Believe it or not, it's been eight years since Microsoft kicked off the previous generation of video games by releasing the Xbox 360 and it's safe to say that we've come a very long way. The last generation provided gamers with a variety of exciting new franchises, from Bioshock to Assassin's Creed, as well as a slew of new ways to play, from Nintendo's popularization of motion controls to Microsoft's groundbreaking Kinect. We all have our fair share of memories related to this last generation, so we thought we'd take some time to reflect and relate them to you. We also asked admins from some of our most active communities to let us know what this last generation meant to them and their fandom.
When it comes to Fallout fans, I’m somewhat of an oddity. I played the originals pretty soon after they came out (initially bribed with “it's got McGyver in it”) and as many know the “Classic Fallout” fan typically doesn’t think much of Fallout 3. As I emerged from the Vault for the first time, however, I couldn’t help but wonder if this was the way Fallout was always meant to be. Immersed in the wastes, surrounded on all sides by a wrecked tribute to Disney’s Tomorrowland.
The last generation of consoles allowed us almost photo-realistic worlds for the first time, allowing us us to truly feel a part of them. Whereas games had managed to go into the first person over the last couple of generations, this is the first time, for me at least, it almost looked real.
While there are many valid criticisms of Fallout 3 and the later New Vegas, one thing it can’t be faulted for is actually putting you right there, where everything is happening, at a level that simply wasn’t possible before.
I cant help but wonder, as I hear people recount their own stories of amazement as they emerged from the vault if this was the kind of experience Tim Cain and the original Fallout team were dreaming they could have give us at the time.
With the last generation, I truly believe we finally saw what the old greats of gaming were dreaming of as they hammered away at the computer, trying to trick machines into showing just one more color, or one more sprite, or hurriedly trying to optimize and slim down their code so they could allow just one more character or level. I can’t help but wonder if we finally got console games the way they were always meant to be played.
...And it makes me wonder: where on earth do we go from here?
This past console generation is finally coming to close, at eight years of quality gaming time. It’s really difficult to remember all the details of the early days, as I experienced a nonstop rush of quality games. The first year of the Xbox 360 was defined by visiting a close friends house. He was lucky enough to pick the console up at launch. After the first year, the inevitable happened: I witnessed my first ‘must-have’ game that caved me into purchasing the 360 for myself: Rainbow Six: Vegas.
The early joy of the Xbox 360 was defined for me by the online competitive multiplayer. For that one year, I was stuck on Rainbow Six Vegas,. The year after, Halo 3 was released. I still remember the day Halo 3 came out: I was sitting in detention while my friends were waiting in line to pick it up (I had thrown a pencil into a ceiling tile at school at the wrong time) The first-person shooters of the Xbox 360 hooked me: BioShock, F.E.A.R., Left 4 Dead, and The Orange Box were my favorites.
After that I tapped into the 360’s limited JRPG pool, thoroughly enjoying Eternal Sonata and Tales of Vesperia when I got around to them. Western RPGs managed to completely steal my time away, as I sunk about 100 hours into both Elder Scrolls: Oblivion and Fallout 3. I would never own a PlayStation 3 or a Wii during this time, due to lack of funds since I was a measly high school student. However, I was able to experience plenty of amazing PS3 and Wii games once I got roommates in college. I remember 20 people crammed into a tiny dorm room to watch Metal Gear Solid 4, from start-to-finish, like a movie. And I vaguely remember the countless nights of playing our drinking game variation of Mario Kart Wii, dubbed “40dio Kart”.
Halo Reach would be my mistress for way too long, as I would long nearly 400 hours into it’s multiplayer alone, reaching the rank of Hero. My senior year of college was defined by everyone in my six-person house starting a character in Dark Souls. I still remember the goosebumps I felt when I crossed the border into Mexico in Red Dead Redemption for the first time.
Reflecting back on it all, this past console generation was really defined by sharing some incredible gaming moments with other people. Whether they were my best friends or the thousands of people I’d meet for 10 minutes during a Halo match. Even single-player games were transformed into group experiences for me. Friends would introduce me to their game collections, and willingly share whatever I was interested in. It led to more critical discussions about the games we played, and that was truly something I never experienced before.
As an admin of the Halo wiki and a “veteran” Halo fan I’ve watched the Halo franchise evolve over the years from its original release with Halo: Combat Evolved back in 2001 all the way up to, and probably beyond, Halo 5. Since that original release, Halo has transitioned from console to console getting better with each stage. While I still have reservations about 343i’s new take on the franchise, it cannot be argued that the work done by Bungie, Ensemble Studios, and now 343i have been nothing less than huge technical feats and visually captivating games. Despite being an Xbox exclusive, Halo is a title well known throughout the gaming world and has now become a household name.
Although most people would argue the best bits of Halo were on the original Xbox with Halo: Combat Evolved and Halo 2, I believe the real fun was with the Xbox 360 generation! Within the space of one console generation Halo saw the arrival of five new titles, multiple best-selling novels, and the long-time fan awaited feature length Halo film. Halo’s community flourished with big time multiplayer titles like Halo 3, Halo: Reach, and Halo 4, in which “MLG”, “tea-bagging”, and “cappin’ bombs” would enter the average fan’s lexicon, but also saw ingenious diversions from the standard linear shooter genre Halo was famed for, with Halo Wars and Halo: ODST. And who can forget the infamous hand off from Halo’s beloved creators, Bungie, to Microsoft’s makeshift studio, 343 Industries?
In fairness, 343i stepped into some pretty big shoes and it was wrong of the community to expect another Bungie classic with a dead story line and the loss of some of Halo’s best writers (<not that that excuses them for the abomination that was Halo: Legends), but what they lacked in story writing they made up for in game design. Halo 4 really pushed the 360 to its limit with some of the most breath taking world building that even Bungie would be proud of, and their multiplayer is one of the best in the series. As a fan I was let down by 343i’s attempt at Halo 4, they dragged the story in the wrong direction destroying some of Halo’s most beloved and influential characters along the way (no not Cortana, Dr. Halsey …), but with most of the mechanics already laid down, the release of next generation technology, and more time to fire their writing staff -- hint hint -- I feel that the rest of the saga can only get better returning to its original and expected glory.
Has it really been 8 years? When the 360 and PS3 came out, I was still in college, sleeping on a mattress I found on the sidewalk, writing long boring essays about Nabokov, and living on a strict diet of ramen and beans. To be fair I didn’t actually purchase a 360 until a few years after it had been out, owing to the previously mentioned sidewalk mattress and ramen lifestyle. Once I had though, I already had a big backlog of games to tear through: the original Modern Warfare,Dead Rising, and one of my favorites, Mass Effect. At the time, the PS3 wasn’t even an option for me, what with it’s higher price tag and weaker exclusive games. That changed over time of course, and you would soon find me mooching off my roommate’s PS3, trying to cram as many hours into Demon’s Souls as I could before they got home.
As we move into the next generation I can’t imagine anyone will look back on the PS3 and 360 era as anything other than excellent. While there were certainly bumps along the way, the RROD epidemic and PSN’s security breach immediately come to mind, the sheer number of excellent games, easy connectivity with friends, and the utility of having a multimedia streaming device built in, have forever changed what the world expects from video game consoles. These were the first systems to truly utilize high speed internet, and they’ve made gaming a much more connected experience. While curmudgeonly cave trolls like myself might argue this isn’t always a good thing, it’s certainly here to stay.
As someone who plays games primarily for their stories and the excitement of discovering new worlds, this past generation of gaming has provided me with some truly amazing experiences.
I couldn't write about my reflections about this console if I didn't mention Dragon Age: Origins. It was the game that reinvigorated my love of Western RPGs (and the one that got me into editing wikis). When I heard that BioWare was going back to its roots and creating a spiritual successor to Baldur's Gate, I was hopeful, but so worried about being disappointed by something that didn't feel like a "real" RPG. Thankfully, all those worries were unfounded. The setting for this world is beautifully realised with some of sharpest written party banter I can recall hearing. It was so much fun playing a Western RPG updated for the modern times.
Another of BioWare's games where the combination of characters and setting really appealed to me was Mass Effect 2. As much as I love playing the classical swords and sorcery style of RPGs it was so refreshing to take great characters, interesting class progression, a deep story and apply that to the genre of science fiction.
When it comes to discovering a new world, it's hard to go past the behemoth that is Skyrim, even though I still haven't quite managed to finish it. Whenever I think I've finally seen it all, I turn a corner and there's another dungeon to explore, or a book I haven't read yet. It's a monumental achievement to create a game like this and I truly feel as though I was exploring a country, not just a series of zones.
I also would like to mention the impression that BioShock made on me. It was perhaps the most intriguing story and most thought provoking setting I encountered in this generation of games. The idea for the setting was very new to me and the world was so beautifully designed. The gradual reveal of where you were and how it came to be in that state through the use of audio logs and the brief encounters with other survivors was done masterfully and the final reveal left me speechless. I think it's a game that makes a strong case that games can be the premier medium for storytelling in modern times.
These games just could not have existed in the same way or with the same level of quality if they were built on earlier technology. This generation of technology allowed developers access to the tools needed to create the excellent gameplay and graphics that helped these narratives shine. I am sure that these (and plenty of other games) will stand the test of time and still be looked on as great games in the future.
I honestly think that it’s about time we put the last generation to rest and calmly push on towards bigger and better things. Which isn’t to say I had a bad time last with the last round of consoles — quite the contrary, actually. it’s just that it’s been such a long time — seven or eight years! — since console gamers have been able to wrap their hands around new hardware and, for a number of reasons, things are beginning to feel pretty stale.
My brother actually received an Xbox 360 shortly after it’s November 2005 launch for his birthday, and while he seemed content with Perfect Dark Zero and Call of Duty 2, I chose to spend the year finishing up some neglected PS2 games and waiting for something else. I ended up picking up a Wii during my first semester at college and fondly remember making my way through The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess between midterms throughout the duration of the terrible Chicago winter. Except for Zelda, games in early 2007, much like all of 2006, proved to be a bit of a wash for me, personally, though Xbox 360 owners celebrated the release of The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion and Gears of War, while PS3 gamers made their way through Resistance and Little Big Planet.
It was Halo 3, Bungie’s first Halo offering for Microsoft's new box, that finally pushed me to buy an Xbox 360. That fall and winter marked one of my favorite eras in my gaming history as I slogged through Halo 3’s campaign, logged countless hours in multiplayer, and spent too many sleepless nights voraciously devouring Mass Effect, Bioshock, and Valve’s The Orange Box. It was a seemingly simple Wii game starring a world-famous plumber, however, that really marked the beginning of the generation for me. Super Mario Galaxy's stunning synthesis of boundless scope, intricate level design, colorful graphics, and revolutionary motion controls made for an experience that felt unlike anything I’d ever played before.
I enjoyed a wide variety of games after 2008, from Dishonored to Fallout 3 to The Last of Us to World of Goo, but those long winter nights, switching between Bioshock, Half Life 2, and Halo 3 team deathmatch, stand out as some of my most cherished gaming memories of all time.
The seventh generation of home consoles has been a long and bloody one. Like every other generation, there’s been highs and lows. Unlike previous ones however, we’ve seen huge leaps in how we purchase and play games. There’s been huge advances and features added to each, as our standard of gaming increases. This generation has offered a huge library of masterpieces and big sellers, which will surely be remembered as classics, if they’re not already. The life cycle of these consoles aren’t over yet, and we’ve already gotten games such as BioShock, The Last of Us, Dragon Age: Origins, Fallout 3, Uncharted 2, Wii Fit, Halo 3, The Walking Dead, and many others. In just one console generation, we’ve seen three Uncharted titles, four Saints Row games, four epic open-world Bethesda adventures, six Assassin’s Creeds, the original Mass Effect trilogy, the birth (and possibly the death of) the Dead Space franchise, four Gears of War games, three different entries in the Souls franchise, the rise of Call of Duty, and the death of the rhythm genres.
For those who play on PlayStation systems, this was the first time we got an actual universal online account system, one that carries over across every game. For both Microsoft and Sony, we saw an increased focus on multiplayer titles, especially with the success of games such as Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, Gears of War, and Halo 3. This was also the generation that brought forth downloadable content. Sure, there were expansion packs and the like before, but we now have a large variety of DLC, from expansion packs like Shivering Isles, to cheap costume packs in Borderlands 2, to expandalone titles like Blood Dragon and Undead Nightmare. Though many larger publishers refuse to sell anything that doesn’t have the potential to become a huge million-dollar franchise, we’ve also seen the rise of indie games, and smaller titles that may not otherwise exist in the retail-only market that existed one generation prior. Games like Journey, Case Zero, Outland, Bastion, Limbo, Braid, and many others are games that wouldn’t have any place on the Xbox and PS2.
We also saw a lot of these ideas abused, as some rather negative trends began popping up. Add-ons like Shivering Isles, Ballad of Gay Tony, and Lair of the Shadow Broker are enough to justify the existence of downloadable content. However, the downside of this is DLC that isn’t even downloaded. Instead, we pay to unlock parts of the disc that are locked off from players. Instead of going all-out to create an incredible game, developers started stripping once-accepted features and selling them for extra. Now we have Uncharted 3’s multiplayer going “free-to-play”, and Dead Rising 2 getting an add-on for cheat codes. Suddenly, the word “downloadable content” doesn’t feel all the appropriate when the content for which you are paying is already in the game. Do we really need to pay money to switch around a few digits at the top of the screen? Isn’t that what cheats are for?
A lot of these titles and concepts are ingrained into the fabric of gaming culture, but it’s important to realize that these are still fairly new. So which console did it better? Who is the real “winner” here? Looking at worldwide sales, it’s fairly clear that Wii dominated the competition by entering the mainstream. The Wii was a console for gamers and non-gamers alike. If you’re wondering why so many games are “casualised”, this is probably a big contributor. What about the other big two? In the sixth generation, Sony was the undisputed king of the console war. The PlayStation 2 was the best console of that generation, and is arguably still one of the greatest consoles ever made. However, this clearly wasn’t the case with its successor, the PlayStation 3. Sony came in late, with the most expensive console on the market. Xbox 360 on the other hand, was the cheaper system, and from personal experience, it was always the console that your friends had. It was an extremely social console, with intensely competitive multiplayer titles such as Halo, Gears of War, and Left 4 Dead. It also got first dibs on a lot of exclusives, meaning gamers on the 360 could get their hands on Mass Effect, BioShock, Fable, and all of Bethesda’s love before anyone on the PS3. However, when it came to worldwide sales, Xbox 360 came in last place, but only barely. Despite its extremely rocky start, the PS3 pulled through with a free online service, and a premium service that offered a lot more than Microsoft’s. However, Microsoft and Sony won out in each of their respective countries, though Sony and Nintendo’s dominance in Japan are to such an extent that Microsoft has delegated it to a second-tier country.
So who won? Well, no one and everyone. Depending on how you look at it, you could declare a winner for any of the big three, but what matters is that all three were able to coexist in a highly competitive market. If we had a clear, decisive winner from the get-go, the real loser would have been the customer. The next generation starts in only a few days, but that doesn’t mean that this one ends there. To put it into perspective, the last PlayStation 2 game just came out this year, almost seven whole years after its successor launched. Though some have declared this console generation over a long time ago, saying we’ve tapped out the potential of these machines. However, with no backwards compatibility, and great games such as Metal Gear Solid V and Dark Souls II on the horizon, I don’t think these consoles are going anywhere soon.
That said, we don't want to get too entangled in the cobwebs of nostalgia, so we're also looking into the future, offering up our thoughts and feelings about the next generation, in a companion series called Horizons.
Of course, we'd love to hear what you have to say about the recent video game generation -- feel free to chime in via the comments!