In honor of the DOOM teaser recently released, I have an announcement. If you are a gamer and you weren’t part of my generation… It sucks to be you.
Imagine each and every year of your young gamer life being composed of Earth shattering events. Imagine walking into a game store or picking up a magazine and seeing something you’ve never seen before; something that you didn’t even realize you wanted. It’s something that looks immediately relate-able and yet so alien. Imagine the school yard being this religious place where you’d overhear conversations about a game you never heard of and it turning out to be Metroid or Castlevanvia. Imagine yourself feeling like a real world Indiana Jones of video games; discovering life altering experiences only through rumors and speculations spouted out in the lunch lines.
This is what it felt like at least once a year when growing up. Genre’s were being invented, and new forms of entertainment were being explored through the limitations of current hardware at the time. One experience I recall was growth of first-person shooters. The funny thing was that I wasn’t quite wowed by Doom when I first saw it. I had played 7th Guest, and killed enough Nazi in Wolfenstein to turn an ocean red. I had also played many 2D tile-based first-person dungeon crawlers at that time and the popularity of “first-person shooter” didn’t exactly click for me. I didn’t realize that the “shooter” was the more important word than “first-person” in that phrase.
It took multiple plays of id Software’s shareware to finally realize that I had probably put more hours into that demo than I did the entirety of Wolfenstein. The game just clicked for me. The motion was fluid, the graphics were stellar, and the gore was just right for my adolescent brain to constantly whisper, “aim for the barrels, always aim for the barrels…” The slight nod to that arcade-y feel of hidden spaces, time trials, and relentless action just seemed right for a time when I was in transition between the local mall Arcade and my first home PC. Everything was a new experience, always.
Even the iterations of hardware felt like huge leaps where buying a new PC or adding even 4MB of RAM could literally 2x or 4x your performance from your previous rig. It was intoxicating.
Over the years I grew older. I still reveled in my 2D and faux 3D games, but the script was flipped yet again. Polygonal textured meshes; what?! Games like Duke Nukem, Decent, and Quake were progressively hitting the shelves. Suddenly I was looking up and down and exploring these worlds in a dimension I didn’t even know existed for video games. I was using physics and trajectory in Quake to take out bad guys in a way I had never even considered in any 2D game. Again, the visual bar was raised, the interactivity was expanded upon, and PCs were doubling and tripling in performance year after year.
That adrenaline packed history lesson is unfortunately just that; history. Now we have mediocre games that take hundreds of employees, $50M+ to develop, $150M+ to market, and try their hardest to have a little something for everyone. This and future generations have lost something when they lost the clear lines that define a genre. Everything has sort of blurred into a generic super-genre out of fear that there might be 1 person who won’t buy that game. And with that, the idea of something new is also gone.
“Yes but Minecraft Ben!” I get it, that 1 thing was cool and new and took the world by storm. Even though games like Dune 2, and DOOM, and Quake never reached that level of financial success I feel like each of those games was just as big, and it was happening at a breakneck pace. It wasn’t just one digital download that ruled them all, it was an ecosystem of games that crowded my shelves with stacks of physical disks and over-sized manuals. There was weight to it all (literally), which gave it sense of meaning. So for every League of Legends today there seemed to be 3 or 4 RTS games from professional teams looking to make it.
It’s hard to put into words why those times were different, and why I felt they were better. I guess you could say that it felt like gaming had more of a soul back then. There was something special; something “super”, about video games in that era. It really was guys in their garage making the next big thing, and these days guys in the garage are just hoping their Kickstarter campaign can reach $50,000 so the the 8 of them can huddle together and hope to survive long enough to put out a game that might make another $100,000 for all of them to share as payment for the last 18 months of sleepless nights. You don’t have to be a math genius to realize you could make more money as a Walmart doorman than you could in video games. It’s either that or work on a large project ending in a number between 3 and 7, sometimes hidden with sub-titles.
What can I say; at the end of the day there is a difference between seeing next years new Toyota or BMW vs. seeing the first car to ever beat the streets or the first plane take flight… I don’t know that video games will ever have that moment in history again. Video games are too big to fail now, too popular to notice just how many do. I’m glad I was there to enjoy it when I could still pick up a magazine and feel like I knew almost everything.