Be Kind, Rewind

 

Hmmm. I’ve just been reading The Times’ interview with Rockstar founder Dan Houser and it got me thinking. Are games more disposable than music? Or rather, are games more transient as a medium than music?

The interviewer asked what seemed to be a reasonable question: in 20 years time, will anyone still be playing GTA4? In the light of GTA4’s opening weekend – at the time, the largest ever entertainment launch before MW2 stole its onions – it seemed fair to ask about longevity when you compare it to, say, the music of the Beatles, the Stones or Bob Dylan. And the answer’s obvious, of course, but doesn’t quite solve the problem. If technology moves so quickly in gaming that something becomes graphically or technically obsolete almost from year-to-year, what kind of legacy is being created?

What games do you go back to? If you ever read Eurogamer, you’ll see that they occasionally do little retrospective pieces on old favourites: Knights of the Old Republic was one such example. I enjoyed the 3-part article so much I actually went onto Steam and downloaded a game I hadn’t really given much thought to in the 5 or 6 years since it came out. The fact that my laptop then resolutely refused to play it at anything approaching a decent framerate rather took the shine off the experience, but it was the thought that counted.

What do I look back on with the most affection? KOTOR aside, I still cherish my memories of Star Wars: Dark Forces and the first Soul Calibur, but would I go back to them? There doesn’t seem much point in revisiting those early avatars of Siegfried and that Elvis-looking fella with the nunchuks. Not when I have them in glorious, 60fps Soul Calibur 4 Hi-Def, anyway. But Dark Forces… well, that’s a much trickier proposition. After all, its sense of scale is something that few FPS games have managed to recreate. Great plot, great visuals, and ingenious puzzles. Would I go back? In a heartbeat.

The mainstream gaming industry, much like the PC hardware business that sits at its heart, is innovation-driven up to a point, but the real money lies in iteration. Like Hollywood before it, execs realise that it’s far easier to rebake intellectual property and bang out a sequel than it is to come up with new stuff. Sometimes the sequel surpasses the predecessor, as the recent Uncharted game showed. All too often, though, we’re given tiny iterative improvements on an established platform. Yes, EA, I am looking at you (although EA is far from the only offender). Tiger Woods gets a yearly brush and polish, as does FIFA and Madden. And yes, although both Tiger and FIFA are excellent games with compelling multiplayer propositions, I’m not going to do £40 a year every year on the latest version. That would be almost as stupid as, say, seeing all 19 Saw films at the cinema. What’s that you say? I don’t know, I just assumed there were 19. I live in London. I see a lot of marketing.

What do you think of what Mr Houser had to say? Mr Houser. The Rockstar guy. I mentioned him at the beginning of the article. That’s right, him. There was a little quote in the Times piece which mentioned that games might not be that far away from being technology-immune. In other words, how much better-looking can they get? And will that affect their replayability, or their shelf life, or what? Are graphics more important than gameplay? Is technology a building block or a stepping stone? Am I even making sense any more?

Answers on a postcard. Or below.

Rob Hobson

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