Most people currently in their mid-thirties onwards will likely have memories of playing pong, and probably on a black and white television. This is considered by some to be the earliest moment of their love affair with computer and/or video games. Certainly for me, using those rotary paddles helped teach a very young Justin the basics of hand-eye coordination.
But it isn’t the most important moment in gaming for me over the past thirty years. In fact, I’m not sure I could actually pick out that defining moment. With that in mind, I thought I should analyse some of the key components in gaming, and what I found to have the most impact. As you read this, please do not think that I am trying to list the definitive pinnacles of game mechanics. I am just exploring my own personal experiences.
Games these days are all approaching realistic character animation and movements with games such FIFA, Battlefield 3, and Forza Horizon. But does that mean that people picking up a controller for the first time in 2013 are spoilt for choice?
I have previously written about my love for The Secret of Monkey Island, and that certainly was the pinnacle of my point and click experiences, but it is a lasting memory of adoration that I have for the creativeness that keeps the game firmly in my heart.
Many PC gamers will have tried a MMORPG (massively multiplayer online role playing game). The most famous, and certainly the one with the largest install base, is World of Warcraft. I am not ashamed to admit sinking countless hours into that game, but I would say that only 50% of the enjoyment was “playing” the game. The other 50% can be attributed to the friendships and general chat that I experienced whilst adventuring in Azeroth, the game fictional land within the game.
Certainly now, four years after I stopped playing, I still consider some of my closest friends to be ones I met playing WOW. I have attended three weddings and countless guild-meets even after I had stopped playing. I recently went to the cinema to watch Star Trek Into Darkness with former “guildees”.
So the best online moments go to Warcraft. What about the most impacting visuals from a game, in my personal experience? To decide that I have to look at the current generation of consoles. We have seen several attempts to bring new levels of immersion with Heavy Rain and L.A. Noire being some of the stand-out titles, but those both fall far behind my choice here. For first impressions, Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune was such a milestone for me it showed just how good environments could look, with great character models that would even show wet clothes drying off.
Whilst Uncharted was a great introduction to the console, it would be the Mass Effect Trilogy that I consider having the most immersive story. This was the first time that I had a chance to play games with morality affecting the outcome of the game. I could no longer be a psychopath, effortlessly eliminating or annoying characters without any retribution. Now we had consequences.
The most memorable music is a much tougher decision to make. Mass Effect’s score is genuinely emotional, but I don’t find I rush to listen to it. Saria’s song from The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time is my current mobile phone ringtone, but I still wouldn’t chose that. No, the tune that pops in to my head and stays there has many YouTube videos saying that it goes with anything. It is Guile’s Theme from Street Fighter II. I apologise if you are now hearing that in YOUR head!
All these points are very important aspects of my gaming history, but there is still one moment which I will never forget. It is an experience I may easily have missed. The biggest, single most impactful moment in gaming all comes back to a family visit to a PC World store, when I happened to notice a 21inch monitor connected to a PC running Tie Fighter. In front of the monitor was a Microsoft Sidewinder Pro joystick.
As a child entering his teenage years, I was in awe as I curiously put my hands round the joystick and pushed it forward. I was amazed to see how responsive it was, and that it moved in relation to how far I tilted the handle.
Looking back over the years I have found answers to questions I never asked myself before today. What I have learnt from this look at my own gaming history is that we are possibly reaching a threshold where games engines have little room left to evolve. Story telling is important, and good music is essential. But the biggest leap in gaming for me was that of digital to analogue input in controllers. Without it, today’s gaming experiences would be so much less.
I would be interested to hear if you have had similar experiences leave a lasting impression on you, and what they might be.