Masters of Reality

As consoles become more and more capable of creating convincing realities, it falls upon indie developers to create gaming's most imaginative worlds.


Editor's Note: This is the first in a weekly series of featured blogs from GameSpot users.

Although the arrival of the Wii U marks the point where a new gaming generation started, the unveiling of the PlayStation 4 feels like yet another beginning, because it gives us the first glimpse at the real graphical capabilities of this coming era. As an organic function of this competitive, highly advanced age, it is only natural to expect that systems will be constantly taking steps forward in relation to the technology they carry to power both visuals and sound, and the early displays of PlayStation 4 games confirm that in spite of the ever-rising costs of production, the industry keeps fearlessly betting on pushing hardware forward.

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Bean counters will excitedly read over the numbers and try to figure out the economic effects of these advances, and while that does interest us and our wallets, there is an even more intriguing consequence to all of this, which is how games are getting progressively more realistic. Once upon a time, games were more about crafting brightly colored, wacky worlds than simulating the real world; whether that was a necessary reaction to the constraints of the early machines or just a wish to create games based on fantasy, the fact is that about 10 years ago, gaming store shelves were much more colorful and vivid than they are now, and the industry grew up supported by the outlandish and the ridiculous.

With the arrival of technology that gives life to developers' aspirations to build very real worlds, most games--or, at least, most titles by companies that can afford the luxury--will move toward scenarios that are closer to reality. It is pretty obvious that gaming will not lose its magic even if it continues to march in that direction; after all, even if games do manage to, one day, perfectly emulate the lights, colors, and physics that our eyes perceive in the real world, the art of gaming design will still allow its artists to decorate that mundane realism with items, behaviors, and powers that are either nonexistent or are difficult for a regular human being to achieve. We will still be able to pretend that we are secret agents, superheroes, or other fascinating characters. With the advent of truly convincing realities, games will become ever more reliant on developers' ability to create interesting mechanics or dazzling scripts.

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For those who can't resist the charm of games that blend technology with the quirkiness and insanity of cartoons--series like Mario, Sonic, Donkey Kong, Zelda, Ratchet & Clank, and Banjo, among others--the future could indeed hold some bad news. An industry that initially relied on the charm of platformers, which were a product of an era where processing power was very limited, has gone on to transform into an industry where shooters rule. Some say this might be a sign of laziness or a lack of creativity; others might point toward the strong sales of those titles, indicating that the market demand is what is moving the industry onto that path. In truth, it's probably a combination of both of those factors that is pushing companies to that single-minded approach. Not only do simulators require less artistic prowess (something rarer to come by than technical proficiency), but they also tend to sell better, and that can be easily evidenced by the number of "fantasy" franchises that have come to life in recent years compared to the number of new series that go for simulation and realism.

Ironically, the remedy for this somewhat worrisome trend might reside in another surging force of modern gaming: digital distribution, and the power it places in the hands of small developers. Creating big blockbuster titles demands a whole lot of cash, because it frequently involves pushing the hardware as far as it can go and developing complex new engines, and as a natural response to that obstacle, developers with unlimited talent and imagination, but with limited resources, have to go for the uncanny and unrealistic to attract attention, since any attempt at realism would result in their titles being overshadowed by the industry's giants. In recent years, that dependence on being different and creative bore some incredible fruits like Bastion, Braid, Super Meat Boy, Limbo, Journey, and Minecraft, among many others.

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While the mainstream "fantasy" franchises seem to be mostly limited to those that appeared back in the '80s and early '90s, the number of great indie titles with a ton of commercial potential keeps growing. It is from garage studios hidden in some small unknown cities that the humble defiance to the dictatorship of reality might emerge.

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