A recent article on a site I once got warned for linking to once in the forums (PM me, I'll show you) has caught my attention and given me an idea for a clever little blog piece. That article, which talked about the "worst things to ever happen to the gaming industry", got me thinking about the subject a bit more seriously than I probably should have...given that the website where it was posted isn't known for intelligent discourse. Regardless, I decided to take a stab at the subject and list the worst (and best) things to happen to my hobby.
First up, the top ten worst things to ever happen to gaming:
#10: Sega's exit from the hardware business - Ok sure, I'm well aware that the Saturn and the Dreamcast were machines that suffered from a distinct lack of 3rd party support and were marketed poorly. Still, that doesn't mean they deserved to fail. The Saturn had some of the most unique and entertaining games of the 90s (Panzer Dragoon Saga, Dragon Force, Guardian Heroes, Burning Rangers) yet was passed over by the mainstream crowd due to it lacking big-name cross-platform titles and recognized sequels.
Yet the Dreamcast, which was the first console to have a real, free, and incredibly easy to use right out of the box internet gaming mode suffered the same fate. Even with it having great exclusives and plenty of successful cross-platform titles it floundered for years until limping to an early grave. Sega's loss was an even bigger loss for gamers, since we no longer have Sega's innovative hardware division moving technology forward.
Laugh if you want to, but it was innovation like the Sega CD (I realize the TG-16 CD was first, I had one), Ram expansion cards and online console games that were adopted by Sega before their main competitors. They did what most other companies were afraid to do, and we've forever lost that technological drive Sega's hardware division possessed. In their place, we have Microsoft. Thanks, guys.
#9: Consoles becoming small form factor PCs - A console was a console and a PC was a PC...for 20 years. Then things changed and consoels decided that using the same basic internal architecture of the PCs would not only allow them to compete with the superior PC platform but also steal many of its games...and sell them for a higher price to the console crowd.
In short, it worked. Thing is, it had a very dangerous side effect. It caused consoles to inherit the same problems PCs have always had, such as crashing, patch-release cycles, lock-ups, bricking and hardware failure. The only thing is that with a PC you can easily pull off the side panel and fix the problems yourself. With a console this is infinitely harder and will also void your warranty. Plus you can't just buy Xbox compatible RAM at Best Buy for 50 bucks. This has made console gaming incredibly expensive and not worth the time or the hassle it saddles you with.
#8: Square swallowing up and then destroying Enix - The merger still bothers me to this day. A company responsible for some of my favorite consoles RPGs of all time (7th Saga, Robotrek, Dragon Quest, Ogre Battle, Valkyrie Profile) is now just a pinky finger on the mighty gargantuan body of the almighty Square behemoth. Granted, they still manage to let Enix pump out some quality Dragon Quest sequels (See last year's DQ9) but the rest of Enix's properties have either faded into obscurity or have been killed with horrible re-hashes or half-hearted spin-offs (Covenant of the Plume, anyone?). What remains is nothing like the glorious Enix of old and the JRPG genre has never been the same since.
#7: Gimmicks becoming bigger draws than gameplay - Blame Nintendo for this, after it all was their Wii and its infantile waggle stick that made everyone jump on board the casual express to flail-your-arms-around land. Granted, it's dying down quite a bit now and the backlash has started, but it has caused developers to stop their pursuit for perfect gameplay and has resulted in people rushing to find the next clever use of movement controls. It also makes my once proud hobby look like a childish pastime, something that Sony tried to reverse a decade a half ago when they came here. It's like we've regressed two decades and we're playing with ROB and the Virtual Boy.
#6: Origin selling out to EA, making Ultimas 8 and 9 - As a kid who played his first RPG courtesy of Origin and Ultima 3 I held a lot of respect for Richard & company. They set the bar for other companies like JVC and Sir Tech and were known around the world for basically inventing the modern CRPG. Then, sadly, EA sunk their teeth into them and forced them to release dumbed-down "baby" games that were about as deep as a half-drained kiddie pool. With the Ultima license pulled through the mod for a decade and a half there isn't much left of this once venerable series, and CRPGs have been trying to recover ever since. Thanks, EA.
#5: iD losing the "engine war" to Epic, the rise of Unreal Engine 3 - Hey I have a good idea for PC gamers! Let's get behind and support a 3D game engine that not only is bottlenecked by not having support for more than 2GB of ram but also uses the console's architecture as its basis and therefore neglects to properly support emerging PC technology and texture streaming! Sounds good right? That's what most develoeprs now think, thanks to CliffyB and his hideously untoptimized and ugly (and pervasive) UE3 engine.
The problem was that Carmack & iD were the only guys willing to devote time to emerging PC technology. Carmack's engines were always PC-based and were later trimmed down for the consoles. Epic however decided to make their engine for the consoles and then just port the thing nearly untouched to the PC platform. If anything is responsible for the unfair treatment the PC gets, it's this right here. CliffyB is public enemy #1, and as long as I live I will continue insulting him on Twitter until he blocks me or admits that he [immature act deleted].
#4: Bioware selling out to EA - Go re-read the sixth entry in this list but replace "Origin" with "Bioware" and you get the idea. Though to Richard & Origin's credit they were *forced* to make concessions to EA. Richard admitted that he was threatened and when he refused to change the game they removed programmers off of his project. At least Richard *fought* EA. The thing with Bioware is that they didn't fight, they merely caved in and did what their console-loving masters told them.
For one of the greatest RPG developers of all time to so quickly and steadfastly turn into a cushion on John Riccitiello's couch is not only alarming but insulting to gamers everywhere. After what they pulled with DA2, I doubt any real CRPG'er will be buying any of their games in the future. Even now their boards are suffering from locked topics and deleted posts due to the angry ramblings of betrayed fans. Go and check it out for yourself if you don't believe me. It's a very sad and hard to fathom situation Bioware fans find themselves in currently.
#3: RPGs absorbing FPS gameplay - Ok, Deus Ex is my favorite game of all time...I know you are probably about to remind me about this in the comments, but that isn't the point. While there are quite a few good RPG/FPS hybrids (Deus Ex 1, Borderlands, VTM Bloodlines, System Shock 2) there are WAY MORE that are incredibly hideous (Alpha Protocol, Mass Effect, Fallout 3, even Oblivion when you get right down to it).
The thing is, the problem with this mixing of st.yles is that it is diluting both genres. With no clear barrier kept between the two you are seeing a messy soup of crammed-in gameplay ideas that ruin the entire package. Whether its real-time shooter elements replacing dice-roll controlled combat or skill trees getting in the way of your mouse aiming precision there seems to be no way to get around the intrusions that one of these two gameplay types imposes on the other. There is only one thing in all of gaming that has hurt the RPG genre more than this and that comes in at #2....
#2: World of Warcraft - WoW changed Blizzard from a hardcore PC developer that was "indie" in spirit and "corporate" in quality control to a company more interested about money and mainstreaming. It caused Morhaime & company to become money-hungry zealots that forgot about the fans that made them famous. They realized that making a watered down online game with decrepit graphics and "so easy your grandmother could do it" gameplay was not only cheaper to do than real games, but also attracted people who normally wouldn't play PC games. Such as middle aged housewives with fat bellies and teenagers looking to grief.
Now whenever you have to defend the PC from a console gamer in a forum you have to bring up WoW as the killing blow, since it is (sadly) the one thing we can hang over them. Thoguh even that won't last for long, since Blizzard has, as we know, already proven they want to transition to consoles. I say let them, we certainly don't need them on our playground anymore if they aren't going to be a team player. Good riddance.
#1: The rise and wide-acceptance of DLC - On the disc content you pay unlock codes for, withheld levels and characters that are held hostage for money, NPCs asking for your credit card in the game...all of these things are now considered normal and it's pathetic that gamers are so willing to put up with this nonsense. It's one thing to see this on the consoles, since they can't download mods from the internet community, but to see $98 worth of DLC in Portal 2 on launch day is downright sickening. In truth, I almost wrote an anti-valve article last week but at the urging of a few people here I decided not to do it for fear of an extreme backlash. Still, I find this practice to be unforgivable and beyond disgusting.
The only company I've seen that seems to get the whole DLC idea right is Gearbox, since their Borderlands DLC has not only been fabulous, but is also cheap and adds a ton of new content. Plus, unlike their competition, they actually started the DLC modules *AFTER* the game was shipped. Unlike most companies (Ahem Bioware) that just cut party members out and sell them as launch-day DLC.
...and to balance out the hate, the top then BEST things to happen to gaming:
#10: GOG.com - You know how I feel about the Witcher, but I have to give credit where credit is due...and CD PRojekt has done good by the community with their GOG service. These old games, which came out during PC gaming's 1990's golden age, are required playing. What's even better is that they remind the kids just now getting into the hobby what a true PC game is suppose to be like, helping to bring them over to my school of thinking. It's not only a service, it's an educational tool.
#9: The ever-growing relevance of the indie scene - The indie scene has always been big on the PC. Heck, there was a time when Ultima was given out to people in plastic baggies and Richard worked out of his garage. Though things have changed considerably, the spirit has never died on the PC. Instead, much to my amazement, that same spirit has been allowed to flourish on the consoles as well. With PSN's "minis" and XBLA's "Indie channel" it has helped a lot of talented people (Like the guy who started Zeboyd Games) get a foot in the door at a time when gaming is more crowded than ever before.
Though I still think Jeff Vogel needs an attitude adjustment and Basilisk Games is an overrated studio, I like where indie game development is headed and it helps balance out some of the garbage the big companies pump out every year.
#8: The modding community - Mods, they make a boring PC game (Fallout 3, Oblivion) somewhat playable...and they often change the dynamics of a game so much (Gothic 3, VTM: Bloodlines) that they take a mediocre game and make it a cl@ssic. That's the power of the modern PC game mod and it is something that is even more relevant now than it was a decade ago, mainly thanks to the large group of dedicated individuals that fight against corporate censorship (Thanks Bethesda for fighting against nipples!) and refuse to allow cut content or horrible DLC practices mar the beauty of the PC platform. Kudos to you, modders.
#7: Fan translations - Most of the truly amazing JRPGs are elft in Japan, yet thanks to sites I can't mention here there are several brave men and women that fight against this and translate these lost gems into other languages for everyone to get a chance to experience. It might not seem like much, but thanks to their efforts we have filled in the blanks in Persona's continuing story, saw the Secret of Mana sequel and even managed to play falcom RPGs that wouldn't be seen on our shores for a decade or more. While they get a lot of flak and a good portion of them are certifiably insane, they do us a service that cannot be repaid.
#6: Consoles going online - sure it has its downsides too, but when the consoles finally went online they gained the one thing that even a PC nerd like me wanted them to have: internet multiplayer. While MS does do it "Dirty" by charging for the service, Sony seems to be the one company that gets it right and has gone out of their way to provide a free, reliable, powerful service to its customers. Of course hackers are destroying their network at the moment, but you get what I'm saying. Consoles going online has made them far more versatile than they wer ein my youth. Even I have to admit that.
#5: Torrents - Doesn't make sense to you guys, does it? While I'm NOT advocating piracy in any form, I do think torrent technology has enabled us to do two things that big developers refuse to let us engage in. First of all, it lets us download games to try out if we are not given a demo...and that is a big BIG change to the hobby. Not being able to sample games the wya we used to in the "shareware demo" days of the 1990s has hurt PC gaming quite a bit, and to finally get a way to play these demo-less games before we buy them is a welcome change. They took away our demos, but they can't hide a horrible game anymore thanks to torrent leaks. Crysis 2 is proof of that.
Secondly, and nearly as important, is the way that torrents let people share game content. If you can't find a host for your 2GB total conversion of *insert game here*, then why not just do it via a torrent? Many of the bigger mods are now solely distributed on torrents where they can't be censored by the network and cannot be removed by the publishers that despise them. The recently pulled Morrowind improvement mod and GTA:SA's Hot Coffee mod are good exmaples of this.
#4: Sony making gaming "mature" - Before the arrival of the original Playstation, gaming was seen as a kid's hobby meant for nerds, losers and freaks. When Sony came in they changed this perception and made gaming "cool" and "hip". Their clever marketing campaigns, their push for 3D graphics in console games, their very lax standards on the types of games that could be on their system (Compared to Nintendo that would shoot down violence and required licensees to seek their approval) helped take gaming from the kiddie pool to the deep end of the adult's side. Thanks to them we never had to deal with blood being replaced by sweat (Thank Nintendo and SNK for that) and violence and sex were now "ok". While the ESRB eventually cracked down on this and we're still fighting this battle to this day, we have Sony to thank for pushing the boundaries and making gaming acceptable in the mainstream.
#3: The European CRPG renaissance - From 99 to about 2006, most of the halfway decent PC RPGs were of European make, and the sheer volume of them was too much for even someone like me to take in. Still, it was thanks to this period of time that the PC was kept afloat and helped away from the edge of mainstreaming that most of your console RPGs fell off of. With super-deep oldschool CRPG like Gothic 1-3, Arx Fatalis, Sacred, Divine Divinity and Odium (just to name a few) the Europeans as well as the Russians and Ukrainians managed to save a hobby from dying...and for that we should be very thankful.
When you go to buy next month's Witcher sequel or you play a few hours of Drakensang, remember what these European companies do for us. They give us the kind of RPG that Bioware, Bethesda and Blizzard refuse to make.
#2: DOSbox - I grew up a DOS kid. I hated Windows 95 and when I finally "upgraded" to it in the fall of 1996 I was a raging torrent of anger. Though I slowly learned to jsut shut up and deal with it, I could never get over the fact that after windows 98 Microsoft stopped legacy support and took a devoted DOS shell out of windows. It wasn't until 2002 when I discovered DOSbox that I finally got over it.
DOSbox not only allows you to relive those cl@ssics you haven't played since your childhood, but it gives you the ability to record and even improve your games visuals through filters and new resolution modes. It's a wonderful program that is even used by Steam and GOG to play their own games and is now so widely used that I can't imagine a gamer NOT having it somewhere on their system, even if they aren't aware of it.
DOSbox is more proof that good games never die and the community will ALWAYS correct the mistakes of the corporate white shirts (microsoft) that attempt to destroy our hobby.
#1: Steam - Do I even really need to explain this? Steam has not only saved PC gaming, but it has made it stronger than ever. With them having such easy going relationships with indie devs and allowing games to be HUGELY discounted on their digital download service, it's no wonder Steam has taken such a huge elad over its competitors. Throw in the great community options, the profile controls, in-game chat, skype codec support, screenshot storage, cloud based saving and the promise of being able to upload videos in the future you'd have to be really ignorant to see Steam as anything other than the revolutionary program it truly is. Steam has changed gaming the way the TV did news and the way the toaster did bread. It has completely altered the PC gaming landscape forever and has improved it immensely all across the board. To say anything else is blasphemy.
And there you have it, my top ten best/worst things to happen to gaming.