It’s been that long

I got alerted to a milestone yesterday on YouTube, you see, last week was the 25th anniversary of System Shock, one of my most beloved games from the past. I still remember the two moments that set the milestones for this game. The first was the PC Format by Future plc. About a month before the release, PC format included the entire first level of the game (medical level). So you got about an hour of gameplay into that game, a month later the game arrived and of course, I had to have that game on day one! I did and that started a tour of around a week getting through the game. Someone was nice enough to stream the game (at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4IzNzVAxk8E) the stream starts at 10:00. Even now, hearing the intro music still gives me the good shivers. For a game to do that is so rare, it is to some degree scary. I am still awaiting the remastered edition by NightDive Studios. It will be launched a little later than planned (2020) but on all the consoles, so I might get that happy feeling again on all my consoles.

This is the foundation of better than great gaming, the story, the emersion and the control. The game offered all three to a great degree. That part is also important as System Shock 2, a game that came 5 years later had almost all the same controls, the first game was the founding father of RPG games, and control was close to that perfect. Graphics did upgrade by a lot, yet the shock (for me) in this game that the game only sold 170,000 copies, not much for a game this perfect, as such I do hope that the remaster will hand out the multimillion copy achievement sold. When we look at PC Gamer we see: “System Shock smokes. It is the most fully immersive game world I have ever experienced“, as well as “no matter what kind of game you’re looking for, you’ll find something in System Shock to delight you“. Finishing with “unquestionably raises computer gaming to a new level” (at https://web.archive.org/web/20000309153138/http://www.pcgamer.com/reviews/1024.html), I gave the game a similar review and gave it a 95% score when I reviewed it.

From that moment on, I reviewed RPG games using System Shock as the minimum bar, as you might imagine not many games got to that level. It was also the first game where ‘leaning around corners‘ became an option in shooting games. As far as you see the stream and listening to the makers of the game, you get the part how this game became a trendsetter of excellence, even if they do not mention it, it was a labour of love and passion gets to be the deciding driver in any game towards excellence.

Depending on your age, consider the game that you would play again after 10, 20 and 25 years. What titles come to mind? In my view Elite Dangerous (after 35 years), Ultima 4 (after 35 years), System Shock (after 25 years), Ultima 7 (after 25 years), System Shock 2 (after 20 years), and the list goes on, but it is not a long list, games that are dipped in excellence are rare to say the least. Yet I am a gamer, a game junkie and like all other gamers I remain hopeful that another developer gets it right to the largest degree, Ubisoft did that with Assassins Creed 2 (and Brotherhood) then stuffed up to a much larger degree until Assassins Creed Origins was released. That is why the scrutiny of 93%+ games is so essential. Most gamers will take a turn in other direction if it gives them excellence, yet when they leave their comfort zone in gaming, excellence is the only marker that they will accept to make them do so. Games like Mass Effect 2, The Witcher 3, Grand Theft Auto V, Horizon Zero Dawn, all games that relied on near perfection; it is a stage that is seldom reached. And in all this the FX Slogan was key (for me it is) ‘The story is everything‘. Horizon Zero Dawn is perhaps the strongest example. In the beginning I enjoyed the game, yet it was the storyline after the proving that set the stage for me to continue and learn more and more. The origin story of Elisabeth Sobeck and Aloy is absolutely marvellous. Yes, I have seen the rants against the game, rants like ‘Giving up Horizon Zero Dawn‘ (at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qv_1DzGf_1s). His response ‘I just don’t find it interesting anymore‘. Yes, I do not agree, but it is his view, and his view is valid to him, just when we see this he is still not completing: ‘The War – Chief’s trail‘. Yet the best story parts were still coming up and the game takes it time getting into the story, it is important to show this, because you might have a different love for games, I love stealth games, games with an essential need for stealth, not everyone loves this, I get that. You have to realise that, I might not be the voice for you; I might have other loves in gaming. I was never a lover of GTA5, I admire it for its excellence, but it is not my game, it is however for millions of other gamers.

In this view it is important to find more voices until you find the reviewer that aligns with your fulfilment in gaming. It is easy to find good reviews and for many games a lot will have the same view, but in the 90%+ range you need to find the one voice that is on your level of gaming. It is easy to merely see that The Last of Us was a great game, pretty much everyone will agree, yet Dark Souls 3 and Bloodborne? I loved both games; I never got to complete them. With Bloodborne I actually stopped (after a dozen attempts), I still have the game as it shows excellence on many levels and the engine is sublime, but it is also an excellent example for ratings. I would give it 91%, yet others will give it 93%-95% and now we have the review issue. Are their reviews better? They might be, they might be better at playing this game, more important, they might highlight things I missed, because I was not great at this game. Graphics and engines are easy, the subtle parts defining Bloodborne (as well as Dark Souls 3) is another matter. And now you come into the mix thinking it was merely an 85% game as you did not like the game (which is fair enough), finding the right reviewer is important, more important, the one that aligns with your game play and this is where a game like System Shock differs. The game remained playable for a much larger audience. Now we accept that the gaming bar was not as high in 1994 as it is in 2014, yet playability had remained similar over 25 years, it is my view that Bloodborne is a great game, yet, to me, it is not as playable. That small distinction is important when you seek out buying a full priced game that totally rocks your world.

To me the story is a deciding factor, whilst play style is the most important second. That part is visible to many who remember Metroid Prime on GameCube; I still love that game as well. I never got beyond 98% completion, and I would love to play it again getting to 100%, that is because the game is extremely playable with a play style that is set to comfort. We might sneer at the graphic level (compared to the Xbox and Playstation2 in those days), yet Metroid Prime still delivered as an equal and better to anything the other two could offer. That part validates the 97% rating it received. Yet, if it is not your game, would you still regard it as high?

The question is important as System Shock did make that cut, even by those not loving the game style, they were all impressed with the game, it set a new bar of quality, Metroid Prime and Horizon Zero Dawn both did that as well.

And it is there where we see the stage for streaming games, for Apple Arcade, Google Stadia and thee we see the links. Apple Arcade shows smooth gaming, but not hi-res gaming. That is not an issue if you consider Metroid Prime, the lowest resolution of the three consoles delivered the best gaming experience of all. You can see this (at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q73cHEAwKVw), I found the top 10 interesting, but not overwhelming, of course the number one is like some Zelda clone, with decent graphics, but not great graphics. There are 100 games announced yet there too I wonder if people are willing to pay $5 a month, $60 a year to do this, You can argue if you can find even 3 games you really like, then the money is well spent. So it is a decent idea, the issue I have with the stage is that the solution will be years two and later. However, in a family setting the game changes massively, the cost is per family (up to 5 players) as such $1 per person per month is just too good to pass up.
More important is the fact that the games look amazing on the iPad, so there is that to consider. My larger personal issue is long term. For me it is $8 month (Australia), as such in Australia it gets down to $100 a year. It has good games and the important dig is: no ads, unlimited access to 100+ new games rolling out later this year, as well as download for off-line playing are the catchers that will make people try this. Consider the initial $100 for the entire year, seems a lot, but playing 100 games for the price of one is still a game changer. I am assuming that you can only play for as long as you are a member, but we get the same on consoles, so that should not be the issue.

The arrival of Apple Arcade and Google Stadia is still important, but not for the reason you think. System Shock was important as the game was a true innovator in gaming. These new streaming services are set on a stage where the amounts of gamers imply the revenue for the makers. Even as marketing get you in the beginning, the bulk of gamers will push for games that are TRULY innovative and I have learned and seen that true innovation pushes the envelope of games in general. System Shock, Command and Conquer, Metal Gear Solid, Wolfenstein 3D, Gran Turismo, Warcraft 3, Minecraft, Tombraider, Diablo, Zelda – Ocarina of Time, Goldeneye, Super Mario 64, Half-Life, Doom. These are on a short list of the most innovative games in history and the most important part is that most of them started on systems lacking resources. Systems like the first PlayStation, the Nintendo 64 and the PC-Pentium One. Most mobiles and tablets now surpass what was possible even in those maxed out years. As such, innovation was always about imagination and I love the idea of streaming services as it pushes the need for innovation. I go back to System Shock one and two, yet some might remember Molyneux’s titanic achievement Black and White, a god video game. A game where you influence actions and not control all actions, when you realise that innovation is creation linked to imagination, we start considering the lack of resources required, not the max of resources. In this games and gamers are about finding the right note, the right chord that makes your heart sing. System Shock still does that to me 25 years later (OK, Elite Dangerous does it as well after 35 years).

I still play Blockheads by Dave Frampton after 6 years on my very first iPad, it is basically the only reason I still use my very first iPad for anything else but reading (until I get a new one). I got the game to deal with my Minecraft addiction when I was not at home and I never regretted getting it (oh, and I found the tablet edition of Minecraft not that playable), even today (last night actually) I still play Blockheads.

We might think that innovation fades, as it would over time, but I personally learned that innovation creates a captive audience regardless of time, it is a personal observation and you might not agree, but I also believe that this is the stepping stone for both Apple Arcade and Google Stadia. Consider the re-released consoles. CBM64 mini that gives us: Boulder Dash, Paradroid, Jumpman, Temple of Apshai Trilogy, Uridium, Impossible Mission (1+2), Winter Games and Summer Games II all games that could be upgraded and give a new audience the games they love to play. The CBM 64 brought so much innovation in games with only 64KB available; these games became the foundation for better games as systems upgraded (Atari ST and CBM Amiga). In this Nintendo with their 64 was pushing the envelope even further, Super Mario 64 is just one title, Goldeneye (named after the bond movie) set the bar so high that it was still the most desired game a decade later, even as the Wii relaunched the game, it ended up being inferior to the original, that is the level of excellence we lost out on and in this resources are not the issue, these are games that could easily be streamed and offer gaming perfection.

The list goes on and it would take too long, yet when we consider sources like My Abandonware and other sources (like Amiga Emulators) we see optional chests containing hundreds of titles that are ready to be remade and a lot of it has no IP protection, as such the best programmers can take the great vision and turn it into a cash maker through streaming. I reckon that is what both Google Stadia and Apple Arcade are hoping for, I am uncertain to see a winner at present, but the games that make it will be the deciding factor and even as the games on Apple are not great, they are still off to a good start, I myself hope that the historic database will inspire game makers, and this is a field where both genders can excel, you merely need to remember the name Danielle Bunten Berry (M.U.L.E. and Seven Cities of Gold) to realise that creativity was key, not gender. As such I do hope that we see both genders remain active, even as Danielle Bunten Berry left us in 1998, her games could stay around for much longer, that is the other part of innovation, it has no expiration date; it is almost timeless. If you doubt that, consider her games as well as those by Roberta Williams (King’s quest series). That is actually another part of gaming, there the playing field for genders is almost level as creativity not ego decides on the quality of the game.

As such it might have been that long, but in the end, the timeline was not long enough, I am willing to get into streaming to some degree (Assassins Creed Odyssey might get lag issues) but there are hundreds of games that will never have that issue and the list of games that will hit the spot is a lot larger than anyone ever considered, especially when a good idea (or a great idea) gets upgraded with innovations that were not available when a certain game came out.

Consider the game Command and conquer, optionally a game like Battle for Middle Earth, or even Dungeon Keeper 2. We have gone through those games and finished all the maps; now consider the issues you face when the maps are created procedural, would your strategy still hold up? That question impacts all three games. Often the strategy was in the map design, take that away and the challenge changes by a lot. I believe that ‘It has been that long‘ is a premise that does not really exist in gaming, I truly believe that System Shock will capture the hearts of new gamers, I believe that upgrading innovation that was will give life to other games, even games that were in the 80%-90% and upgrade them by an optional 15%, and be honest, what game maker would not love to be linked to making a 90%+ game? At present Ubisoft is seemingly proud of their 70% games (so are a few other makers mind you), so we can see the essential need of excellence in gaming, the question is who will bring it and with two new players (gaming providers) entering that field, answering those question becomes a lot more important as we (gamers in general) have had our fill of mediocre games.

Even now we see that as we still yearn for Elder Scrolls: Oblivion as well as Skyrim; I stated to Richard Garriott (the man behind the Ultima series) a while go, if we could get the Oblivion/Skyrim engine and create Sosaria to life, we would have a winner that could entice millions of gamers. Skyrim with over 30 million sold is clear evidence of that and the tales of Sosaria were founded on great story-lines and compelling interaction of personal choices and philosophical concepts. The entire Ultima line (story 4 and later) are all about eh seven virtues (Honesty, Justice, Honour, Sacrifice, Compassion, Spirituality and Humility), it would be the foundation of 6 games, each one surpassing the previous one and to see the evolution from isometric to first person would be the game changer for anyone who loved that story-line, in addition, the Elder Scrolls never did concepts to that degree, which is not their flaw, but it could be the strength of any new Ultima IP.

It is in that part where I see System Shock one and two, it was near perfect and it is still ready for a whole new generation of players. Especially when you consider that the original System Shock on floppy (yes there was a floppy version) was a mere 15Mb, and Metroid Prime on GameCube was less than 1.5Gb, whilst Goldeneye was a mere 64Mb, so as you can see size was never the deciding factor.

I believe that 2020 will be an interesting year for games and gamers. I believe that those relying on ridiculous large games and high resource requiring games (like a Core i9-9980XE) will find that their size issue gets thumbed by true playability and innovation setting the stage for much better games after that. Innovation remains a game changer for games and I wonder how much change we get to see in 2021-2022.

 

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