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Know Your Heritage

Those who know me well (or have read my profile) know I place a fair amount of emphasis on studying the past, be it my personal ancestors, military/national history, etc... it is all important. This is no less important in our hobbies.

As gamers (or players of video games for the elitist readers out there), we play games in the present. We actively make plans for upcoming games and systems, preordering at stores and drooling over published previews hoping to gather just one more bit of knowledge to salivate over. But history, it is the past; it is said and done. With so much already out there to play and so much yet to come, why should we bother with what has already been?

Many of us on this site and throughout the gaming community have been with video games since nearly the beginning or very soon after. Our first games consisted of the text-based Zork, the well-known Pong, or the popular arcade classics Dig Dug or Centipede. But when we begin to discuss the games of our youth and make comments on these games and systems, the younger members mistakenly believe we are simply nostalgic for the old days, but understanding our history and the heritage of our hobby is important for a number of reasons.

Influence on Games of the Future

As games have evolved from small competitions to full-blown interactive stories, we find more and more that past games provide inspiration for what we play today and even what is to come. Two of the heavy-hitting FPS franchises, Call of Duty and Battlefield, have obvious influence on each other not only in game play but in their stories as well. Yes, they have their own identity, but their roots are intertwined with one another, having been influenced by games like Doom, Wolfenstein, Medal of Honor, etc... The Half-Life series has proven that shooters can be thinking games just as well as adrenalin pumpers.

Perspective


Point of view changes context

Understanding history has an odd way of helping to place perspective on the present. With the release of each modern generation console, w gamers are faced with opening prices in the $500 range and a slow decline in later years of a console's life span. But in an era where technology is easier and more cost effective to develop, it seems as though prices should decline over time.

In 1979, the Intellivision (my first game system) released for $299. It featured no on-line gaming, no advanced 3D graphics capabilities and the controllers resembling telephones that were hard-wired to the system. Although this price seems reasonable for a new console, most would be shocked to know that $299 in 1979 would be just shy of $938 today (calculated using the CPI inflation calculator provided by the US government). This bit of understanding of a small part of our gaming heritage helps us understand the prices we pay for new systems today truly are reasonable compared with their predecessors, even less expensive than they once were.

This understanding also provides perspective as sales reports over prior years of video games are compiled and released. This overall financial data may seem trivial to many, but as the industry grows and continues to provide jobs and lend a boost to the overall economy, these numbers become vastly more important.

Appreciation
Technology is a curious beast; it rarely (but not never) grows from spontaneous invention. Rather, it builds on precepts that came before. Understanding where the hobby of gaming was provides a unique understanding of where games are now and provides clues to where gaming, and technology, may one day go.

It doesn't take a genius to look at our 8-bit gaming heritage to say that we have come a long way, but there are some important developments along the way that have changed how games have been made and how we play them. Take, for instance, the Unreal Engine. Since 1998, this engine has changed the way games are rendered, how a game's artificial intelligence responds to user actions, and even how games are networked. Each iteration of this tool has helped to change the feel and appearance of the games we play and will continue to do so with the impending release of Unreal Engine 4 which should be unveiled this year.


Note the differences between each version of Unreal

Another, more obvious example is that of on-line gaming; a gaming tool I feel has been the most important in the history of our hobby. If you look at the history of the hobby, the advent of on-line gaming was inevitable. Games started out with single and two player games. Eventually, games spread into four player games and then local area network connections and Ethernet cables allowed us to connect to multiple systems and experience the joy of LAN parties. This, naturally, turned into being able to game with anyone with an internet connection. Who knows where the next step may take us.

 

Many may think that an understanding of history is simply a good way to answer some trivia questions, understand an inside joke, or make themselves overly intellectual, but it is more important than that. Some might think I sound like their parent trying to convince them to do some homwork. In a traditional sense, the study of history provides a sense of identity and understanding. Knowledge of the history of gaming is no different, providing us with the same sense of identity and solidifies our claim of gaming as a legitimate hobby and even as an art form.

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