Wednesday, September 15, 2010

gaming generations, control systems, communication

History of Interactive Entertainment - Week 7 Discussion

I think the generations of games are defined by the hardware capabilities. So my belief is that there are more than 3 generations of video games. We are currently in the 7th generation according to Wikipedia.

As an 80's kid, I grew up with video games and have never known a life without a game console in the house. My earliest memories are of the Mattel Intellivision (a 2nd generation console) where games like Donkey Kong, Frogger, Tron, Dungeons & Dragons and other famous franchises have their roots. This era of graphics was very simple but I strongly believe that it's the quality and enjoyability of the actual game play that makes or breaks it.  There are current generation games that are visually stunning but boring to play. The controllers on the Mattel Intellivision were rectangle in shape, it had a keypad at the top and a disc at the bottom. It really wasn't a great design. There were also different plastic inserts for the keypad that would outline the buttons for each game, these were easily lost or damaged. The controllers themselves weren't that durable either as the electronics inside became worn and needed replacing.

The next generation was the 8bit systems such as the Sega Master System and Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), despite my incessant nagging I did not own any consoles from that era as a kid. Followed by the 16 bit generation of Sega Mega Drive (Genesis in other countries) and Super Nintendo (Super Famicon in other countries). I had a Sega Megadrive that was imported from Asia. Sega and Nintendo were really heavy competitors in the 80's and 90's and I find it rather amusing that with Sega's retraction from the console market in the present time means that their mascot Sonic the Hedgehog now appears in titles alongside Nintendo's mascot Mario. Such a game was only pipe dream back then. More ergonomic controller designs began to come out with the 16 bit generation. The rectangle shapes were done away with and rounded edges became the norm.

Cartridges were phased out in the next generation of 64 bit with the release of the Sony Playstation and Sega Saturn that used CD ROMs. However Nintendo still stood by the game cartridge system and released the Nintendo 64. They switched to GD ROMs ( a type of mini CD ) with the introduction of the Gamecube.

The current generation of games is the Playstation 3 and Xbox 360 which are geared towards HD TV. Even though Nintendo released the Wii in this era, it's hardware is not designed for display in HD and more geared like the previous generation of Gamecube, Dreamcast, Xbox and Playstation 2.

The Wii's use of motion controllers that made it so popular had already been around on the Sega Dreamcast with special controllers such as a Fishing Rod for Sega Bass Fishing and Maraccas for Samba Di Amigo. Games like Guitar Hero were not the first to have giant plastic instruments for controllers. Sega have always had great innovative ideas for games and ways to play them, but never seemed to gain the mainstream attention outside of Japan. (Can you tell I'm a Sega fangirl yet?). Sega was also the first to have a console with internet connectivity, you could play games online with friends and even browse the web without a computer as the Dreamcast had an inbuilt dial up modem. Phantasy Star Online (for Dreamcast) had innovative ways to communicate with people that spoke other languages with the use of Symbol Chat (emoticons), Word Select (it would translate a phrase into the viewers chose language) and it also had the support of a keyboard. The Gamecube version of Phantasy Star Online saw the release of a regular controller and keyboard combined in one, it was only sold in Japan but I do have one in my possession. It meant that you only needed the one controller to play and chat, which was quite convenient.

Alongside these generations, the hand held systems have usually had the tech of a previous generation of consoles and never quite as powerful as their console counterparts of the time. Nintendo still sticks with the use of cartridges for handhelds such as the Gameboy Advance and DS. While the Sony PSP has a UMD (a sort of mini CD) and the PSP Go relies entirely on downloading games to internal memory. Mobile phone games also rely on downloading and internal memory for the most part. The newest versions of the Nintendo DS; the DSi and DSi XL also have internal memory to support download games from Nintendos online store. The DS was also the first to introduce touch screen technology into the mainstream for video games, allowing you to use the bottom screen with the included stylus or your fingers to play. Touchscreen technology is becoming more standard on mobile phones after the popularity of the Apple iPhone.

Touchscreens, motion controllers and instrument controllers seem to be the gimmick that is converting people who previously didn't play games, into gamers. While this is good for the industry overall and creating a more positive attitude towards gaming....those of us that fall into the hardcore gamer category are being forgotten in the frenzy. The new ways to play games are fun but when it comes to a game you are going to sink 100 hours into, I want to curl up on the couch in a blanket and use a 'normal' controller, I don't want to jump all around the lounge room flailing madly to beat a monster.