Next-gen? Stop doodling and do your homework!
It was back in 2010 when Nintendo showed off the 3DS that I thought to myself "Goodness, I'm sick of this nonsense. Can we just get back to the games?"
No, hang on a second. It was the year before, when PS Move and "Natal" (Kinect) were both showcased that I began to get sick of the game industry's hardware obsession. Nintendo, Sony, and Microsoft were all going down a dark path...a path that not only bothered me as a gamer, but it made me worry about their future in the game market space. The game industry seems like it's run by a group of 9-year-olds who don't want to finish their homework. Oh, they'll doodle a drawing and show it to you! They'll ask you to go in the backyard and shoot some hoops! They'll make plans with their friends to go out on Saturday! But homework? Nah, can't be bothered.
And here we are today, tip-toeing the cliff-edge of "next generation", and I couldn't be any more frustrated. 3DS. PS Vita. PS4 on the horizon. WiiU. NVidia's Project Shield. Valve Corp.'s SteamBox. Ouya. Occulus Rift (or whatever it's called). The NextBox (or Xbox720, or whatever). We have plenty of hardware on the horizon. Every gaming news outlet is abuzz with specs on the upcoming PS4 and its potential. And of course, on the other side of the coin, we have these same game journalists speculating on the route Microsoft will take with its inevitable next-gen hardware system.
But what about the games?
Now, please don't misunderstand. I love new hardware. I have the 3DS and the Vita, and I'm a PC gamer at heart. Yeah, that stereotypical gamer who's "gotta buy a new PC every 6 months hurr hurr!". Actually, I only upgrade once every few years, but that's beside the point. My point is that I am not afraid of cutting-edge technology. I like technology. It's cool. But allow me to paraphrase a quote from Nintendo's Yamauchi from several years ago: "[gamers] do not play with the game console. They play with the games, and they buy the console in order to use that software". His philosophy was that a console was just a box. He didn't glorify the console. In fact, he saw it as a necessary evil. The only reason why people needed a console was to get to the games. Keep in mind that this man led Nintendo from the NES era all the way up to the Gamecube, and his philosophy on gaming helped mold the DS and Wii.
Now, isn't that interesting. The console is just a box to play our games. Huh! I like the way this guy thinks. See, there's a dirty little rumor floating around the internet. Actually, it's a pretty big rumor, even though no one seems to be able to prove it. Wanna know what it is?
"Dedicated gaming hardware is dead. Your machine has to do everything these days. That's what EVERYone wants!"
I've heard that time and time again, but I can't see why it's true. How CAN it be true? The DS and the Wii are two of the most successful gaming platforms of all time, and they were easily the most "gaming dedicated" systems compared to their competitors. Sony's PS3 never really picked up steam until they dropped the whole "we can do everything" ideology and started pumping out AAA games. Sony's PSP, for that matter, floundered against the DS with its "multimedia" design, and the PS Vita is running into the same issues against the 3DS. Speaking of the 3DS, THAT system also floundered in the beginning when Nintendo kept trying to cram 3D down our throats. The WiiU? Sales are stagnant, because we want to see games, not hardware tricks (more on this in a second). Despite this dirty little rumor, it seems that the MORE dedicated and game-focused a platform is, the more successful it is. Wow. Who would have thought a game console would be successful when it focuses on games?
I'm not pointing my finger at you, gamers. It's fine if you want Facebook and Netflix and stuff like that. YOU'RE the customer. I'm pointing my finger at the game companies. They're those 9-year-old kids who can't finish their homework. "Finish up those d*** math problems and then you can go outside and play," I'm shouting from the couch downstairs, but Timmy Game-dev is upstairs making paper airplanes out his worksheets and drawing genitalia next to the faces of American presidents in his history book. I just want GAMES! I don't care if my friend can view my gameplay video or if I can party chat while watching a show on Netflix. Who cares? But the game companies insist on doodling. They insist on cramming useless distractions into their game systems. "Games take time to develop," you say? So does hardware! You think Facebook integration in your console didn't take up some programmer's time? It did! You think Nintendo's glasses-free 3D screen didn't take up a ton of money and time and man-hours? You bet your butt it did! When it comes to new games being shown off, I simply shrug, because I see all this waste and "doodling" going on in the game companies, so it doesn't surprise me when I see a ho-hum game presentation. Mass Effect 3 with the WiiU's tablet? Big freakin' deal! How about an engine rehaul where we can see more than 8 active enemies on screen at a time, huh? Integrated light bar and touch pad on the PS4 controller? Who cares? How about a Gran Turismo that doesn't take a decade to develop, okay? What irks me even more is when a company wastes time on these distractions and then DOESN'T DELIVER! Microsoft, where's the hardcore Kinect support? Oh, never mind. We ALL know it won't come. Sony, where's my PS3/Vita connectivity? Oh, never mind. I guess you decided to focus on PS4/Vita connectivity instead. Thanks! Nintendo, where's my unified online account system (you know, the one that lets me play my retro games on my 3DS, my Wii, or my WiiU, all of which share the Virtual Console)? Oh, never mind. You're stuck in 1998 and you can't figure out how to let us play the digital games we bought on multiple systems.
Anyone else have that "meh" feeling about upcoming games? THAT is what I'm talking about! Remember in the good ol' days when you thought "MAN! I can't wait to see what CAPCOM makes next!" Do you still have that feeling? Of course not. Now we just shrug and say "Hah, how much of CAPCOM's new game will be locked away as DLC?" Same goes for Square Enix, for Activision, for EA, for Microsoft, for Nintendo (outside the core Mario/Zelda/Pokemon fanbase), and even Sony, to a degree. We're getting tired of the doodling. And the sales are showing it. Don't be deceived: "next-gen" platforms are suffering. The 3DS, the Vita, and the WiiU are all performing worse than their predecessors. No, I'm not talking about sales. I'm talking about GAMES! What else would I be talking about? Every game developers wants us to believe that they're stretched so thin between the game consoles. But then whenever so-and-so announces new game hardware, these same developers who were just SO busy jump up and cheer the new hardware. Wait! I thought you were struggling to make games for the current platforms. And now you're cheering every new platform?
Give us some games.
And not just ANY games. No. I was already tricked once this gen. I don't simply want more shading effects and some concrete pillars that break when I shoot them. No. I want next gen! I want game design that wasn't possible on old hardware. I want enemy AI and enemy count to number in the triple-digits, not single-digits. I want physics to matter again instead of being a gimmick. I want more content in games, not just a 9-hour campaign padded out by $40 of DLC. I want online connectivity to matter again instead of just being a way to spam your Facebook page or to DLC-lock your game (Demon's Souls tried something different. Why can't anyone else?). How in the world are we still making platformers with crappy controls? This stuff has been on lock-down since Super Mario Bros. With all our tech wizardry, can't we make Sackboy's jump a bit better? How in the world are we still making corridor shooters? DOOM and Quake are so 1990s. Why does ARMA (made by a small dev) have the biggest maps and the highest realism? Call of Duty, step your game up! And can we please, please stop with the generic 3rd-person action games?! Developers, the PS2 era is over! Make something new! If you really, REALLY think that you're going to be the next God of War or Devil May Cry or Ninja Gaiden, then how about you put some effort into your games, please. (It breaks my heart that one of the PS4's showcase titles was, in fact, a generic 3rd-person action game)
Yeah, new hardware is cool. The 3DS and Vita are both awesome pieces of kit, and devs have barely scratched the surface of their hardware. The WiiU is chock-full of unrealized potential with that tablet screen. I was drooling when I heard PS4 will have 8 gigs of DDR5 RAM and I was wowed when I saw the tech demos. I like hardware, just like I'm sure you folks do! But I'm sick of the doodling. Let's get back to the games. It's time to do your homework. No more wasting time on Netflix and Facebook integration and Wonderbook and VR cards and face recognition and other useless crap like that.
Who's with me?