Tuesday, 22 November 2016

State of the Play

A couple of trends have been combining together to deeply affect my [video] gaming experience. I have been talking about it here a lot, but always as a side show; I thought I'd dedicate a post to the matter instead.
The trends I have been talking about are:
  1. I have no time for anything anymore, playing included.
  2. I have been growing sick and tired of the mainstream video game releases.
I will elaborate a bit.
Having no time to play does not really mean having no time to play. What it really means is having higher priority things to do ahead of playing games. At the same time, I fully acknowledge the importance of playing: humans need playtime, especially younger humans; and while I no longer qualify as young, I do think that keeping a young mind is something I can still aspire to. I also fully recognise that I would not be the person that I am without gaming.
The effect of having to squeeze gaming in between tasks of higher priority (many of which suck, BTW, but as an adult I can no longer avoid them) is that my gaming activities now need to fit in between these so called higher duties. This means I cannot afford to hold hour[s] long gaming sessions; at best I get 15 minutes here and 15 minutes there. If I do get an hour long session, and I did get one this weekend (accidents happen, I guess), then that session is unexpected and I am not actually aware of the fact I have an hour to play till after the fact.
This, in turn, impacts the games I am playing. Deeply so. Things like turning the TV and and waiting for the PS4 to boot are luxuries I cannot afford. Things like levels that take more than ten minutes to complete between saves mean that I am forever stuck in tutorial levels. By far the most crucial ingredient of a good video game for me nowadays is: instant action.
If you pause to think for a moment what this means, you would see the answer I have found to my problems: the iPad. It's always nearby. There are no boot times to talk about with the iPad, and with its solid state memory not much in the way of waiting times (at least not by PC standards). Throw in games designed for the mobile environment and you get at the exact place I am at now in my gaming life.

But there is the rub, too. Read that last sentence again to see where I am heading at: "games designed for the mobile environment".
By far the biggest name games on my iPad are ports of games designed for other environments. Take Rome Total War as an example, simply because it is my most recent iPad game purchase (for the record, this has been the third time I have bought this game). It's a great game, don't get me wrong; it's also nice to select your troops and order them with your fingers, basketball coach style. But is it the ideal game for mobile? Clearly not. Rome Total War still suffers from being a game of a scale that is too big for mobile (as its 4GB size indicates). It is also not the ideal game to play, say, during a train/tram ride.
There really aren't that many games that do their mobile platform the justice it deserves. Banner Saga 1 & 2 work seamlessly on mobile but are too big in scope. Grand Theft Auto has mobile incarnations but, as great as these games are on console, they're just not there (starting with the touchscreen pretend controllers). And let us not ignore the huge mammoth in the room, the fact the vast majority of mobile games designed for mobiles have been built around the dreaded in app purchase mechanism, where you either have to fork out an unforeseen amount to get anywhere or you have to really enjoy the grind.
Frankly, looking at my own iPad, there are but a few games properly designed for mobile: Mini Metro, Severed and Lara Croft Go offer fine examples of the breed. Sure, there are many more, but not as many as one would think when judging the size of the AppStore.

Could salvation be found elsewhere, though?
Eventually, yes. But for now, I do urge you to review the following list of the current blockbusters out there (which I am copying from Target's "Amazing 4 Day Gaming Event (25 November till 28 November while stocks last"). See if you can detect a pattern:
  • FIFA 17
  • Titanfall 2
  • Battlefield 1
  • Dishonored 2
  • Watch Dogs 2
  • Destiny (The Collection)
  • Call of Duty Infinite Warfare
  • Elder Scrolls V Skyrim
  • No Man's Sky
  • Deus Ex Mankind Divided
  • Uncharted 4
  • Rise of the Tomb Raider
In case you failed (seriously?), I will point out that out of the above, only one single game - No Man's Sky - is an original release. All the rest are sequels of sequels, or even worse - remakes of old sequels. To quote the Bible, not my most favourite book ever (the ending sucks and the sequel is just boring), there is nothing new under the sun.
To say that the world of gaming is fucked up would be an understatement, especially when one considers how harshly No Man's Sky was received. True, Sony had a lot to do with that through the way it teased us with this game, but still - what would you have preferred? Yet another linear open world adventure story with a white male protagonist in his thirties?
I know the gaming market speaks, and very clearly so, against me on this. Which is exactly why I choose to close myself from the world as I strategise my approach to the design of a new London Underground in Mini Metro.

True, the gaming world is not as bleak as I portray it to be. There is a lot of original stuff out there, like the Hacknet I recently mentioned or 80 Days or Lumino City. And have you tried board games on the iPad? It is as if the device was created for that specific purpose.
Yet the overall direction is clearly wrong. I am sure I am not the only one out there whose gaming needs are totally ignored by the market; pretty much everyone my age would be. So come on, get off your sequels train, and deliver something good for a change!

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