Does technology help?
What a loaded question. How does one begin to answer this? Technology moves us forward, surely, but is this always the right direction to go?
Sometimes technology adds unnecessarily to things that need no improvement. Consider the case of Clash of the Titans, one of the best fantasy movies ever made. Sure, the original is dated: it was 1981, people were doing a lot of cocaine, and claymation seemed like a good idea at the time. It is understandable, but these little imperfections do not get in the way of a spectacular movie.
Now, of course, Clash of the Titans will be remade in gory, 3D splendor, with that jackanapes from Avatar Sam Worthington at the head. This will seal his position as “Mr. Epic Movie Actor” for the foreseeable future, and people will continue to be subjected to his lack of ability to inflect his voice.
Time was, when people wanted to play games, they picked up a large, unwieldy cartridge, gently blew on it to remove errant dust, and operated some complex mechanism to insert said cartridge in a large, gaudy plastic box. Controllers with “shoulder buttons” were considered new and edgy, and “music” was scaled down from lush orchestrations to the best symphonies 16-bit chips could produce.
Games from that era still show their wear, but it is undeniable that they age well. The experience of playing Chrono Trigger, for instance, is just as pleasurable over a decade after its release.
Will the same be said for the “forward-thinking” innovations of today?
The Wii was, in theory, a better gaming system. The “button-pressing” method of game control has been taken to its limit, back around for a second pass, and over a shark. The Wii’s control system is novel, and the system is hampered only by the poor design choices Nintendo made in choosing to avoid high-end specs and “hardcore” games. The video game player has matured from the nerdy, bespectacled kid to a person who is undefinable, neither young nor old, dedicated and casual at the same time, neither male nor female but stretching across the full spectrum of humanity. Nintendo’s desire to hold on to the Shiny Rounded Plastic Age of corpulent plumbers that jump on turtles has prevented what could be a major forward leap in interactivity with stagnation.
Enter Sony’s Move, a stupid title for the Wii 2.0. The fear this reviewer has, however, is that the Wii’s limited success with motion control will be the template for future games on the PS3, just with better graphics. While this undoubtedly will be an improvement over the low-res, washed out Wii graphics, the desire to stick with the familiar will likely hamper the PS3. Games that might have seen enormous benefit from the Move controller (like God of War III or other action-adventure games where combat needs to be fierce and fun) will likely not in favor of pretending to swing a bat in the latest iteration of EA’s MLB property.
Still, Move is an idea that needs to happen, because true progress will never happen until a metaphorical fire gets lit beneath the collective posteriors of developers.
Contrast that with OnLive, an idea that never needed to happen. The current fad with “web 2.0” and decentralization of media and hardware is a bad idea, even as bandwidth increases and processing power increases in smaller packages. There is something fundamentally wrong with the idea of playing a bleeding-edge, technical masterpiece of a game over a network, with all the processing done remotely. “Cloud-computing” and “server-side rendering” sound like nice ideas in theory, but like streaming video, the quality will be noticeably less to anyone with a discerning eye… and gamers have not proven to be forgiving of technical limitations.
While your average player of Wii shovelware like Cooking Mama will likely not care that their stylized Japanese eggs are a little more pixellated, and that there is a full 500ms delay between key press and character reaction, those playing competitive games or games where timing and player reaction are paramount. OnLive’s gaming experience will always be what Netflix streaming is to watching a reference-quality Blu-Ray disc over a well-tuned system: just a decent imitation of what could be an amazing technical experience.
How does the industry move forward from this point? What trends in innovation are good, and which are bad?