Monday, June 10, 2013

E3 Special: "I Got Your Backwards Compatibility Right Here!"

It’s E3 again this week, and this has to be the first year when I really don’t care what they announce. As I started covering in my Bad at Games features, I used to love video games. There was a time when I did little else except watch little pixels fly about the screen. My childhood was filled with video games, playing in my little room, headphones on, listening to music because the bleeps of the game didn’t really matter - well, they certainly didn't when you had a ZX Spectrum. 

All that changed over the last couple of years when I realised what I was doing. The big releases were all the same – run into a room, shoot everything, move onto the next room. The only thing I found interesting to play was Rock Band, and that time has passed for most of the world.

Then along comes the new console releases from the big-boys – the Playstation 4, and the XBox One. And you know what? I don’t really care at all. New hardware that isn’t compatible with anything I have – what a great idea. All those games I’ve kept because I love them – GTAIV, Red Dead Redemption, and even Halo. Can’t play them on the new console thanks to a new operating system.

And the hardware I’ve bought. Rock Band guitars, drums, microphones, drum-stools, mic-stands – every incarnation of Rock Band… The Kinect sensor, the Lips mics, the Scene It buzzers… all hunks of useless plastic when the new XBox comes out. They’ll all be worth about £2.50 when you try to trade them in as well, because no one will want them. The hardcore shoot-em-up gamer will have bought the new consoles without thinking and they’ll have no need for these peripherals anyway.

So I guess I’ve been well and truly XBoned. 

Backwards Compatibility

You know what IS backwards compatible though?


Okay, so there are always new versions of games coming out. The market leader of the roleplaying game hobby is previewing its Fifth Edition at GenCon this year. But still, five editions (well, more than that if you count revisions an 0.5’s) in forty years is pretty good. The other biggies like Vampire has revised once or twice (if you count the recent nWoD update), and sometimes game systems change altogether – I’m one of the biggest culprits of this both in my GMing and professionally (after all, I was behind the massive change to the game system of Conspiracy X, stripping out the old game system and plugging in Unisystem). 

But you know what? You’re not forced into the changes. Because the game’s operating system is the most powerful one on the planet – your brain. If you were a hardcore Conspiracy X player and didn’t like Unisystem, but wanted the updates to the setting – you buy the new books and keep playing with the old system. Nothing is stopping you. 

You want to play D&D but prefer 1st Edition to 4th, but quite like the adventures and the settings of the newer games? You keep using 1st Edition rules, and with a little tweaking by the Dungeon Master, the new information can be plugged right in. 

Campaign Length

One of the regular gripes about roleplaying games is the price. It’s an odd one, really when you think about it. Let’s look at a couple of examples (and excuse the UK pricing).

The core set for the 11th Doctor edition of Doctor Who: Adventures in Time and Space is £39.99. Sure, that’s a lot, but it’s the same price as BattleCall of Halo 4. Let’s look at one of the heavy hitters of the games industry of the last few months – Bioshock Infinite. There main game itself takes around 10-15 hours to complete, so that’s already double most of the shooters out there (your average Halo / Call of Duty campaign is around 6-8). And then what?

GTA Multiplayer lobby.
To quote Nine Inch Nails - "Where is everybody?"
It’s kinda over. Most of the shooters have the online multiplayer that’ll give you hours and hours of the same rooms, and repetitive gunfire, or watching the screen while you wait to respawn if you’re as good at FPSs as I am. And if you find a game that you really love, there’s a good chance that the rest of the world may give up on it and leave you behind. My favourite multiplayer video game? Grand Theft Auto IV, especially GTA Race. Sure people still play it now, but I have to sit in a lobby for ten-twenty minutes until the few people around the globe who still play the game decide to log on. 

Once that wait becomes too much, or if they retire multiplayer servers for that game, it’s over. You can play the campaign again, but the villains appear at the same moments, you know what’s coming and it’s all a bit linear.

Tabletop gaming however, going back to the Doctor Who core set, you’re given a main adventure to get you going that’ll take about three or four sessions to play (so you’re looking around 9-12 hours for the basic adventure). Then you have a couple of smaller adventures that you can run, or expand into something bigger. There’s 6-12 hours there on top. And in addition to of all that, there’s a host of little story ideas that you can turn into adventures that’ll last you another… oh, I dunno… you could run a 4-6 hour game a week and still have a year’s worth of gaming there. 

Then, when you run out, you can just make up your own! Go onto one of the many fan sites and download some free adventures, and you don’t need to buy anything else!

You can stop playing for a year, put it on the shelf, and if you fancy a game with some friends, you can dust the game off and play any time you like. The servers for it aren’t going to be shut down from lack of use. You won’t have to go onto a new system or download countless updates. You can just play.

On that subject…

Downloadable Content.

DLC seems to be a big part of the video games industry. The big companies have realised that you don’t need to give everything to the gamer in one package. You can hold some of it back and release it for more money later.

Sure, this happens in RPGs too, but in most cases the additional material is being held back purely because of the cost of producing the game. Imagine if Doctor Who was all in one game – every possible creature from 50 years of Doctor Who… the game would be massive. And cost so much that you wouldn’t want to buy it. Or be able to carry it...

It’s another thing when video games companies put the content on the disk and just not let you access it until you’ve coughed up some extra cash. That’s just not on.

Anyway, back to the point. If you want to download a new map for Call of Duty, that’s fine. It adds a bit more multiplayer. In some cases, there are expansions to the single player campaign – and in some rare cases this expansion is huge and fantastic (I’m looking at you GTAIVLost and the Damned, and The Ballad of Gay Tony showing you how DLC should be done).

The same can be done with tabletop RPGs. Expansions, with new rules and settings are common, as well as extensive campaigns and adventures. But you know what’s controversial? You don’t have to buy the expansion for the game you’re playing.

I know, it’s a surreal concept. But imagine you’re playing World of Darkness and fancy something a bit different. You could buy a Call of Cthulhu supplement, or adventure, and run that with it with just a few system tweaks. I own many supplements for games that I don’t have the core set for. It’s a bit like downloading a map pack for Halo and being able to use them in Call of Duty.

Radical, huh?

Anyway, the first big seminars from E3 are about to start, and I'll be watching - hoping to be surprised. I'm not saying roleplaying games are better than video games, or vice versa. But when you're frustrated by the new announcements from E3 or from the new console launches, just remember tabletop gaming. It gets your brain working, it's social without just being a mass of insults on headsets, and it survives the tests of time.

Until next time, stay multiclassy!


Caroline said...

"it's social without just being a mass of insults on headsets" unless your at our gaming sessions where it's a mass of insults (all in good fun) but without the headsets. And then there's the occasional thrown dice just for good measure.

Anonymous said...

Yes, spot on. I agree completely. but I have been saying this for years - and commence flames from Bragi and Fordy complaining I'm just crap at video games. Tee hee.

Yes Frankie. Your mind keeps opening it up, but it doesn't have to be one or the other - on-line international role-playing with shared maps and secret messages is here and has been for a while.

Milo. xxx