#4. Restricting How and When We Can Play
Hey, did you see the impossibly badass trailer for Bloodborne, the atmospheric monster-killing game from the makers of Dark Souls?
Bet you'd like to play that, huh? Unless you intend to buy a PlayStation 4, too bad, fucker!
"Well," you say, "that's what you get for buying the wrong console, word farter!"
Stop. Back up. Why do you just accept a system where you're guaranteed to miss out on even the chance to buy most of the great games unless you drop $2,000 on four devices? How is that the best scenario for anyone? What other industry works this way? Shit, even most of the hardware manufacturers are losing money.
It's true that, for instance, there's no TV show that's on every network, other than that State of the Union show about a dystopian future where a room full of old men in suits applaud a smooth-talking guy droning on about freedom, but the hardware has always been universal. Every TV could access the same shows, and every DVD player could play every movie -- you never heard of Sony making it so that Spider-Man could only play on Sony Blu-ray players.
But the whole reason gamers get so worked up over "system wars" is because they know that no matter what choice they make, they're going to miss most of the great games that come out that console cycle. I picked a PlayStation 4 this time -- that means that so far I've missed Titanfall, Dead Rising 3, Super Mario 3D World, Mario Kart 8 ... all of which I would buy in a second if they didn't require another thousand dollars' worth of hardware investment.
Even multiplatform games are a mess -- you won't find Grand Theft Auto V on any Nintendo machines, and PC gamers will get it a year later than everyone else (if at all). It's too expensive to develop for every platform when they all have different architecture and capabilities, so it also hurts the people making the games, because they know they're going to be selling to a limited audience. Why are we still doing it this way?
And in the Future ...
As usual, the console makers spent E3 boasting loudly when a game is available "only" on their machine -- thus Sunset Overdrive is "only on the Xbox One":
Most of the multiplatform games have "exclusive" levels or characters that can only be played on one machine or another -- no one gets the full game due to these competitors fighting over market share.
But here's the big secret: The technology already exists to play any game on any device. Without getting technical, they invented a way to run the game off a more powerful remote machine and stream it to you using a device that costs pretty much nothing. Sony is rolling out its own version this summer to let you play old PlayStation games using nothing but your television and a controller -- that's right, no console required.
So the only thing between you and the ability to play every single game ever made, right on your TV, is a shitload of corporate lawyers being willing to sit down and make deals with one another to everyone's mutual benefit. I'm confident this will happen soon, because I am completely ignorant of how the market works (I avoided every business class in college out of the fear that they would turn me into a pod person).
#3. A.I. Hasn't Gotten Better in Decades
Since most of the E3 demos are pre-rendered (that is, fake), they always depict the enemies doing something that is apparently impossible in even the most advanced video game: acting like actual human beings.
For example, The Last of Us was teased with an absolutely stunning gameplay video at E3 2012 -- and the crowd screamed its approval when this clip ended:
They weren't cheering for the graphics (which are good but not revolutionary) or the premise (zombie survival horror isn't exactly cutting edge). No, what stunned the crowd was the A.I. on display. The developers called it the Balance of Power system, and what it's doing in that clip up there is mind-boggling.
The human enemies are reacting like real people -- cooperating, changing strategy in real time based on what the player is doing and how the fight is going, and showing self-preservation (the last guy left in a battle runs for his life, then stages an ambush later). The enemies are being creative and giving the player encounters that won't be the same on any two playthroughs. This was huge -- video game enemies have been mindlessly rushing into our gunfire since, well, Space Invaders.
But in the final game, you get this:
Sony Computer Entertainment
Yep -- for the most part, it's the same "charge blindly at the player" A.I., with some minimal dodging here and there.
I'm not calling out that game to pick on it -- the fact that it's a great game is the point. I have no idea if the A.I. shown in the demo was faked for the trailer, or if they stripped it out at the last minute because they thought it would make the game too difficult. But for me, it isn't about difficulty, it's about immersion (there's that word again -- start a drinking game where you take a shot every time you see it). It's about populating the game world with people who act like people, to bring the fantasy to life. To create the living virtual worlds I dreamed of when I was that game-obsessed teenager, playing and replaying Final Fantasy III in my room while I polished my sex medals.
And in the Future ...
There was no shortage of games at E3 this year boasting of revolutionary A.I. There never is -- I remember hearing the same claims about Madden NFL '93. So, the makers of Alien: Isolation tell us the alien has no set patterns -- it thinks and detects and hunts, in ways that ensure you'll never get the same game twice:
I don't believe them. I no longer believe it's possible. But ... we'll see.