There?s a different mood in the air following this year?s E3. I?ve noticed it on more than half a dozen gaming sites, and elsewhere. It?s a faint sense of disappointment. Is the computer games industry in a crisis of creativity? Have we run out of new games to experience, new genres to invent, existing genres to twist? Is the status quo of computer games becoming Status: Woe?
Not a bit, of course. Several years ago, during dot com mania, “The End of History” was gleefully declared. It was decided that nothing new would be done; we had reached the limit.
History (ha ha ha) has since proven this wrong, and indeed the statement now seems rather silly. Science over the last few decades has had people from within its ranks stop and ask “Have we discovered everything?” The answer is a resounding no; the individual has simply run out of imagination.
That?s the problem we seem to be having among various industry writers; they?ve run out of imagination. The industry itself certainly hasn?t, but sometimes, people not only fail to see what is in front of them, they fail to deduce what is just around the corner.
Let?s briefly reiterate the litany of Status: Woe. No new genres, or original twists on existing genres, all games coming out nowadays are mass-marketed sequels, designed to appeal to the lowest common denominator. They eschew flair and original storytelling in favour of flashy cut scenes and cleavage.
This is yawn-inducing in me because, as an old man of 30, I?ve been here before. The computer games industry has been here before. This kind of hubbub tends to increase right before a massive breakthrough and revolution in gaming, so in some ways it?s not entirely unwelcome. To make this clear; I view such comments as reflections on the individual making them, not on the industry itself.
One time this kind of talk was occurring (not the previous time, just the time I remember most) was right before the game Populous was released for the Commodore Amiga. Ahhh, the Amiga- but that?s a tale for another time. At this time, 16 bit desktops were relatively new, games coming out for them were mainly just upgraded versions of 8-bit titles, or sequels to those. Talk like that above wasn?t slow in coming.
Out came Populous, and shut everyone up. It was an interesting little game, with hindsight you would say it was part Sim, part RTS, but neither of those genres existed at that time (unless you count Little Computer People, released several years before, as a Sim). Designed by Peter Molyneux, it could be considered a precursor to Black & White.
This pattern has repeated since then too; Wolfenstein and Doom gave birth to the FPS genre, while Dune 2 brought the RTS genre into being. You?ll note it doesn?t take too long for something to go from revolutionary new genre to old hat. That a game is FPS is no longer noteworthy these days- it?s the setting and gameplay focus within that genre which is considered important, which is all to the good.
And let us not forget The Sims. Assuming you don?t view it merely as a modern update of the Little Computer People (I?m happy to give Will Wright his due here) it must be setting a speed record of going from new genre to old hat. It achieved this all by itself, thanks to a million (give or take) different expansion packs delivered over a short period of time.
With that brief history lesson out of the way, what amazing unforeseen new developments do I see coming? Well, if I knew what they were, they wouldn?t be unforeseen, now, would they? Okay, so I won?t leave it at that.
I can take a good guess as to where they will occur: Online. The Internet has revolutionised gaming over the last few years, even though we take it for granted now. Not just in the games themselves, but in the way in which we as consumers approach games. A competition like the World Cyber Games would have been unthinkable just 10 years ago- now it?s one of a number of international computer games contests.
These days it is common in a game not to look for whether there is online play, but to look at what types of online play are available. This is a sign that the Internet has become truly embedded in gaming, we now consider the online element to go without saying, and look at the means of access and play modes, not for the mere existence of an online element.
Online play is changing due to the increasing take-up of broadband. In the US, about half of all Internet connections are broadband, which accounts for roughly one sixth of the population. Other nations (except you, Korea) lag behind this figure, but broadband growth is happening. Broadband by itself is not a revolution- it?s just an enabler. It is the catalyst through which breakthroughs can be achieved.
There will be more and more games released for which there is no single-player mode at all; this will be anathema to the game?s concept and make up. Games as diverse as Battlefield 1942 and Shadowbane are but harbingers of what is yet to come, signposts that indicate the road down which the industry is now headed. I expect this to happen more and more across many genres, just as I expect us as gamers to not really notice it as it happens. One day soon, we?ll think of the PC (assuming that is still our primary games machine) as a gateway to the net, and storage for client files; nothing more.
While I personally claim no great creative genius when it comes to designing a totally new type of computer game, I can see it rapidly approaching. Don?t let anyone tell you these are dull, lacklustre times. Don?t believe in Status: Woe. This is an exciting time, as we stand on the threshold of great strides forward for computer games.
Disclaimer: The Ninth Circle was written by Lorelorn (David Kay) and hosted by Diii.net. The views expressed in these columns are those of the author, and not necessarily those of Diii.net.