With Sony and Microsoft introducing the newest eighth generation consoles – the Xbox One and PlayStation 4, respectively – some of the highest graphic potential games are imminently poised to enter the market. Video game technology is one of the fastest moving industries, and in order to compete studios are consistently testing the confines and boundaries of what that technology is capable of producing.
Some of the hottest games slated for 2014 include Titanfall and Destiny that immerse a player in a hyper-realistic setting with incredibly detailed character and in-game design. The sheer size of some of these virtual environments is amazing. Additionally, the freedom to be able to create entire worlds has allowed developers to take full advantage of the human imagination, inhabiting these other universes with anything from monsters and mech-robots to protolithic deities and cartoon characters.
But sometimes it’s easy to forget about the precursors to these next generation gaming experiences. The beauty of consoles like the Super Nintendo was that the limitations on their technology, what they were able to display, did not hamper the creative process – quite the contrary, it fostered it. Some of the first role-playing games (RPG) to grace the video-game industry like the initial Final Fantasy and the time-shifting Chrono Trigger were (and are) just as expansive and imaginative as games coming out today, both in terms of their innovation in actual gameplay, their focus on story and character development, and their playability even decades after their release.
That seems to be where a lot of modern games lose their steam – press releases for new games tend to emphasize how many hours of gameplay are to be expected, and this notion of setting a quota often makes the games quite interesting to play, but don’t really imprint any lasting effect. Arcade-style and strategy games, like the original RPGs for the SNES, are iconic not only in their capacity to draw us, but also in their tendency to keep us coming back for more.
Some studios have picked up on this latent nostalgia for simpler formatted games which emphasize 2D interfaces, most notably Klei which brought out Mark of the Ninja for Xbox and continues to release updates to its survival game Don’t Starve. But the beauty inherent in coming back to an older format of video game is being able to look at it through a contemporary lens, and develop novel ways of approaching the gameplay.
Independent studios, which often lack the same sort of funding and manpower, are the guiding forces behind this 2D re-emergence, as well as other businesses that are picking up on the accessibility of gaming. Online casinos and developers of applications for mobile phones and devices are consistently using the 2D style to display their applications and services – think of any Online Poker or Slot Game, or the craze that Angry Birds experienced.
It’s proof that advanced and complex graphics don’t necessarily make for a good game (consider all the heat that subsequent installations in the CoD saga have experienced). What makes a good game is a good idea, and the ability to tell a story in a fun, interesting, or controversial way – the release of Reus from Abbey games is an excellent example, where you take on the role of a god by creating entire eco-systems. The dimension-shifting 2D game Fez takes a meta-approach t by allowing the player to shift the environment 180 degrees on its axis.
Although there is something exciting in the course of video-game evolution, and its endeavour to supply an interactive form of entertainment and adventure, it’s important for developers to recognize that technology is a tool, not a crux. A game can be as flashy and loud as an ambulance, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s appealing. The rise of independent game developers, by virtue of the resources available to them, are beginning to represent a shift in video game culture as more and more people pick up on the creativity afforded by a simple 8 bit graphics card.
Simon is a writer and content specialist who is addicted to being on the front page of anything. A graduate of Dalhousie University, he specializes in using the em dash too often. Currently, Simon rests his typing hands in Vancouver, Canada. Check out his recent thoughts on online gaming.