The Conception – 1945-1994
“They huddled together, squealing with joy and surprise”
As people played with oscilloscopes and vectorised spaceships and asteroids, something very beautiful was being created. At the time there is no doubt what was going on was amazing, but in retrospect it’s frankly terrifying how much was achieved. We learned to understand roast chicken makes us healthy, that a square can be a ball, that progress is moving from left to right. It taught us abstraction, a generation of developers creating a language from scratch that gamers had to learn to interpret. A language that’s gone on to appear everywhere.
Beyond that, crucially, it offered the first hint that anything was possible. Developers pushed to create more, from the universe in Elite to the earliest flight simulators. Both might now seem primitive, but the hope they offered genuinely inspired a generation.
The Development – 1994-2013
“With time, things grew. There were setbacks, but none seem as serious as they did at the time…”
Thanks to the work of those forward-looking developers, the need for abstraction began to disappear. In this period, games were no longer something you needed to understand, but something an onlooker could accurately identify as a woman raiding tombs or as a local football team. Each new game, boosted further by each generational leap in console power, pushed closer to realism. From basic polygons to fully recognisable people and places, the leap has been truly inspiring.
Perhaps the focus on clever abstraction that defined the previous era dropped, but make no mistake: This is the era that told everyone games could be anything.
Hospitalisation – 2014
“And suddenly, pain. The rush to the hospital, the people keen to predict a death, and suddenly blood and shit flying everywhere”
Regardless of the quality of the games released last year, those won’t be what 2014 is remembered for. Controversy after controversy flew, the atmosphere around gaming darkening with each day. But anyone predicting a death of games couldn’t have been further from the truth.
Looking beyond the headlines, a build up of subtle changes took place. Infinity Ward defined the last generation with Call of Duty, but Titanfall saw the remnants of that studio making something that seemed a lot less real and a lot more like a videogame. Abstraction. When the representation of a funeral was seemingly proudly shown off in Call of Duty, the reaction was a mildly bemused shrug.”Of course you can represent that, but why?”
Indie games pushed from all angles. iOS has been encouraging people to think smaller for a while, but PS+, Humble Bundles and Kickstarter offered accessible ways to look at games doing things differently. Games existing purely on high-score tables came back in titles like Pix the Cat. Indie games found a new niche with games suited to streaming and YouTube, from the silly Goat Simulator to the super-difficult FPS Lovely Planet. And Elite came back, as impressive as ever.
Sure, there were problems. Developers trying to do the same as last generation but more so, Assassin’s Creed Unity being the obvious example, struggled. Monetisation in its various new forms (free-to-play, DLC, subscriptions, Kickstarter) all continue to prompt debate. But…
The Birth – 2015 and into the future
“Blinking in the light, barely able to support itself, but truly alive”
…As the dust settled on 2014, it was very clear that gaming wasn’t dying. The screaming heard was not a death but a birth. Gaming comes into the wider world and in a form from which it can learn and grow and now begins to fulfill that promise it offered from the very beginning.
Every gamer should be excited right now. Realism is no longer an impossible dream, making hugely impressive games possible, as Uncharted 4 and Halo 5 will no doubt prove. Further to that, Oculus Rift, Project Morpheus and Microsoft’s HoloLens may all offer new ways to enjoy such worlds. If indie games are what you want, you’re going to be seriously spoiled for choice. From Drift Stage to Heat Signature and everything in between will offer new ideas and spins on old ones.
That isn’t the exciting bit though. The exciting bit is the culmination of both previous eras. Small developers will have the power and tools to create big, realistic games from their own perspective. Think of No Man’s Sky. Larger developers, increasingly freed from the graphical arms race, are free to once again to explore abstraction. Both will continue to be free to work in the areas they are already active in too.
In short, any developer will be able to create anything.
From the start, this is what gaming promised. It offered the hope of creators being able to create whatever they dreamed up and allow the gamer to go inside that creation. To interact, to experience, to play.
Here’s to the birth of gaming.