Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Times of Excess

Video game players who've been around a long time, like old-timers in any culture, frequently pine for the good old days... frequently its those never-to-be-equaled times when 2D was the order of the day and your-choice-of-dead-system ruled the kingdom.

But honestly we've never had it so good. I've done my share of cranky old bitching with the rest of 'em, but we are living in a golden age game-wise. When I was a kid, I'd have let a pack of grimy gnomes pull half of my teeth out if I could've had access to all the amazing shit players have today. There are times like, uh NOW, when I think gamers, journalists and players both, are almost assholes for complaining.

Some things were the same then as they are now. There are still cheesy or cheating players. The companies ARE out to make a buck and sometimes they do things or make decisions that suck. Some design choices could've been implemented a lot better. Games with frustrating difficulty.

But we are such absolute spoiled little shits. I mean I look around at what I have... what my kids have. Maybe not everyone has the gaming setup my family does... some have more, some have less obviously. Currently I have a large plasma screen with multiple consoles hooked up (through nothing less sharp than s-video) to two switch boxes, including a Neo Geo AES which was an untouchably expensive system when it came out. My kids each have an LED flatscreen in their rooms with my daughter having a Wii attached to hers, and my son having an Xbox 360 and PS2 on his. Both of them also have DSi handhelds, and a box with most generations of Nintendo portables ready to hand. Currently they are enamored with iOS games because they've each gotten an iTouch this summer. All the games... and these number in the hundreds by now... are all readily available, neatly arranged on shelves organised by system and whether it has been 'beaten' or not. Compared to most 'civilian' households this is a bit deranged, but compared to many homes where video games are a big part of the landscape this is nothing. We don't even have any video game merch apart from some Sonic shirts my son owns.

But what the fuck, yeah? I mean 'the good old days'? What is that really supposed to mean? If there's some old system you want, you just go buy it on ebay or emulate it on your laptop or play downloaded versions of that system's games on a newer console. Lamenting the passing of good old 2D gaming? Through these means you can relive all the old shit OR just take a look at the dowload or portable spaces and see where 2D platforming and fighting and shooting lives again.

It's endless. I can't even keep up with it anymore. If you want to talk about games, gamers, or gaming, communities small and large are never futher away than your mouse opening up a browser. I can have an online conversation with a buddy in Australia and then go see what he's playing on his Xbox 360 right then, live. My son frequently puts on his headset to chat with one friend who's playing Fallout, while he himself is fighting seven other guys in a Halo retread!

Recently my kids have taken to the so-called social gaming scene. These are retardedly casual games that require little more than patience and the ability to resist spending real money on virtual objects. Tap Zoo, Bakery Story, etc etc ad nauseum. It looks like most of the 'fun' is in making friends and looking in on what other people are doing with their versions of the game. Not my cup of tea. But the point is that it is a whole new form and venue that doesn't even have an analog in the 'old days' of video games.

Child of Eden is the first game I've seen that makes me think about buying a Kinect. Standing in your room and moving your body about to play a game is something out of Tron, kids. We could only imagine it. You can join a MMORPG and thousands of fellow adventurers are pushing around in the same sandbox as you are... at the same time. The closest thing to that in the really old days were MUD dungeons. Those almost aren't even recognisable as games by today's standards.

There ARE things that have gone away, and not for the better. Shit that I miss. As connected as we all are, none of it replaces the thrill and immediacy of arcade gaming. All the lights and sounds (particularly in GOOD arcades). The competition, particularly in fighting games. Even in shooting or platforming, getting your initials up on the high score screen, knowing the next person to come along might knock you off, that was something. Civilians frequently picture gamers as solitary loners, sweatily pawing their keyboards to slog through onscreen dungeons between visits to porn sites, but video gaming has always had hugely social aspects to it. The whole world is the arcade now, but fighting teabaglulz99 from Novia Scotia doesn't have quite the thrill, to me, of sending little Billy packing after he's beaten four previous players spamming Genan's spin move in Samurai Shodown.

A lot of the creativity SEEMS to have left. Favorite franchises get mired down in their same old mechanics. But then the fans shit noisy geese if the devs try to change anything. These are more contentious times. Everyone thinks they should have a say. Access to other gamers is so easy, the noise can be overwhelming. Print isn't really dead, but in terms of game magazines, the information mainstay of the old days, it might as well be. Getting all your gaming news, reviews, and opinions from the internet seems so very soulless. And how much work is it to separate out all the fucksticks at Kotaku, Destructoid or wherever, from worthy information. Developers often seem to operate like movie studios and their summer blockbusters. Big budget titles pandering to the lowest common denominator. Committees deciding what gamers want, and the creator/auteur aspect squeezed completely out of the equation.

Games these days are too easy. Or too hard. Or too short. Too long. Too expensive. Really?

I'm dabbling with Mushimesama Bug Panic on my kids iTouch. It is five 'worlds' long, with each world having five stages and a boss stage. It has hidden items and areas if you wish to look for them, and rewards you with pieces to a jigsaw puzzle mini game for each item you find. Each stage probably takes about five to ten minutes if you try to search out all the hidden items and manage not to die. Bosses take only a few minutes but you are not likely to get them on the first go. I'm currently stuck myself on one of the stages in the middle of the last world. So adding togther thirty stages at say ten minutes apiece, you could say you get three hours of game assuming you play perfectly AND don't replay anything for a better score or fiddle with the jigsaw puzzle bonus game. On an iTouch, it is a pretty small screen, but the graphics are colorful sprite-based objects typical of Cave. And of course loads of bullets on screen and a bazillion point items all being vacuumed up by your avatar, Reco. This would probably be the cat's ass on an iPad.

I paid five bucks for it. That's only one dollar an hour assuming I get ONLY five hours total out of it. Here's a game that answers all the complaints. It isn't too short, it is a few hours for a five dollar game. There's more with the replay value. It isn't too long, it is perfect pick up and play gaming, you can leave off wherever and get right back to it whenever. It isn't difficult to get pretty far in the game, but it isn't so easy that there's no challenge. As I said, I'm currently rather stuck near the end. Just as it should be.

Also? Five bucks. My biggest complaint is the controls, but I'm a big fat baby when it comes to touchscreens so my complaint about that should be taken with a grain.

In a world where video games are so common and available there IS a fuck-ton of dreck out there, no doubt. But a little looking around and a willingness to read up on shit and mess around with demo versions will do wonders. My kids will download and play with any piece of crap on their iTouches, but that's part of the fun too.

I guess this rant is a bit of a call for perspective. There are reasons to bitch. It's fun to bitch and vent. But to go back to the good old days? Time and memory paint those days rather rosy. It WAS more exciting to get a new game back in the Genesis days. Games weren't just falling around us like they are now. Every purchase or gift was an event. But the actual PLAYING... there's so much more to it now. AND you can have the games from the old days if you want to. I can jump and dash Sonic through his contest with Metal Sonic just as I did then. But I can also play a game where a single controller handles dodging, flying, slashing, and pointing into the screen to shoot (like a lightgun game) ALL AT THE SAME TIME. See Sin & Punishment: Star Successor for the Wii.

I'm grateful my kids get something good out of video games just like I did (and still do). They also have an appreciation for the older stuff, as I've gone on about before in this blog. I've been around, and playing, from the early early days of video gaming, and I need to appreciate the NOW. Games are still really fun. a player just might have more sifting to do now then I did back then. That seems like a small price to pay for all the choices.

1 comment:

  1. So true! If my fourteen-year-old self were to merely walk into my living room -- let along actually play any of the games in here -- he (I!) would have felt like he'd stepped into the garden of Eden itself.

    Speaking of Eden, I'm still not sold on the Kinect -- not even for that -- but I did make sure to pick up the game. Looks damn cool.