Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Small Things that Changed Games

After years and years of evolution, videogames have changed a lot. If you compare the Atari 2600 or the PC equivalent of the early 80s and compare to today's machines, you can see everything changed. The graphics, sound, the controllers. Everything changed. But some of those changes were not made by great revolutions on tech or the raw rise of processing power. Some of those changes were done by relatively small things. Things like...

This was the most important part. Yes, it is after you expend dozens of hours in Final Fantasy

The memory card changed the way we play games. Before, you had to play games from beginning to end (with exceptions) all games you got. Some offered a password system allowing you to start a game from certain levels. But here was the catch: you would start with the basic equipment or that few three lives. Any power-up or extra live you got would be lost. And even if the cartridge had an internal battery, you usually would have only three save slots. And if you lent the game to a friend or your little sister played the game, you had the risk to discover they overwrite your save.

With memory cards, you could just lend the game and keeping your saves... safe. Also, you could buy as many as you could and keep all the saves you want. That amazing scene you liked so much? You could keep a save just to see it again and again.

Not only that, games could keep track on several things. It make possible to tell longer stories, as now developers couldn't need to fit their game to one afternoon of playing. Also, you could unlock some cool stuff and keep it. That cool gun you found? It will not be wiped out because you need to sleep.

If you don't know him, GTFO!
Voice acting seems something that made no difference for gaming. But it did. For more that they tried to convey emotion through text boxes, it is not like hearing the character truly mourning the death of a friend or hearing the soldiers yelling orders at each other. Voice acting start in games mostly as amateurish and laughable, but today it is serious business and can make or break a game. Even famous actors today lend their voices to game characters.

Again, one seemingly small change make a huge impact. Try to imagine a game like God of War or Bioshock without any voices. Hardly the same effect.

The one on the right. It is him.
The second analog stick today seems a no-brainer. No controller today is released without it or at least a substitute to his function. 3D games would never be what it is without a second analog, allowing you to look around the environment. Racing games allowed to control the acceleration and breaking forces being applied. Camera control saved several players from certain death by allowing you to put it the best way possible.

But the main change, it allowed exploration. You could now turn the camera towards that amazing building. See a hidden chest in a corner. Again, a small change at first, but today games with fixed cameras are despised by most gamers, specially after trying to make that jump and the camera changing midair, together with the control orientation.


  1. what i liked most about yo... lemme back up..
    i found your site by googling something like.. controllers over the years... . .. where was i.

    so what i liked about your post is that its not the same stuff ive read before. i cant recall anyone sayin anything about the game saves, but yeah.. thats super important. it gives the ability to make the point of the game be about immersion or story telling rather than a super hard arcade like quarter muncher.

    about controllers themselves.. you have to mention that everything we know and love about controllers came from nintendo. from how we hold them, to an analog stick, to rumble, to shoulder buttons, to the diamond layout...

    the only thing i can think of that they didnt do is the turn-off-the-console-from-controller first. it debuted with the wii, but xbox360 had mentioned it first i believe. and the kinect/you-are-the-controller, though arguably thats just an off shoot of the wii-mote waggle tech.

    what do you think the future will hold now that ninty has a touchscreen on every controller with the coming of the wii-u?

  2. I think the touchscreen is interesting, but I am not sure if the developers will use it as a main input, but to easy access to things like inventory and messages. But I am curious to see it. It can be very interesting.


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