Game Changer

 
 

As the Xbox 360 approaches its 10th birthday, Adam Donnelly looks at the innovations that changed gaming since its launch

Every gamer at some point in their career has a moment where they feel, for lack of a better word, “old”. Whether it be returning to a childhood classic of yesteryear only to discover it’s aged like milk, or simply cruising along the aisles of a retailer to the sweet chorus of children begging their parents to buy them the latest Triple A murder simulator, every day is smattered with reminders and realisations that this is a rapidly evolving medium. The next generation of game consoles have been perched on their pedestals for over a year now, and while it seems like the passing of the baton has come in no time at all, you may be surprised to learn that the Xbox 360 actually turns ten this year. And on reflection, the volume of innovations that have graced the industry in that same period of time is equally staggering. Relax and take the weight off your shoulders as we recall the past ten years of gaming and all the mayhem which has occurred therein.

Touch Screens: When the Nintendo DS made its debut in 2005, few could have suspected it would deliver the new standard for portable gaming. It was ugly, clunky, and with marketing slogans as dubious as “touch me”, nobody thought it would endure the monstrous onslaught of Sony’s PSP launch. And yet the little handheld managed to surprise gamers with its unique second screen that allowed for tactile feedback while playing. It proved so popular that the DS skyrocketed to the lofty mantle of second bestselling system ever, bested only by the legendary PS2. Meanwhile, mobile phones received a similar Midas Touch when touch based devices stormed the market. The sudden boom in smartphone games, from Apple to Android, owes a lot to this stylish new interface. Whatever way you slice it, touching is now the world’s preferred method of portable play.

The biggest leap in the gaming industry over the last decade has undoubtedly been the rise of the Internet like some sort of Orwellian nightmare

Motion Controls: Motion controls may have fallen out of fashion lately, but we can still feel the ripples from waves made back in 2006 when the Wii was hungrily hoovering up peoples’ income. Historians will argue that gesture-based gaming goes as far back as the late 80s with the infamous Power Glove, but never before had it existed on such a scale. Suddenly, living rooms across the globe became flooded with friends and family, all eager to experience tennis with a white brick in hand. It proved such a roaring success that Sony and Microsoft quickly followed suit with their own derivatives of the concept. The fad may be in its twilight stage now, but it will always be fondly remembered for broadening gaming’s landscape to include grandma for years to come.

HD Resolution: Games have gotten bigger. Games have gotten louder. Games have gotten deeper. And above all else, games have gotten prettier. Ever remembering seeing the Xbox or PS2 and thinking graphical fidelity in gaming could soar no higher? Good heavens how times have changed. PC gamers have always known the sweet nectar of sharp resolution, and with the introduction of the Blu-Ray disc, console gamers have also gotten addicted to its alluring taste. Games now run at 1080p and at 60 frames per second, and it’s crazy to think that more processing power is now used to render the beauty spot on Kratos’ butt than there was to send Apollo 11 to the moon and back.

Digital Distribution: Valve made headlines in 2003 when they launched Steam, a pioneer of the digital movement. In the past, gamers were required to physically to go to the store to pick up their games and were totally at the mercy of whomever the domineering retailer happened to be. It’s a lot different now. Digital distribution is a new standard, with Xbox, PlayStation and Nintendo all offering such services to their customers and PC gamers being spoiled for choice with the number of facilities at their disposal. Quick, efficient, enabling choice and removing the unwanted exercise of leaving home, digital distribution is here to stay. The very idea of being able to download a fully priced game directly to your machine in a matter of minutes still seems like science fiction to some, but most importantly, digital distribution has empowered a very special facet of gaming…

Indie Games: Up until around 2008, the only games that ever enjoyed any considerable commercial success were the big blockbuster titles released by large companies. Since then, digital distribution has provided an avenue for smaller, more personal and arguably more sentimental games to find an audience where they may otherwise not. The puzzle platformer Braid made a serious splash when it made its debut on Xbox Live Arcade and with similarly excellent offerings spanning a range of genres, from Super Meat Boy to Bastion, gamers are now paying the indie scene some much overdue attention. Indeed, as the Triple A market becomes repeatedly mired with controversy, many gamers are opting to use humble indie titles to make the case that videogames are an art form.

Virtual Reality: The long toyed-with fantasy of being able to play games with one’s face is finally being fulfilled. With the arrival of the Oculus Rift, one could argue that sensual immersion in videogames has reached an insurmountable peak, at least for the time being. It may be a while before it becomes commercially viable, but virtual reality is nonetheless an astonishing example of how far we’ve come in the past ten years, and a starry-eyed glimpse at how far we have yet to go.

Online Gameplay: The biggest leap in the gaming industry over the last decade has undoubtedly been the rise of the Internet like some sort of Orwellian nightmare. So much of what we take for granted in videogames today is vested heavily in the web, and so many of the great game-changers previously discussed in this article owe a lot to the connected age we now live in. Gaming has transcended the shackles of a stereotypically lonely pastime and has become a social experience of its own. From the multitude of online communities across all platforms and titles, the ability to stream content to your friends as you play, debate and discuss on forums as well as share a laugh and a tear over a fond memory; to delve in the fun with another person no longer requires waiting for a friend to come over with an N64 and Goldeneye. In truth, online gaming has been around for quite some time, but only recently has it united us in a manner as vocal and alive as this. If this is the mark of how this medium has changed in the past decade, one can only dream of what the next ten years will bring. One thing is certain: we’ll be ready for it.

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