Monday, July 03, 2006



From time to time, it occurs to me how incredibly spoiled I am. Lately, I've been spending most of my video gaming time playing Activision Anthology on Game Boy Advance and dipping into that great big grab bag that came with my Flashback 2. Between the two, I have access to fully 96 Atari 2600 games, crossing just about every genre I'd ever care to play, and most of which are pretty good in their own right.

Sometimes, I really wonder why I continue to purchase new games. I haven't counted recently, but it wouldn't surprise me to discover that I have over a thousand individual games ready to play. Certainly I have multiple hundreds. The odds are becoming slimmer and slimmer that any new video game on the market is going to be appreciably different from anything I already own. How many platformers do I need before they all start looking the same? How many adventure games, how many RPGs?

In spite of giant processors, optical media, three-dimensional graphics, voice acting, analog control, and online gameplay the fundamental architecture of video games hasn't changed very much in the last two generations. If anything, it's become homogenized. I guess it's okay that game developers don't have to reinvent the wheel, but it'd be great if we got more developers trying to invent the internal combustion engine, if you know what I mean. When I look through my various Atari and Intellivision collections, I see a lot of genre-busters. Not so in this day and age, especially among the major companies.

See, there was a time when new game consoles were necessary because certain types of gameplay just weren't feasible on limited hardware. Now, I suspect that we're far, far past the point where gameplay options are constrained by the hardware; whenever I hear about hardware upgrades, it's all about how it's going to make things look and sound more realistic. It's like saying that we're going to improve the game of chess by replacing the playing pieces with tiny robots that will move and attack all on their own. All of the rules will be exactly the same, but now it'll look so much cooler, with realistic physics as the pieces collide with each other and knock each other down.

Sony and Microsoft have done nothing to suggest that they have a problem with this. Nintendo claims to be trying to shake up the game design world, but I have a sinking feeling that the Wii is going to turn out to be a bunch of smoke and mirrors.

I hold no illusions. I'm a video game addict. I'll go into withdrawl if I stop buying video games. Even in a month where I claimed there was nothing that tickled my fancy and my spending money tighter than usual, I still managed to buy two Nintendo DS games, Over the Hedge and Big Brain Academy. I simply have no willpower.

But there's nothing so far in the next generation that whets my appetite. So I wonder -- how long will I be able to last? Will it be like the Nintendo DS, where I didn't much care about it in the months leading up, then the day after launch I blow some perfectly good money on a system and a retread of Super Mario 64?

I'm going to see how long I can last before I jump into the next generation of video games. I hope it's at least until I see something that's both new and exciting, but I know I can't keep that promise.


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