Video Games: An Evolving Industry
Ask any technology buff about what pushes the entertainment industry forward, and he is likely to tell you that video games have made the most amount of changes in the shortest amount of time. While literature, theatre, film, and music have been around for decades or centuries, with only the way each is distributed to us changing in the 21st century, video games have rocketed into what can be determined as a legitimate artistic experience and the most involved way to entertain ourselves in just a few decades.
Take the 1970s and its onset of famous “Pong” when controlling two white, virtual paddles was a brand new idea. Or in 1985 when “Super Mario Bros.” was a paragon of its time. For many people, this was the first time they could say, “There’s more than just one screen?”
Flash forward past the evolution of audiovisual performance, the introduction of the third dimension, analog controls, several handheld consoles you can take on the go, experiments in motion controls, virtual reality, augmented reality and hyper realistic graphics, and we find ourselves in 2019.
The last year that has passed in the video game world has been a very solid year for enthusiasts and casuals alike. As we near the end of the 8th console generation (I may teach you about console generations another time), console moguls Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft vie for the attention of consumers, and developers try to push the Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One to the limit for the most immersive and cinematic experiences possible. But just because motion-captured actors can look like real humans in a sprawling New York City or expansive Wild West, the best games don’t necessarily have to fill that criteria.
The 2018 Game Awards is an award show led by former video game journalist Geoff Keighley. The six games aiming for top honors at what has been called the “Oscars of video games” included five AAA hits and one independent title called “Celeste.”
“Celeste” is worth mentioning individually because it speaks to what’s important about all six of the nominees: quality craftsmanship. “Celeste” is a game available for all platforms and stars Madeline, a girl determined to climb a mountain and overcome her inner demons. The game’s art style is reminiscent of how old Nintendo games looked with 16-bit, pixelated visuals and a chiptune soundtrack to boot. “Celeste” is also an independent game, meaning there’s no giant, multi-million-dollar behemoth behind the development of this project, much unlike all the other nominees.
Games like “Celeste” are affectionately referred to as indie games. This particular game, made primarily by one person at Matt Makes Games Inc., was praised when it released in January 2018 for its simple-to-understand mechanics and shockingly deep story of self-discovery and self-acceptance. It’s a platformer, and for those who don’t know, platformers is the genre of video games that feature characters jumping around — on platforms. Typically, those games aren’t known for the deepest stories (because extra motivation to have fun jumping and running through colorful worlds isn’t really necessary), but “Celeste” wasn’t concerned with being like all the others in its genre, and many gamers appreciated that.
Every other nominee at The Game Awards was at least a somewhat open-world adventure game in a 3-D space. Sure, you were doing different things in each game: web-slinging and swinging around New York in Marvel’s Spider-Man for PlayStation 4; setting out on a journey to spread your spouse’s ashes in God of War for PlayStation 4; slaying giant beasts in Monster Hunter World; living out Greek fantasies in Assassin’s Creed Odyssey; or coming to terms with the modernization of America and shooting your way through your troubles in Red Dead Redemption 2.
All of those games had multi-million dollar budgets and dozens to hundreds of employees working on them. Those five games were all sold for $60 per copy.
“Celeste” was a third of the price and was made with a fraction of the usual AAA game budget and staff, but it received just as much critical acclaim. It proves that, even though the technology has evolved to bring video game storytelling up to par with movies and make the worlds inside the games feel almost as real as our reality, all that matters for a game to truly be worth your while is that it’s well-made and built with passion.
None of these games were my personal high point of the year, however. In my next installment of “The Life of Game,” I’ll explore what crossover was more impressive to me in 2018 than the mega blockbuster “Avengers: Infinity War.”