Five Video Game Foundations That Have Crumbled Away

As great as a physical game collection is, it is nothing when compared to being melted deep into the sofa, scrolling through a digital collection, making decisions about what to play without so much as moving the air in front of us.

As video games and the technology associated with them has evolved beyond any expectations I harboured as a wide-eyed video game loving kid, we have witnessed the demise of numerous aspects from our beloved hobby. Elements and hardware that seemed irreplaceable, now thrown to the wind never to be seen again.

The constant push for new leaps in graphical prowess, scope of world building, and an ever more intuitive online universe, has sent some of gaming’s seemingly immovable objects off to an early retirement.

What follows is a little jaunt down memory lane as we remember those fallen warriors of video game lore and legend. The seeming rock solid foundations of a growing global phenomenon, that crumbled to dust beneath the weight of advancing technology.

Anyone for joysticks?

The LAN Party

If there is one aspect from gaming culture that I will always lament the loss of, it’s the fabled LAN party. Long nights of gathered friends, consoles, old big back TV sets, wires strewn across alcohol soaked carpets, greasy snack smeared controllers, and the loud, brash, and bloody hilarious embracing of pure gaming indulgence. It was magic!

At a time when the online beasts of Xbox LIVE and the Playstation Network had yet to hatch, the only real way a group of friends could play together was to drag all their shit to a willing victim’s previously pristine living room, and turn it into a scene resembling Apocalypse Now.

The typical LAN set-up consisted of two or more consoles. In our case this was the old, and remarkably heavy, original Xbox, add in a couple of fat old TV sets, one of which was usually perched precariously on a plastic lawn chair or some other creaking support structure, a handful of controllers including some dodgy cheapo ones from the local discount store that had less control than a chubby kid in a sweet shop, cheap alcohol, crispy snacks, and wires. So…many…wires.

The set-up was an OCD sufferer’s nightmare, but for anyone with a love of social gaming it was pure heaven and the only real option.

The game of choice back in the day was generally Halo 2. The intense battles that played out in standard definition as friend fought friend across a wonderfully brutal battlefield will live long in my memory. The arguments, flung accusations about watching each others screens, about having the shitty controller, and about the game just basically being ‘bullshit!’, were wonderful and hilarious in equal measure. Evening became night, and night rolled sleepily into the light of a new day, whilst under the glow of burning lightbulbs and jaggy graphics, our merry band fought on, bleary-eyed and a little drunk.

Then the sands of time quickly shifted, and this vision was buried beneath the dust.

The LAN party has all but gone with the online gaming revolution, in fact for myself it has reached extinction. Yet, despite the new shape of multiplayer gaming I will always believe the video game  world is a little greyer and a little less friendly for the LAN’s demise. I’m always happy to embrace new technological leaps, but there are also things I will forever miss.

Although on the plus side, my carpets have never been cleaner.

The Joystick

Not just the joystick. The Kempston joystick! I have no idea why this has stuck so vividly in my mind when I barely remember the make of any other electronic or technological device I’ve encountered over the years, but there was something special about the old Kempston.

Joysticks of course are still knocking about, but where once they were the key to unlocking other worlds, now, at least in my own world, they have gone the way of the dinosaur. However, I do still miss them.

For a kid, these controllers were magical. They were a sign that the arcades were entering the home, and this was immensely exciting! The joy from four little suction cups on the base to hold them in place when the action got frantic, a couple of beautiful bright red buttons that simply screamed, ‘press me!’, a trigger ripe for the pulling on the stick itself, and in some cases another red beauty of a button sat on top of the thing was incredible. The joystick was about the most aptly named device I ever knew.

It felt as though we were in the cockpit with a joystick, it was real, and it was perfect for the escapist mind. It was a bit shit though for Daley Thompson’s Decathlon, but that’s not worth worrying about now, instead let’s remember the good days when frantic wiggling didn’t detach the thing from its suctioned grip and send you flying from your seat in a blur of intense motion and shock.

I no longer miss the joystick. The modern day equivalent is a thing of beauty and offers more control over our games than the old faithful could ever muster. But there was a moment in time where these things were the pinnacle of gaming power.

I grew up playing games on a joystick and it seemed like the most natural thing in the world. But, like so many other elements of gaming history, the idea now seems almost alien to me. Although there will always be that time where this coolest of gaming controllers had the aliens running for their lives.

Physical Copies of Games

Now I know this is a long way from being a thing of the past, but the ground is definitely, shifting. I originally approached the idea to deliver games straight to the hard drive of the console with deep scepticism. I loved my games collection, the boxes stacked high and wide upon the shelves emphasising just how serious I was about playing video games. I enjoyed the tactile nature of physical games, the artwork, the shine of the disc, and, the new game smell.

There was, and still is, something cool about having the games in a physical state rather than a digital one. However, my viewpoint has altered considerably. And I can only base this changing view on my own laziness. As great as a physical game collection is, it is nothing when compared to being melted deep into the sofa, scrolling through a digital collection, making decisions about what to play without so much as moving the air in front of us. It’s bloody lovely!

I have reached a point where I will sometimes not even bother playing a game because it would mean going to the shelf to grab the disc. Who wants to deal with that?

Digital downloaded games are superb. The fact that we now have to install games from disc to play them anyway means arguments regarding hard drive space have become redundant, and the reasons to pick up physical copies of games is dwindling further still. But, despite me having moved from sceptic to believer, I will still always take time to browse the games calling me into every game shop I wander by. I will always remember with fondness the massed ranks of my Xbox 360 and PS3 collection towering over everyone who entered our home, and I will endeavour to seek out a candle that comes with ‘new game’ scent. That is my holy grail.

Multi Console Wars

The battlefield of the console wars is littered with the carcasses of numerous pretenders to the throne. All marched in on a fanfare of expectation and hope, before succumbing, usually, to the fact they had forgotten to populate their all-conquering aspirations with anything resembling an army of games.

For a kid growing up when video games were becoming an ever more powerful media platform for the home, it was an exciting time. The console wars, or computer wars as they began, were not the two horse race we know today. Where now we have Microsoft and Sony, not so much duking it out, as throwing dirty looks at one other from a distance, and Nintendo off in their own little pacifist bubble, we once enjoyed outlandish new tribes marching to console war in the misguided belief they could topple the giants.

Spectrum, Amstrad, Commodore and Dragon marched against one another, although as I remember, Dragon realised they had left the gas one and beat a hasty retreat again. The kids took sides and pledged allegiance to the flag of whichever computer their parents had bought, and then came the consoles; Atari, Nintendo, Sega, and even Phillips challenged for the top spot. And again as a kid it was amazing!

There was nothing quite like the excitement of pawing through the latest gaming magazine and finding images and specs of a newly touted entrant in the console struggle. The Atari Jaguar facing off against the SNES and Mega Drive. The Sega Dreamcast looking like a real contender, only to be crushed under the ever increasing power wielded by Sony and their Playstation, and then the arrival of the superpower financial army that was Microsoft to prove a genuine threat to Sony’s new found dominance under the death of Sega and the retreat of Nintendo to calmer shores.

The whole thing has become something of a blur for me now. I only know that I wanted a Phillips 3DO, and I wanted an Atari Jaguar, and the Sega Mega CD, and the fact that everyone was pushing everyone else to go further with their tech was joyful for the bystander.

Now we don’t really have a console war anymore. Sony and Microsoft have their own spaces to play, and by and large they are near identical. Nintendo meanwhile are off doing their own thing. The chances of anyone being brave, or foolish enough to enter the fray with a new console seems beyond the realms of possibility. But, for a while, it was the greatest war that ever raged. Pointless of course, but pretty damned great all the same.

Memory Cards

Ah, the memory card. Here we have a little slice of tech that will confuse young gamers in the same way a cassette confuses young music fans. Yet not long ago, these little square unassuming bits of plastic were absolutely crucial in getting anything out of your games. Or at least in not having to go over the same damned section of game every time you boot up the console.

And using the memory card, wow, this was as strategic as any of the games that populated the era. What to keep, what to remove, and how best utilise the limited number of memory blocks was a constant conundrum. Throw two or three cards into the mix and it was time to phone Mensa.

I will always remember the joy I felt when hearing that the original Xbox would ship with a built in hard drive. I believe it was a mere 8gb, but at the time it felt as big as the universe. Suddenly the woes of small memory card storage, lost memory cards, and corrupted data on memory cards, was disappearing into the distance. The portable storage solution, and only solution if you planned to actually finish any of your games, was breathing its last. And I for one, was happy to usher it into the junk yard in the sky.

What’s this, what’s this, it’s really rather shit.
What’s this, what’s this, tech from the 16 Bit.

It seems a lifetime away now that we were so reliant on such storage options for our game saves, yet because of the unrelenting pace of technology, it was only a couple of console generations previous. The kids today don’t know they’re born. Lucky sods.

 

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