The Future of Console Gaming
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Part 1 - The State Of The Industry
Before I begin, I would like to introduce myself. I write for Game Zero under the alias of R.I.P. and I have been playing video games almost as far back as I can remember... I could never get enough. Be it hanging out at the 2600 display at the Sears and playing the demo system while my parents shopped, or scrounging for quarters to play anything with a CRT and a coin-slot. I've been programming off and on since early 1982 when I got my first computer, an Apple //e, and then later in 1986 when I dabbled on my Amiga 1000. My first exposure to modern console gaming was in 1989 when I first played Revenge of Shinobi on the Genesis, followed by hours of time lost to Tetris, and Golgo 13 for the NES.
Finally in 1991, becoming frustrated with the general gaming press available, my friends and I became inspired to begin publishing our own magazine, and thus Game Zero was born. We selected aliases to do our work at that time, not to be "hip" or "silly" but to cloud the gender identity of one of the staff writers who happened to be female (no, it isn't me). Since then, I still play games (on any system I can get my hands on), I still program on occasion, and I still feel that the traditional gaming press poorly serves the general consumer. While, I have made every effort to be fair in this article and present a wide picture of the industry, even I will be the first to admit that my biases as both a professional writer and programmer may come through.
To begin our journey, I must recommend that you read two books. The first is "Phoenix: The Fall & Rise of Videogames" by Leonard Herman(1), and "Game Over: How Nintendo Zapped an American Industry, Captured Your Dollars, and Enslaved Your Children" by David Sheff(2). These books are important because they are industry/corporate biographies, which give overview and insight into the day-to-day, behind the scenes events of what happened in the early days of the industry. The first book primarily documents the "Atari years" where the U.S. was the dominant force behind video gaming up through 1996. The second book documents the life of Nintendo from its origins up through the conclusions of its legal battles with Atari and the FTC. As with all biographies, both books should not be taken as the final truth. Combined though, they paint a very vivid picture of our industry up through the mid-nineties. The sad reality is that entering the year 2000, these two books are the only modern, serious attempts to document this industry to-date; aside from a scattered number of magazine articles. The lack of historical information easily available to people outside of the industry who want to learn more is a real problem which needs to be addressed.
Also, before trying to understand where we're going, it is good to have a better understanding of the dynamics of this industry as it stands today. Or more specifically how the non-programmers in the industry drive its direction.
Unlike any other entertainment medium, the video game industry is frequently the most misunderstood, and misdirected. Misunderstood, not only by adult consumers in the United States, but frequently by the management who dictates the creation and release of the software sold. Misdirected in the sense that it is common today for a company to develop a concept for a game, specify target dates for completion goals, and then lastly, hire/assign the staff to design and program the title. Is it any wonder games frequently miss their deadlines? No. Not when you consider that more often than not, the person who set those deadlines is likely a person who has never programmed a day in his or her life, or if they have, it was probably working on business applications.
This also leads to another problem in the industry. Actually finding talented programmers to write the games. This industry is starved for talent because of the frequent misconception among many programmers outside of the industry that writing games is "kids stuff". The reality is actually farther from the truth then you can imagine. Outside of the people writing military grade combat/weapons simulations, there are not many other programming jobs that are as mentally taxing and physically demanding as that of programming games. Where the most complicated task an application developer can encounter is detailed date handling and working out algorithms to handle complicated financial data. Today's video game programmer has to be able to grasp the concepts of complex real-time 3-D math and object physics in a variety of environments and situations. PC game programmers have the added problem of having to stay on top of constantly changing programming requirements for hardware that will not even be available on the market until a program is nearly finished and ready to ship.
Another problem in the game industry that makes it unique from other entertainment industries is the lack of credit given to the people who actually develop the product. Unlike movies, music or television where the average consumer is aware of their favorite actors or artists, all but a small group of core fans who follow the industry are aware of who the "star" game developers are. Few products even display credits at all unless the player actually solves the game; and even then, the credits may or may not be representative of those who actually created the product... especially for products that use licensed technology. (Incidentally, licensed technology is another issue entirely, which we will discuss later.) The business side of the video game industry frequently treats their product as nothing more than any other mass consumer good, like a toaster, vacuum cleaner or television set. This altogether fails to treat the very subjective task of creating an excellent game as what it truly is, basically another art form.
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