By: Bob Heubel, Senior Manager, Gaming & Content Services at Immersion Corporation
Video games weren’t always played at home. When the industry first started, video games were found in arcades alongside rows of pinball machines. From the beginning the very idea of playing a video game was engaging to players because they could interact with content on a video display like never before. This was a novel idea; unlike starring passively into TV screens. Now they could compete and challenge others just like pinball, but with fictional environments as wild as their imagination.
I often find myself wondering how video game developers and publishers maintained engaging and immersive games over the decades. From the first home-console to gaming on-the-go, in this article I will explore the evolution of games and what it took to keep players hooked throughout the decades.
From the Arcade to the Living Room
Four decades ago an “engaging” game was a black screen with outlines of aliens and defensive cannons in Space Invaders or a tiny spacecraft and exploding rocks in Asteroids. You would walk into an arcade and see people swerving lines of speeding dots in Night Driver or playing a round of Pong which was only made up of two lines on either side of the screen with a ricocheting ball.
Soon after those popular arcade games moved out of the arcades and into our homes. In the 80’s the first home video game came to life in our living rooms. It all started with the two-player Pong consoles but then Pong wasn’t enough, gamers wanted more. They wanted all the other games they were playing in the arcades to be in their homes. Atari, Nintendo, and Sega made that a reality with the introduction of their console units.
The Beginning of the Console Wars
The console wars began at the same time as the first “Golden Age” of home video games. If you wanted to play Asteroids or Pac-Man, you needed an Atari. If you were in the mood to play Mario Brothers, you had to have a Nintendo Entertainment System (NES). You wanted to play Galaga or the racing game Monaco GP? You needed a Sega SG-1000. With the introduction of consoles, gamers were now forced to pick and choose their favorite, most engaging games because very few could afford to own more than one console.
During this era of gaming, games started to move from the arcade and console units to first generation PCs. Developing games for the PC offered developers new capabilities to create more engaging and immersive games with richer graphics and more in-depth story lines. Some of the first PC games included Commodore 64’s, TSR-80’s and Apple II.
Earlier games like Wizardry, Load Runner and Elite, and then later 80’s games like Ultima IV, Oregon Trail, Sid Meier’s Pirates and Prince of Persia all offered gamers greater story depth than they were likely to find in console games at the time.
PC vs Console Gamers
The 90’s was the second “Golden Age” of home video games. This gaming era saw the dawn of force-feedback. Both PC and console games now had a new method of engagement through a gamer’s sense of touch. For the first time users could feel their favorite games with force feedback joysticks and wheels from Logitech, Guillemot/Thrustmaster, and Saitek. The phrases, “DualShock” and “rumble pads” became common vernacular among gamers.
During the 90’s both console and PC gaming came into their own and there quickly became a clear division between PC and console gamers. PC gamers desired rich story lines and the most realistic graphics and played games like Doom, Might & Magic, Age of Empires, Half-Life, Fallout and StarCraft. Whereas the console gamers were more interested in arcade and fantasy games like Legend of Zelda, Final Fantasy, Super Mario, Sonic and Donkey Kong.
This division between gaming groups started to blur in the 2000’s as the processing power and graphics capabilities of consoles began to improve – this is when PC and console cross-platform game development became a common practice in the industry. Games like Max Payne, Call of Duty, Half-Life, Grand Theft Auto, Fallout all became available on consoles as well as PC’s. And popular console titles like Final Fantasy, Metal Gear and Resident Evil also became available on PC.
As we closed out the 90’s and entered the 2000’s we started to see a new gaming trend emerge – first person shooters (FPS). The genre quickly exploded and some of the most engaging games of the 2000’s (and today) became action shooters. Anyone ever heard of Counter-Strike?
Games in the Digital Era
So here we are in the middle of 2010’s and what have we seen so far? We are now on the eighth generation of game consoles with platform exclusive titles like The Last of Us and Star Wars Battlefront for PlayStation, and Gears of War and Halo for Xbox. We see TV commercials for mobile games like Boom Beach and Game of War. Now-a-days, gamers don’t need to a visit an arcade to play games, they have a game in the palm of their hand. Do you see the trend here?
Games are everywhere, all the time. If anything, this may be the “Golden Age” of gaming content. There is so much of it that gamers can’t possibly consume it all. So, they have to pick and choose. They read game reviews, search through the highest rated games, and seek out recommendations from their friends. But in the end, it’s the game itself that has to win them over when they play it. Does it engage them at any level? Are the graphics stunning? Do they get lost in a whole other world? Is the storyline like a good book that they just can’t put down?
Regardless of the platform or genre, the game must succeed in engaging the user if it has the chance to make it into the chronicles of gaming history. In the 80’s arcade gamers were able to take their favorite games home, enabling them to engage with the game in a more personal environment. With the introduction of the console in the 90’s, gamers were finding the most engaging games to have in-depth story lines and richer graphics. Then we entered the 2000’s and we saw the beginning of immersive games on both console and PC, letting players get lost in a world of their own imagination on any platform.
Within each decade, developers and publishers alike leveraged new and emerging technologies to take the game to the next level, guaranteeing an experience the player had never experienced before. So, I want to take a moment and tip my hat to all those game developers and publishers who have captivated us over these past four decades with engaging games.