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Retro revival: what’s the future of gaming?

Gaming tech has come a long way in a short space of time, but what will the future look like? Is the retro revival here to stay? Our guest shares his thoughts.

What’s the future of gaming? Writer and voice actor Mike Paul takes a look in the first of a two-part feature for Which? Conversation.

This is a guest post by Mike Paul. All views expressed are Mike’s own and not necessarily shared by Which?. 

As many of us cradle our lost childhood like a melting snowman, I want to take a moment to take a look at gaming’s trend towards the past, and how the future might look between now and 2030.

Like most other entertainment mediums, gaming can be reflective of the society that’s playing. The 80s featured hard-hitting techno, flashing neon lights and frantic button-tapping.

The 90s were cool and kick-ass; gamers took control of Sonic, Guile, Duke Nukem, and that guy from Doom… whatever his name was.

The interconnected noughties saw the proper rise of online gaming – MMORPGs and gigantic open worlds to get lost in… as an alternative to the less appealing one outside.

Then the 2010s built on this further and even blurred the lines with the introduction of games such as Pokémon Go, which took us to augmented reality fantasy lands filled with creatures that at least behave like they want to be your friends.

Based on this evidence, living in massive shared online worlds and constantly staring at your phone is the way things seem to be going.

Are retro games the new ‘new’?

One modern gaming trend, other than having to constantly interact with other people during the time I’m trying to spend by myself, is renewed affection for the simpler retro games of the 1990s.

In 2020, we have a whole generation of people in their late 30s and early 40s who grew up gaming on the 32- and 64-bit marvels of Sega and Nintendo. But while the spirit to mercilessly hunt down their friends for hours on Goldeneye still burns within them, most simply don’t have time any more. 

For some, the speed and simplicity of opening and closing a laptop for a nip of familiar retro action is the only way to squeeze in a half-hour session between making dinner and changing nappies.

If you’ve got a young family, you probably haven’t got an Xbox, and if you do, I’d wager it’s the most expensive drinks coaster in your house.

Some retro aficionados claim they stay in the past because modern games have become too cinematic, too grand in scale, and they can’t find the room to get into them – but I don’t buy that.

If you ask me, enormous RPG wonderlands such as Assassin’s Creed, Grand Theft Auto and the Elder Scrolls series are like watching a Netflix box set: you’re meant to enjoy them gradually. Though I suppose you could binge one if you got stuck at your parents’ house for a week with only the cat for company.

On the other hand, I can see that watching an episode from season six of The Simpsons when you’ve got a quiet 20 minutes between screaming children and a flooding dishwasher is the equivalent of a quick nostalgia session on Championship Manager 2001/02.

You just load up your save, fail to sign a few players, play a couple of matches, lose the will to live, and PING! The chicken nuggets are done. Lid down, game over, back to reality.

Retro is always in, following roughly 20-year cycles as it does, but in gaming, it’s never been more in than it is right now.

Easy to pick up, easy to put down, quicker victories, and – crucially – absolutely no obligation to talk to another living soul for the entire time you’re playing. Sign me up.

Mobile gaming, you might note, is picking up on a similar thread – but more about that next time.

The distant future

So, what of the roaring twenty-twenties? One prediction is that virtual reality will take over the decade, but I reckon it could take some time to develop beyond its current, relatively simplistic state.

The Red Dwarf-style fully immersive VR experience where you’re in serious danger of becoming someone you actually like is still a lot more than ten years away, if you ask me.

No, I think the early stages of 2020 are going to see yet more movement towards easy, mobile, browser-based gaming that can take place across multiple platforms, not forcing gamers to do old-fashioned things like own a PlayStation or sit in a chair.

Who wants to do that when you can run down the street with your phone, eh?

I will make one bold prediction for the 2020s before I go: the next generation of consoles, including the Playstation 5 and Xbox Series X, will be the last.

What do you think will happen in gaming and its associated tech by 2030?

This was a guest post by Mike Paul. All views expressed were Mike’s own and not necessarily shared by Which?.

Mike will be back on Which? Conversation next week to present a timeline of gaming technology from the last 40 years.

Comments
DerekP says:
9 March 2020

I’m waiting to see whether or not Half Life Alyx will be as revolutionary as the original Half Life was.

“Naughties”! What have I missed? “Noughties”, surely?

Thanks, Paul.

Gaming is an open-ended topic so anything is possible.

Ah, that reminds me of that fine early PC adventure game “Leisure Suit Larry” and its various sequels.

Fixed! Thanks both – should have spotted that!

All very true about stealing 20 minutes unless your kid gets into games as well. All of a sudden you realise that there is a piece of kit in your house that your 7 year old can use but you have never used it yourself! Yes – I have a child who is deep into Pokemon games. 😉

I would go as far to say that Pokemon Red/Blue/Yellow are among the best games of all time.

He plays games with daddy at home and Pokémon go with me when we are out. I’m always impressed with his problem solving skills with puzzle type games. He sees things in a completely different way that helps!

Abby, your son would probably enjoy Lemmings. A puzzle-solving 90’s game that was great fun.
v

I’d forgotten about Lemmings! 🙂

wev says:
10 March 2020

Gaming

and no mention of real D&D?

Anyway by 2030, most of the world will be on Threadripper 1000 or whatever AMD has out. Everyone will still be waiting for Star Citizen, and real mmos like World of Warcraft and Black Desert Online will still be going

I really struggle to get into modern games now because of the constant hand-holding the game engine does to make ‘cool stuff’ happen that just doesn’t feel natural. It can feel more like you’re completely surplus to the action, occasionally being asked to press or tap a button to get to the next cool-looking set piece that will happen no matter which route you decide to take.

Don’t get me wrong, games now look stunning and are incredible technical achievements, but the retro games I grew up with felt like they required significantly more skill and close control to get to the end of a level.

Completely get you. I’ve tried with a few, but it just didn’t hook me in the same way – but they’re hugely popular (and £50 a pop!) so must be doing something right still.

Also interesting to see how much places like CEX are paying for retro games – now that’s definitely a topic for another day!

After Oblivion, I found several RPGs that were dumbed down, just point your player in the right direction and they would climb a wall or shoot your arrow in roughly the right direction and the game mechanics would decide whether it hit the mark or not. It took all the skill and fun out of the games.

My husband was saying exactly that until he started a game recently that he can’t play with the kid around because of the language that comes out of his mouth while playing it! 😀

I enjoyed driving a train in a simulator and have crashed a few planes in my time, but the serious gaming passed me by. I was too old for the launch of many aimed at teens and twenties, and never actually got into the genre. Much was quite violent with armies, lots of guns and lots of killing and I never liked these. Strategy games have been a serious part of two of my nephews’ lives. They use their considerable intelligence to play against the world and take part in tournaments. This is like playing chess as opposed to ‘shoot ’em up’ and building a Roman fortress to keep out the Saxon hordes.
Perhaps it is my current age and outlook, but recently life has become a little bit more real, with Brexit, Virus, surreal politics and the Middle East taking charge of events. In the past we seemed to have dealt with these things and have moved on. Gaming was fun and one could escape. Now reality makes this more difficult.
The actual gaming still relies on a screen, a keyboard of some sort or a touch screen and a powerful computer to make things happen smoothly. The actual reality of what’s on screen has improved so that it is virtual reality. I don’t see that developing much more, there’s no where to go. Regarding games, again most genres are out there and any new ones must be related to them, so I don’t see much change there, either. New youth will take over from the time strapped middle agers and they will be enthused by the same thrills. Strategy games, with physical props and cards are well developed and, again there is a limit to what one can do except trade, bargain, plan and activate and counter-activate to stay ahead. The computer hardware is limited to buttons pressed, sliders to slide and screens to swipe and ergonomic consoles that work with proprietary games. All these are well developed and new ones will be a different shape but still perform these tasks for the next generation. To summarise, I believe games and strategies will pass from generation to generation, but in their advanced state not much will change either in plots and story lines and not much will change in what the player does to play. Interaction may improve, if the internet doesn’t crash and criminalise itself into destruction in the meantime.

Was it really 30 years ago I was playing Monkey Island?

@mpaul Hubby reading this over my shoulder and is intrigued – why do you think the next generation of games consoles will be the last?

Could it be all game-play will be live streaming?

Playing games on a mobile might be fashionable at the moment, but surely at some stage gamers might want more than staring at a 5″ x 3″ screen? I tried snake on my very first mobile that ran the battery down in no time and haven’t played a game on a mobile since.

Give me total story-line immersion on a large PC screen any day.

I certainly enjoy the precision that I can achieve with a PC keyboard and mouse. In pre-XP days, I also had a PC joystick but didn’t find it to be as good for the sort of games that I usually play.

I also have a couple of joystick/game pads but didn’t get on with them too well. I thought they might save my keyboards as a couple of them didn’t last long.

What sort of games do you play Derek?

My first home computer was a Sinclair Spectrum, closely followed by a BBC B. I was not really interested in the games but defeating the copy protection was quite fun.

Does anyone remember text based adventure games? I vaguely remember seeing them on mainframe terminals and being rubbish at them:

This seems to be Colossal Cave Adventure, which can be played online: https://www.amc.com/shows/halt-and-catch-fire/exclusives/colossal-cave-adventure Enjoy, or nearest offer.

I can vaguely remember this or something similar back in the early 80s, either on a ZX81 or Spectrum.

I only remember the house and being stuck in the forest.
How far did you get? 🏞🏡🏞

I had a brief exploration and managed to find one of the clues, so this version is obviously not the original text adventure:

This is about as exciting as watching paint dry.

I used to play that game in mainframe and mini computer days. I was also given an open source version for my first work CP/M micro.

These days I frequently play a Linux version of Free cell solitaire.

As a ex-target shooter, I do occasionally dust off and play some first person shooters, including Far Cry 1 and 2, IGI and Half-life.

Freecell is one of the better card games.

I have never really liked games with guns preferring initially adventure games then RPGs often playing a ranger building up bow and arrow skills.

Might & Magic VII had an interesting card game called Arcomage that required a bit of skill to beat the computer.