Archive for February, 2006

The weird nature of videogames

Thursday, February 2nd, 2006

Videogames are a strange breed of artform. And making videogames is just plain bizarre, if you think about it. We spend at least 2 years producing a game, which will provide the consumer with some 10-15 hours of fun (hopefully). That’s kind of weird in itself, but not that different from a big movie production. But when a movie is done, the production company has a strip of celluloid that lasts. It can be run in projectors and be transferred into other media (TV, DVD, videotape etc) and enjoyed almost forever. We watch movies that were made 20 or 80 years ago and there’s no problem doing that…

You see where I’m going?

Means of expression has developed through the history of mankind. Probably the oldest and most simple mean of narrative is the spoken word – a storyteller tells a story to an audience. The audience is listening and afterwards they will carry memories and impressions of the story they were told. Different people will remember different things and if the story is retold to a third part, it changes. Theatre, opera, live music and dance are similar in that respect. Those means of expression don’t last. They are all experienced during the moment of performance and then it’s all over and will never ever exist in the same form again.

When we learned to write this all changed. Suddenly it was possible to “freeze” a version of a story and allow people to experience it independently of the author. This is a fantastic thing. Arts are similar. A painting lasts, as do sculptures, architecture and music on sheets. Of course, it happens that pieces of art gets destroyed and war is devastating to architecture, as is narrow minded people who tear down beautiful buildings to make space for parking lots. But the longevity of these forms of expression is still awesome.

Movies and camera pictures are more modern forms of art and they both share the longevity treat with older artforms and one might expect that the evolution of expressive means would move forwards and evolve those exceptional properties so that we might enjoy stuff even longer into the future.

But no!

When we went digital all those things changed. A two year long production of a videogame has a lifespan on store shelves for maybe six months. Then if becomes more and more difficult to buy the game. And just a few years later, it is virtually impossible to play the game anymore since technology has leapt forwards and stuff ain’t compatible anymore. This is really weird if you think about it. Actually, it is outrageous.

For example, the game “Riddick” for the Xbox is playable on the Xbox only. I honestly don’t think that it will ever be playable on the 360 (unless a port somehow gets made). Microsoft have great troubles making Xbox games run on the 360 and there are a number of games that do weird tricks with the hardware that is extremely hard to emulate. So in 10 years, I believe “Riddick” will be hard to play unless you have an Xbox stuffed into a cupboard somewhere.

The PC platform is the worst in these respects. One of my favourite games was “Little Big Adventure”. It’s hard to get hold of and I’m pretty sure that running it on the XP would be a nightmare, but I haven’t checked. Consoles are better since they do get emulated. So any game made for the SNES, for example, can be played on another system with the help of an emulator. Still, with the exploding level of complexity in consoles, emulation becomes harder and harder and I guess there is a limit to how much time hackers are prepared to invest in making a new emulator. So we are in the hands of the console manufacturers and can only hope and pray that they will continue to support all previous incarnations of the platforms, that the Playstation 4711 can play any game made for any Playstation console – ever, and that the same holds true for the Xboxes, Nintendo systems and anything that is to come. But I’m not holding my breath. The digital world is weird.