Another subjective list
6,216Having given our verdict on the Top Ten Games of the Generation, now comes the more interesting prospect of which trends have had a subtle hand in steering the course of the last seven or eight years.
Outlined below is a list of the gaming trends that came to the fore during the 7th generation of home consoles. Included are a couple of examples of either big hitters that help kickstart things, relative flops that failed to make the requisite impact or those that simply caused a stir.
Thanks to the increase in graphics horsepower of the new machines, this was a genre that was sure to take off and emulate the scene previously only enjoyed fully by PC gamers for years. Shooting things or people may be a much used route to designing a game of any kind, but basic object alignment and button presses evolved into a world of social gaming and new genre staples, and the following titles directed how things would unfold this generation.
Call of Duty 4 : Modern Warfare:
One of the few from this list that also made our Top Ten Games of the Generation, here's what we had to say about it:
"Modern Warfare is the title which catapulted the series into the stratosphere and to many fans remains its high point. Its influence upon almost every shooter that followed is still being felt today. The control scheme, XP levelling and multiplayer infrastructure all advanced the first person shooter genre on console significantly at a time when Halo was dominating the Xbox Live charts.
No matter your opinion on the current state of the franchise, Call of Duty 4 remains one of the best examples of a shooter hitting the spot on all sides, Campaign and Multiplayer; delivering one of the most seminal examples of the generation."
Gears of War:
For years the title Halo Killer was bandied around with vain hope rather than expectation. Such was the influential stamp of Bungie’s seminal first-person shooter, that almost by proxy the assumption was that new shooters looking to make a mark would be in the first person. Try thinking of a cinematic gun-centric title (not stealth) before Gears of War that was viewed from the third person, now try thinking of a truly great one - it’s not easy is it? Epic Games' gritty alien invasion pulp shooter influenced much that came afterwards, not just in style and tone but also in terms of mechanics.
The cover system is widely emulated, though rarely bettered, and fed into everything from Uncharted to Mass Effect’s design. It’s now a standard mechanic but it felt unique at the time due to its fluid nature, combining with combat rather than distinct from it. To this day few titles manage to get it right, so often incorrectly snapping to walls or losing the balance between rushing from cover to taking respite. Co-op campaigns also became a much vaunted feature. It may have sold partly based on looks, but it created the second shooter pillar to stand alongside Halo, putting Microsoft’s box as the primary choice for any console gamer looking for gunplay.
The tag of potential Halo killer has thankfully ebbed awayResistance: Fall of Man/Killzone 2:
Pick either, it doesn't really matter. If ever you needed to emphasise Microsoft’s dominance in the exclusive shooter stakes, then look no further than Sony and Guerilla’s attempts to counter. The tag of potential Halo killer has thankfully ebbed away, but there was a time when it was assumed that it was only a matter of when, not if, for Sony to come up with a suitable reply. Even without a title to topple Bungie’s shining beacon of console multiplayer gaming, a rough approximation would do.
Many tried, all with laudable features such as high player counts or polished visuals, but all failed. To this day, Sony have yet to boast a FPS title that can compare, and with the PS4 it looks even more obvious that the superseding of Bungie’s initial creation will fall to Bungie themselves, though this time it won’t be platform exclusive.
Flexibility and Creativity
User created content became a major trend in gaming, with some titles being less games in their own right and more a set of tools designed to empower and ultimately stir up the inner game designer in all of us.
Unreal Tournament 3:
Not a big hitter, and you’d have thought more at home in a category with other shooters, but bear with me. With the promise of as standard online connectivity for the new breed of console, they were never better placed to emulate some of the benefits of PC gaming. A feature which got a select few excited, was that of game modification and in particular cross platform content. From different skins on characters to insane level design tweaks, the scene had long been established in PC circles as giving previously tired material a healthy shot in the arm.
Unreal Tournament III purported to offer this for the first time to console gamers. Had it taken off, who knows what creative tools may have become standard with FPS titles in the 7th gen, but sadly the implementation was not slick enough, and enthusiasm fizzled out.
Now this is creativity console style; built and sold as such. To get it into homes required less of a groundswell of word-of-mouth enthusiasm and more a sustained high profile marketing push, spearheaded by everyone’s favourite boffin Stephen Fry as the charismatic narrator. It put into place a more accessible rigid set of rules to abide by, but opened the door to the idea of user created content being the main draw rather than an organic scene that grows up around the periphery.
The platforming was rudimentary, but the chance to connect with others through your invention tapped into a hidden dream of many console gamers who were born after, yet still in the shadow of, the generation of iconic bedroom coders. Just looking at the non-digital calculator one inventive soul devised proved that there was definitely a market for greater building tools for the console crowd.
Recreate the Starship Enterprise if you want, or that castle you’ve always longed to live in
And here’s the logical conclusion to all that enthusiasm for tapping into user creativity, but this time it combined the lure of the PC scene’s infinite possibilities with a more instantly recognisable set of building blocks. Like a virtual LEGO universe, the possibilities in Marcus “Notch” Persson’s indie hit struck a chord with gamers, and in the console sphere Xbox 360 had the downloadable title first, helping further establish Live Arcade as a big draw.
Not many previously released non-AAA titles will be mooted as key sellers in the switchover in generations to the PS4 and Xbox One, but Mojang’s build-‘em-up is one of them, making the stage during Microsoft's event at E3. Everything is possible, the tools are yours to do with as you see fit, recreate the Starship Enterprise if you want, or that castle you’ve always longed to live in. Minecraft cemented both the ideals of indie gaming as the hub of artistic freedom, and showed there’s just as much an appetite in the user to lead as to be led.
Thanks to the online nature of the consoles, ubiquity of broadband and ever increasing speeds, there was finally a means to efficiently get the smaller games into homes. These bite-sized morsels were able to experiment and ultimately offer new experiences during an era when AAA titles were taking fewer risks due to ever increasing budgets.
Reworked from humble Flash beginnings, Thatgamecompany's PS3 title opened the door to a debate that perhaps should be listed as a trend itself - can games be art? Games have always toyed with the lines between visual stimuli and your reactions to them, but flOw put in place a more sedentary, almost magic eye screensaver appeal. Like Rez, it played on a form of synaesthesia and transfixed, but unlike Tetsuya Mizuguchi's music blaster, flOw managed to be bewitching without bombarding you, categorised as zen by many. It poked and prodded the very notion that there's a way to play and began a journey that Thatgamecompany would end with, well, Journey.
Aesthetically at the other end of the spectrum - though no less beautiful - Braid's traditional looking visuals belie its complexity. Genre mechanics mix with time travel in Jonathan Blow's 2D puzzle platformer; it helped underline the greater risks small, independent developers could take. It's been lauded as everything from a solid platformer to an outright deconstruction of gaming tropes, and even at a relatively high price point it helped establish the notion that if you want to experience something genuinely new, you may have to pay for it. Short, but more importantly innovative titles are now much desired on both console manufacturer's online stores.
The Mature Trend
With graphics getting ever more realistic and quality voice acting now almost a given, it stands to reason that greater emphasis would be placed on filmic elements and the emotions the games are trying to evoke, and due to this push for realism they're coming under increasing scrutiny. Subject material and potential hidden subtexts are becoming as valid discussion points as gameplay mechanics.
Spec Ops: The Line:
Perhaps the example of how a game can now be viewed in separate ways by two different audiences. For some it's a pedestrian shooter that merely hints at moral choices but ultimately can't escape its own perfunctory gameplay mechanics. For others though, it's a shining beacon of what the medium is capable of, both a functional game and a deconstruction of the genre in which it sits, placing emphasis on utilising tropes by repetition as well as tearing them down.
This makes the list for two reasons. Firstly it re-opened the debate regarding what constitutes a game in a high profile way. Far from the interactive movie fad, David Cage created a cinematic story that relied on minimal input. It probed the line between passive and interactive entertainment and proved that, with the right marketing push, gamers were ready for a slow boiler that relied on less immediately engaging stimuli.
So it was arguably significant in purely gaming terms, but the revelation that Microsoft had the chance to grab the rights to it makes a more interesting footnote in the history of this generation. The received wisdom was that only Nintendo were prudish enough to turn down good content for being too risqué, but David Cage’s story of child abduction frightened the Redmond firm suitably, to the point that it was suggested that it be changed, and ultimately it wouldn’t end up on the 360 because of this. Gamers often talk of how those outside the industry perceive it, but it’s not often that there’s a similar lack of comprehension of where the medium is going from those on the inside too.
It probed the line between passive and interactive entertainmentResident Evil 5:
Perhaps Microsoft had good reason to be cautious, because here's the conclusion of continually asking for games to be taken more seriously. The teaser trailer for Resident Evil 5 was insignificant in many ways. It showed a procession of zombies slavering after series hero Chris Redfield. Yet it caused a stir, why? Simple, the setting in Africa, the race of the zombies and by proxy the imagery used. Whether you believe the scenes depicted were unintentionally racist - accidentally using stereotypes that emanate from a more colonial mindset that demeaned African civilisation - or the internet was stirring itself into a frenzy of faux rage, the outcome was the same, the game was under the microscope.
Look past the rights and wrongs of personal opinion though, and what you’re left with can be viewed as a positive for gaming as a whole. The reaction meant people were actually analysing the creations that we’ve argued the merits of for so long. It means those inside and outside the industry are interested in seeking to interpret them as more than a series of twitch reactions fashioned to the bones of a skeleton narrative; as gameplay has evolved, so must storytelling and the responsibility of those telling the stories.
This generation saw a level of narrative maturity that was previously hidden in a few niche RPGs; commentators would look for undercurrents, searching to find a route to the directors like Ken Levine or even Goichi Suda, and Resident Evil 5, though steeped in genre lore, proved just that. It was a waymarker to a future where even Hideo Kojima can't get away with a bikini clad sniper without having to justify the decision.
New ways to tell stories
As a byproduct of ever mature stories, these tales are held up as being of greater importance than ever before, and how they're told can be key to a game's success. The idea of linear stories was blown apart by multi-stranded adventures where decision making was as vital a component as the gameplay itself, which would ultimately draw as much ire as adulation in some cases, but point the way to a future where storytelling evolves beyond singular encapsulated entries.
Ken Levine's tale of an alt-society crumbling under the wight of its own philosophy and demigod figure combined what many had been wanting in gaming - tight gameplay and an intelligent story. But the manner in which the story was told was far more interesting than the simple procession of cut-scenes that unfolded, leading to the eureka moment that blew many away. The world itself was to be the greatest narrator this generation has perhaps seen. The empty halls of Rapture, echoing with period music set in place an atmosphere dripping with detail and ambience, whilst the use of audio logs fleshed out a dystopian nightmare in far more haunting fashion that the set-piece confrontations ever could.
Mass Effect 3:
Flying the flag here for Western RPGs - which were arguably a trend in their own right - the series deserves to be highlighted for its scope, intelligent scripting and believable array of characters in a sci-fi universe. But the third entry acts a sort of beacon for the franchise, simply because it proved just how seriously fans took the story. Long before the Twitter campaigns aimed towards console manufacturers to avert online DRM, there was the Mass Effect 3 fan backlash.
Bioware tried to create an arc, spanning over three titles, but in promising to do so they instilled a sense that it would all interconnect, the dots would be joined, and ultimately the ending would offer a satisfactory resolution. For many, it did not. They could have moved on, but instead they took to message boards and Twitter, demanding an amended ending to the series they so loved and, bizarrely, they kinda got it. Leon Matthews wrote an interesting piece about the dangers of listening to fan feedback with regards The Power of Social Media in Gaming. It placed particular emphasis on the aborted Xbox One blueprint, but it similarly harkens to the fate of Mass Effect 3 and sense of fan entitlement.
The third instalment in the atmospheric sci-fi opera proved that gaming fans have moved far closer to those of cinema, where - for some - the ending carries greater emphasis than the journey that leads to it.
Bioware tried to create an arc, spanning over three titlesThe Walking Dead:
Another duplicate from our Top Ten, this hasn’t just been highlighter because of all the superlative elements of its storytelling finesse and the maturity it assumes its players will have when approaching the decisions necessary to survive a zombie ridden wasteland. Its superbly scripted and has perhaps the weightiest moral choices of any game, not just because of the choices themselves but how they’re depicted. These though are secondary to the main reason it makes this list, how the story was told due to how game was released.
The Walking Dead may not have been the first title to offer episodic content for smaller fees on the consoles, but by topping many GOTY lists and creating a watercooler game that everyone had to discuss, it made the splash that was needed to legitimise the system; it’s now not only an accepted practice, but desired for its timeliness. Who wants to wait for a game to be complete, when you can have it in instalments? It's long been assumed games hold more in common with films, but perhaps that might shift towards emulating TV's serialisation of longer stories.
There was a time when the very term was synonymous with either poor quality third party pads (usually with a dodgy button or two that was compensated for by the inclusion of an auto option) or excessively indulgent monstrosities like the Steel Battalion controller. The changing of the tide was undoubtedly Guitar Hero o the PS2, arriving at the finale of the 6th gen, and signalling how things would pan out for plastic gaming accompaniments for the next eight years.
The rhythm action genre was long thought a niche, appealing to those who liked the insane hybrid of catchy tunes and oddball characters. From rapping dogs to bizarre cheer squads, they had small scale cultdom written all over them. Then there was Guitar Hero. The genius of fusing gaming with real (well, covers) hit music seems as clear as day now, but at the time it was revelatory.
The standard for console peripherals was to keep them conservative unless they were for fighter or racers, but the chunky plastic guitar that came bundled with the game was ridiculously indulgent and struck a chord (snigger) with gamers in a way that poor old Donkey Kong’s bongos never could. Rock Band took things a step further, and showed that there really was no upper limit to the amount people would invest if the core game was good enough ultimately leading to things getting even more serious with Rocksmith. It also made it acceptable for you to have a large plastic gaming peripheral in your front room without feeling ashamed, for which I remain eternally grateful.
As far as unlikely hits go, balance boards must be up there with the aborted smell-o-vision, yet they were another signal that peripherals were getting more advanced and that they could be accepted into the mainstream devices. Handily tying together the newfound gamers buying the Wii, the health conscious and those eager to try a new gadget, its ubiquity was one of the last hurdles for gaming; it highlighted the use of even the most mainstream console as a potential multi-functional family device, as well as the gamification of almost anything, if you've got the right peripheral that is.
Games are getting easier..or, harder
The argument is that videogames are getting easier. Regenerating health, lack of boss battles, copious checkpoints, no finite continue system within levels, no loss of ammo or stats upon death etc etc. Many factors can be cited for this mollycoddling trend, a core gaming audience now in their thirties or forties, scarce free time but plenty of spending money, it makes sense to cast the net as wide as possible amongst this profitable school rather than scare them off. Pick almost any AAA sequel on a 7th gen console and compare it to a predecessor to see for yourself.
In the face of this wimpy pandering stepped Demon’s Souls, unashamedly tough, but following the old school design doctrine of being strict but always fair. If you learnt the rules, perfected the battle techniques and invested the time further run throughs were considerably less taxing, but the rules remained in place, unbendable. One of the few retail titles to be respected by the challenge-hungry retro crowd in the entire generation, it was a marvel that introduced many, raised on the staples of basic level progression and sign-posted routes to completion, a taste of gaming as it once was, and From Software prospered because of it. It could easily be considered in tandem with the likes of Ninja Gaiden, but the groundswell of support for a seemingly untrumpetted import title like Demon's Souls was something quite special.
The disparity between the easiest and hardest titles has never been so pronounced, and with smaller titles like Super Meat Boy and Spelunky getting increasingly popular, it's unlikely the gap will narrow.
It helped sell 100m consoles, and really there's only one game that can be seen as the catalyst for that. The one game to rule them all. The single entry that not only had a monumental impact on the generation passed, but has shaped the landscape of gaming as a whole.
Well what else could it be? I would say it’s easy to forget where Nintendo were prior to the Wii, but unfortunately their current predicament with the Wii U has brought that memory back into focus; a controller developers have trouble tailoring games to, slow attach rate, a mooted Zelda title lost somewhere in the ether, and a projected 20-25 million in lifetime sales. It was bleak.
Derided pre-release as underpowered, the Wii was viewed as little more than a Gamecube in a white shell with a mad wand. Destined to go the way of the VirtualBoy, the 64DD, the Powerglove and that funny little robot thing you saw in all the NES ads but no one actually owned. Motion control, and the simplification of the interface flew in the face of ever more elaborate and button laden pads from the other manufacturers.
In the end, motion control was a fad that not only won Nintendo the generation in hardware terms - galloping to an unassailable lead and ending up with over 100 million in worldwide sales - but also more importantly opened up the market in a way that had never been seen before, and perhaps never will again.
Even the other manufacturers were taking noteWii Sports was the catalyst for the hype. The game was the perfect proof of concept, functioning well enough to indicate that motion control could be something very special. Sports in your living room was an identifiable lure, and the ideal of a game that could be accessible to anyone from 8 to 80 made sure the Wii was the must have gift for Christmas 2005; if you hadn’t played Wii Sports then it was considered that you didn’t have an opinion on the potential future of gaming. Even the other manufacturers were taking note. Sony’s Sixaxis, and later Move controllers were additions in every sense, easily ignorable, but Microsoft’s Kinect showed a concerted effort to integrate a non-traditional controller at the heart of a console’s blueprint.
Their emulation of Wii Sports, in the form of Kinect Adventures! helped propel the Kinect to become the fastest selling consumer electronics device; not too shabby considering it retailed at a shade under £150 and had few decent games in the pipeline. Whilst the likes of Kinect Star Wars will forever be filed under “the day the dream finally died” by many core gamers, looking at some high chart positions for the likes of the Zumba titles shows that, though the market may have contracted slightly from the Wii’s peak - which will no doubt be viewed as an anomaly, certainly for the home console scene - there’s still a profitable sub-section of casual gamers for Microsoft to target there. Kinect Adventures! was the demo title that started that ball rolling; and it owes it all to Wii Sports.
The market of gamers interested in simple controls and minimalistic interfaces may have swiftly migrated to smartphones and tablets, but the mark Wii Sports made in catapulting the Wii - and non-traditional control methods - into gaming lore should never be underestimated.
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