I’ve always considered myself to be a gaming aficionado, but the meaning of that has changed in recent years. Because, like many of you, I can’t imagine having the time to sit for hour-long digital killing sprees despite the comfort of my sofa.
For gamers, this is the time of the year they’ve been waiting for, as the new autumn releases continue to pile up like a scene from a Fast and Furious film. There were many blockbusters released in 2015, including The Witcher 3, Metal Gear Solid 5 and Halo 5. Littered between these sequels were genuine originals, such as Her Story and Ori and the Blind Forest.
However, you’ll find the unique games are on your phone or tablet’s app store from unknown developers, secretly harbouring the real creativity within this massive entertainment industry.
Indie games have come a long way in recent years. There’s no denying the latest Witcher game might look great as an enemy’s face melts away in pixel-heavy detail. But that adrenaline rush will come and go in waves until you’ve eventually completed the storyline, and then what? Shouldn’t we hold games to a higher standard given they’re free to attack more of our senses at once, unlike music and films? Games should be transcendent.
There are plenty of examples that show games can make you think about things in a much more meaningful way than any book or song. Something like Antichamber is able to freakishly play mind games, by forcing the player to change perspectives in a given situation, which is ultimately the message of the game itself. Others, like Heavy Rain and the recently released Until Dawn, are basically interactive movies, driving this message even further. These titles allow the play to follow the story as multiple characters and make key decisions – however small – which eventually produce one of multiple possible climaxes.
Although these are unique, the biggest shift in more recent years has been due to the prominence of touchscreen phones and tablets with enormous computing power. The total absence of game controllers has led to an explosion of original ideas in the gaming world, mostly from newcomers. Traditional heavyweight developers such as Electronic Arts (EA) and Ubisoft have been pretty much absent. Given the lack of fresh ideas from both of them in recent years, this might actually be a good thing.
Mobile games are continuing to arrive thick and fast and in all shapes and sizes. Want something that can last five seconds or five hours? Try Wave Wave, which confidently assaults your eyes and ears as you carefully try (and subsequently fail) to guide a line away from obstacles. Or Dark Echo, which cleverly uses the sounds of footsteps and nothing more to create an excellent, faceless horror game.
Other developers successfully tap into the sights and sounds of a previous era to recreate a feeling of nostalgia not experienced by your stereotypical teenage gaming addict, with examples such as Bean Dreams and Downwell.
This is a smart way of tapping into the so-called “casual gaming” market, drawing in people who aren’t necessarily interested in console-based games anymore, but once were. At first, it may seem as if something like Bean Dreams is emulating the happy charm of Sonic the Hedgehog. However, today’s retro-style titles are able to take advantage of the ubiquitous technical horsepower which wasn’t available in such abundance in the good old days.
But the mammoth lesson from this new era of gaming is that mobile – and not console – games are the ones making us really feel in our ever-growing guts.
Just look at TouchTone, a puzzle game with a powerful narrative, forcing you to make morally questionable decisions as an American national security spy. You solve short puzzles that allow you to peek into the emails and internet data of “ordinary” citizens, particularly those with names sounding similar to mine. During the tutorial, messages of encouragement, telling you how important and valuable your work is, are interspersed with others such as, “this is a Wall Street trader, thus not a threat,” when monitoring bankers. This satirical zinger makes you think about who really is causing damage to the world in which we live. But before you know it, you’re happily investigating private communication with no qualms.
Some games are so refreshing and bizarre, you can’t imagine them ever having a successful place on an Xbox or Playstation. For example, Last Voyage is a dizzying spectacle of visuals which look to have been directly inspired by the space exploration film Interstellar. The developers, Semidome, released this trippy title in April this year.
We’re seeing such dramatic change in the industry due mainly to rapidly changing economics. Whereas the latest Grand Theft Auto game cost approximately $260m, something small and beautiful like Monument Valley had a budget of $1.4m and took only a team of eight to create.
Console games are becoming bigger, more bombastic and riskier to make, just like Hollywood blockbusters, and publishers are pushing to squeeze what they can from their investments, with downloadable extras produced after the initial release, exhausting the potential to focus on new ideas.
Those games will always contain guns, grey skies and aimless travels. Just leave me in the corner as I glare at my iPhone. I’m so close to finally getting an eagle in Desert Golfing.
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