Games haven’t improved for ten years

Opinion The games industry is lazy and hasn’t innovated anything major for the best part of ten years. It depends on gullible users who have had their critical faculties surgically removed and uses pathetic tricks to conceal the underlying feebleness of its products.

Now, before you reach for your green crayons to scrawl yet another complaint, let me elucidate.

The underlying technology on which games are built has improved immeasurably in the last decade. Go back another ten years and the difference is even more marked. When I played my first computer game – on a million dollar mainframe in 1972 – it was a text-based lunar lander simulator using a Teletype.

Yet despite the complete absence of graphics (unless you put a colored ribbon in the Teletype), Lunar Lander was compelling stuff. It relied on you using your imagination – a bit like reading a book or listening to the radio. These days, paying megabucks for an electronic version of a novel would obviously be commercial suicide. Amazon take note.

If we move on to the late 1990s, we find that a lot has changed. First there are PCs and second, there are sophisticated graphics. Those PCs, although powered by humble 350MHz Pentium IIs, are several orders of magnitude more powerful than the 1970s mainframe and the games have moved on by leaps and bounds to make use of the extra power available.

At the time, I was working for Intel and was involved in the launch of the Pentium 3, aka Katmai.

We engaged a number of games manufacturers to provide demos showcasing not only Screaming Sindy’s Extensions, but the arcane and mysterious Katmai New Instructions.

One such outfit was Rage Software, now sadly deceased. Rage provided demos of Incoming and an early prototype of a game called Dispatched, which as far as I know never actually saw the light of day. Dispatched featured a strangely-arousing cat riding a jet powered motorcycle. The first version I saw was running on a 400MHz Katmai and was still in wireframe. It was bloody impressive.

Later iterations of the demo featured the first use of lens flare, smoke and particle illumination. This and realistic running water showed just how far we’d come.

Now fast-forward to the present and what do we have? CPUs and graphics cards that are as far ahead of those of a decade ago as the 1980s were of that ’70s mainframe.

But the games are just the same old crap.

Where is the quantum leap in realism and creativity that so impressed ten years ago? 

We still have the same old Doom-alike dark backgrounds, relieving game designers from having to bother drawing proper scenery. Characters still move with the grace of an arthritic ninety year old and, to draw attention away from the general awfulness of the game, things explode every ten seconds or so for no obvious reason other than to make people ooh and aah as if they were at a firework display.

Is Call of Duty really the best games designers can come up with considering the amount of compute and graphics rendering power available to them today? I’m talking about the actual gameplay, not the demos designed to make you hand over the cash.

Where are the photo-realistic, HD games we should have in the 21st century? Why are we still playing an updated version of Hover – possibly the dullest game ever created – that shipped with Windows 95?

Why do gamers pay silly money for liquid nitrogen cooled, dual graphic carded, black edition processor machines with kilowatt power supplies to play games that are, quite frankly, a bloody disgrace?

It’s like paying thousands of bucks for a giant HD plasma TV – what’s the point if the only programs you can watch are re-runs of the Lucy Show and Sabrina the Teenage Witch?

I put it to you, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, that the games industry is incapable of innovating any more. It has reached an evolutionary dead end. No amount of large explosions and Dolby 7.1 surround sound can cover up the fact that games designers have simply run out of ideas.

Even the most average desktop PC today has the compute and graphics power of a high-end gaming rig from a few years back. The hardware is there, where are the designers with the skill and creativity to make use of it? Will we still be playing derivatives of Doom and Incoming in 2019?

I won’t, I’ll be reading a book. Printed on paper.