Article by contributor Nicholas Long.
The game industry is full of innovation. It’s one of the most exciting mediums because it is constantly changing into a more interesting and engaging way to craft stories, fun, and immersive experiences. Sometimes these attempts at innovation can be plain bad (Game Boy Printer, anyone?), but sometimes there are some great ideas that may have just been ahead of their time. Here are five of the coolest ideas in gaming that haven’t quite lived up to their potential.
Virtual reality got a big push in mid-90s arcades. Everyone thought VR was the future, with games that would literally put you into another world. It seemed like the logical next step to bring players that much closer to the gaming world; however, it had major drawbacks. In its early stages, the VR tech was extremely cumbersome, usually involving a large booth and headset along with a controller. On top of all this, each of these had to be wired together, severely restricting the player’s movement. Players usually ended up looking less like Robocop and more likw this guy. The games were expensive to purchase and upkeep, and arcades were all too happy to pass that expense to the customer by charging ludicrous amounts for a single chance to play (or even limiting your play to a few minutes). In its early days, VR was much too expensive for the kind of market penetration that game companies hoped for.
Things are looking up for the technology now though. The advent of Oculus Rift may finally give new life to the long dead VR market and help reach the potential that the early technology promised.
Much like virtual reality, augmented reality should be a no-brainer. It should already be well implemented, fun, and interesting. It should let players add layers onto their favorite games in the real world and then interact with those layers in distinct and fun ways. Instead, the idea has been mostly used for games targeted at younger or more casual audiences, or as simple tech demos. There’s nothing wrong with developers creating experiences for younger audiences, but the technology has the potential to do much more.
The 3DS and Vita shipped with AR cards that promised implementation in a wide range of games, but neither company has done much with them that didn’t launch with their respective systems. That’s a shame because I would love to see Mario or Nathan Drake running around my living room in a game that can measure the 3D space of the area I’m in and make a simple platformer from that. Imagine being able to jump from shelf to couch and then up to a bookcase to beat a level. It wouldn’t be Earth shattering, but it would much more interesting than what we’ve seen so far.
Motion controls promised gamers more immersion than ever before with the ability to control your character with your body. When the player moves, Ryu does too; when he jumps, so does Sonic. That was hardly the reality. A legacy of bombs spanning from the 8-bit era to the current generation of empty promises showed gamers that motion controls hardly ever work out as planned and are never as fun as they should be. And when Sony and Microsoft came to the table with their motion control solutions, most people saw them for the cash grabs they were, largely ignoring them.
All of the big three are still using motion control in their newest consoles, but all have yet to give gamers a reason to care. All of this is unfortunate, since motion controls could still be an interesting and fun way to play certain games. The Sega Activator showed that developers can’t just remap buttons to waving arms, and the current generation is showing developers that people like to play certain games with a controller. Hopefully, publishers can find a nice middle ground where motion controls can shine.
Why separate Sixaxis from the rest of the motion controllers? It’s a different beast altogether, and one that had a lot of potential in its own right. Sixaxis was a last-minute, last-ditch effort by Sony to seem interesting, justify the PS3’s $500-$600 price tag, and counteract the Wii’s waggle. Out of these, it failed all three. Even though most people saw a shallow attempt by Sony saying, “We have motion controls too!” there was potential. Motion controls don’t always translate well into established genres, but think about light motion controls sprinkled in with normal games. Much like a gyroscope on a handheld device, it could add to the game in new ways.
Most games that used Sixaxis tried to do just that, but since they could only do so much with the apparently lackluster technology in the controllers, none of these control schemes worked all that well. Motorstorm didn’t handle easily if you tried to steer by tilting the controller, controlling Batarangs in Arkham Asylum was much more difficult, and Lair had to be patched just to get it working. Sony seems willing to try again with the Move tech built into the PS4’s controller, so these input methods could still add a lot to certain games while still giving players familiar control options.
Imagine for a moment that the fanboys didn’t exist. Imagine that everyone could have the same console, and every game on this console worked the same no matter what manufacturer’s name was on it. Anyone would get to play all the games that come out because every game works the same on everyone’s machine. This sounds strange and impossible now, but that’s exactly what the 3DO was attempting almost 20 years ago. They wanted to create a unified console design that any interested parties could license and make their own. The major problem was the $700 price tag, while competing consoles like the Super Nintendo, Sega Genesis, and even the TurboGrafx-16 were priced around $200; however, the low licensing costs were attractive to manufacturers who could reap much more profit from a machine they made rather than only being able to make games for another company’s system.
This one is a tossup between bad timing and a simply naive idea. A unified console could be a great thing for gamers. However, something like this could lead to market stagnation, with little need for consoles to improve as fast as they do now. Competition fuels innovation, and gamers benefit in other ways from that (we get console manufacturers pushing for great games to differentiate themselves from their competitors). It’s a future that we are never likely to see, as console manufacturers have worked for decades to instill brand loyalty. However, Valve is attempting a similar concept by means of the Steam Box, a system built by multiple manufacturers to run anything that can be purchased from Steam. The system is just now getting off the ground, but knowing Valve, this will work out much better than it did for the 3DO.
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