Yesterday, I had a brief conversation with a friend of mine who's just finishing a degree in Video Games Design & Technology.
The long and short of it was, recently I've been using emulators and sites like Home of the Underdogs to populate my HD with fondly remembered classics - games I played on my Amiga, or on friends' PCs, C64s, Spectrums, BBC Micros and such.
Basically, I miss the stuff I liked as a kid - and thanks to some emulators and tinkering, I've recently been replaying classics like Zork and Star Trek: The 25th Anniversary. I've owned a Windows machine now for about seven years, and in that time games have come and gone - my favourites over time have included Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri and Half-Life.
One of the things I noticed more recently is that the games market seems to be getting saturated with stuff that's graphically nice or built around one technical trick (like Max Payne's innovative bullet-time feature). So how come the advances in graphics, better processors, data storage, and multiplayer gaming haven't resulted in a better, richer experience? There are some sterling examples - heck, Half-Life is still very popular today, right? The AI in that was pretty awesome. Some strategy games have a lot of replayability. Even the Baldur's Gate series have enough hidden niches and extra missions to keep me coming back.
So why are there so few good games out there today? Well, for one, I think the consoles sort of have the edge - people buy an XBox, or a GameCube, or a PS2 - and the gamedevs have the edge, because they know precisely what hardware you'll have. Plus, for most of the market, you'll be locked into that one format for a couple of years.
With PCs, your hardware and OS are an unknown quantity. Some games won't work unless you have THE latest graphics card; a lot of the classics fall by the wayside unless you know how to convince them that your shiny new Intel Celeron is actually a Pentium II, or that WinXP is actually Win95.
And then there's that one controlling factor: the Almighty Dollar. Yup, market force seems to cause good games to falter or to be released before they're ready (anyone remember the NeverWinter Nights fiasco? At release, it was barely functional. Friends nicknamed it "NeverWorking Shite". A local games shop that trades in secondhand PC titles filled a whole shelf before putting a sign in the window - "We absolutely will not accept NeverWinter Nights!").
I'm half tempted to learn how to write interactive fiction, or buy a decent game (I'm informed that Homeworld 2 is most definitely worth the money!) and get into the mod community. I'll never be technical enough to be a designer or coder, but perhaps if I lend my support to good titles (and add my creativity to community projects) then developers might start to realise that it's about more than "How many really bad Doom clones can we sell this year?"
End of rant. Normal viewing will now be resumed.