[Editorial Tuesday] The Evolution of Gaming

From the 1970s to 2017

As an extension to Honey’s History of Gaming, we are sharing the evolution of the gaming industry, and its possible future. As long as gaming is going to be around, it will continue to be in our hands in some form(s). Not only have the games evolved, but also the mediums they are presented in. In some ways, people like to see the evolution of gaming go hand-in-hand with the evolution of technology. So in what ways has gaming evolved the past 30 years?

The Evolution of Graphics

It is really difficult to believe with the first home console in the early 1970s, the Odyssey, it used mat displays to put on a screen in order to play as a substitute for graphics. As for early PC gaming on the Apple II and the Commodore 64, they were text-based and required BASIC-programming skills in order to function (there were instruction books on how to play games in BASIC back then). But as technology progressed, so would the graphics and in turn, how players would interact with the games. Between the eras of 8-bit and 16-bit, graphics were pixelated, and went through its own unique evolution. During the era of Atari and the original Nintendo, the pixels were blocky but would eventually have smoother rendering towards the end of the end of the original Nintendo, and be perfected with the 16-bit systems.

Though 16-bit systems were still largely 2D, they loosely had some 3D games such as the Donkey Kong Country series, Super Mario RPG, and the original Star Fox thanks to extra memory chips in the cartridges. Though 2D exists today for the sake of retro gaming (or when the gimmick of the game requires it), 3D graphics are progressively becoming lifelike. Thanks to monitor displays such as 4K, this helps bring out those qualities like in Monster Hunter where players can believe humans and dragons live together. With games such as The Last of Us, Final Fantasy XV, and the upcoming Death Stranding, gamers feel like they are experiencing the world as opposed to playing.

But modern graphics can still be cartoony, too. With Nintendo’s present consoles such as the Switch and Wii-U, they emphasize more on the fun of games and their simpler graphics are a great reflection of that. With the technology of mobile devices and handhelds, simple 2D animated graphics are expressed through many J-RPGs available on smartphones, or most games on a 3DS to accommodate less memory on a mobile device and for simple fun.

The Evolution of Gameplay: Have They Gotten Too Easy?

If you watch the Angry Video Game Nerd’s channel, he likes to make fun of how games on retro consoles had difficulty that could be frustrating and ridiculous. The purpose of his reviews are for the sake of humor, but sometimes the best joke can be the truth and when people play those games first hand, they do see the legitimacy of the difficulty in those games. Though the games were simple to pick up, they were hard to master. Beating some of those games back then were a very big deal. If you beat Contra without using the codes, you’d be considered a god! So the next question is, are modern games too easy?

As stated earlier, games are now becoming cinematic and story driven. They have intricate dialogs, elaborate cut scenes, and come across as a movie or a TV series and it motivates players to want to play to the end. Naturally, watching a movie or TV show where you are in control of the direction is an understandable appeal. Though story driven RPGs and adventure games existed in the old days, they felt a lot more like books as opposed to movies. Maybe difficulty isn’t the source of the problem, but rather as a reaction to these qualities. In the old days, if your character dies, you start from the beginning of the level, or the beginning of the game.

With today’s games, you can easily just save on your console’s hard drive, while saving in the old days on a cartridge (if it had the internal battery to do so) was a novelty (though there were password and code systems in those days that made up for this). On the other hand, this expresses games have evolved to what they are now are also a byproduct of how technology has evolved to express games in terms of complex cinematic storytelling.

Many present popular franchises that are open world games and/or first person shooters are much longer with campaigns and missions that could take hours, and going back to the beginning after dying while putting that much time would be illogical and ridiculous. So sometimes long but simple with a story to get players invested offer a different kind of challenge and reward. Of course in most games, players have the option of choosing the difficulty if that is available to them. Maybe another alternative in finding a challenge is to play online against (and/or with) other players.

Last, other challenges gamers can pursue are collecting trophies when achieving something within the game (or find something with quality replay value).

The New Challengers: Smartphones and Tablets

In the end, the basic mediums of gaming are always going to be the same. They can be consoles, PCs, and handhelds. But if there is one rising medium in gaming that is making an impact, it is mobile technology in the form of smartphones and tablets. Even Nintendo and SEGA are developing games for them. Due to the convenience and simplicity of smartphones and tablets, and how easy they are to program for, making games are a very profitable decision. However, due to the popularization of these mediums, many game analysts feel they are a threat to console gaming.

Unlike other handheld games like the PS Vita and/or the 3DS, smartphones and tablets don’t require changing cartridges or discs in order to play, and players can just simply switch between apps within the device. Plus, they can be used for web browsing, email, and watching movies if they are ever out waiting for their order at McDonald’s. Plus, there are VR helmets and apps that are compatible with smartphones, and they are much cheaper than the PlayStation 4’s. Conveniently, they can also be used while riding on a train or a bus, waiting in line at the local DMV office, or having a cappuccino at Starbucks. And for those of you who drive, please don’t use a smartphone or tablet while driving and to always drive safely. However, the PS Vita and Nintendo DS also have touchscreens (though the DS recommends the use of a stylus) and include microphones, and the Vita is capable of having cellular connectivity through a subscription.

The Evolution of Control

For some gamers, they might not like the idea of simply just touching a screen to play a game and many can emphasize. Some enjoy the comfort of a controller and/or keyboard and mouse, and certain games require such control layouts. But with modern console games, we can enjoy motion controls for a more physical immersion. Now fans of Dragon Ball Z can use the Wii controllers and gesture the pose to fire a Kamehameha. Or we can use them to play ping-pong. With the recent release of the Switch, gamers can use the controller for novelty games such as pistol drawing duels, have a race who can milk cows faster, or feel like you are holding a bag of marbles and guess how much are inside.

In addition, consoles can now use cameras. They can be used as regular webcams to broadcast players on Twitch, or they can make players interact with objects projected on the screen. So if Asobi, a toy robot appears on the screen, it will appear next to the player on the monitor (if properly positioned in front of the camera) and can react to the player's’ movement. In addition, the Vita has a unique touchpad on the back of the handheld that allows players to have an extra sense of control. With the FIFA series, players can aim for certain areas of the goal.

Though more emphasized on handhelds, games can also interact through microphones. In fact, the original Japanese Famicom’s controller had a mic, and in some dungeons of the first Zelda game, players could blow into it to take out enemies. But with today’s mics, players can argue OBJECTION whenever they see a contradiction in the Phoenix Wright series by adding a more personal element to how players connect to their games.

The Power of Brand Recognition

The brand name is always going to play a big part of the industry. No matter what, gamers are always going to have Mario, Sonic, Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat, and other reputable franchises. They still retain the loyal fanbase since their initial releases and introduce fresh features in new installments to bring in fans. Mario is going to jump. Sonic is always going to run fast. It’s not what they do, but how they do it is what one game does to distinct itself from the last. Granted the hardware specs and functions of Nintendo’s consoles are nowhere near that of the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, Nintendo still prides itself as a company more focused on gameplay as opposed to graphics.

Starting from the Wii, Nintendo mainstreamed motion controls (and Sony and Microsoft would later follow suit). Yes, they attempted this with the Power Glove during the days of the NES, but only worked on a small number of games and had faulty reactions. Last, its exaggerated portrayal in the planned movie called The Wizard, further tarnished its mockery of a reputation. But just like how Apple learned from the failures of previous products such as the Newton, Nintendo took what they previously failed with and made it a success. Then with the Wii-U and Switch, not only are they consoles you can hook up to a TV, they can function as portable consoles as well (and the PS Vita can be used as a remote way of playing PS4 games).

With brand recognition comes pressure. In the past 20 years, games have been subjected to multiple delays, or in the worst-case scenario, cancellation. The Last Guardian, the sequel to Ico and Shadow of the Colossus was announced as far back as the debut of the PlayStation 3 in the mid-2000s, and during the prime of the PS3, it was largely put in the back banner. And for nearly 20 years, Duke Nukem Forever was in limbo. And God only knows when Kingdom Hearts III is coming out.

When companies announce something that is to be released at a certain date, fans are naturally expecting it to be released on that day since they are paying for it (or may have already pre-ordered it, or if it was crowd funded, donated some money to the cause). After two decades, Duke Nukem Forever came out and was subjected to negative reviews. The Last Guardian, on the other hand, became a phenomenon. Sometimes delays are made due to budget issues, staff shortages (or changes), or that the game just suddenly doesn’t become a priority for the company anymore (such as Silent Hills from Konami). Usually, delays can kill the hype and ultimately consumer trust. In some instances, they can be for the better. Can we take the wait any longer? Please keep in mind that ET for the Atari 2600 was programmed in six weeks and look how that turned out. So in some instances, rushing to get a game out can still have catastrophic effects (and get buried out in the desert).

The Next Stage in Evolution

In the end, games are meant to be fun. There’s a game for everybody. For some people, they enjoy Call of Duty. For others, they like a simple game of Tetris. Games are the ultimate simulation in just about anything you can name. It can be a war in outer space, flying an airplane, farming, being a police officer on a high-speed chase (or the reverse), or a soccer player. Back then, gamers could play with multiple people in the arcade and make friends with other players. Today, all consoles and handhelds have online access, and players can play against each other online and communicate with their headsets. Guilds and teams are formed, bonds are created, and so are intense rivalries through these interactions. Games went from simple text on a screen to wearing VR helmets in the comfort of our own homes. Others may enjoy VR, or some would like to play on a 4K screen for high-res graphics.


Final Thoughts

It’s really hard to believe that many years ago, some people thought present day technology were impossible. A good number of mainstream features from motion control to VR were already done years ago but had yet to be perfected and affordable to the consumer. Upon their debuts, the original Atari and Altair were considered state of the art. Who is to say years from now, games can be played in the form of holograms in our homes? Or can we experience games by connecting our cerebral cortexes to a mainframe like in The Matrix and Ghost in the Shell? Hopefully, we can live long enough to see that.

What benefits will games bring in the future? Back in 2011, an HIV protein was decoded thanks to a group of gamers. The lead developer of this program feels that games are a good connection between technology and humans. Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak (and Tetris master) shares the same sentiments. He felt by bringing games to the home computer, it would make people less afraid and embrace them. Games are a great extension of modern day technology and can teach us many skills from problem-solving to developing hand-eye coordination. Hopefully, future games can offer the same benefits and more.

Justin

Writer

Author: Justin "ParaParaJMo" Moriarty

Hello, I am originally from the states and have lived in Japan since 2009. Though I watched Robotech and Voltron as a child, I officially became an anime fan in 1994 through Dragon Ball Z during a trip to the Philippines. In addition to anime, I also love tokusatsu, video games, music, and martial arts. よろしくお願いします

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