I started off my life playing games on floppy disk and on NES. I always found them interesting, but by the time the N64 came out, I was obsessed. There was something to some games that made it hard to put them down. My parents got us a fancy N64 for Christmas, the year it came out, and it shipped with Mario 64.
Never before had anyone experienced 3d graphics like that. The rough polygons and new 3d world weren’t what kept the game alive even to this day though. It was the mechanics. While the camera system was revolutionary, it paved the way for much more to come, the skill ceiling was so high. Sure, you could be pretty mediocre at the game, and beat it, but the mechanics had a depth, yet simplicity to them. There weren’t any gimmicks, but multiple ways to solve the same problem.
Mastering games like Mario 64 can take a lifetime. The same could be said about other classics like Goldeneye, Perfect Dark, and Ocarina of Time. What makes those games perfect is a combination of them telling a story through action and their simple (yet difficult to master) mechanics; people are still breaking records in both OOT and M64 today. Oh, one more thing that makes them great is that they aren’t perfect. Glitches in those games exist, and you can really feel the shortcomings of the engines, if you know what you are looking for. I am not master of either, but I can related to a more modern (than those) title, the original, and only Unreal Tournament.
UT is only a relic of what Epic used to be at this point, but it has a lot of parallels to those other games. You could feel where the engine fell short. The mechanics were simple and like any other arena shooter: move, strafe, fire, alt fire… but they had a few of their own takes on the arena shooter up their sleeve. One of those was dodging.
Dodging forward didn’t really do anything special, outside of an animation, but dodging sideways brought a lot of things to light. Try shooting someone mid-side-dodge. You can’t. You can only hit your opponent after they land; oh and, you move faster than regular movements. This made side-dodging a super powerful movement to master. It’s simple, just double tap left or right, but those aren’t the most natural movements, when you’re gunning it towards an opponent. You had to adapt, understand the mechanic, how the engine worked, and spend a lot of time incorporating it into your gameplay.
You see, it’s the (potentially accidental) depth to the game that makes them difficult to master, but anyone can play. We all know how to point our mouse and shoot.
A lot of this was ruined by lag compensation, you lose so much of the feel of the engine that you’re working with. A lot of the time there were consequences of the the lag compensation, too. For Counter Strike peeker’s advantage was born. For Call of Duty, the insanely long time to register a bullet still exists today. Games that do it well still lost something though. You lost the feeling.
The best analogy I can give is with how cars changes to drive-by-wire steering. You no longer have to feel every small rock you run over resonate through your hands on the steering wheel. That might be great for the average driver, but professionals hate it.
That was just the start of the problems though.
What’s great about the aforementioned games is the skill ceiling, yet low barrier of entry. We’ve lost that, and that’s mostly what I want to talk about here.
I blame a lot of this on the idea that a AAA game has to be $60, and the rest on Activision for exploiting people. The prices haven’t changed, but people expect more and more. I protest in saying, I don’t need more, I just want better, and there’s a huge difference. So in order to keep increasing profits, the CoD franchise specifically found itself in a loop. Put out a new game every year, and hardly change anything. But wait, in between those release we had DLCs, new maps that your friends had, so you have to buy them, too.
On top of all of that, the skill cap was L.O.W. they wanted everyone to feel like they could destroy some noobs. So they invented rotating spawn points. Losing? Let’s spawn you behind the other team, so you can unskillfully shoot them in the back and feel good. Gross. Appealing to the masses is fine, but you need to leave room for those with real skill.
And somewhere along the way problem solving fell short and developers were only capable of serving the casuals or hardcore gamers. Or they stopped trying.
And then the new models hit: pay to win, DLCs out the ass, and worst of all early access. Early access is the worst of all of them. Pay for a half-assed game propped up by hype. The cycle became so vicious that even average gamers have been begging for something good, not even great. Years of broken and abandoned games has left everyone wanting more.
So f2p (free to play) and shitty grindy games like Warframe and Destiny took center stage for many. Oh my, what time wasters. The brain dead took it though, they ate it up, because they were well made games (engine-wise) with lots to do. I guess I get it, I’ve played retail WoW, while games have been slow, every now and then. But I never claimed it was good. It’s just a time waster that doesn’t have an absolute garbage engine.
Oh boy, let us not forget about eSports. The idea brought of companies being able to fill stadiums, as a mean of profit intoxicated a ton of developers – they all wanted a share. Blizzard popped in with Overwatch and I was impressed with how good the game felt, but holy unbalanced shit. They stole the tank meta for LoL at the time, where tanks take the most damage, do the most damage, AND have the most CC. What? Okay, so an ADC can out skill a tank, dance around them for minutes, hitting skill shots, and happen to hit an ability or hold right click (in th e case of Winston) and destroy them? Come the fuck on. Hanzo has to account for travel time bullet (arrow) drop, just to be wiped out by some skill-less dweeb, essentially accidentally. Great. What happened to risk reward? Then they tried forcing it down our throats as the next big eSport (it did terrible by the way, and has been on a decline ever since).
I don’t just mean to pick on OW though. Blizzard made PvP in WoW awful, Diablo 3 is an embarrassment compared to Diablo 2 (the real D2, not Destiny 2). It went as far as Blizzard asking fans if they have phones, because they think people want mobile games out of them. The disconnect is mind blowing. And don’t even get me started about how terrible Valorant, R6: Seige, and LoL are. Jesus Christ. Pretend to be Counter Strike, but be way worse at it and wanna be Dota with a shit meta. Oof. Super powers and hiding in corners don’t make great games, we already covered how gimmicks don’t make for longevity and greatness.
But what’s worse is fans, the consumers. People bought it. They played it. They even praised those games. People have become so accustomed to mediocre-at-best, that they throw their money at it, even when it’s unfinished and never will be. The new norm became paying full price for games stuck permanently in beta.
So I’m starting to think the fix is more money. As previously mentioned, prices haven’t changed, but companies have found sneaky ways to increase profits anyway. The result is that we all suffer. If we just all start voting with out wallets, like we should have been, we can put an end to that. And if that means the next Grand Theft Auto is $120, I’m okay with that, because I know it will be an honest product at an honest price. Hopefully that would bring an end to crunch time that so many of these development houses have to suffer though as well.