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Leicester, United Kingdom
Studying BA (Hons) Game Art Design at De Montfort University. It continues to be challenging as much as rewarding. Primary outcomes include 2D and 3D projects and 2am coffees.

Monday, 31 October 2011

21st century: when everything changes....

A fair amount of change has occurred in the last decade, again in line with developments of both computer hardware and software. The Game Boy has evolved into the Game Boy Advance all the way to the Nintendo DSi, and then there's the Playstation Portable which, as its name suggests, is literally a miniature portable Sony PS3. Whilst there has been the rivalry between the Sony Playstation and the Microsoft Xbox, other platforms are still available, for example the Nintendo Wii, which  takes video game interaction up a notch, since it requires more than sitting down and pushing buttons and actually gets you off your backside every now and then! The platforms available have stabilised to include handheld devices e.g. Nintendo 3DS, consoles e.g. PS3 and finally the PC/laptop.

Another key change over the last decade is the enabling use of the internet to allow users to access games either individually or in teams, and from geographically different locations.
However, as of 2000, the development of the games we play currently is not all as positive as it appears. We all know that video games today take a lot of time and effort to produce. Starting as a simple idea, creating concept art for environments and characters, to rendering and animating it on the screens, it requires the skills and efforts of the staff to make it what the consumers hope it to be. But the cost has also increased since the days of arcade games. Take the following comparisons into consideration.

1982: Pac Man - a beloved classic which was created by one man over several months at a development cost of $100k

2004: Halo 2 - part of a highly successful ongoing series which had a design and development team of 190 people at a development cost $40m.

These two examples can give an idea of how much can change for game manufacturers in the space of 20 years. A while ago, I personally thought that such early games would have taken longer to develop due to the creators being limited by the technology of their time. So we, in terms of time and money, can only assume that the game development cycle will continue to increase as time goes on, in order to keep them to the expectations of the consumers and staff. However, technology shifts may help to minimise these increases.

One major factor that has caught my eye in current games is that of repetition of gameplay and, depending on its place in the game, it can be either good or bad (annoying). But in the video game industry, history has shown us that is has proven to be a hit. Super Mario Brothers have been around for over three decades now, and whilst the evolution of technology has allowed their creators to improve the quality to match the present console, the gameplay has hardly changed. From the arcade machines to the Nintendo DS and Wii, it still involves:

·         Jumping on enemies

·        Collecting coins

·         Travelling through green pipes

·         Throwing Koopa shells

·         Getting power ups via mushrooms

·         And saving the helpless Princess Peach from Bowser and son!

 Left: 1985 Super Mario Bros. Right: 2006 New Super Mario Bros. Deja vu

And yet it’s still awesome as you work your way through all the levels, doing the same old thing but it’s fun nonetheless! Game series tend follow a continuous cycle trying to re-use plots etc with a certain amount of predictability. Assassins Creed – you gather information about your targets and then assassinate them; God of War - fight your way through endless waves of mobs acquiring new powers/weapons as you go. And so on.....

Currently, many publishers are looking towards making sequels of games or a series for one-off games rather than creating new games. I can fully understand this decision as it can be a challenge making a new, fresh game without being heavily influencing by an existing game already out there. Next to this they also want to buy the licences from other forms of media to produce games - this includes comics and films. Batman for example; one of the most renowned superheroes we know, made his debut in the comics at the start of WW2 and look how far the franchise has come!

From the point of view of students like us who are looking into entering this industry in the near future, it is likely that any new game ideas we pitch may end up being disregarded in terms of the bigger picture - which is fairly understandable. I mean today, almost every action/adventure film has become a game, and when you walk into a GAME store, practically every game has come from another form of fiction or media!

So a major challenge for the game industry is how to develop games that are fresh and new, while harnessing the capabilities that exciting new computer hardware and software technologies will offer. And at the right price...

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