Industry Talk: How To Revive Previous-Generation Gaming

When it comes to gaming, I’m a little set in my own ways. Though in tune with the gaming media multiple times a day, I learn more about the rapidly changing games industry by following it than playing it. Frankly, I wish I could go back to a simpler time…maybe 10 years ago with my best friends, some Mountain Dew, two bags of popcorn, and 4-player Super Smash Bros. Melee on a Friday night.

Despite beginning to explore the online & social spheres, the previous console generation held up a level of intimacy among gaming culture. We’re now at a point where gaming has a high degree of social integration and where casual and hardcore gaming coexist. That said, there have been pieces of the gaming industry that have not carried over into now but are of significance nonetheless. What specifically have we missed out on in this current generation? Here are some of the most prominent examples below and the big question following them: Which of these MIA will make a comeback with Wii-U, PS4, or Xbox 720?

Third-Party Console Exclusives

Third-party developers still come out with games that are exclusive to consoles, but such games are not responsible for selling hardware and thus are becoming rarer. Here are several of the highest-rated third-party console exclusives for the current generation. Some of these games were also released on PC around the time of initial launch: Demon’s Souls, Valkyria Chronicles, Disgaea, Left 4 Dead, The Witcher 2, Dead Rising, No More Heroes, Boom Blox, Mad World.

Now for the previous generation: Grand Theft Auto III, Devil May Cry, Final Fantasy X, Ninja Gaiden, Knights of the Old Republic, Chronicles of Riddick, Rogue Squadron, Super Monkey Ball, Tales of Symphonia.

At that time, Sony had a stranglehold on several third-party developers and sold millions of consoles with other exclusive franchises such as Virtua Fighter, Tekken, and Guitar Hero. Microsoft took advantage of PC game franchises while offering Oddworld, Panzer Dragoon, and Dead or Alive 3. The differences in libraries across the consoles was significant but continued moving the industry’s big players in a similar direction for a few more years. Now the hardware platforms feature more identical lineups of third-party games.

Likelihood of Revival: With the way Call of Duty, Assassin’s Creed, Madden, and The Elder Scrolls sell in the market, there is little reason for third party developers to focus their investments on one particular platform. Nintendo’s hardware is different but has discouraged the EAs and Activisions out there from making Wii-exclusive games. That said, with the evolution of current home consoles from their 2005-06 inception, Microsoft and Sony are going to find new ways to make their hardware authentic to their audiences. That will call for third-party developers to jump through hoops if they want the same game on multiple systems. In short, it’s equally possible developers will focus their attention on individual systems or struggle to keep a uniform design for all games to make everyone satisfied.

Exclusive to PS2 upon launch, Rockstar’s GTA series sold millions of Sony’s console.

3D Action Platformers

Ratchet and Clank, Jak and Daxter, and Sly Cooper were three (or five) faces of Sony in the PS2’s heyday. Nintendo expanded its 3dAP lineup with Luigi’s Mansion, Wario World, and Star Fox Adventures. Even third-party titles like Metal Arms and Oddworld made a splash in the market. With a new wave of consoles, Nintendo and Sony kept the genre alive with Mario Galaxy and Ratchet and Clank, but the rest of platforming went back to 2D. HD remakes of generations past showed up, but little original content made an impact.

Likelihood of Revival: The complexity of third-person gameplay — cover-based motion and shooting, pop-up menus and icon displays, and in-game cinematic sequences — has evolved so much that it has alienated the 3D Action Platform genre. The graphical potential of an action platformer is either not as appealing to developers or can be achieved through a mobile platform. It’s unlikely we’ll see the next home consoles churning out more 3dAPs.

Extreme Sports Games

There was a time when every sport represented in the X-Games had its video game counterpart, and, no matter how “extreme,” many of these games were great. Tony Hawk, SSX, and ATV Offroad Fury were some of the most successful sports franchises over the 2000s. Let’s also recall how traditional sports were taken to the next level with NBA Street, NHL Hitz, and MLB Slugfest. This console generation brought us Skate and a revived SSX franchise, but otherwise extreme sports games were left off the map.

Likelihood of Revival: Much of this depends on the popularity of extreme sports. Extreme sports and its athletes have found other cost-effective ways to successfully market themselves: clothing, music, social media, and other branding opportunities. In addition, many of the genre’s studios have either fallen by the wayside (Neversoft, Tony Hawk franchise) or have bigger fish to fry (EA Black Box, Need for Speed franchise). Few signs point to a resurgence.

Star Wars

Despite giving us The Old Republic, Lego Star Wars, and The Force Unleashed, the Star Wars franchise has not captured the same scope nor quality of gameplay that the previous generation did. Much from these games was a re-hash from what we already experienced. LucasArts has teased Star Wars 1313, which offers a new perspective and gameplay style for Star Wars fans, but we know little so far. Last generation’s KOTORs, Empire at War, Battlefront, Republic Commando, Rogue Squadron, Jedi Knight, and Starfighter are a handful of the diverse and critically acclaimed titles under the LucasArts banner.

Likelihood of Revival: Star Wars has thrived as a cultural icon for the past 35 years and shows little signs of stopping. With 1313 on its way, an overwhelming demand for the next true KOTOR, and a currently over-saturated market for Marvel/DC games, Star Wars will likely reign supreme in licensed game content.

Split-Screen Multiplayer

You’re probably thinking “I can play Halo/COD/Borderlands on split-screen.” Plenty of games still feature 2 and occasionally 4-person split-screen campaign and multiplayer. However, the emphasis of online multiplayer gaming has devalued the need for split-screen. For mainstream core gamers, split-screen multiplayer offers nothing new when compared to the diversity and scalability available in the online sphere.

Likelihood of Revival: Like the Wii, Nintendo plans to follow through with Wii U by offering motion-controlled, casual gaming experiences for friends & family. Microsoft and Sony have their spin-offs as well. But the immense question remains: What core-gamer franchises can be successful in a motion-controlled system? Perhaps developers will find a way by starting with their games and not the hardware/technology. Imagine a game like Gears of War diversifying the action by implementing a sensor-controlled chainsaw battle mode with which you and three friends could partake. Split-screen may have changed, but it is still relevant.

It was a pain to set up, but it was a lot of fun.

Resident Evil, Silent Hill, and Survival-Horror

Building on the PS1’s successful titles, Capcom took our fears to new heights with Resident Evil Zero and 4, and Konami tempted us to turn off the lights with Silent Hill 2 and 3. However, these survival-horror trailblazers have left our frights un-quenched and, with a slough of lukewarm titles that featured unreliable cameras, sloppy controls, and fragmented stories, have left a void in one of the community’s most passionate audiences. Resident Evil 6 is due out this October, but other than games with survival-horror elements like Dead Space 3, there isn’t much to look forward to.

Likelihood of Revival: It’s difficult to imagine two flagship franchises getting canned, but with the market thriving from action-oriented games, we could be walking our last dark corridors. Horror-based games like Dead Island and Left 4 Dead can give us constant action with an occasional spook, so the classic survival-horror approach is on the outside looking in.

The gaming industry evolves just as quickly as everything else in consumer tech and entertainment, and along the way we encounter a plethora of technologies, perspectives, and games that we want to hold on to. But how much of that have we harnessed from the past 30-plus years, and what have we left behind by mistake? The examples above are only a vignette, but they illustrate that, rather than progressing based on its present and future, gaming also evolves based on its history. Some of it will be repeated, and some of it won’t. But there will always be someone to remember it.

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