Sunday, 27 April 2014

Evolution of narrative in games - Personal Inquiry Final

Game story and narrative are one of the most important aspects of modern game design. Story is used in nearly all modern games in some context; originally inspired by narrative structures and concepts used in film and books, it has flourished into many different forms while developers try to strike a balance between great gameplay and an immersive story. In this blog post I touch upon some key aspects of game narrative and where they have come from, some approaches used in modern games and I create some comparisons between some story-heavy games I have played recently.

Game story – Where does it come from?

Games back in the 1970s and early 80s were focused around pure gameplay; Pong (1972) for example didn’t have a story about a renegade endlessly running between two opposing space factions, it was just a game where you bat a pixel to score points. This started to change over the next few years.

Space Invaders (1978) was the first to demonstrate narrative, it was a game which became a killer app for the Atari 2600 and catapulted the video game industry into the mainstream. It was the first game supported with a basic narrative which placed the player in control of protecting the earth from invading aliens.

Donkey Kong (1981) though emphasized the story even more, with a narrative based on a three act structure and defined characters such as a hero, a damsel in distress and a menacing antagonist. In Donkey Kong, the player (named Jumpman) has to rescue his lover Paulina from the clutches of his pet ape Donkey Kong who has climbed to the top of the scaffolding. This characterization was pushed through the game graphics, each character had a distinct design that allowed for instant recognition. Donkey Kong himself for instance appeared large, angry and intimidating making him easily identifiable as the antagonist. This tradition of characterization and a focused story continued to be built upon in games like Super Mario Bros (1985) and The Legend Of Zelda (1986) and has laid the foundations of modern game storytelling.



A few years later adventure games began to become into focus, with elements inspired from board games, text-based PC adventures and live action roleplaying making their transition into video games. This marked the rise of the role playing game which made a focus on gaining items, completing quests and interacting with numerous NPCs. Some of these mechanics were initially touched upon in The Legend Of Zelda but were pushed further in games like Final Fantasy (1987) where these elements were used heavily to expand on the main plot.

 
The Legend Of Zelda pioneered many of todays
 RPG and adventuring mechanics.

Developments continued into the 90s where video game budgets inflated incredibly allowing for more Blockbuster-type scope in terms of storytelling. Two huge examples of this during this period are Final Fantasy VII (1997) and Metal Gear Solid (1998) which use elaborate prerendered cutscenes to establish important plot elements. These games had a huge focus on fixed plot material and were very influential in terms of a more movie like approach to game story.

Cutscene from Final Fantasy VII, an inflated budget allowed for a scope never before seen in a video game.

Open world games also developed alongside the more cinematic approach, games like Grand Theft Auto III (2001) and Bethesda’s Elder Scrolls series (1994 onwards) focused on a more flexible narrative allowing players to completely abandon the main story if they wanted, complete quests or missions in any order they like or just free roam in the world. This allowed the player to create their own story as they go, something reminiscent of the Choose Your Own Adventure books of the 80s.


Narrative in modern games and new approaches

To gather some material for this research I started to play some story-heavy games including Heavy Rain (2010), Metal Gear Solid and The Last Of Us (2013) as well as games like Journey and Shadow Of The Colossus which don't rely as much on dialogue but still have an interesting narrative. All of these games I never played before so it was a fun and interesting experience in learning all of the interesting narrative mechanics in each.

I also did some research into how story is actually constructed in games and come across some very interesting reads. One point that emerges is that game story and narrative has become less linear as video games has developed, this attributes more to the rise of open world games and stories that results in alternate endings or plotlines. Also games have become less focused on a rigid plotline as game designers have realised that players remember the characters more rather than the individual plot elements, this allows for more immersion in the game and leaves things up for interpretation more, something which allows for a different kind of story telling compared to movies or television.

Here I compare two games I played (ahem* researched) Metal Gear Solid and The Last Of Us, both are regarded as having some of the best game story of their respective time. Metal Gear's story is very rigid in nature, not allowing for a lot of deviation in the plot more akin to a movie, there is also a heavy focus on advancing the story through long cutscenes which can take the player out of the experience.

Metal Gear Solid on the Playstation had a very iconic story at it's time,
 however it's story is heavily structured with an over reliance on
exposition compared to many of today's games.

The Last Of Us still has the occasional cutscene but the bulk of the narrative is done through in game characterization rather than driven purely through cutscenes. There is also a difference in story structure between the two games as Metal Gear is more based upon a three-act narrative structure typically found in movies, however The Last Of Us is more serialized where the overall arc is separated into smaller individual stories like television series. The serialized approach allows characterization to shine through more as the in game objectives become more focused on more short term goals.



How does all this relate to game art?

Game narrative is best told through meanings, interactions and feeling rather than through exposition, this is because a game has to be experienced and one way to push that is through using composition, colour and form. A moody atmosphere can communicate ideas a lot more than a piece of descriptive text can, a picture says more than a thousand words after all.

An example of storytelling through visuals can be found in The Last Of Us which places the player in a post-apocalyptic United States setting. The game environment contains loads of little details which contribute to the narrative; overgrown and littered streets filled with abandoned cars, empty buildings with walls covered with damp and city alleyways that hide looted bodies. All of these details help sell the world to the player, helping to create a more immersive experience.

Environment concept art from The Last Of Us, even from this image you can imagine a story from it. The peeling wallpaper, dirt and rubble add to the aged look and mystery of this building.

These details are a form of world building, the idea is that they can communicate backstory of the game's characters or world without directly mentioning it in text or speech. This also expands to include extra back story material This is a technique used a lot more in modern games where players can seek out extra backstory by reading books, documents or other voice bites dotted around in the level, this also acts as a way to reward players who explore the world more.

Bethesda's Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim used books and NPCs to provide additional narrative material to flesh out the world even further. This type of world building can be found in games like Bioshock, Portal, Mass Effect among countless others.

Where to next for game narrative?

The most successful games at the moment seem to be the ones that leave a lot up to the imagination. Great examples of this can be seen in games like Journey (2012) and Limbo (2010), in the former example the lack of dialogue and text leaves much to be interpreted by the player, leaving the weight of the story to be carried on sound and fantastic visuals. This creates more of an experience than just using exposition, really pulling the player into the world.
Journey is a fantastic example on how visuals and sound can carry the weight of a story rather than using words.
This is starting to work its way in to triple A productions, games like The Last Of Us leave some plot elements to be interpreted from the world. I think this trend will continue into future games as lot more games seem to be popping up with a less of a reliance on overly-structured plotlines.

On the other hand games like Beyond Two Souls (2013) and Telltale games explore different avenues. With the former continuing the cinematic linearity focus of Quantic Dream’s previous games, while the latter uses an episodic story approach as found on television shows within a point and click game context.

All these approaches have one thing in common, they are trying to bridge the gap between gameplay and story. This has been something designers have been focusing on for a while now and are coming closer to achieving; a focus on characters rather than plot, communicating narrative through the game world while still keeping a sense of freedom and exploration will drive the next generation of video games stories.


See ya next time


-James


Bibliography:

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Please enter an author. (Please enter a date of publication). IMDb. [Online]. [Accessed 27 April 2014]. Available from: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0180825/

Please enter an author. (Please enter a date of publication). rockstargames. [Online]. [Accessed 27 April 2014]. Available from: http://www.rockstargames.com/grandtheftauto3/

Please enter an author. (Please enter a date of publication). elderscrolls. [Online]. [Accessed 27 April 
2014]. Available from: http://www.elderscrolls.com/

Please enter an author. (Please enter a date of publication). IMDb. [Online]. [Accessed 27 April 2014]. Available from: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0486673/

Please enter an author. (Please enter a date of publication). ffcompendium. [Online]. [Accessed 27 April 2014]. Available from: http://www.ffcompendium.com/h/release.shtml

Please enter an author. (Please enter a date of publication). classicgaming. [Online]. [Accessed 27 April 2014]. Available from: http://www.classicgaming.cc/classics/donkeykong/history.php

Please enter an author. (Please enter a date of publication). Zelda - Nintendo. [Online]. [Accessed 27 April 2014]. Available from: http://www.zelda.com/universe/?ref=https://www.google.co.uk/

Please enter an author. (Please enter a date of publication). IMDb. [Online]. [Accessed 27 April 2014]. Available from: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0208155/

Please enter an author. (Please enter a date of publication). thatgamecompany. [Online]. [Accessed 27 April 2014]. Available from: http://thatgamecompany.com/games/journey/

Please enter an author. (Please enter a date of publication). classicgaming. [Online]. [Accessed 27 April 2014]. Available from: http://www.classicgaming.cc/classics/spaceinvaders/history.php

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Please enter an author. (Please enter a date of publication). gamasutra. [Online]. [Accessed 27 April 2014]. Available from: 
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Please enter an author. (Please enter a date of publication). IMDb. [Online]. [Accessed 27 April 2014]. 
Available from: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1606610/?ref_=fn_al_tt_1

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Please enter an author. (Please enter a date of publication). Polygon. [Online]. [Accessed 27 April 2014]. Available from: http://www.polygon.com/game/the-last-of-us/3040

Corriea, A.R. (Please enter a date of publication). Polygon. [Online]. [Accessed 21 April 2014]. Available from: http://www.polygon.com/2014/3/17/5519684/narrative-designers-benefits-of-ditching-the-three-act

Goldberg, H. (Please enter a date of publication). IGN. [Online]. [Accessed 27 April 2014]. Available from: http://uk.ign.com/articles/2012/01/30/the-25-greatest-breakthroughs-in-video-game-history

Rose, M. (Please enter a date of publication). Gamasutra. [Online]. [Accessed 21 April 2014]. Available from: http://www.gamasutra.com/view/news/213337/Plot_is_overrated_Game_narrative_is_all_about_your_characters.php

Simons, J. (Please enter a date of publication). gamestudies. [Online]. [Accessed 23 April 2014]. Available from: http://gamestudies.org/0701/articles/simons


Game Story and narrative - Research into history and references

Game narrative is usually quite different from the kind you would find in films or books. The point which sets it apart is that it is an interactive medium and not passive, this sets new challenges in finding ways to provide an interesting and engaging story while still not sacrificing the immersive quality of games.

Still unlike films or books, methods of game narrative have not been defined as strictly, there is a large area of experimentation occurring in games where different approaches to narratives have been explored.


Notable mechanics and developments

Most concepts of game story have originated from studies of other forms of media. The three act structure that I talked about in my last post is one example of a concept taken from books and films adopted for games, Donkey Kong was the first video game to use it effectively with a definitive beginning, middle and end.

Also a lot of older games, RPGs in particular borrowed a lot of elements from table top board games and live action role playing games. Concepts like 'Quests' and alternate narrative stemmed from the these mediums as with board games and live action role playing there are a number of factors which continuously influence the ongoing narrative, this is also where side-quests or side-missions come from as a way to give the player more freedom in forging their own narrative by giving them the option to do certain tasks.

Non playable characters are another feature carried over from traditional RPGs, these were utilised in console RPGs like Final Fantasy where NPCs could be interacted with to further plot, get sidequests or to get items through shop systems. NPCs are now almost a necessity for most games with narrative elements , even for the most simple of games.

Final Fantasy and NPC usage

Differing approaches to game narrative

One approach used by Quantic Dream games in particular is the adoption of more cinematic story elements in order to forward story. The gameplay is driven forward by on screen prompts (more commonly known as QTEs) with more of a focus on the dynamics between the characters. The pros of this method is the story is well paced and there is a great dynamic between characters, however forced actions and pacing can hinder the adventurous aspect that can only be found in games.

At the other end of the spectrum open world games use a less restrained form of storytelling. Games like Skyrim and Grand Theft Auto have a main story that the player can choose to follow but can go off and do their own thing, creating a new and unique narrative. This lends well to letting the player create their own sense of narrative pacing, tension and achievement as their aspire to do their own tasks in the game. This method though downplays intimate character interaction as used by more structured games.



How does all this relate to game art?

Game narrative is best told through meanings, interactions and feeling rather than through exposition, this is because a game has to be experienced and one way to push that is through using composition, colour and form. A moody atmosphere can communicate ideas a lot more than a piece of descriptive text can, a picture says more than a thousand words after all.


An example of storytelling through visuals can be found in The Last Of Us which places the player in a post-apocalyptic United States setting. The game environment contains loads of little details which contribute to the narrative; overgrown and littered streets filled with abandoned cars, empty buildings with walls covered with damp and city alleyways that hide looted bodies. All of these details help sell the world to the player, helping to create a more immersive experience.

Environment concept art from The Last Of Us, even from this image you can imagine a story from it. The peeling wallpaper, dirt and rubble add to the aged look and mystery of this building.
These details are a form of world building, the idea is that they can communicate backstory of the game's characters or world without directly mentioning it in text or speech. This also expands to include extra back story material This is a technique used a lot more in modern games where players can seek out extra backstory by reading books, documents or other voice bites dotted around in the level, this also acts as a way to reward players who explore the world more.

Bethesda's Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim used books and NPCs to provide additional narrative material to flesh out the world even further. This type of world building can be found in games like Bioshock, Portal, Mass Effect among countless others.
That's it for now about game story, in my next post I will put everything together in a collective blog, referenced and a bit more structured with some more in depth studies of some of the games I have mentioned.


See ya next time

-James

Monday, 21 April 2014

Game Story and Narrative - Personal Inquiry Draft

For my personal enquiry I have decided to write delve into how game story and narrative have developed over the ages and the innovations in this area in modern games, this is an area that I have always been interested in since researching it in college and hopefully I can shed a bit more light on the topic here.

To gather some material for this research I started to play some story-heavy games including Heavy Rain, Metal Gear Solid and The Last Of Us as well as games like Journey and Shadow Of The Colossus which don't rely as much on dialogue but still have an interesting narrative. All of these games I never played before so it was a fun and interesting experience in learning all of the interesting narrative mechanics in each.

I also did some research into how story is actually constructed in games and come across some very interesting reads. One point that emerges is that game story and narrative has become less linear as video games has developed, this attributes more to the rise of open world games and stories that results in alternate endings or plotlines. Also games have become less focused on a rigid plotline as game designers have realised that players remember the characters more rather than the individual plot elements, this allows for more immersion in the game and leaves things up for interpretation more, something which allows for a different kind of story telling compared to movies or television.

Here I compare two games I played (ahem* researched) Metal Gear Solid and The Last Of Us, both are regarded as having some of the best game story of their respective time. Metal Gear's story is very rigid in nature, not allowing for a lot of deviation in the plot more akin to a movie, there is also a heavy focus on advancing the story through long cutscenes which can take the player out of the experience.

The Last Of Us still has the occasional cutscene but the bulk of the narrative is done through in game characterization rather than driven purely through cutscenes. There is also a difference in story structure between the two games as Metal Gear is more based upon a three-act narrative structure typically found in movies, however The Last Of Us is more serialized where the overall arc is separated into smaller individual stories like television series. The serialized approach allows characterization to shine through more as the in game objectives become more focused on more short term goals.

Points to include in researched text and other potential topics

  • Development from text based games
  • Original 3 act story in game – Donkey Kong
  • Linear vs Open world narrative – cite mass effect alternate endings, GTA and games like Final Fantasy which have a more fixed and linear narrative quality
  • Implied narrative and meanings - Journey and Shadow Of The Colossus
  • Backstory - World building, background, portrayal of narrative through game art



-James

Sunday, 20 April 2014

UDK: Trivial problems and actual ones

For our game production project we were tasked with importing our assets we have made for the year into UDK with collisions working and with basic materials set up for a pass. 

When we were first handed the project I jumped straight into UDK tutorials and created a basic layout in UDK with the BSP brushes, also importing in my wheelie bin mesh to test the import process.

Since the holidays I have done little game production work while I tried to catch up on visual design. Over the last couple of days I have decided to jump in to the rest of the work while also attempting to fix parts of my earlier assets.

I went to work on importing my architecture project to find that there was some weird issues with the materials back in 3ds max in that the brick texture wasn't showing; I checked slate material editor and there was nothing abnormal, I restarted max several times to see if there was a bug to no avail, even the material IDs didn't make sense when I was attempting to 'fix' them. Several head-to-desks later I hit a eureka moment, that the materials shown in the slate editor were not the ones used by the model and that the actual materials were set up in the compact editor...



After some reflective time I continued importing the rest of my objects into UDK: Building, trees and phonebox. All I have left to do is the van and other little parts from my workshop week street scene.

My UDK scene with trees, phonebox and wheelie bins

This is where I hit the next problem, which is more trivial in nature. Together all my assets did not look substantial enough to fill the scene. It states in the brief that we should add more objects to fill the scene but in that aspect I have created more barriers for myself as I look through my textures and reference folder to find nothing I can use for wooden fences, concrete or other things I can use to make the scene more cohesive.

However this shouldn't be a problem, the point can be made that I should have been a bit more vigilant in my general texture gathering but this is more a problem with letting things become obstacles for myself. What I have to do is improvise with what I already have, rather than fixate on one particular solution to a problem. It's a skill essential for the creative industry as project specifications can change and the deadlines can loom over like a dark overlord.

I am a crippling perfectionist and it's something that I'm trying really hard to drive out as it's stops me from experimenting with things without worrying what the final outcome might look like. This issue with populating the scene could be solved by me doing rather than me thinking too much into whether a certain method is correct, or adding more stuff than necessary to my to-do list while time is short and I already have other more important tasks to be doing. I have spent a lot of this holiday in front of the computer or drawing and most days I feel unhappy with my amount of work achieved, it's these little barriers which I think attributes to the cause and maybe why I'm not progressing as fast as I want to be right now.

What I need to do is not let these things get me down. If a obstacle should arise, then find another way around it. Improvisation is the key word here. Also sticking to my action plan should stop me straying into unnecessary details.

I'll provide quick updates on the game production front tomorrow. :)


-James

Saturday, 19 April 2014

History of vidya gamez part III

Hello again, get your socks on because it's time for history of vidya gamez part III.

In the last part we covered the 80s through to the end of the fifth generation at the end of the 90s; the major points during that period being the large push for graphical supremacy and the introduction of handhelds, with the games industry very quickly working it's way into mainstream culture.

In this part we examine the consoles of the previous two generations leading into modern day and current gen consoles like the Wii U, PS4 and the XBOX ONE. While looking at the major advances during these eras like the rise of online play, social media and the dominance of the mobile market.

We also have a brief look into the future of gaming and I share my thoughts on where we might be heading next. Anyway, time to jump in...


Sixth Generation consoles


The sixth gen started in 1998 with a console by Sega called the Dreamcast. It was noted as being ahead of it's time; the Dreamcast was the first console to feature online console gaming because of it's built in modem and also the first console to render full frames instead of interlacing.

Sega Dreamcast - Image source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dreamcast
It was initially doing well as it had a strong launch line up and good sales however upon the announcment of the Playstation 2 the sales quickly dropped, the common consunsus being the Playstation's brand power and addition of DVD player in the PS2 lead to the downfall of the Dreamcast. This had huge ramifications for Sega as the company realised it no longer had the resources to continue producing consoles and the company restructured itself into third party publisher.

The Dreamcast was hugely influencial though despite it's short lifespan. Sega assisted Microsoft in the design of the original XBOX and it's online services where the design influence can be noticed. It also to this day has a strong cult following with several successful Kickstarter campaigns bringing new indie games to the console like Sturmwind and Redux: Dark Matters.



Next we have the big one: the highly anticipated Playstation 2. Building from the success of the Playstation brand in the previous gen, the 'PS2' became an instant success on it's release in 2000. It went on to become the best-selling console of all time selling over 155 million units.

The playstation 2 - Image source: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/1/1c/PS2-Versions.jpg

The major appeal of the PS2 was the addition of a full built-in DVD player which meant that the console could perform as an all-round entertainment system, another point was the backwards compatibility with PS1 games which earned the PS2 a huge library of games at launch and a larger install base compared to the competition.

Another contender during this generation came later on from Microsoft with a console called the XBOX; it's strong points were slightly improved graphics over the PS2 and an integrated online platform known as XBOX Live which set the standard for online platforms to follow. It did not manage to steal too much dominance from Sony but it did sell reasonably well with games like Halo: Combat Evolved being a critical and commercial success selling over 5 million copies.

XBOX - Image Source: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/c/c2/Xbox-Console-Set.png


Sixth generation advances

During the sixth gen major advances came in terms of online games. The inclusion of the built in modem on the Dreamcast was the first sign that internet play could be the the future of gaming although it didn't start to pick up until Microsoft brought it's dedicated servers to the XBOX a few years later.

World Of Warcraft - Image source: http://dynamicsubspace.files.wordpress.com/2011/02/screen-shot-2011-02-11-at-2-16-11-pm.png
It was also around the early noughties that MMOs started to appear on the PC, offering interaction between large numbers of players from across the planet. In 2004 the largest MMO to exist launched 'World Of Warcraft' and is still thriving to this day. Online games served as the basis for online communities like forums and chatrooms, the social gaming aspect being something which has continued to build in future generations, more on that later though...


Seventh Generation

We are closing in on the present day, just another generation to go. This generation started with the introduction of the handhelds; firstly then here is the Nintendo DS.


Nintendo DS - Image source: http://images.eurogamer.net/2013/usgamer/Yamauchi-3.jpg
The Nintendo DS was Nintendo's successor to the Game Boy line of handhelds and it introduced a number of unique features: It had a dual screen with one being touch-enabled allowing for new gameplay possibilities, it also added a wireless internet connection and a feature called download play which allowed the devices to download a demo of a game temporarily onto their DS for wireless multiplayer.

The DS was successful in attracting new people to game consoles, with games like Brain Training and Big Brain Academy attracting middle-aged consumers into buying one, it also followed in the footsteps of it's predecessors by appealing towards children more than it's competitors.
PSP - Image source: http://www.returnmarket.com/media/termekek/1366835680_psp_3000_console_black_brand_new_goods.jpg

The competition to the DS was Sony's entry into the handheld market: The Playstation Portable (PSP.) It featured a large LCD screen, powerful graphics for a handheld and had more options for media playback including the support of proprietary discs called UMDs on which films and games were distributed for the system.

Now onto the home consoles of the seventh gen. Microsoft unveiled it's successor to the XBOX in 2005 called the XBOX 360, with HD graphics capabilities and an upgraded version of it's XBOX Live service which included the ability to buy downloadable content and games from XBOX marketplace.

XBOX 360 - Image source: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/0/03/Xbox-360-Consoles-Infobox.png

Sony's offering was the Playstation 3, also with HD graphics and an dedicated online service. The consoles were very similar in many ways in terms of graphics and online functions but each one had their own unique selling points.

Playstation 3 - Image source: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/d/d3/PS3Versions.png

The PS3 included support for Bluray discs on which games and video were distributed, a major selling point. For games, the extra memory Blurays had on disc compared to regular CDs allowed for larger games. However the PS3 had it's problems at first including a really steep price at launch and the system's architecture which used the specially made Cell Processor made it difficult to develop on. This and some other issues resulted in Sony losing some of it's brand power during this generation that it wouldn't regain until later on after successive iterations of the PS3 and more releases.

Nintendo Wii - Image source: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/f/f3/Wii-Console.png

Nintendo's console was a rapid departure from the other two consoles as it made more of a focus towards innovative gameplay rather than graphical improvements. The 'Wii' was first console with motion controls, which it used to gain a mass appeal with apps like Wii Sports attracting people who never really play games. The Wii became a runaway success for Nintendo as their biggest selling console and paved the way for motion controls and casual appeal in video games.



Motion controls would go on to become a major point this generation after the success of the Wii. Sony would go on to create it's own motion controllers (The Playstation Move) while Microsoft worked on the Kinect which is a camera which can detect the movement of a whole body.

Another shift this generation came in the form of mobile gaming, with mobile devices becoming more advanced allowing for more gaming possibilities. These kinds of games became very popular with the casual market with the likes of Angry Birds and Fruit Ninja selling millions of copies.

This shift in the industry has had ramifications all over. Combined with the rising costs of AAA development, smaller developers now have more of an opportunity to gain money from their projects. Also with different price models these companies now have much much more freedom over their control of their revenue, leading to a huge surge in indie development in recent years which continues in the next gen with more freedom provided by the console makers.


Modern day – Eighth generation

Now we have finally reached the modern era of video games and the new generation of consoles. This gen has seen a focus on cloud gaming, social connectivity and live streaming and new features on the consoles reflect that.

3DS - Image source: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/f/f0/Nintendo-3DS-AquaOpen.jpg

The new handhelds this generation have more of a focus on social media. With more integration with popular sites like Facebook and Twitter, and a focus on more gamer centric connectivity like the Streetpass feature on Nintendo's new 3DS which allows two 3ds consoles that come in close proximity to share gifts and characters.

PSVita - Image source: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/3/3f/PlayStation_Vita_illustration.svg

More technological and graphical leaps have also been made this gen, the handhelds being no exception. The 3DS sports a 3d screen that doesn't require glasses to wear and the PSVita (Sony's successor to the PSP) sports a large OLED screen with HD graphics.

Wii U - Image source: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/4/4a/Wii_U_Console_and_Gamepad.png

In terms of home consoles, the Wii U is the first of this gen. It builds upon using a different control method like the Wii set in motion with a new controller called the gamepad which features a small LCD touchscreen to display extra information for the game. The pad also has new gameplay possiblilites like assymetric gameplay, this means people using different controllers can get a different experience on the same game and affect it in different ways.



Next the two graphical powerhouses in the PS4 and the XBOX ONE. Both consoles
are more PC like in build compared to their predecessors and have a lot more RAM allowing for more content to be shown on screen at one time.

XBOX ONE - Image source: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/4/42/Xbox_One_Console_Set.jpg

The newest consoles focus heavily on connectivity aswell though and features more integration with social networking sites like Facebook, also both consoles feature an the ability to share gameplay clips or stream gameplay over Twitch.

The next step being pushed with these consoles is game streaming which allows people to stream games over an internet connection almost like a video game version of Netflix. It started over the last couple of years on PC platforms but with the PS4 using Gaikai cloud technology it will be possible to have the whole playstation back catalog available to stream with no latency, which is a huge achievement.

Alos this generation had seen the rise of alternative consoles catering to smaller audiences. Among these are the Ouya Microconsole which is based from an android OS and is fully moddable right out of the box. Another alternative console due to be released soon is the Steam Machine by Valve which functions as a gaming PC that can be used in the living room, it also comes with a unique controller that offers mouse like precision for PC games.

Ouya Microconsole - Image source: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/a/af/OUYA-Console-set-h.jpg

Future of Gaming and conclusion

As we are just entering a new gen of gaming a lot of people are asking what the possibilities are going forward; a current talking point is the rise of virtual reality gaming as a result of the successful Kickstarter campaign of the Oculus Rift.

Virtual reality is the technology that allows the game to completely envelop the player in the virtual world by surrounding their vision and offering intuitive controls, up until now it has been the focus of science fiction and numerous failed attempts but now technology is at the point where it could be feasible.

Oculus Rift - Image source: http://blogs-images.forbes.com/antonyleather/files/2014/04/OculusRift.jpg

Once current problem that engineers are trying to overcome though is the problem of motion sickness while using the helmet device, this is caused by the different in speed between the images in the helmet and real life and also the latency in movement as the player turns their head.. One solution being experimented with is a helmet that can beam images straight into the retinas for super clarity and no latency, for a perfect experience this would have to be combined with a precise sensors picking up the direction and tilt of the head.

My opinion on virtual reality is that it will become a core gaming experience down the line but it will take further advancements in order to make it commercially viable. This may be sooner than later though as Sony (With their Project Morpheus Virtual Reality for the PS4) and Microsoft are making their moves in this area while hopefully pushing what is possible with the VR technology.
This extra competition could really speed up the process of getting a fully functional VR device on the market, especially with the first parties dedicating large teams and finances to VR development.

It would be interesting to see what what kind of games and experiences arise from virtual reality. The purchase of Oculus by Facebook seems to show that VR could have uses beyond just games; new kinds of social interaction, virtual reality webcams and multiplayer hangouts are just some of the areas that VR could go into.

Maybe eventually -in combination with graphical and performance improvements- that players can enter large scale, fully interactive virtual worlds. Although a future where everybody is sitting on their sofas with a helmet on while losing touch with reality is a bit of a scary one...

I guess it won't be as scary as slender on VR though.

Hope you enjoyed reading my history of video games, hopefully the future of games will get more and more interesting as time goes on.


-James



Bibligraphy

Duranik. [Online]. [Accessed 13 April 2014]. Available from: http://sturmwind.duranik.com/
Playstation. [Online]. [Accessed 13 April 2014]. Available from: http://uk.playstation.com/ps2/
Gamerankings. [Online]. [Accessed 13 April 2014]. Available from: http://www.gamerankings.com/xbox/472132-halo-combat-evolved/index.html
Gamespot. [Online]. [Accessed 13 April 2014]. Available from: http://www.gamespot.com/world-of-warcraft/
Blizzard. [Online]. [Accessed 13 April 2014]. Available from: http://us.blizzard.com/en-us/games/wow/
Nintendo. [Online]. [Accessed 13 April 2014]. Available from: https://www.nintendo.com/ds
Playstation. [Online]. [Accessed 13 April 2014]. Available from: http://uk.playstation.com/psp/
Crawley, D. (2013). VentureBeat. [Online]. [Accessed 13 April 2014]. Available from: http://venturebeat.com/2013/05/17/consoles-that-wont-die-the-sega-dreamcast/
Stickney, A. WoW Insider. [Online]. [Accessed 13 April 2014]. Available from: http://wow.joystiq.com/2014/01/03/what-is-world-of-warcraft/


Saturday, 12 April 2014

The history of video games strikes back! (Part II)

The 1980s. The Cold War is going on with the soviet union and America duking it out, both sides with their finger on the nuclear trigger. It was a scary time.

Anti nuke protests, the falklands war and groups like the IRA casing trouble are just a handful of things people experienced during the 80s but what is always the case during times of depression like this is that there are always people creating ways to escape the bleak reality. Video games went through a huge development through this period and many of today's most well known companies and franchises started out here; this was the age of the console arms race, handhelds and now considered classic games.

Before we get into the great parts of this era though we need a bit of background. Here we start with the great crash of 1983...


Video Game Crash of 1983

The oversaturation of the market led to the great video game crash of 1983. The amount of clones of software and hardware on the market eventually pushed the industry to tipping point; a famous example of this is the legendary E.T. Game by Atari which is largely considered to be one of the worst video games ever made. Atari rushed the development for E.T. in time for the Christmas season which totalled only 6 weeks, the game was released but was a critically and commercial bomb which along with the cost of the film rights and an overestimation of sales created a devastating loss for Atari. 

Here is a cool video explaining some of the events of the video game crash: 




Rise of Nintendo

The most important development in the 80s is the rise of home consoles. Here I start with one of the most significant: The Nintendo Famicom.

The Famicom (Otherwise known as the Nintendo Family Computer) was the best selling games console at it's time. It was later repackaged into a more sleek and modern design for it's release in America and Europe which came to be known as the Nintendo Entertainment System.

The console was incredibly popular, the redesign for America and Europe especially so because the sleek look of the console made consumers think it was less of a kid's toy which helped it sell to wider audiences. It paved the way for successive consoles as it proposed a new standard for who a console should cater to post-video game crash of 1983, more consumers brought into the premise of buying a console that wasn't just for kids which is an idea that continued to develop into the 90s.


The Nintendo Entertainment System as designed for the western consumer, this console had a more sleek and higher quality look than the Famicom - Image Source:  http://controllers101.greenrobotgamer.com/wp-content/uploads/NES-Console-Set.jpg
Nintendo dominated the Japanese and American Markets with the NES until the rise of 16 bit hardware but other markets like Europe not as much because of heavy competition from home computers at the time like the ZX Spectrum and the Commodore 64. Nintendo's rose to the top along with companies like Sega and japanese developers like Squaresoft and Konami, this was evidence of a shift of market dominance from the United States to Japan.

16 bit Generation and introduction of handhelds

It's now 1989 and the introduction of Nintendo's Game Boy, the first major handheld gaming console which opened up another area of the video game market by establishing portable gaming. It was an 8 bit system like the SNES with a monochrome screen, fantastic games like Tetris and Pokemon helped make the Game Boy a huge success.

Handheld gaming has become a huge staple in the industry since the Game Boy and it's influence still stands, the ability to be able to play games while in a car or train was a revolution and to this day the Game Boy is one of the fastest selling consoles of all time. Handheld gaming will eventually undergo another major shift in the noughties with the rise of mobile devices and app stores, but more on that in part 3...

Time for the next generation, coming into the late 80s we have the Sega Genesis as the first major 16 bit console, it made waves before the delayed debut of Nintendo's 16-bit successor to the NES with games like Sonic The Hedgehog attracting many with it's enhanced graphics and sound.

Then came the largest of the 16-bit consoles, the SNES (Super Nintendo Entertainment System) came in to the market in 1991 with a slow start but by the end of its run it had outsold the Sega Genesis. Nintendo's franchises lured gamers in with games like Super Mario World, Donkey Kong Country and Super Metroid seeing the most acclaim and popularity. Also slightly improved graphics over the Sega Genesis helped the console sell, using new techniques like Mode7 to simulate a 3d environment in games like Super Mario Kart and Star Fox (which also used an additional graphics addon for the SNES called the SuperFX).


32 bit generation ad 3d dimensional graphics

The SNES dominated the period up until the next generation, which kickstarted with the massively successful Playstation.

The Playstation came into direct competition with the Nintendo 64 with it's first party library of games. Because of the cheaper price point of the Playstation and its discs (as a result of using CDs instead of cartridges) third party developers and consumers started to lean towards Playstation more than Nintendo's offering at the time.


A Lego model of a Nintendo 64, by now if you haven't noticed I have a bit of a love for Lego. Anything in Lego is awesome. :P Image Source: http://legogenre.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/JuliusVonBrunk_Lego_Nintendo64.jpg

The Nintendo 64 did have some things going for it however and was the first console to properly introduce a joystick into its controller which the Playstation added later on, also it's loading og games was a quicker than the playstation due to the cartridge system.

Up next: Noughties, modern era and the future.

Anyway that it's for now, hope this had made you want to go back and play some classics games. I really want to go back and play Super Mario World right now... To be concluded in 'History of vidya gamez part III'

I'll be covering platforms from the noughties onwards starting with the Playstation 2, then going into the rise of online gaming, motion controls and then into this decade with cloud gaming, the mobile market and a brief look at the future including virtual reality and companion gameplay.

Before I go though a random related song nugget from this period, this song came on just as I was finishing this blog post:



I'll see ya next time.


James :D


Bibliography

Famicom (Nintendo Entertainment System.) Wikipedia. [Online]. [Accessed 27 March 2014]. Available from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nintendo_Entertainment_System


A History Of Video Game Consoles. (2005). TIME Magazine. [Online]. [Accessed 12 April 2014]. Available from: http://content.time.com/time/interactive/0,31813,2029221,00.html


From Game Boy to 3ds - A history of handhelds (2011). The Guardian. [Online]. [Accessed 12 April 2014]. Available from: http://www.theguardian.com/technology/gallery/2011/mar/24/from-game-boy-to-3ds-handheld-games-consoles


Ten facts about the great video game crash of 83'. Nadia Oxford. (2011). IGN. [Online]. [Accessed 12 April 2014]. Available from: http://uk.ign.com/articles/2011/09/21/ten-facts-about-the-great-video-game-crash-of-83?page=1


Nintendo Entertainment System. Gamespy. [Online]. [Accessed 12 April 2014]. Available from: http://classicgaming.gamespy.com/View.php?view=ConsoleMuseum.Detail&id=26&game=5