Shall we play a game?

You know how this works. You buy a game for your PSx or Xbox. You put the DVD in to install the game. You install it, you try to run it and the very first message you get is that the game you just bought requires a patch/update. How can this be you say. The game has only just been released. It’s day zero for my game, yet it already needs an update? Why?

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Back in the good old days, you know when Pacman was current, there was no going back. The very first version of Pacman I played was on a yellow plastic Pacman type handheld that ran on 4 C size batteries. On these games, the ROM was burnt in. Once it was finalised at the factory there was no going back. No zero day patches, no updates. Of course, they did have bugs or glitches. Our Pacman game only had one slight niggle. You could clock the score. So once you got to 9,999 it reset to zero. The difficulty didn’t increase either. It was just the same old. Our challenge was to see how many times we could clock it. I remember my sister, mum and me all trying. A clip of this game in action can be seen on YouTube here and here. Ah, how nostalgic. I’m sure most of you above a certain age remember Space Invaders. Simple graphics, simple to play. Avoid getting shot at by the aliens. And who can remember Pong? Bip, bop. Bip. My parents bought a pong game. We played for hours. There wasn’t much to do in those days!!

Pong screenshot

Code for these games was also written pretty tightly. There was a limited amount of space in the ROM (later on RAM too) so space was at a premium. There used to be competitions whereby people created demo’s of their code, called the demo scene, and there were different restrictions on the amount of space that could be used. There were 4kb, 16kb, 32kb and 64kb categories. Some of these had music in them, but mostly they showed graphics that were way before their time. Polygons, tessellation. It was all very clever. The best demo, according to a set of judges, won. There were competitions all over the world. At that time the internet didn’t really exist. It was all done by BBS’s (Bulletin Board Systems). This is where someone dialled into a computer using a modem. The receiving side also had a modem allowing the two computers to talk, in a very similar way to how the internet and networks works today, but much, much slower. If you had a 33.6k modem, you were doing well. The standard at the time was 14.4k. The exchange took place over the copper wires of your telephone line, of which the speed was restricted due to the copper wire. Of course, you couldn’t use your phone for voice calls when you were doing this. By todays standards this was an extremely slow method of transferring files (1Mb of data could take easily over 30 minutes), which is why the code was written to be as small as possible. If you are curious and have a PC, head on over to scene.org where you can download some more recent and archived demo’s.

This day and age with more life-like graphics and Bluray drives and 30Mbps+ internet connections becoming common place, space is no longer at a premium like it once was. We download Gb’s of data monthly and if we choose, do not even get physical copies of our games these days. They stay in the cloud. Graphics cards today are much more capable than the EVGA (if you were lucky) cards of old. In fact, even an older graphics card today has more processing power than a PC of the 80/90’s.

Although software companies employ testers for their games it seems they are using the general game buying public to test games. No, I don’t mean those types of games whereby you pay a small fee and become a beta tester with some exclusive behind the scenes access. I mean the type of game you buy in the shops, online or bricks-and-mortar, and pay your hard earned money for. For latest releases as much as £50 ($61, €58). Some can cost more if they come bundled with other things, posters, t-shirts, key rings to name a few. Some bugs are just downright annoying. Others catastrophic. Batman: Arkham was one such game. As written in the Independent, the game had to be pulled because the bugs were so bad that the game was almost unplayable on PC. There have also been game releases where there wasn’t enough server capacity so the game servers crashed and nobody could play the game. Destiny, I’m looking at you. You pay your money, you make your choice.

Whilst graphics have improved and the hardware on which we run the games has improved, games seem to get more and more bloated. Yes they have phenomenal graphics. Yes, the soundtracks are amazing, full orchestra scores sometimes. But just because games can come on Bluray or DVD, doesn’t mean we have to use the space. Some of the latest games weigh in at a hefty 60Gb (The PC version of Grand Theft Auto V is nearly 60GB). Star Citizen could be as much as 100Gb!!! A brilliant article by PCGamer (http://www.pcgamer.com/the-problem-with-growing-download-sizes/) explains how games are just getting bigger and bigger and why this is a problem. Is this the price we have to pay for better everything? What will be the model for purchasing games in the future?