Saturday, November 19, 2005

The Final Generation

Here we go again. Hardware launches ra ra ra. Hardware-centric branding pushing a false generation war ra ra. Hardware promises co-opting the language of game developers to sell a nonsense vision (online, super-realism, emotion etc) ra ra.

Here's what the next generations are offering for real. More polys, more pixels, on-line play and a controller that lets you, you know, move stuff about on screen. Whoopdefucking do.

I am so... tired of this nonsense. I am so bored of watching the same little bit of history repeating, with the same cod arguments, the same lies, the same messages and the same complete lack of anything really INTERESTING happening. I'm tired of watching developers prostrate themselves before the temple of marketing and watching formerly perfectly good creative people turn into hollow replicants of their former selves. I'm tired of watching journalists become ever more complicit in the squeeky wheel and grease show, and I'm tired of watching an industry regularly deceive itself, blame external forces and otherwise try and pretend that nothing has ever changed.

And I'm jealous.
I'm very jealous of watching other media move on. I'm watching the new Battlestar Galactica today for the first time (always last to the party, I know) and I'm loving it. Normally I regard any remakes as suspicious (this is something that the games industry teaches you after a while) but in Galactica I'm watching a properly conceived bold attempt to really work with material to make something new. I saw Serenity the other week and had similar feelings. I watch US drama shows all the time (Lost and Rome being current favourites) and again, I am amazed at the way that this medium has moved on. And it makes me very jealous. And wanting to make my own shows - but that's another story.

It's a real Gordian Knot that the whole field of videogaming finds itself in because there are several competing forces at work here, none of which is actually healthy for the games. These forces are what drive the generation cycles. PS4 is already on someone's drawing board, as is XBOX5, DS3 and whatever else. Yet any fool can tell you that the current direction of the industry is ultimately going to lead to the death of everyone bar the hardware makers themselves.

On the one hand, the business forces have absolutely come to depend on hardware sales now and second hand sales to offset the public's increasing weariness. There's the manufacturers, whose dominance struggle is beginning to look desperate on all sides, and who are now launching new hardware seemingly every other month. There's publishers, who are increasingly looking for ways to look sweet enough to be bought because they know full well that the costs problem which killed developers by the thousands over the last three years has come knocking at their door. There's the small developers, who've gotten bought themselves, or sidestepped the main industry to go off into mobile land, casual land or budget land - and are finding the same problems there. There's the indie developers, who's belief is driven by a need to return games to their past, and who focus on making 'true' games. And at the center of all this is the sense that maybe the problem is simply that there isn't enough money to go around.

If history has taught us anything, it's that this sort of pack cannibalism is not something that can exist as a permanent mentality. With virtually everyone in the different corners of the industry now entrenched in their position and playing an extended game of Russian Roulette, the industry won't survive in the same shape in which it currently does. As with any form of media entertainment from wrestling and porn to modern art and cinema, these things have a tendency to balloon, burst and then reinvent themselves in a new form.

Well we need our reinvention, but it isn't going to happen before we balloon and bust first. This new generation, as with other generations, is just another turn of the screw. It's not something that *can* be solved by untangling the strings and everyone being reasonable (as is often expressed in forum discussions on the fate of the industry).

We see the same threads and blog posts again and again talking about the nature of the industry, and if only the industry could be made to see sense, and if only it could be made to do things in a reasonable manner, and if only and if only. It can't.

The parties are too entrenched. Like the first world war, the conflict now seems so insane, and yet the fact that the enemies of every faction are all staring each other down compels them all to fight to a bitter end that may or may never come.

Alexander the Great didn't solve the Gordian Knot. He just cut it in half with his sword. The symbol is obvious. Sometimes messes get so convoluted and mixed up that the only solution is a clean break. There are times when the only sane course of action is an unreasonable one.

So we head into generation six or seven (I forget which it's supposed to be) full of fear. Fear for our hobby, fear for our direction, fear for our jobs and livelihoods. The trench guns are firing, the mad charges have begun. The clarions are ringing around the ramparts, and there we are. You, me, a bunch of other guys, dressed in regulation hoodies and sneakers, with shaved heads, mortgage payments or rent, our thirtieth birthdays whizzing by with maybe a kid or two. We all know that it's madness, but we're going over the top anyway.

See you on the other side.

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