Top 5 Reasons I Love Being a Modern Gamer,
So…2014 is here. A year that will be full of disappointment, more rage inducing announcements from Corporate fat cats that have lost touch with their customers and more beloved franchises will be huuriedly pushed out on the street to make a quick buck while over-entitled players will whine about the state of games until only the most streamlined and casual of gaming experiences get shovelled out. Let’s be honest, gaming nowadays Su-Su…Sorry, I can’t do this. I can be negative, I can rage over an unpleasant announcement till I become a bigger jerk than Don Mattrick…but at the end of the day, I think that right now is one of the best times to be a gamer, whether you have been gaming since the days of the brown box or just played your first round of Angry Birds.
So today, there won’t be any bile from me and we won’t be focusing on one specific type of game, genre, platform, or even theme. Instead, let me share with you the reason I love gaming and why I look with optimism towards the coming year.
Back in the day, getting games to play was…interesting. On the one hand, you actually had a wide variety of video stores you could rent your games from, on the other hand this meant you were competing with all of the other grubby hands to get something to play…which usually meant you’d get Beetlejuice or Dr. Chaos while your friend would walk home with Ghouls’n Ghosts. You could of course buy some games…if you were willing to save your allowance for months and/or bust your ass so you could afford ONE game…and it would still probably be Dr. Chaos. Then of course there was the fun of PC gaming, where you not only had to make sure your computer was up to date but you also got to have the fun of mail ordering games if your store didn’t have the game you wanted…which it rarely did. Ah yes, I remember playing a shareware version of Commander Keen IV and then filling out a form to send to Apogee (using a dot-matrix printer no less), and then finding out weeks later that they couldn’t complete my order.
Now, while I do miss the days of flipping through pages of PC catalogues and browsing video stores for games of the non-Dr. Chaos variety, I’m not eager to go back to them. The nice thing about gaming today is that you can load up on games anywhere and any way. Don’t like going into the store? Well, thanks to the wonders of big-ass hard drives and internet connections that don’t require a dial-up connection, you can get games straight to your console, tablet, PC, phone, or TI-82 and above calculator without having to worry about scarcity. There are more ways to get games and supported platforms to play them on that anyone can be a gamer. Not to mention, as anyone who has ever taken advantage of a Steam Sale, Amazon Gold Box Deal, or gaming bundle, there are a lot of options for getting your games on the cheap.
Now I’m not saying this is all good, after all, I have probably over 100 games in my various Desura, GOG, and Steam accounts that I haven’t played for more than a few minutes…but given the option between having too many games to select from and emptying out my piggy-bank so I can wind up getting Iron Man/X-O Manowar for the Gameboy because that was all Electronics Boutique had…and I’ll happily go with buying Skulls of the Shogun for a fourth of the price.
If there is one thing that has impressed me about the last few years is how wide and varied the selection of games have been. Let’s see, just in 2013 , we had Gone Home, a game which had you uncovering a narrative by exploring a house, Papers, Please, an extremely engaging experience which also had bureaucracy as its gameplay mechanic, and Anarchy Reigns, a game where you can punch a Kraken to death while playing as the main character from Mad World and listening to an over-the-top hip-hop soundtrack. That’s to say nothing of games like Bioshock Infinite, Assasin’s Creed Black Flag, Remember Me, Killer is Dead (might not have been that great but still unique), and Teslagrad. Then of course, there’s the yearly regulars like the Call of Duty games and EA Sports line-ups.
The point is, there’s a wide variety of games to suit every kind of player.
Do you want a game where you have to deal with opponents as a Rabbi? Try The Shivah: Kosher Edition
Do you want a game where you clean up after violent rampages? Try Viscera Clean-up Detail
Do you want to play a game where you fight Cthulu by solving puzzles? How about Magrunner: Dark Pulse?
Do you want to play a grim reaper who must decide the fate of a developing country? Play Postmortem: One Must Die.
And all of these are only a fraction of the titles that have come out or the wide range of genres and styles that have been explored. That’s to say nothing of free games that have come out (Locomalito has released two games in the last year that you need to play), visual novels that have been released (Heileen 3, Bionic Heart 2, and Nicole were all released by Winterwolves last year), and the ungodly amount of mainstream and indie dungeon crawlers that came out (Legend of Dungeon, Hammerwatch, Dungeon Dashers, etc.) The point is, there was a huge crop of unique, varied games last year and this year will have even more titles with even more varied gameplay styles, whether it’s a retro throwback like Freedom Planet, a hacking/parkour/third-person shooter like Watchdogs, or a unique Kickstarted game like Hyper Light Drifter or You Are Not the Hero, a game that puts you in the shoes of a video game NPC who has to deal with annoying heroes who broke into her house and stole her stuff.
Of course, one reason we’ve been able to have such a wide slough of games that break a lot of the trends we’re used to seeing in mainstream games is thanks to unique individuals putting their game out. Now, I wasn’t around during the really early days of gaming, when homebrew titles got sold alongside bigger Atari 2600 title or when Richard Garriott was shipping around Akalabeth but I think it would be safe to say that many of those developers would love to have gotten their start in the post Steam world.
Let’s be honest, there’s a lot of resources that help out indie and smaller developers. Now-a-days, if you have a dream and a computer of some variety, you can make a game. Programs like Unity, Gamemaker, and Ren’py make game development easy for the developer on a budget or inexperienced programmers and there are sites like TIGSource’s forums, where independent developers can meet to give/receive advice on their projects, and work on collaborations like Action 52 OWNS, a remake of all 52 games on the infamous cartridge and make them GOOD. Then of course there’s the fact that there are plenty of digital storefronts that are willing to give independent games just as big of a spotlight as AAA releases, as well as game bundles that only feature independent or smaller developers.
Not to mention, independent and small developers are having a big impact. Just browsing the toy section at a local retailer had me chuckling as I watched kids play fight with Minecraft and Angry Birds toys. Not to mention, the surprising commitment Sony and Nintendo have made in regards to getting independent developers on board with their platforms. At the same time, the fact Phil Fish’s breakdown and departure from gaming was major news has shown how much attention the gaming community pays to the indie community. On the more positive side, over half of the top twenty funded projects on Kickstarter are gaming projects by smaller developers who would have their project denied if they tried to pitch it to a publisher.
What I love about this last point is that Kickstarter-funded projects feed into one another, with developers supporting other crowd-funded projects directly or just making their supporters aware of other worthy projects. On a similar note, Age of Wonders III is being released this year and has been heavily invested in by none other than Minecraft’s Notch.
I love GOG.com. No, that’s not a paid endorsement I just love what the service does with older games. When you buy an older game on there, it is already preconfigured with DOSBox or its code has been altered so it will work on modern operating systems. Additionally, the games usually come with extras like soundtracks and behind-the-scenes documents. The games will even include expansions, like Alpha Centauri’s Alien Crossfire. What I love about this is that it ensures that new players will be able to keep playing these games for years to come and they won’t be lost to the ether. Efforts to archive and update old games have seen the return of System Shock 2 and I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream in 2013; classic titles that have still held up and are now being experienced by a new population.
Now, it’s not only older PC games that have been released. Classic console titles have also been re-ported or revamped on multiple platforms with improvements that emulators have had for years. For example, Nintendo’s Virtual Console service allows for save states to be made and for any game to be paused, making some of the more difficult titles accessible to more casual players. Say what you want about SEGA but the company has made damn sure that almost every game they’ve put out is available on multiple platforms and their recent 3D releases of games on the 3DS have not only brought forward classics in a new format (which doesn’t really look that great in my opinion) but new features as well. Once again, this means that these titles will still be around for a new generation and it won’t require keeping outdated systems repaired or paying through the nose to get rare titles at auction.