”
To be honest the question dazzled me… I was cornered and could not answer it… However, I am a man that does not let go of things that easy, especially in a field I claim to know so much about. Therefore, I did not stay put but went on for a little quest of my own, to bust the game developers (or designers) methods.
In the past, a year to be exact, we as gamers have seen such a major change in games. In fact, we have gone through a tremendous outbreak in the game technology. If you don't know what I mean then pick up any game that was released prior to 2007, and then pick up any new game, for example S.T.A.L.K.E.R, Half Life 2 (episode 1 or 2) or even Portal.
(I know that S.T.A.L.K.E.R was released way before 2007 but it was one of the first games that started this outbreak).
What I would like you to look at and compare, are games like “Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots”, “Crysis”, “Metal Gear Solid: Twin Snakes”, “Hit man 2: Silent Assassins” or even “Code 47”. Those will show you exactly what I am talking about.
However, to understand what games have gone through, we have to know what games consist of, right?
So what do games have? Games have three main components: Visuals, Gameplay and Storyline. As you see, the first two are the ones that have had major technological advancements, and have been tinkered to a level I don’t know how they would advance in it any more. The third however depends on narrative and creativity of the game designer. To be more specific, it is in the hands of the game storywriter. These would only be found in the major game companies, like UbiSoft, Bethesda Software or Eidos.
Mostly I would have liked to take each to discuss and analyse alone, but games are a one package deal. You cannot discuss gameplay without talking about graphics, and you cannot discuss graphics without talking about storyline and so on...
When games were first being introduced in the 80s, there was little people dedicated to working on games, and it was more of a personal hobby. So most games at that time were nothing but text based games. Contributing to that as well is the limited technology featured, after all the first computer (actually, it was only a mainframe calculator) was created during World War II to calculate various aspects of ammo and weapon storage. The text-based games were just lines and lines of text.
At that time too, the only games made were based on books. It was a major outbreak mind you. After all, it is a big step forward from reading a book to be given the ability to change the outcomes of such book depending on your choices. That was what games were all about. Therefore, there was no graphics, no hideous tedious controls that would freak you out and no 101 menus to go through just to get your hero to fire an ice shard on your enemy.
Then with the pixels discovered, everything has changed, even story telling. People were not naïve anymore, they wanted more, they wanted something to represent what they are reading about and they became … less imaginative by time. Nonetheless, they had little to no time to imagine things and this is when the 2D graphic system known as Kernel appeared (which is widely known by retro developers).
Examples of such games are the old and classical games you played on the Atari 2600. The gameplay even changed to involve a more complex setup, and now instead of you choosing (or writing) what you need to do (for example to move the character or jump), now all you have to do is pressing a button.
The storytelling however was not all that shiny, but after coping with the new system, the storytelling advanced a little and even surpassed the old bookish style. Following through that era many good games surfaced, a lot like Prince 1 and Prince 2, and in fact, all the DOS based games. I remember even a particular game that was known by the name of Full Throttle, which was a DOS based game. It presented puzzles and choices for players inside the game, combining the good storytelling element and the graphics of the retro game, along with easy to use controls.
Nevertheless, game developers were aiming high and there was nothing but open sky to aim at. In the mid 1990s, the concept of "Game Engine" was produced, along with the birth of the 3D graphics. Then games came to be one of the largest industries, and many people knew this by it becoming a main job. No longer was it a hobby pursued by one individual or one team, but rather a group of hundreds of people. That time came when games like Doom, and Quake surfaced; people went frantic about how marvellous the graphics were.
That said, “Game Engines” started to float around in the market, and the developers licensed the core portions of the software and designed their own graphics, characters, weapons and levels. That meant a more varied and enlarged team to work in games. In other words, games got to be more complex, and with that came more complex controls, which is when they advanced from the mere keyboard layout to using the mouse as well.
By the time the Game Engines spread around, developers were realising how much profit they could make out of it (Warcraft III engine was licensed for an estimated $3,750,000), and that began the start of Doom III and Quake III Arena, but it just wasn't enough. Storyline started to resurface and then games started not to be all about graphics, gameplay or even storyline. Gamers from all over the world started to seek freedom as they no longer want to be rooted down to a single situation. They don't want to be guided through the game, in other words, they don't want developers to tell them how to approach a certain situation.
That is when the games reached a magnificent breakthrough, with the release of games like The Elder Scrolls III Morrowind. With the diversity of game types (which are now known to us as genres), people were overwhelmed, but that doesn't mean they didn't like it. On the contrary, for them, games almost mimicked how a person would react in real life. Giving the gamer the ability to choose his fate in a game wasn't just a brilliant idea, it was the best idea they have ever made for games, the concept was a hit.
Later on games even advanced through this, up to the point where you make your own game by yourself, with games appearing like Civilization IV and the Sims series. However, the game graphics were still judged to be limiting the potential of games.
But in 2007, the sudden appearance of multi core processors made it possible to make the advance in graphics that is when games hit the roof. For now, games have reached its peak; you no longer see state of the art cut scenes and then transferred through to another different quality of renders to play with. But now we have what are called the Next Generation games.
Next Generation Games let you shape the world you play in every aspect. Take Spore for example. Will Wright, developer of Spore, has made a choice of opening the whole universe of the game to the player. You can now make endless outcomes from different approaches. So the next time for example, you visit your friend and ask to see what he has done in Spore, you won't find a resemblance; of course there will be bits and pieces the same, but not like what you would imagine.
Another example is S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadows of Chernobyl. Yesteryear when you died while playing, say, another game called Hitman Blood Money. You died by the hands of some guard, you reload the game and the level layout will still be the same. The guard marching from point A to point B of your target is sitting on the couch, but then while playing S.T.A.L.K.E.R. you find that those days are over, the next time you reload the game it wouldn’t be the same. I mean you won't find yourself safe in the USA for example, but at least it won’t generate the same outcome. One moment might need to find an item. You might find it the first time, but the next time you might find it was stolen by another STALKER and the game from then on will change.
Riding the games train, you can never know where the next stop is. For me, I see that games have reached its peak. For others they think there is still much potential in the gaming life, and there is still a lot to be done. But one thing I know for sure, the next time I see my friend I will know what to say. “Games are supposed to be fun, and we play it because they are. How real they get is nothing but another flavour added to the dish. Since we all play games for not only fun but because we try to accomplish things we can't in real life. Therefore, the next time your real boss gets on your nerve you won't be able to "shut him up". But you can sure as hell fire up GTA San Andreas and beat the hell out of every citizen and police or military officer you see in the name of avenging your poor nerve".