Roundtable: The Games That Defined This Generation
As we prepare for next-gen, the GamesIndustry International crew looks back fondly on some of the biggest innovations of the last eight years
No disrespect to the Wii U, but after eight long years, we're finally about to get true next-gen consoles. The PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, some believe, will usher in a new era of innovation in gaming. Meanwhile, from a business standpoint, the fact of the matter is that the bulk of industry sales this holiday will actually come from last-gen software. And for many gamers, the Xbox 360, PS3 or Wii will remain hooked up to the living room TV for quite a while longer.
Sales may have dipped in the last few years, but the last generation of gaming has been an incredibly productive one for the industry, yielding whole new forms of gameplay, introducing new technologies, and even luring back lapsed gamers or inviting new ones into the fold. Whether it was motion control, voice recognition, plastic guitars, more robust online functionality, massively single player titles or something else, the industry produced one of the broadest spectrum of experiences for just about anyone interested in gaming.
With that in mind, the GamesIndustry International staff decided to take a look back at some of our personal picks for games that defined this era.
Matt Martin: Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare
I'm that guy you look down upon because he laps up Call of Duty games every year. I'm there on day one and I've usually pre-ordered a special edition. It's not a guilty pleasure, it's simply a pleasure.
Modern Warfare was a revelation for me, where Infinity Ward threw out the WWII formula it had cultivated from PC to console and went boots-deep with a new bombastic gung-ho spectacle. This is a video game series that set the bar and by which every other first-person shooter is measured. Call of Duty is the closest a first-person shooter gets to a sports game on console. It's a yearly purchase alongside FIFA and Madden for millions of gamers who want the epitome of triple-A console gaming.
I live in a remote part of Wales where the pub has closed down and there's no shops, cinema or sheep to kick for miles around. At the weekends I play Call of Duty, chew meat and drink alone. Sometimes I can't remember when I last left the house. I've played through the campaign three times on Veteran. I know it in my head, step by step; the cold calculated murder of Death from Above, the tension and panic of One Shot, One Kill and the inevitable nuclear end of Shock and Awe.
And I've lost hours in multiplayer. I'm that douchebag spamming grenades and camping, running through buildings with a knife, calling in the airstrikes, getting killed more than I kill and laughing when I trigger my own Claymore mine. I'm an obnoxious gamer when I play and you'd hate me. I love Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare.
James Brightman: Guitar Hero and Rock Band
I've played a lot of great games in the last 7-8 years, but nothing was more addicting for me than the guitar games. For at least a couple years in a row, I simply couldn't get enough. While you may have felt stupid the first few times you tried to use what was basically a plastic toy to "make music," the end result was deeply satisfying. Trying to perfect some of the toughest sections on expert mode reminded me of the scorching difficulty of some of the games in the 8-bit and 16-bit days. You played until you were developing carpal tunnel syndrome and your fingers were practically bleeding, but darn it, you had something to be proud of in the end! Or occasionally, you wrecked a plastic guitar in frustration...
At its most base level, the Guitar Hero and Rock Band games gave gamers, especially those who didn't play any real musical instruments, a way to rock out while knocking back a few beers, and better yet, it was an experience that even so-called "non-gamers" could appreciate and get into. Social gatherings and parties centered around these games were commonplace, and it got even better when you found "band members" who could drum with precision and sing in the right key.
Yes, it was ultimately a fad, but it was a damn good one. It was a nice feeling to be able to share our passion with the outside world. The industry is often far too insular. Harmonix and RedOctane deserve a ton of credit for helping it to branch out.
Brendan Sinclair: Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved
My game of the generation was there from day one, a twin-stick shoot-'em-up available from Xbox Live Arcade for just $5. I think the story of this generation was that the console makers didn't have the foresight to create the systems needed to satisfy gamers' demands, so the last eight years were an improvised hack-a-thon as Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo made their boxes do things they'd never been intended to do.
Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved was everything the industry didn't foresee. As everyone was wringing their hands over skyrocketing HD development costs, they were blind to the consumer demand for smaller, simpler games. While Microsoft seemed ready to give Live Arcade all the support of an Xbox Live Indie Games (or worse, the original Xbox's Live Arcade), the success of Geometry Wars quickly changed that, touching off a race for AAA publishers to pad their numbers with smaller downloadable titles and created a thriving digital storefront with broad reach that would be key for the current indie revolution.
There have of course been other trends the consoles fumbled to come to grips with--user-generated content, social integration, alternative business models--but those came later. Geometry Wars was there on day one, and it set the tone for the entire generation.
Rachel Weber: Skyrim
Stick me in a horned helmet and called me Dovahkiin, because obviously Skyrim is mine. My boyfriend and me, sat in two separate rooms, adventuring in our pyjamas and shouting encouragement to each other over the roar of furious dragons. We've rarely been happier.
Because that was the other thing, it felt like the gaming community all went mad at the same time. We all stumbled into work late because we'd been up until 3am looking for Pantea's Flute, we checked Reddit guides to make sure we were smithing at maximum efficiency, we told stories about our horse falling off a mountain when we were in the pub. (I'll never forget you Swiftwind.)
And you can stop giving me that look, Mr Indie, I've had some fun with you this generation too (who hasn't?) but this was an all you can eat buffet of magic and wonder, an MMO without the horrible humans messing it up, a game that could have you fighting giants one minute and agonising over whether to drop the charred skeever hide or the troll fat the next. When I look back over the hours I've spent in the world (and we're talking hundreds of them at this point) it's the game I've spent more time with than any other. What else matters?
Dan Pearson: Minecraft
Before I start talking about why Minecraft has defined this generation for me, I should make one thing clear: I haven't really played it much.
Sure, I bought it, back before it was a big deal even - because I'm cool like that. I've mucked about a bit with it, digging holes and building shoddy cabins. I've found iron and made hats, watched the sun rise and bullied sheep to death. I've lusted after diamond and found only coal, died a thousand times in a lonely pasture far from home, but it never really clicked.
It was the first game that really made me think I might be getting a bit too old for all this, a craze that was passing me by for want of understanding. And then my mum started talking about it. That's what makes it a generation-defining thing, for me. Yes, it radically shook up the industry's view of developer publisher relations, pioneered a game-changing new business model and empowered a thousand indies with its cachet and poster-boy bankroll, but for the majority, that's by the by.
What it did, what makes it a microcosm of the last seven years in gaming more completely than any of those other reasons, was take a niche game from a tiny company - an epitome of nerdiness and insular engagement - and turned it into a global phenomenon, a household name which is a byword for creativity, community and enjoyment.
That process, of bringing what was once seen as a slightly shameful, mucky habit into the daily lives of millions, that democratisation of gaming, is at once the most important and disruptive process of the industry's recent history. Minecraft wasn't responsible for that, but it's damn hard to think of a finer example.