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Posts Tagged ‘PS3’

Within the next few weeks, the Xbox One and PS4 will both hit the marketplace. This essentially marks the beginning of a new generation of games and consoles. With that in mind, we thought it would be good to quickly revisit the impact of what we like to call the “three” generation of the Xbox 360, PS3 and their old rival, the PC.

Here are the five storylines from that generation.

New storytelling techniques

The techniques for storytelling in games has evolved over the 8 years of the three generation. Much of this can be attributed simply to the evolution of the medium. Gaming has become a big business and more mainstream, this has led to bigger budgets and the ability to draw on more and more talented people, enabling the discovery and development of new ways of telling stories interactively. The increased graphical and computational power that the generation brought with it certainly can’t be ignored either.

Perhaps the strongest new developments over the three generation has been the move of games to be more cinematic in scale and scope, as well as the increased use of the environment to tell stories. While neither are completely new ideas in themselves, they have taken a particular form in this generation, specifically;

–          Shorter 10-30 hour games

–          Snappy dialogue, frequently delivered during “down time” while travelling between encounters

–          Separation of a main plot told through dialogue, and a ‘world story’ told through found items, radio chatter, looted items, and the art design of the world

–          Increased use of significant NPCs to create an emotional attachment with the player, these NPCs are frequently companions and things that happen to them are used to drive the drama of the final segment of the game

In my opinion, Grand Theft Auto IV was the first big “blockbuster” title of the three generation, and established both of these elements. Despite its length, GTA:IV told a very film-like story, a three act drama of a refugee finding his way in America, full of conflict and sub-plots. It also oozed story out of every part of the environment, from the posters on walls, to the chatter on the radio and all the little bits you could interact with such as watching TV.

If it was GTA: IV that heralded this type of storytelling for the generation, it was the Bioshock series that took the idea of environmental storytelling and really developed it. These ideas and techniques have now become incorporated into almost all big-budget, story-based games, and at the end of the generation, games like The Last of Us are a sign of just how far we’ve come.

 

Bioshock showed the world how a story could be told using the environment.

Bioshock showed the world how a story could be told through environment details like the layout and appearance of objects.

The death and resurrection of the PC

The PC has faced a remarkable cycle during the three generation. Much of this was as a result of the generational shift in TV screen technology. For much of the generation all three platforms competed on the equal playing field of the ubiquitous 1080-line resolution.

In the early years of the generation, the Consoles appeared to have a clear ascendancy. In addition to operating at an equivalent resolution to most PCs they had a cheaper entry point, hardware consistency, effective online stores and DRM. They also had the benefit of big-spending owners who ensured that developers prioritised the development of games as console-first, often to the detriment of PC versions.

Naturally this led to a lot of stories about the “death of PC gaming”, which for a while seemed to be sustained exclusively by World of Warcraft and a few die-hard FPS enthusiasts who refused to give up point-and-click shooting.

Things have changed towards the end of the generation however. Predictably, over the eight year cycle, the power available to PCs has increased well beyond what the consoles can manage. Less predictably, digital distribution on PC, particularly through Steam store has grown to rival anything on the consoles and the PC has actually found itself at the forefront of business innovations with the emergence of web-based and free-to-play gaming.

Content and services beat hardware?

Sony clearly went into the three generation with the most powerful console. It wasn’t really until the Kinect came out in 2010 that you could really say that there was anything that the Xbox could do better than the PS3 (is this perhaps why it is such a big part of the Xbox One?).

Tech gear is typically sold on power and features. And yet, despite the power disparity, the two consoles maintained a relative stalemate in terms of market share.

It’s hard to ignore the aggressiveness of Microsoft releasing a year before the PS3, and spending big on exclusive content as being part of the reason for their success. Early in the generation, Xbox established a strong exclusives line-up involving Halo, Gears of War, Viva Pinata and the GTA:IV DLCexpansions.

Cross-platform publishing

Once parity was established between the two platforms, it became entrenched. The large third-party publishers such as Ubisoft, EA and Activision all maintained a largely agnostic approach to the two consoles and PC. Games were built to look and play as identically as possible on all three. Arguably this was to the detriment of the PC and PS3 who had their versions restricted to what was possible on an Xbox 360.

It is also fair to say that the PS3 proved to be simply too difficult to write for. Only a very small number of first party games really showed that the PS3 was capable of doing more than the 360, and almost all of those seemed to suffer blowouts in terms of release schedules. Perhaps the greatest evidence of this is that the hardware for the PS4 is no-where near as idiosyncratic as its predecessor.

Changing of the guard of dominant franchises?

The eight years of the three generation also saw a shift in the dominant franchises in gaming.

Arguably the biggest franchises coming into the generation were GTA and Halo. Both had huge releases within the first year or so, but then had a large hiatus in which they dropped out of the public consciousness. In the case of GTA it has only just re-emerged 5 years later, having had 3 major releases in the 5 years before GTA IV.

In the middle of the cycle, the rhythm game phenomena of Guitar Hero and Rock Band dominated Christmas shopping and DLC purchases, but both died out during the course of the generation.

Now at the end of the cycle, Call of Duty is the biggest game in town. It has managed an annual release through the entire generation, and has really kicked on since the landmark Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare in 2007. If you only see one TV ad for a game this year, it will almost certainly be for Call of Duty.

Speaking of annual releases. There has also been a bit of movement in the sports games genre. Early in the generation EA Sports managed a complete victory in NFL by wrapping up an exclusive license for the game and shutting down all competition. They won it the right way in football however. Fifa adapted better to the generation than PES, and since 2009 has been the clearly dominant game. It hasn’t all been good for EA Sports however, as the NBA 2K series has established itself as the premier basketball franchise, perhaps because 2K sports doesn’t have to invest in NFL rights and development any more.

Conclusion

That’s our five top storylines from the generation. What do you think are the biggest developments and changed in the gaming landscape that have occurred over the past 8 years?

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Yep, only a couple of days after we put up the best games of the year I’m already questioning some of my own logic in what is included.  Looking back at it now, there is no doubt that Bayonetta was a class act.  It did everything I wanted it to: played like Devil May Cry and had style coming from every demon orifice, the same orifices that I gleefully pumped bullets into and chopped in half with a my melee weapon of choice.  For that reason there is no doubt it deserved to be considered for game of the year.  But realistically, there are probably two factors contributing to our final decision.  Yes it was an absolute work of art that cemented Platinum Games, like Clover before them, in my own personal favourite developers category.  But it also happened to be the one of the only games that both Stubbsy and I firstly had mutually played, but more importantly mutually agreed was great.  And thus really sums up the problem with trying to come up with a mutually agreeable list – which to both Stubbsy and my credit I think we’ve done a great job of this far.

For that reason I really felt the need to write this little piece to communicate how I felt about 2010.

I could probably do this in a second if I really wanted to just by simply saying that a game that may well be my favourite video game of all time was released in 2010.  But to confuse the issue, that game was NOT Bayonetta.

It was Mass Effect 2.

As a game, Mass Effect 2 just did everything right by simply iterating on the first game.  The shooting mechanic was better, the dialogue was better, it looked great, the world was as immersive as it was fantastic.  And I could go on.  But that’s not what makes Mass Effect 2 one of the greatest examples of interactive entertainment ever made.  What sticks with me the most about the game was its narrative, the way it develops and builds on characters in a way which makes you care genuinely care about them.  (If you haven’t played the game this may be a bit of a SPOILER): As much as the internet had a whole lot to say about the final boss, although it left a lot to be desired, the lead up to it was so great that it didn’t matter to me.  I’d already reached my climax.  The tension created by designating members of your teams to perform specific roles in order to keep the team alive through the self proclaimed suicide mission was real to the point where a sigh of relief would come when they survived, or in my case a real lament came when at one point made the wrong choice.  Why I chose Miranda instead of the Justicar can not be explained.  But the tension and the sense of panic made me make a decision that, in the heat of battle, led to Legion not returning to the Normandy.  It was a moment that replays in my head over and over as the Collectors took him as prey while he verbalised error messages.  I had made a mistake that had cost a life,  a decision that actually impacted me for the rest of the day, as I walked around with a deep sense of melancholy and regret in my own daily life, almost feeling as though I had let Legion down.  The worst part was it was hesitation that made me choose Miranda, a character for whom I had no affection for.  But I can’t pass the blame on her, as a leader I made the wrong decision and its something I’ll have to live with, and something that will no doubt impact Commander Shepard’s plight to save mankind in Mass Effect 3.

The Illusive Man is one of the most intriguing characters ever to be seen in a video game

As the credits rolled and I thought back to the conversations I’d had with my crew, Mordin confiding in me that he’d designed the Genophage and felt that it was for the best of the Krogan species, Thane’s acceptance that he was dying of disease an honorable man despite living the life of a contract killer, and the story of the test tube Krogan Grunt’s coming of age as he discovered his place in the Krogan community as he is accepted into the Clan led by Urdnot Wrex all came flooding back to me.  These were friends that I was going to miss.  Unlike most videogames where its the kill count that matters, or saving the world, to me it was creating and nurturing a team where we could trust each other and if it came to it, be prepared to die together as we took  the fight to the Reapers in a mission that none of the crew thought they’d return from.

The thing is Mass Effect 2 transcends how I would normally critique a game to a point where its not the game mechanics or the graphics that matter, despite the game playing like a dream and the graphics being best in class.  Its the human connection, the stories of my journey to save mankind from the Collectors that I will tell people from years to come as if they were my own.  Its the human side that Bioware gets so right; their ability to touch parts of the human psyche that normally aren’t touched by videogames, thats what makes Mass Effect 2 a once in a lifetime experience.

Red Dead Redemption did something similar half a year later, although perhaps not the the same level and success as Bioware’s space opera.  We talk a lot as players of video game fans about creating an atmosphere, a living and breathing world which sucks you in almost convincing you that what you’re watching on the screen is real. And almost no one does it better that Rockstar games, particularly with what they created in Red Dead Redemption.  While the game itself is pretty fantastic, its actually the story that drew me in and really pulled me through the latter stages of the game.  Truth be told I had lost steam about half way through the Mexican revolution; but my desire to see what happens to the protagonist John Marston in his quest to kill his former ally and be reunited with his wife and child.  Needless to say the narrative and character develppment of the game, although perhaps a little incosistent in the formation of John Marston as a man who wants to redeem himself from his former life of murderous crime, is really what makes Red Dead perhaps one of the greatest games of this generation.  And the pseudo-ending was as surprising as it was distressing as I was forced to contemplate the difference between good and evil and whether there is such a thing as redemption for those who are hardened and ruthless criminals.  So while from a gameplay perspective the game certainly wasn’t my pick of the crop, the story itself and the journey Rockstar take you on through incredibly well fleshed out characters makes it the type of game that will probably influence how game narratives are formed into the future.

Mass Effect 2 and Red Dead Redemption have changed the way I enjoy videogames and their stories from here on by virtue of simply changing my expectation of narrative and storytelling.  Also released in 2010, Metro 2033 and Alan Wake were two narrative driven games that, if i’m entirely honest, just didn’t live up to my own personal expectations.  A weakness that really was just accentuated by the relative strength of both Red Dead Redemption’s and Mass Effect 2’s narratives and storytelling.

So clearly my desire for good narrative and characterisation is what ultimately drove my choices for this year’s game of the year.  But that doesn’t mean that great ‘games mechanics’ and gimmicks went unnoticed this year.  Very early in the year I was wowed by the unfortunately overlooked Darksiders which fulfilled and surpassed in many ways its destiny as delivering the mature Zelda game that Nintendo just refuse to release.  Almost a full year later I was blown away by the amazingness that was sliding around on my knees at ridiculous pace in Platinum Games’ Vanquish, which proves that Japan really can do western style shooters almost better than western developers themselves.  And in between I enjoyed impossibly swinging and parachuting around a vast and varied open world in Just Cause 2.   These are fantastic game mechanics that were as fun as they were rewarding and really elevated these games above the their competition during the year that was 2010.

Platinum Games proved with both Bayonetta and Vanquish (pictured above) that they are masters at creating some of the most stylish and fun experiences available

 

Sitting in no-man’s zone though is Final Fantasy XIII.  I’ll say it straight out I really, really enjoyed Final Fantasy XIII. I enjoyed it enough to look past its glaring flaws and appreciate it for what it was: a magnificent world, and intriguing premise, but most of all the most mechanically sound and enjoyable battle system I’ve ever experienced in an RPG hailing from Japan.  The supremely linear first 15 hours were made absolutely engrossing by the game’s Paradigm Shift system, which had me strategically changing the jobs of my characters on the fly depending on the enemy type or the situation.  This became an exercise in precision as I battled more powerful enemies such as the Eidolons, who if beaten, become powerful allies that can be summoned in battle to do massive damage on enemies.  That probably all sounded like gibberish for those of you who haven’t touched the game, but trust me when I say that every victory in Final Fantasy XIII is just as satisfying in defeating the opposition in Sports Interactive‘s Football Manager series.  And mastering the battle system gave me reason to keep moving through the sometimes confusing and benign storyline, which although ultimately ends up being a rewarding and satisfying journey, can sometimes be dragged down by sacharine dialogue and some of the worst voiceovers I’ve ever heard.  Did I mention the game is absolutely stunning?  Well it is.  So mixed feelings aside Final Fantasy XIII really fulfilled my craving for a good Japanese RPG by delivering on the promise of more than half a decade in development, and continuing the iterations and changes to the series that begun in 2006’s brilliant Final Fantasy XII.

So that’s a long winded way of saying 2010 was a great year.  A year that could be compared to 1998, the year in which we saw the first publication of well-renowned classic games such as Metal Gear Solid, Half Life, and Final Fantasy Tactics; but also future cult classics like Grim Fandango and Panzer Dragoon Saga.  And while there is a notable absence of portable games in my list, Nintendo’s DS and Sony’s PSP were not without their winners either – with both Infinite Space and Valkyria Chronicles 2 released for those systems respectively during the course of the year.  Both brilliant games, which although may only be niche in appeal, are games that would just as easily feel at home on a home console.  If anything the fact that they don’t even come close to being my personal game of the year is testament to the strength of the field this year.  Even greater testament is that Enslaved hardly even manages a mention, despite being one of the most enjoyable games I’ve played this generation.  But that is just analagous for the year of 2010 in videogaming.

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