A Personal Look At The Evolution Of Gaming

Jonathan Lightfoot takes a look into his past to assess the evolution of gaming within recent years.

Over twenty years have passed since I first picked up a control pad, my eyes glued to the screen of a tiny TV as I played Sonic the Hedgehog for hours. It was frantic side-scrolling at its best. Its lengthy and complex levels were packed full of enemies and environmental hazards, not to mention all the collectables and power-ups you could collect along the way.

Sega’s hedgehog mascot made its triumphant debut early in the ’90s when gamepads had a total of about four buttons and the in-game music was just a series of beeps and boops. How far we’ve come since then…

Each successive generation of consoles has made its own leaps and bounds in terms of what the medium can accomplish. As a child, I was blown away by my early experiences with the Master System and the SNES, but even their accomplishments were dwarfed by what was to come. With the arrival of the PS1 and Nintendo 64, we got our first look at proper 3D designs. No longer were games restricted to minimalist and basic designs (not that there’s anything wrong with that!). Games like Metal Gear Solid and Final Fantasy VII were, at the time, complex and detailed in a way gamers had never seen before. Meanwhile, Nintendo gave us Super Mario 64, which took those old 2D levels and added that third vital dimension, turning a side-scrolling race to the finish into a vast world with unprecedented potential for exploration.

At the time, my admittedly naïve ten-year-old self could hardly envision anything better. But as new consoles arrived in the early 2000s, the hobby continued to evolve. Both Sony and Microsoft (the latter then being a newcomer to the industry) dabbled with online gaming, though it was the original Xbox that really got somewhere. With the likes of Halo, we were no longer limited to needing our friends in the same room to play multiplayer games. I’m not the most prolific of online players, but even to me, this development is still one of the most crucial in the history of gaming. With high-speed internet connections more accessible than they’ve ever been, it takes only a few moments for us to be playing our favourite games with people who live thousands of miles away. Though one unfortunate consequence of this has been the steady disappearance of local, offline multiplayer, what Sony and Microsoft started all those years ago has had an unparalleled effect on video games.

For all that the PlayStation 2, Xbox and Gamecube did, there was still room for growth. Looking back, the presentation of those games seems rigid and basic. With a few exceptions, it wasn’t until their successors that we began to see uncannily realistic character designs and highly detailed worlds to explore. Metal Gear Solid 3 and The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess may stand head and shoulders above the rest of their generation in terms of what was achieved with the technology, but the next group of consoles put even them to shame. There were a few hiccups early on – the deceptive Killzone 2 footage springs to mind – but consider games like The Last of Us. It’s an easy choice for an example, I know, but there’s no denying the quality of work that went into it. The characters are beautifully realistic, and no matter where you look the world of The Last Of Us is consistently daunting in just how well the developers portrayed a world that was well past its use-by date.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention my favourite new feature of the PS3/360/Wii generation: reliable and mainstream wireless controllers. It seemed little more than an amusing novelty at first, but whenever I go back to my older consoles I find myself missing the freedom. Adding new features to the pads has always been a little hit-and-miss; the DualShock 4’s touchpad seems woefully underutilised at this point in the PS4’s life, and its on-by-default speaker nearly made me jump out of my skin when I first picked up an audio file in Killzone: Shadow Fall, when it began blaring out of the pad. Wireless pads, though? Only for a few favourites can I give them up and play an older console without getting annoyed at all the inevitable tangled wires.

It remains to be seen how well recent developments like VR will fare in the long run. Either way, it’s another step in the long road of gaming’s evolution, and I’m excited to see what the future holds for it.

Just as I did as a child, I find it hard to predict what improvements are still to come. But I’m sure there will be plenty waiting for us.

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