Everything you wanted to know about gaming, and less
by Jamison DeLorenzo

There’s nothing quite like a long hiatus for a small, largely unread, gaming column. After a year-long sabbatical for gaming and some relatively major life events now feels like a good a time as any to get back onto the horse. Well, not literally of course. Odds are the equines are probably sick and tired of having random people jump on their backs just because they’re too lazy to do away with a tired clich√©.

The strange this is, this is a weird time of the year to pony up (it’s a theme, sorry) and write something interesting again about gaming. There has been a noticeable lack of great games so far in 2009. Sure, Killzone 2 has gotten some buzz. The big budget games this year so far, Guitar Hero: Metallica and Resident Evil 5, just haven’t created the splash that publishers and gamers alike were hoping for. It is not that I haven’t enjoyed either of these games, but neither offered anything different that made people say “Wow!”

A year ago I would tell you that the unprecedented success of the Wii was the cause for this. The predominantly casual nature of the Wii is bring gaming back to the family. Most of the mature and dedicated gamers that exist today probably have fond memories of gaming with the Atari 2600. I would argue both the 2600 and the Wii are very similar to each other, to the point that the Wii can be called the 2600 of the current decade. In terms of development time was there anything back in the 2600 days that could compare with GTA IV?

My point is not to compare consoles this time, but rather to look at what gaming means to people today. America’s first major down-cycle in the economy causes people to take a closer look at budget gaming. We can’t realistically expect an expanding or even steady market for $60 games and $300 consoles with so much less money to spend.

Gaming to me will always be about escaping from the normal world doing something that brings me happiness. Whether a game is the creation of a drug-induced hallucination or a satirical mocking of what I’m trying to get away from the job still gets done. Based on the reports you see of the video game market being somewhat recession-proof and sales numbers still going strong you probably wonder what the point I’m driving at is.

Let me tell you. Sooner or later gamers want something new, something interesting. We’re still in an interesting time for gaming because the initial generation of gamers are still indentured servants of the industry. We are still a long ways a way from being forced off the gaming reservation, but sooner or later you need fresh blood, and it’s difficult to do that with high console prices and an increasing development costs.

Yes, okay, there are plenty of great older games you can get, and some fresh games that are quite cheap. We are on the bleeding edge of an industry that provides opportunities for independent people to download development kits and create their own games. But, still, I have to wonder how much room is there still in the industry for a rash of games in the GTA ilk?

I realize that it is difficult to figure out what demographics will eat up certain games, and that if some game like KOTOR came out in 1986 then I may have never given games like Tecmo Bowl or Tetris a chance. I wonder if such a simple game like Tecmo Bowl could even be created today and have it be a game that so many people reminisce about 10 or more years from now.

Here’s what I do know. In an era where we’re relatively close to having a really high penetration point in HD TV’s that there is a place for the monster-budget game titles. But don’t we need to consider how we rope in the 6 and 7 year old potential gamers? Don’t we need to sell the idea of video games to them with simpler titles than to toss Gran Turismo or Call of Duty in front of them and expect them to enjoy it as much as possible?

I realize that’s pretty much zeroing in on a question that Nintendo has already answered for us, but there were 3 versions of Mario out for the NES, and at least two of them are etched into video game lore. No offense, but Super Mario Galaxy is not going to be enough to hook them for life. Quality titles take time to make and you don’t want to sully a great franchise (that list is gigantic, so let me utter one word, perhaps “Sonic”, and move on), but sooner or later you need to look at what Galaxy was and realize that you just don’t need a game half that big to tantalize a kids’ brain to have them swoon over the next Mario title.

As someone who’s currently neck-deep in an MMO I cannot really tell you about the enormous amount of options out there that could hook the next generation of gamers at a dirt cheap price. One big title from Nintendo a year isn’t going to cut it. Pokemon has more than run its course (three times over). Wii Sports, let’s face it, was never meant to do more than to get the console through the front door. $10 budget titles via DLC are not as widely known of to get mass appeal.

Maybe we’ll get something in the next 2-3 years and maybe we won’t. What I don’t want is to tell someone to download an old game from 5 years ago as a starting point for why people should pick up gaming now. What bothers me is, right now that seems like the best option.