Something crystallised for me the other day when reading a piece you wrote about a game that, while praising its attributes in totality, you led with one perceived negative in that “it won’t be the biggest sandbox you’ve ever played”. This struck a chord, in that I’ve been a gamer since my age was in low single digits. Two-and-a-half decades later, I’m experiencing a squeeze between life and gaming.
What I’m observing is the ongoing expansion of game scope, with an almost automatic assumption that bigger is better. I can understand where this comes from – Final Fantasy VII was (and still is) one of the best games I’ve ever played, four discs of pure immersive game universe at a time when a lot of games were still transitioning from the constraints of cartridges. That was great when I had time to max out the game’s internal clock. Now, as a suit working in professional services, I might, note might, finish at 6:30 or 7, get home 45 minutes later, go to the gym (optional, I know), cook some dinner, catch up with people, and sort myself out for the next day. That leaves me wit with one hour for ‘personal’ things, if I’m luc lucky, before I go to bed and start again. Wh What does an hour buy you in an open pro procedurally generated world? Not a lot!
This is why I’m worried, particularly wit with the new gen, that games are going to con continually strive to be bigger. No Man’s Sky has five billion years of planet exploring. Sta Star Citizen has 125 star systems. I don’t wa want that. I want 20–25 hours’ play (or, to put it another way, a month to two-and-ahalf months’ play, depending on how much time I have) with structure and good progression. About two years ago, I made the mistake of starting Dragon Age. It was a great game and I really enjoyed it, but it took me the guts of six or seven months to complete, and by the end I was sprinting past everything with a laser focus on my map marker to get through the quests and complete the story. Not conducive to work/ life balance. Conversely, The Last Of Us is the best game I’ve played in years, in part due to its structure. I could play for 45 minutes or an hour and a bit and (not racing) complete three sections, feeling like I’d enjoyed and accomplished something. It was a perfect game for workers.
So this is where I conclude. I hope that developers, publishers, and the surrounding industry don’t start focusing just on those that have bags of expendable time. What about us who are growing into lives that have constraints? We don’t want to be pushed out by the very games that we want to play! I want to see a new tagline on some games: “This is for the workers”. Richard Franck
“I’ve shelved Unity for now, hoping it will one day become the game it sounded like in previews”
The makers of No Man's Sky and Star Citizen don't intend you to see everything, though: you can dip in or go as deep as you like. That seems better than a thousand tiny distractions, doesn’t it? If you can make the time in your schedule, tell us which piece(s) of SteelSeries gear you’d like.
Well I never, we are already at the first anniversary of the latest round of consoles. I’m obviously getting old, because this moment has prompted me to enter a period of reflection, though it could also be a natural defensive response to all the output from the marketing machines of Sony and Microsoft to promote the occasion.
I was seven when I played my first videogame – tennis on a very rudimentary “television game console”. Since then, I have successfully overcome the classic obstacles that confront an ageing gamer: family drains on time and finances, work
drains on time, and peer pressure of the “Aren’t you too old for that now?” variety.
With the Christmas release period in full swing, I should be happy. However, in this period of reflection, I do wonder if this will be the last generation I actively participate in, since the large players in the industry seem to be doing all they can to alienate me.
It started with the price drop so soon after launch for Xbox One, with little by way of apology or compensation for us day-one buyers. Since then, it seems to be one problem after another, none of which improve the experience of the player. New game after new game requires a large patch at launch. The era of helping players to buy (pre-launch reviews, free demos) appears almost over. Fourplayer, single-system multiplayer appears all but dead. The UIs of both Xbox One and PS4 remain ropey, and the need for countless logins and passwords is ever-growing.
Thankfully, there is hope, and it comes in a form that I would never have dreamt of a few years ago – thank you, iOS. Year Walk,
Bastion, Drop7, and Ridiculous Fishing offer stupendous entertainment. Even games like
Jetpack Joyride and Rayman Jungle Run are great fun, and help to recreate the magic of videogaming from years ago.
So where does this leave me and, if it isn’t too big-headed to say, many other gamers from the first generation of home gaming? Well, times change, technology evolves, and taste and trends move on. I will move with them as far as I can, but I suspect from now on I will enjoy midnight console launches from the warmth of my home, downloading from the App Store instead. Happy anniversary, new consoles, but I’ll give the party a miss.
Well, Bastion started out on Xbox 360, if we’re being picky, but you’re right that iOS is home to a galaxy of delights. A shame they’re often lost in a sea of hidden-object games and cynical me-too freemium tosh.
Regarding Phil Tully’s letter in E274, what does the certification process of publishers actually mean any more? I’m not as upset about online play – I prefer to play on my own late in the evenings when the family’s tucked up in bed, and the last thing I want at that time of night is someone else’s snotty teenager screaming at me – but his point about more and more games being released in a broken state rings true. I understand that no testing process is perfect, but I am at a loss as to how
Assassin’s Creed Unity can be considered a finished product when the framerate nosedives every few minutes, even after the massive day-one patch.
Platform-holder certification is even less clear, because it’s no shield against buggy products, and actually seems more like a tax. Indies often fall foul of these obtuse standards, with their games pushed back from their release slots at random, like someone spins a roulette wheel with every project that cost under $5million to make. Yet day-one patches for blockbuster releases are never delayed, even though it can mean downloading 2GB of data that still doesn’t fix basic issues with the game.
I’ve shelved Unity for now, and have gone back to Black Flag, hoping the newer game will one day become the game it sounded like in previews. But quality control has been the biggest failing of this new generation so far, and it needs looking at.
Boom and bust
I remember it clearly. It was 1992, and the clock read 6am. It was also Christmas morning. My parents were still asleep, but I could not keep my eyes shut one more minute. For months I had cajoled and put in my time of being especially good, all in the hopes of scoring a rare prize: a Sega Mega Drive with Sonic The Hedgehog 2. I was desperate. That month, the local video store, with its racks of VHS cassettes, had also begun renting game cartridges. I had almost exploded with anticipation. Now the time was almost here, and I couldn’t wait any longer. I had to be sure. I crept downstairs and cradled the large box in Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles paper. Steadily, I slipped a finger under the Sellotape at one end of the box and gently peeled it away. A quick end unfold later and a shimmering black box with a white grid upon it greeted my eyes. “Mega Drive,” the side read. “The ultimate computer game console.” I resealed the box and returned to sit with a giddying mix of impatience and relief on my bed. But that sneak peek didn’t diminish the joy of that Christmas morning, or my first hours with Chemical Plant Zone one bit.
Such was the power of Sega’s mascot once, but these days it’s hard to feel like the company cares at all about Sonic. Like many fans in an abusive relationship with the once-great hedgehog, I still dared to hope, but I am saddened by the news that Sonic
Boom is abysmal, the kind of game you give at Christmas to a child who has been bad. Relentless milking has drained the franchise of energy and creativity, while marketingled initiatives – cast inflation (Cream The Rabbit, seriously?), that iOS money grab, the charmless reinvention of Knuckles as a bruiser – have diluted the colour, speed and focus of Sonic to the point that the series is unrecognisable to what I unwrapped in ’92. Now it’s a byword for crappy design, not a poster boy for “ultimate” gaming.
Mario is no less ubiquitous, but he is topped up by gems such as 3D World and the Galaxy series. Sega can never extinguish the joy I remember, but if it isn’t to kill off Sonic for good, it needs to sit up and pay attention to the rival it once left eating its dust. I can only take so much heartbreak.
Yes, and games didn’t need patching, the trains ran on time, Mars bars were bigger, and your knees didn’t go all funny in the cold weather. When did we all get so old?