Wednesday, 28 November 2012

The History of Video Games - Part 3

Just before the turn of the century “Counter-Strike” was released, a mod for “Half-Life” allowing players to play as either terrorists or counter-terrorists in a team based struggle. Although modding had been happening since “Wolfenstein 3D” the success of “Counter-Strike” showed game developers what they could get out of their games. Valve later hired the two independent programmers who created “Counter-Strike” to create “Counter-Strike: Source” which would be released in 2004 and become the benchmark for what components I would need to build the first computer to be my very own. Epic Games realised the potential of modding and so with their release of “Unreal Tournament”, a game released 10 days before “Quake III Arena” which plays in almost an identical fashion, they gave the ability for 3Ds Max models to be imported into the game to use as characters. I wouldn’t have spent so long tinkering with “Quake III Arena” had I known this when I was 14. Modding would become a huge part of PC gaming and those games that lent themselves to modding would often become favourites among the PC fanboys(and girls) often mods would be more popular than the original game often because of better worked out multiplayer. “The Sims” also implemented this ability to make your own objects into the game. Let me get back to the side of games that I have to research, I’ll come back to this...

By 2000 the MMORPG genre had gained popularity setting the path for games such as “Dark Age of Camelot” to be released in 2001 and then in 2004 the genre would explode into “World of Warcraft”. 
This was where the Tolkien-esque imagery of the early MMOs and RPGs became replaced by over colourful, impractical, anime/manga-like, spikely armoured brutes and scantily clad Lolita-esque warriors. Granted the scantily clad side of the artwork can be seen on “The Elder Scrolls Arena”’s box almost 10 years earlier and in “Everquest” in 1999 but “World of Warcraft” took it one step too far. Nevertheless the game was a massive hit and became the flagship of the MMO genre with millions of users. In 2008 the game had 10 million subscribers and was thought to hold 62% of the MMO subscription market this figure seemed to rise to 10.3 million and then decline as seen in this article. It has won numerous awards including an Emmy for advancing the art form of MMORPG games. Now so far I have only talked about PC games when in actual fact this era is when console gaming became the norm, its almost accepted that every family nowadays will have some games console or another.

An example of WOW's art style - image found here.
The Playstation 2 (PS2) was released in 2000 and became hugely popular, alongside the PS2 came the Gamecube from Nintendo and the Xbox from Microsoft. The PS2 is certainly the most successful of these consoles as right up until 2012 games are being released on it even though the PS3 has been out for 6 years where the last game to be released on the Xbox was in 2006. Notably a port across all 4 machines (PS2, Xbox, Gamecube and PC) wasn’t very common but was a great way for smaller companies to make money, a notable cross platform game was “Big Mutha Truckers” released in 2003. The game was made by Eutechnyx the company had just come off a contract where they exclusively made games for the Playstation and the PC and so wanted to hit a larger audience with their free-roaming style game “Big Mutha Truckers”. The company worked on the game in a way that would be easy for programmers to work with allowing the game to be ported without too much issue. The system was to stream ALL the data instead of the stream being only for a certain section e.g. music or speech or models, this meant that reading the files was performed in the same way for all the files whether it was on a CD, hard drive or over a network allowing the programmers to use the same interface of reading for PC, PS2, Xbox and Gamecube. There is a fully in depth postmortem here.

A notable game which didn’t come anywhere near being cross-platform was “Halo: Combat Evolved”, “Halo” is almost a household name now and a multi-billion dollar franchise. Initially intended for release on PC and surprisingly Mac OS, Bungie (the creators of the game) were bought by Microsoft and the game became the big launch title to be released with the Xbox in 2001. Later released on PC and Mac OS X in 2003. The second game in the franchise was also later released for the PC 3 years after its initial release on Xbox. Since then there are now 7 games in the franchise along with a series of books and comics. The silly machinima web series “Red v.s Blue” was started using “Halo: Combat Evolved” as a tool to act out the sketches, you can see the first episode
here. The series is still being made now and Season 10 finished on November 5 2012. The project is quite impressive when you compare the first episode to this episode from the last season here.

The next generation of consoles are the current generation of consoles the Xbox 360 released in 2005 and the PS3 released in 2006 along with the Wii. The PS3 and Xbox 360 implemented new technology in many aspects of their designs, they both implemented analog triggers to their controllers and put a lot more work into the online side of their consoles creating a massive boost in multiplayer console gaming. The hardware used has also stood the test of time a great deal better than that of their predecessors, of course the technology behind the consoles was likely from a couple of years before release and they are now 6 years old and so the performance is far surpassed by even a budget PC. Their longevity is still greatly impressive.

The Wii veered towards the casual players as Nintendo always does and managed to do very well from this although often scoffed at by people interested in games the Wii is doing very well and has implemented many new technologies and has broadened the audience of consoles to a HUGE market completely missed by its competitors. The younger and older generation are at home with a Wii, the motion sensored controller and interactivity of the games create a far more trivial and family feel to a console. The innovative games/products such as Wii Fit have made the Wii focused on a separate market to the other two consoles.

Children have been found to stop using Wii Fit after only 6 weeks
Example of Wii styled Graphics - Image found here.

Something that has to be mentioned about this decade is the N-Gage and what it picked up on but unsuccessfully implemented, mobile gaming. The concept has been around since 1976 with Mattel’s “Auto Race” and has been continually developed into the Game Boy, Nintendo DS and PSP. Throughout this time mobile phones have developed and from ports of “Snake” and “Tetris” the games on the phones have developed so that now a phone can even run the Unreal 3 Engine (article by Epic Games). This is often referred to as the future of games, in my opinion that is just another market of games like the Wii finding a separate market to the 360 and PS3 the Mobile Games market is expanding but it is unlikely to take customers away from another market and more likely to share customers with another market, the play style is so different to that of the consoles or PCs. The gameplay of a mobile game will never hold the attention for as long in one go as a console or PC game for its platform is a very “on-the-go” platform and so its unlikely to have your attention for too long.

Anyway back to Valve... In 2004 Counter-Strike: Source was released two weeks before Half-Life 2 and the world of games was happy again... still waiting for Half-Life 2: Episode 3 for the world of games to return to equilibrium. More of that in the next post...

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