When I say I am a gamer, you will probably imagine I have a pimped out PC with the latest graphic cards and liquid cooling system. The game I'll play will be a first person shooter on a large monitor. Let me not forget the headphones, microphones and high speed Internet. If not a PC then probably the latest console. It doesn't matter, at the end of the day it is the cliché you see in Hollywood movies.
When it comes to video games, we are in the future. The computing power found in a PS4 is advanced enough to convert me into a binary and successfully run a checksum on my person before I could protest. The graphics are astonishing. Sometimes you put down the controller and take a moment to admire them.
Metal Gear 5 on PS4
The video game industry has welcomed a new breed of gamers. Those who would never consider to touch a joystick before. As a result, the production budget are becoming as big as Hollywood blockbusters. When a new game is coming out, you see commercials on TV, posters on building, ads in magazines and everywhere. In other words, this is a great time for video games.
But you already know all this. Video games are nothing new. Chances are you have a console or two in your home. Some of the games, you played them so many times that you could close your eyes, and play it in your mind without missing any of the secret passages. You probably secretly identify your self with a game character. I know I'm Solid Snake.
I started my days with this little box:
The games were more or less primitive at the time. If you compare it to any console today, you might say it plain sucks. But that was not the goal of this machine. The Atari was an entertaining system, and if it did one thing right, that will be entertaining the hell out of you.
Flappy Bird on smart phones
I played it for hours on end with my siblings. My father would buy joysticks in packs because it only took an angry loser for it to break in pieces. The games were similar to the simple game you will find on your smart phone today. We may call them retro today, but at the time game developers were just trying to work with what they had. It wasn't a style, it was as much as the console could do.
In those days, the idea of an interactive machine was new. So we were limited to playing puzzle games on the screen. A game where the rules were simple enough and easy to repeat. Nevertheless it was very entertaining.
Today, it is a billion dollar industry. Yet I can still sense this crudeness. The games are just as entertaining but I think we have reached the limit of what a console can offer. At least in the direction we are heading.
Graphics, Sound and the Internet a.k.a the Goods
Inevitably, we will reach a point where you will need an imagery expert to determine if the scene playing on the screen is computer generated in real time, or a live feed from a camera. There are already graphic cards on the market today where the quality of the graphics is only limited by the creative mind. I played Uncharted 3 on the PS3, some scenes are extraordinary. Now imagine what the PS4 and Xbox One will offer in the years to come.
Uncharted 3 — Desert scene
One of the last frontiers of video games was the Internet. Today you can play call of duty with your buddies on the other side of the planet in real time. I am still awed when I think about the fluid response time.
Plug in the Internet, get a good controller, a decent sound system, and a powerful graphic card or machine, and you are in for a treat.
You have played a Black Ops II with your friends all night, you are tired of it. You put the games away, come out of the basement and enjoy the sunshine. Sometimes you manage to put it away for a week. But then you remember that you can upgrade your weapons, so you get back to it. When that is done, you hear that there is a new add-on that adds a ton of cool new things to the game. Of course you buy it, because otherwise what are you going to do when you go on line and everyone is using the latest pack?
This scenario goes on for a while with no end in sight. As long as the marketing team is on the job, they will manage to squeeze another buck out of you. And you will do it willingly for the sake of being entertained.
Maybe you are like me and you are not a big fan of first person shooter, hence why I may get some of the jargon wrong. There are other modern games that follow the same style. It is there for the sake of selling more copies, and by God they sell them so well. You will enjoy those games as long as you keep playing them.
We are entertained, but it still feels like something is missing. If you like call of duty and I ask you to join me on Modern Warfare 1, you will probably call me a dinosaur. If I was to ask what is the story of the game... Nobody knows the story of the game.
There are other games that you probably played for a while too that you don't remember the story. Why is that? A friend of mine bothers me almost everyday to play Black Ops with him. There is not a day I don't get an invite from him. One day I was curious and asked him if he ever played the campaign. His answer was that he doesn't remember.
Not to say there is no stories in call of duty, but I would say the story is like a B movie compared to the rest of the online multiplayer experience. And many games follow the same pattern. They offer a unique (addictive) gaming experience that can be forgotten in a matter of minutes, and on the side there is a story that was probably written in a day or two.
I grew up in a neighborhood where everyone knew each other. All the kids played together. We played hide and seek, raced, swam, and of course video games. The memories that marked me the most however were when the older kids would tell stories.
You could always tell when a story was going to be fun. The storyteller will get in character, make faces, make funny voices to set the mood, and always described the setting to the littlest detail. Years after I still remember some of those stories. I even have vivid pictures in my mind on how I imagined them. A story well told not only is entertaining, but it can mark you for life.
In 1992, my father bought a computer. It was our first computer. I remember it as having a giant monitor and he was just as clueless as I was on what to do with it. I spent all my out of school hours in front of this machine. I was not allowed to touch it or turn it on on my own. I remember him typing a command and the screen will switch from black and white to beautiful colors on a desktop. There was a particular 20 second grainy video that made me drool every time. It was an eagle soaring into the skies. The fact that I could use the mouse to rewind it or move in different frames was mind boggling.
C:\> cd d:
One day my father came home with a Compact Disc. It was a game. I want to say that this game has changed my life. It wasn't like any of the games in our Atari or Nintendo. This game had a plot, it had a story. I have memorized all the dialog of this game. Note that I did not speak English at the time. When I learned English, I didn't have to play the game to understand it; all the transcript was already in my head.
Loom, by Lucas Arts, is a game I will still recommend today. I don't know where you will find an original copy but I still have my working 22 year old CD.
My original Loom CD. 22 years old, only a few scratches, still works.
Why this game was important to me? Because you get attached to the characters. When I spoke of the game, I wouldn't say Bobbin Threadbare, I would say "I". When I played the game, I was him. I could sit down around a bond fire and tell you the story and you would enjoy it. Now imagine being the one controlling the story. Although it was in English, the characters, their stories, the humanity of the game made it universal. I understood the message without speaking the language. The story was well told, and the interactivity made possible through the magic of a computer only accentuated its awesomeness. 22 years later, here I am talking about it.
The game is a harmony of melody, storytelling, adrenaline and emotions. And it does require some level of thinking to complete the game. All these combined, when you finish the game, you are not only entertained, you are left to interpret the story. After beating the game, we would still have long discussions about it to understand what the story really meant.
e c e d. The spell to open the clam — Loom
That was ages ago. Are there any game like this today? Yes there are, but they are not the ones that sell the most. It is much harder to find them. Not because they are not available online or in store shelves, but because it takes much more time to tell a great story.
I recently purchased the game Bioshock Infinite. It came with the original game previously only available on the Xbox 360. I felt that I would have to start with part one before I get to Infinite. The game play is interesting. It is very hard to put down the controller after you start. I played it for days I still didn't know what the story was about. It was fine because the game was fun and the voices were very entertaining.
When you beat the game, there is a 50 second cinematic and the game is over. I felt robbed of my time. Yes I had a good time, but there is no way I can ever spend time playing the game again. As my brother call it "Mission accomplished. Good job." Now we will never look back. Forget 22 years, 2 weeks from now, I will not be talking about this game.
I hesitated to play Bioshock Infinite after this. I still gave a try because I paid for this sucker. I found out there is a subtle yet important difference. First of all, there is a face on the cover. Although the voices in part one were fun and the recordings were what told the story, they were muffled by the sounds gunshot.
You could finish the game without paying attention to it. In Infinite, there are dialogs. I am not even half way into the game but I am more engaged. Features of the game play are now tightly integrated with the story. You evolve as you play. Nothing is left to chance. If the developers of the game improve upon this, on the next game, I will definitely be a fan.
Video games can be more than just a way to waste time. Nobody will tell you that reading a book is a waste of time. Au contraire, learned is the one who reads. Childish is one who plays video games. Yet both are a means to entertain.
What's the next step
Because consoles are computers, inevitably you run to the point where things cannot get any smaller and heat cannot be controlled. Different ideas are becoming mainstream as we talk about the next step for computer processors, quantum processors being one.
Video Games being tied to the processing power, we will get to the point were the hardware upgrade is irrelevant. You cannot make a picture look anymore realer. A video game running at 120 frames per second does not add anything to the experience because the human eye cannot even perceive beyond 60. It will take a few years for developers to tap all the power of the current generation hardware and it is already pretty amazing. But once we get there, there isn't much to work on.
What we will always have control over is the experience. The experience is a combination of story, game play, music, graphic and magic. I have to add magic to the list because sometimes there are some experiences you cannot describe. A game does not have excel on all those at once, but a good combination of it create a unique lasting experience. You don't need to have breathtaking graphics to create an amazing game.
There is one game in particular that has that magic. I have played some games from 2013 and and less than a year later there is no one on the multiplayer channel. This one is from 2012 and it is still going on. Actually, there is nothing that tells you you are playing with another person from somewhere else in the world.
Journey is a beautiful game in graphics, music, and story. One interesting aspect of the game is that there are no dialogs. You have to communicate with the other players online but all you can do is make a single chime. I still wonder how I manage to convince people to follow me or do some complex things. The game is short but it is very easy to pick it up and play again because with every person you play it's a different experience.
I had the argument that the online experience of most games is very competitive. You get frustrated every time you lose and the world is filled with good players, so you just have to get used to it. In Journey, it is more of a positive experience. Players help each other.
A few days ago I had one interesting experience when I played. There is a scene in large snow field. The goal is to cross it to the other side. However there are guardians that are out to destroy you. There are small stone structures under which you can hide when the guardians are flying over.
I was playing with someone and he made a mistake and got out a little too early and we were caught. He ran away and I took all the damage for it. After the very emotional recovery I joined him again and we went back on our mission. This time I got in the hiding spot a little too late. So I ran toward the guardian to spare my partner from paying for my mistake but he followed me and we both got hit. It was funny, I told myself he was probably trying to runaway and went the wrong direction. We recovered and continued.
We were close to our destination and I decided to look around to see if there is anything I missed. My partner was ahead of me. Out of no where, a guardian appeared and focused its light on me. I didn't move because I knew what was coming for me. I saw my partner flying towards the light, distracting the guardian and gave me time to leave and he took the bullet for me.
Journey — Snow level
You can imagine how emotional it became. At that point it wasn't a game anymore. We were in a journey, together. It's the one game that after I finish playing I always either get or send a message to the other person to thank them. If I have to recommend any game in this post, Journey will be the one.
Those moments in a story where you know you are too invested to just let everything go to waste. That moment in Journey when the other player draws a heart on the snow because it is the only way she could think of to tell you about the experience. The goose bumps and tear you get at the ending of Metal Gear 3. The strength you feel after defeating Zeus in God of War.
This is only a few example of the magic that happens in video games. A video game is a more powerful medium. It combines all you can get from a book, a movie, a story, and then some. This is not to favor just a specific type of game. But a praise to the medium we have in front of us.
Video games can be more than just for entertainment. It is a medium to share our ideas. So why do I keep playing video games? Because I still hope to be inspired. I still want to feel the way I felt the first time I used a computer. Because video games are a medium more powerful then ever before. Let's make great games. Let's share the human experience.