In the 90’s Playstation helped take gaming away from the image of childish plaything to a widely accepted form of mainstream entertainment. Since then gaming has expanded way beyond the boundaries of that box under your TV and into an endless sea of varying devices. Developers have answered the need for smaller more accessible games to capture an audience that play on non-dedicated hardware with limited input options. All of which I consider a great boon to the industry that I love.
Well, that was until these tiny time-waster games starting making more money than some of the big triple-A blockbuster games and with only a fraction of the effort put in by developers. The cheap price and general ease of production has since tempted a lot of developers away from big budget games and onto pointless projects that are never going to see the same success as Angry Birds no matter how much they wish upon a magic star. Of course I’d never name names *cough* Peter Molyneux *cough* Curiosity *cough* , excuse me.
However, the continued popularity of a few out of the millions of these simple games coupled with the down-right genius of the indie dev scene has led to a question being asked. That question is…
“Why do we need better hardware?”
…and although it’s a question that crops up in many different forms it’s almost always echoed by those with diminutive past experience of the industry or little to no imagination. Now I’m not saying all those in opposition of advancements in gaming technology are children with no imagination. There are valid reasons for not wanting new, more advanced hardware but a lot of the time it stems from greed (business interests, i.e. a publisher might make more money if they kept making games for old platforms), jealousy (like if someone cannot afford to upgrade they won’t want to be ‘left behind’) or pride (as in a fanboy not wanting their console of choice to be replaced).
There’s a counter-argument I see pop up regularly and it’s one that, despite being used almost to the point of cliché, is still quite poignant. It goes something along the lines of that if the detractors of advancements in hardware had their way we’d still be gaming on a NES with 2D sprites. This seems to suffer from argument fatigue in that back in the NES days everyone was all for advancements in gaming technology, so what’s different now? As I mentioned above the world is a much different place but that can’t be it, there has to be more to it than that.
It seems to have become much more difficult to distinguish between the advancements in gaming as the critics of the Playstation 4 reveal would have you believe. This is a slightly unfair way to judge the possibilities of upgraded hardware as it’s incredibly difficult to judge anything from 2 minute pre-alpha builds and what were probably very rushed tech demos. To my eye there were many obvious improvements but they seemed to pass over the heads of most of the gaming press, who concentrated on unjust and premature criticisms.
So what exactly are the benefits of better hardware? Well, there’s the obvious ones like:
Graphics - Graphics are downplayed a lot in gaming these days. They seem unimportant to most as they can find just as much enjoyment from simpler looking games, which is a valid opinion to have but let’s not forget that greater visual fidelity can not only aid in immersion but also improve the very gameplay aspects that make a game stand out. For example, back in the N64 days, I remember playing Turok: Dinosaur hunter, which is a pretty standard FPS even by today’s standards but the level of fogging masking the awful draw distance stopped it from becoming as good as the experience I can get from modern shooters. So, draw distance, frame rate and general visual fidelity can lend plenty to the gameplay experience of a game, bottom line graphics DO sometimes matter.
Then there’s the not so blatantly obvious stuff like:
A.I. – A.I or artificial intelligence has become increasingly important in today’s games as worlds grow larger and story becomes a prevalent aspect. Having good A.I. can aid endlessly with the general believability of the game world and help immerse the player in the game. As I understand, A.I. can take up a lot of processing power, which is where advancements in hardware will really start to pay off in the coming generations.
I could go on and on about the advantages of newer hardware in games but most likely you have experienced it first hand for yourselves over the years, whether you recognise it or not. I’d like to re-iterate that I love most of the incredibly imaginative stuff coming out of some of the smaller indie devs such as Journey, Braid, Unfinished Swan, Minecraft etc. I’m aware that better graphics don’t always make a better game but I don’t want to see the Industry become stagnant, we should always strive for better, even if it IS just shinier graphics. Who knows where technology will take us next.