Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Size is important.

I am old enough to remember the first telephone being installed at my home. There was a day when the first colour TV arrived, the Christmas when a shiny new VCR arrived. We had piles of books, piles of VHSs tapes and piles of records. I owned piles of tapes; some with music, lots with games. I collect comic books and have a whole shed dedicated to their storage.
Stories and music and games and movies are valuable to me.
Digital media has happened. My tapes changed into CD's, my CD's became mp3's. My stereo shrunk to an i-pod on a dock. The VHS tapes have become recordings on a hard drive running under my TV. All those VHS movies changed into DVD's, some have morphed into Blu-rays. I'm pretty sure that soon they will vanish and the hard-drive will contain all the things I'll ever want to watch. Last birthday the Kindle appeared at our house and now I can foresee the bookshelves gradually emptying.
I've had games on casette tapes, games on discs, games on CD's, games on DVD's, games on Blu-Ray, games I've downloaded. You'll notice that the media for games has changed more than it has for other media. The games industry thrives on technology, it's hungry for the next thing to play with. Just like a spoilt child with a pile of chocolate it'll gobble down the latest tech and be ready for more.
Given that all my music is on one portable device, all my movies can be on the same device, all my books can be on my kindle I'm guessing that people want convenience and power. they want devices that fit into their lives, not that they have to build their lives around. Games ride the front of the technology wave but no-one in games can see that what we want is the same for our games?
Imagine one device that fits in your pocket, holds all the games you've ever bought. Can be hooked up to the TV for the big-screen experience. Imagine being able to buy a game once and being able to play it on any device that you own that can run it. Would be great huh? No more physical media just a hard drive full of all your games and their saves and you can play with anyone in the world at any time where-ever you are.
The big boys are all talking about cloud service and suddenly some of this could be just around the corner.
The thing is I have seen something even better. A way to make your handheld device a social experience. The equivalent of plopping the ipod ina dock and having all your friends dance to the music. Watch the clip.
Imagine being able to project your game onto a wall and you and friends play together in the open air. I know it's a way off but I think this is the future of consoles. Devices you can take and play anywhere. When I watched that clip the first time it was like a mini-revelation. When there is no barrier to when and where we play games, they will become an even more important part of our lives.

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Gaming weakness.

I believe in variety in most entertainment. I don't just watch movie thrillers or romantic comedies, I like to choose a movie depending on my mood or the company I'm with. Music is the same, a spot of classical on a Sunday morning while I cook some breakfast, a bit of Prodigy as I put on a good shirt before I go out.
Full priced console games usually require more of a commitment, you start playing and keep re-visiting (like reading pages in a book). I often have several games on the go and choose depending on my mood. I like the variety and I'll play almost anything with one exception. Driving games.
It's almost definitely something in me that struggles with a racing game. I understand how a racing game works and I know how a game can appeal but it just leaves me cold. A long time ago I stopped playing games because they were worthy or critically acclaimed and instead chose to play games because I enjoy them. Simple as.
One of the reasons I might not enjoy racing is that I'm not great at driving myself. I'm safe but that's as far as it goes. So maybe this is one of the reasons I don't enjoy the thrill of virtual driving. But driving games don't really simulate the sensations of driving anyway. Cornering in a car you feel the vehicle lean feel the forces on your body. A game played in the comfort of your own room can't give you that.
A flying simulation doesn't feel like flying a plane, but I probably can never be a pilot so the experience is good enough to give me something I wouldn't normally get a chance to do.
But if you love cars and a game lets you drive the kind of cars you can only dream about then that's a good reason to play. But I was about fifteen when I stopped keeping an interest in the latest cars and their performance statistics. Once again, more of a flaw with me than of the great racing game makers.
A race is a very simple concept. Cover the distance as quickly as you can, do it quicker than your competitors or beat the clock. You win or lose, simple. But if that was all there was to racing games they wouldn't be so popular. I think the truth is that there is joy in mastering the control of something. In a race game that control is of the car you have. Like learning to play an instrument you play and practice and refine your skills controlling a car. When you race you pit your skill against the skill of your opponents.
The race begins and you use your control skill to drive the car as fast as you can but you don't know the course and the first tight bend and you skid off.
So not only do you need to master the control of the car but you must also spend time on the course learning the best lines and clipping the corners to get a fast time.
Now you have excellent control of your vehicle and you've prectised the course so you know it inside out, but when the race begins the other cars on the track bump you and knock you out. In fact even when you try to avoid hitting the other cars you can't help nudging a barrier and that's the end of your race.
Let's recap, to win you have to master control of your car, you need to know the course well enough to make the most of it, you need to have good judgement or pure luck to beat your opponents and you need to have the patience to re-try if any one of these things goes wrong. It's a pretty hardcore experience, and while most genres of games have softened race games are still this brutal.
And those are the main reasons that a new racing game announcement doesn't fill me with joy.
But I have played racing games and even bought some. the Mario Kart series always appeals. the ridiculous weapons to even up the skill levels of the opponents. I spent a long time playing Midtown Madness some time ago, the point to point races were a refreshing change from all those circuits. Most recently the brilliant Burnout Paradise, which gives you another option. You can master your car and know the course or you can drive your opponents into the walls. The driving area is a huge playground, open world and full of stuff to do so you can just enjoy zipping around and you don't need to beat ridiculously tough race after ridiculously tough race to progress.
So I guess I was lying. I will play racing games but they need to make me feel good rather than punishing me for every wrong twitch of the wheel. They need to be full of fun, not just be fun when you win against terrible odds. I guess there's hope for me yet.