Friday, December 27, 2013

"Next Gen" Consoles

Holy crap, it's been a long time since I posted anything here. Partly I've always felt this was for longer rants, and most of what I've been ranting about lately counts up to only a few hundred words (that and I doubt anyone actually reads this blog, other than spammers). I usually post those on Google+. There hasn't been much of anything worthy of a long rant until now. As you can see by the headline, it's about this whole next gen console thing. Which I could care less about, really. Yes, I consider myself a member of that glorious master race that are PC gamers.

Now don't get me wrong, I have enjoyed many games that have come out on the 360 and PS3 (I own both consoles). One of the absolute best games I've played in a long time was on PS3. That game was Journey. Few games blend music and gameplay in such a perfect way. I still get goosebumps when I play it, it's that powerful. It only clocked in at about two hours, but I didn't feel cheated. I got more out of that two hours of gameplay than the last three or four Call of Duty games put together. And you better believe I enjoyed Grand Theft Auto 5. That, however, was the last time either of my consoles spent more than a day playing any one game.

There really is a renaissance going on in PC gaming right now. Kickstarter has helped with this trend in some ways by getting funding to developers that are making the games we want. The big publishers have lost all touch with their customer base, which I think the $26 million (and counting) that Chris Roberts has worked up for Star Citizen proves quite soundly. And there are lots of other titles coming out by way of crowd funding that I'm hugely excited about. There's a lot of talent out there that has become disenfranchised from the big, publisher-beholden development houses. They've got big, creative, ambitious ideas that publishers don't want to touch. They don't want to touch these ideas because of the perceived risk. There is a possibility they might lose money on some of these ideas, and their shareholders would skin them alive if they did. That, in a nutshell, is what's wrong with big-budget gaming these days. The known quantities, the established franchises, these properties get the budgets because they're safe bets. They're safe money for the investors. Until people get tired of them and the publisher and/or development houses crash and burn. It happened to Guitar Hero and Rock Band, and it looks like Call of Duty's time is about up.

Meanwhile, I recently played a game called Kentucky Route Zero. By genre, it's a point and click adventure game, but that's where the classifications end. This is a game like nothing I have ever played before. I don't really have words to describe it, it's just something you have to play to experience, much like Journey. There are plenty more... Papers, Please, Starbound, ARMA, Spacebase DF-9, Kerbal Space Program, Prison Architect, Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery, and so on and so forth. With the exception of one, all of these games can only be found on PC.

There are also plenty of large budget PC exclusives that I'm excited about. The Witcher 3, Galactic Civlizations III, Half-Life 3 (assuming Valve ever confirms it actually exists), the above mentioned Star Citizen, Cyberpunk 2077, the next Mount & Blade game, Planetary Annihilation, the last Starcraft 2 episode (maybe), just to name a few. And most of the games that will also be releasing on console already have announced PC ports, like Watch Dogs and Titanfall.

I see no point in buying an Xbox One or Playsation 4. Even if money was no object, I doubt I would buy either. There's nothing exclusive on either console that excites me that I can't also get on PC. The launch lineups are pathetically lean, especially when you remove titles that are also coming out on 360 and PS3. This may be the first console generation that I completely skip, and right now it looks like I won't miss anything.

Then we get into the big new thing from Valve, the Steam Machine. It's a shot fired directly at consoles. An open console that isn't beholden to a publisher's whims. I really, really hope Valve can make it work, because it needs to happen. Consoles are stagnating and I do believe the only cure is an open ecosystem. It already exists on PC and it's doing amazing things. Console gamers really don't know how badly the publishers have held them back from the stuff that is pushing gaming forward. The other shot Valve fired was directly at Windows, with Steam OS. If they can make Linux gaming-friendly, and get the big titles ported over, I think there's going to be a mass exodus of gamers away from Windows.

It is a great time to be a gamer, and there's a lot of interesting stuff going on, but it's not happening on any console. It's happening on the PC. If you count yourself a gamer, you owe it to yourself to put together a cheap gaming PC and then check out the massive quantity of really cool games that have come out in the past year or two. But hold on to your pants, because that's just the tip of the iceberg. There's more on the way, and they're only going to be bigger and better.

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