Gaming has changed radically over the past 8 years. The 7th console generation (the sexy name for PS3, Xbox 360 and Wii / Wii U) has ushered in some of the biggest industry changes in decades. It isnt necessarily about power, or radical shifts in the types of games that we play: it has changed the way that we interact with games, and the way games interact with us. Its a lifestyle thing.
Now, Im not claiming that all the following innovations were a) invented by the 7th generation, or that b) they are exclusive to console gaming. No. What Im saying is that current-gen (or last-gen, if you prefer) made the following things industry standards; stuff we all expect from the majority of our games, or stuff that weve grown accustomed to as fine men and women who enjoy games. Ok? Good. Lets begin.
Regardless of whether or not you play games to unlock virtual silverware, theres no denying that Achievements (and Trophies) have a huge impact on modern games. On the surface, theyre a way for developers to pat us on the back and say Well done for playing the game as we wanted you to play it. Theyre also a way to reward players striving well beyond their initial motivations (You finished the game on Mega-Uber-Killer-Death setting. Well done, you. And to think you only wanted to get half way through Easy mode).
More than this, though, Trophies and Achievements have become methods by which we benchmark ourselves against other players: usually our friends. Has your buddy really beaten the Evil Mecha Llama in Man-Shooter 6? Blimey, he did--and he got the Trophy for killing it with a peashooter. Hang on? How do I even unlock the goddam peashooter? And so on.
Motion control isnt in every game we play (mercifully), but it has become a widely accepted thing. Its all thanks to the Wii, which pioneered the idea of flailing your arms around like a child being attacked by a wasp, as a method for making your on screen persona hit a ball over a net. While Wiis early games might seem a little primitive now, they have been replaced by some amazing examples of motion control being cleverly used to augment standard games.
And lets not forget that motion control opened up gaming to a whole generation of more casual players, who have helped our industry grow massively. Look, were all very familiar with the workings of a controller, and the logic that core games ask us to approach them with; but millions arent. They dont have the same gaming heritage as us. So when motion control offers them an opportunity to swing a Wii-mote like a baseball bat they understand how that works.
Chatting with friends over the internet isnt a new thing, nor was it invented by Xbox 360. However, cross-game chat and party chat is one of the best things that Microsoft built into Xbox Live, almost single-handedly justifying the yearly Gold fee. With it, I can chat to my COD-playing friends, while I play Battlefield--even though I secretly think theyre total idiots for even touching COD. I can push my Battlefield agenda down my headset whenever I please.
On a more serious note, party chat breaks down gaming barriers. Maybe my friends cant actually afford to buy Battlefield and COD, and they just went for the game with the zombie mode in it. Doesnt matter--I can still talk about THE BAD THING that happened last time we had a night out. Actually, I hear Microsoft is listening to my conversations. We probably shouldnt be discussing THE BAD THING in public
Yes, the original Xbox had DLC. And PC players have been downloading games (legally or otherwise, ahem) for years. However, its Xbox Live and PSN that made the process of downloading add-ons, and even AAA games, the norm. Steam does it better now, thanks to more sensible pricing and a wider variety of games, but Xbox 360 and PS3 have done a great job pushing consoles firmly into the digital future. Or present. Whatever.
While many are reluctant to give up physical media (you simply cant recreate that new game smell digitally) entirely, theres no doubt that digital is an essential part of the modern games industry. Along with iOS and Steam, digital distribution on closed console networks has allowed indie studios to flourish, providing them with a platform to sell their games to a huge audience of players that just fancy something a little different for a few days. Now then, if Sony and Microsoft can sort out their pricing, well be golden.
Sometimes you just dont want to listen to Skrillexs visionary rendition of a man running over a pile of spoons with a lawn mower while youre playing Man-Racer 7. Sometimes, you want to listen to rock, classical, RnB--whatever. The point is that custom soundtracks let you do that. Thanks sexy 7th gen.
Sadly, custom soundtrack functionality has stalled on consoles. Yes, 360 lets you play whatever music you like over whatever game you choose, but I feel theres a real missed opportunity in terms of integrating custom soundtracks into games. Example? What if you could create a custom radio station in GTA 5, using all your own tracks? Surely the tech exists for inserting GTAs trademark adverts and DJ comments in between songs Oh, you can do it in GTA San Andreas on iOS? Carry on, then.
Full HD gaming
While this current generation (or last-gen, fuck: stop being such a pedant) hasnt necessarily been as big a technical leap as others, the one important legacy it leaves is bringing high-definition to games. Back in 2005, HD was in its infancy, and most TVs didnt even support it. The film and TV industries had barely touched it, but EVERY single game was in high-definition.
It changed things hugely. Games looked far sharper than those in 480p, in-game text was perfectly legible, and devs could dazzle us with more detailed worlds and characters. Games were the vanguard of the HD revolution, and its tough to imagine playing anything in standard def any more, unless youre deliberately going for that retro feel.
Not only did 360 and PS3 essentially kill memory cards (yes, I know they still technically exist, and I know you can store game data on USB), but they didnt settle for simply using hard drives. Cloud storage is a big deal on consoles, and itll only become more popular as PS4 and Xbox One demand more data storage on relatively small hard drives.
Not only does Cloud saving allow you to siphon off some of the storage demands of modern games, it also allows you to access your saves whenever and wherever you go. Want to use your Man-Stabber 8 profile on a friends console as you play co-op together? Cloud storage has got your back, dude. Got a new console because your old one accidentally got thrown out of your window after that argument with you girlfr ex-girlfriend? Dont worry, sir. All your saves are safe. Not like that time your old girlfriend stamped on your PS2 memory card and made you cry like a smacked toddler in front of her entire family.
Bit niche, this one, but hey-ho. No-one likes being told to stop playing Man-Puncher 9 when someone else wants to watch a TV programme about fat celebrities being dragged around a ballroom by men and women in sparkly clothes. No-one. Time was, you just had to hand over the remote and take it. Now, second-screen gaming via Vita or Wii U lets you carry on playing even when someone else is watching the TV.
Again, this is another feature in its infancy. As streaming technology improves, well be able to access next-gen games wherever we are in the world. Imagine how much more Parappa you could have played if this tech existed during PSone days. You rappin good!
Companion apps / second screen
When they first appeared, companion apps were a bit rubbish. There isnt much incentive to play some hobbled mobile version of your favourite game unless theres some unlockable goodies hidden within it. However, as the last generation progressed, developers found genuinely useful ways to make the second screen a big part of our overall gaming experiences.
I played the NBA 2K13 companion app for ages, earning virtual coins to spend on my player in the full games My Career mode. Why waste 5 minutes on talking to someone, or relaxing, when I could earn enough to marginally improve my mid-range jump-shot? Why indeed. Hmm I may have wasted some of my life, there. Oh well.
Over to you, Xbone
So, there you have it. Games really have changed a lot over the past 8 years. The way Ive been talking about it makes it sound like we were all savages back in 2004, hitting each other with rocks, building houses out of sticks, and using MySpace. LOL, as some say. If you think Ive missed anything, please tell me about it in the comments below.
Need more fun in your life? I know a man who can hook you up with some high-class er, never mind. Just read these features instead. Heres GamesRadar's Platinum Chalice Awards 2013 (opens in new tab). And now one about The Worst Box Art Of 2013 (opens in new tab).