Buy Another Day

The new console generation is upon us! Let us rejoice in the hum of new machines, the shine of better graphics and the chatter of critics. Few things in gaming are more exciting than the release of new hardware. It gets people from all walks of life talking about what to buy, but, amid all of the excitement and hype, I urge you to take a step back and consider not buying any new console at all; at least, not yet.

Which to buy? Which to buy?

Let me take you back to the release of the Nintendo Wii. It was a simpler time where motion control was Nintendo’s new thing, and it had a lot of promise. In the UK the Wii was an elusive creature and I was desperate to have one. I had succumb to its charms, to the promise of a game being shipped with the console and having the new Zelda available at launch, to the unorthodox and intriguing controller and, to the seemingly more immersive gaming experience that the Wii could offer, not to mention the attractive price point. Finally, in early 2007, I got my hands on the box, and for a few months I had a glorious time with Link and my Mii. Alas, this time was not to last and after I had played through Zelda and had my fill of Mario (in a variety of guises), I found few titles that could keep me playing. I returned to my PS2 and my PC, a broken man. I’m not trying to bash the Wii with this story and I am certain that many will disagree with my assessment of the console; but, if I had waited, if I had let a year or two go by, I would have known that the Wii wasn’t for me, and I could have avoided the bad experience I had after the euphoria of new games and a new console. I had some good times with the Wii, but I now know that purchasing it as early as I did was a mistake.

So much promise.

For me, the launch of the PS3 was very different. I have been a Playstation user for most of my life but I had no real desire for the PS3 at launch. It was prohibitively expensive for a start and there had been numerous redesigns and changes made to aspects of the console since its initial reveal. The games were also underwhelming, the best of the launch titles being (most likely) Resistance: Fall of Man, a critically acclaimed first person shooter, but a first person shooter none the less, offering little in terms of novelty or ingenuity. When it was released, I saw the PS3 as little more than an upgrade of the PS2, with better graphics and not much else. The 2007 me looked at the PS3 and dismissively waved his Wiimote. The 2007 me was an idiot. Over a few years, the PS3 collected a library of excellent games, the Playstation Network improved (I urge you to try Playstation Plus if you haven’t already) and the price and reliability of the console got better too. In late 2009, I got a PS3 and I have never looked back.

Get it sorted!

Would I have been happy if I had bought the PS3 at launch? I suppose I would be content now, but I would have spent a large amount of money on something that would take years to reach its full potential. By waiting a few years I was able to get the console that I really wanted (even if I didn’t know it to begin with) for less money than it was originally sold for, with a bigger hard drive than was originally available and with an excellent back catalogue of games available second hand, or even new, for very reasonable prices. There are, undoubtedly, some very intelligent market analysts in the world who are able to make a well informed prediction about how games consoles will look in the next few years; but most of us will be buying a console based on what it offers us on the day we buy it. With that in mind, it makes sense to buy a console  later in its life cycle, when it has more to offer.

Much better.

We love shiny and new, we love being at the forefront of technology and being the envy of our peers, but really it’s our own personal enjoyment that matters when it comes to games consoles, and I truly believe that a console will never reach its potential in its first year of availability. That being said, if nobody buys a console at launch it will never reach its potential. Thankfully, millions of new generation consoles have already been purchased by brave gaming pioneers, and when I buy a new console, I’ll have them to thank for the improved experience I get. For now though, I will enjoy the twilight years of the PS3, Humble Bundles and Steam sales until the time is right for a new console. Maybe you should do the same.

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Is this the real life?

As an industry that moves forward with technology, video gaming advances in sophistication very rapidly. In 1980 Pac-Man was the height of gaming, a 2D yellow blob eating smaller yellow blobs in a maze whilst being chased by ghost shapes. 20 years later, the Sims allowed us to take complete control over a character’s life. Now we have games with open worlds, morals, communities of real people playing together and Pac-Man playable on our already obsolete mobile phones. One of the industries greatest strengths is its ability to adopt the latest technology and push it to produce fantastic entertainment. But, while the advancement of technology is seemingly infinite, is there a point in the advancement of video games that will be too far?

Morals have been finding their way into games lately. At the moment they tend not to be greatly developed. Actions are either good or bad leaving no grey area; your character can either be a hero or a villain, but we can assume that morals will play a bigger and more developed role in the future . In current games, however, I find it hard to be the bad guy. I know the villains always have the best weapons and powers but I just can’t bring myself to be that much of a dick. As the industry advances this is only going to get worse, with more excruciating decisions, maybe making games more difficult to play. Realism is something that games seem to aim for but I don’t believe that is why we play games.

It doesn’t end with morals either, advancement in graphics could be an even bigger problem. Quantic Dream’s Heavy Rain has one particularly difficult point where you have to cut off your character’s finger. It is amazing that a game can immerse you to the point where you have an emotional response, but how much is too much? Heavy Rain is not the most graphically accomplished game but perhaps that’s a good thing; if it was too realistic then it might be difficult to play.

How did you chop?

There are a number problems that could arise if games become too realistic. Arguments around violence in games could gain momentum (perhaps rightly so) and gamers might be alienated from newer systems because games hit too close to home. Can you imaging playing a Call of Duty where your character looks real and you have to kill AI that looks real? I think that such a game would be unsaleable. But does that mean that at some point the games industry will reach a plateau where no technical advancements are made? Perhaps, but it’s more likely that the industry will have to evolve, changing the type of games it makes and the type of style it uses in visuals. No one plays games purely for their realism; in 1980 Pac-Man was the height of gaming and it is still played and loved today. Games should first and foremost be enjoyable experiences and let’s hope that as they become more sophisticated they don’t lose sight of that.