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Have games really advanced much in the last 10 years?


Anne Summers
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So thanks to Game Pass I've been going back and taking a look at a lot of games that have come out over the past few years, that I didn't pay any attention to when they were released.

 

One thing I've noticed is that, if I don't specifically check, it's very hard for me to tell when a game was released. I mean, most of the games look like modern games, of course ... but, for example, it's hard for me to say, in most cases, which of the games are bran new releases and which ones were released five or more years ago. 

I can't think that this would have been the case in previous periods of gaming history - eg in the 90s, games changed a lot between, say, 1985 (Spectrum) and 1990 (Amiga/Megadrive). Or 1990 and 1995 (Playstation), or 1995 and 2000. 

It isn't just about graphics improving - it feels like whole new genres of games appeared, or styles of gameplay, such as RTS games, online FPS, first-person RPGs, etc, that didn't exist earlier. 

Even if we take a later period, like 2010 - 2015, we had Souls-style games emerging and becoming a dominant force in gaming by the later period, while not existing in the earlier period - also I'd say there was a big growth in indie games during that period that led to a lot of interesting concepts like new kinds of Rogue-likes that weren't around earlier. 

 

Am I wrong ? Has there actually been a lot of innovation in gameplay and graphics, that I've missed out on by not looking at the right games on Gamepass? There's a lot of great games on there but the only thing I've really seen that's blown me away as something really different is Flight Simulator, and that's just down to the "fly anywhere" thing. And perhaps most recently Age of Empires IV, which really does have an amazing standard of presentation (even though the game is pretty much the same as all the older AoE games). 

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It's plateaued for sure, but then that was to be expected.   If you picked up a new hobby or started a new job then you'd go through a period of rapid improvement where you get all the easy gains relatively quickly before hitting a level where the improvements aren't as noticeable.   With gaming that's happened too, I figure most of us on this forum go back to at least the 8 or 16 bit eras so lived through the period where hardware was the biggest limiting factor in how games looked and played and that every hardware revision was a giant leap forwards.  These days the cost of production is the biggest limiting factor, art for games takes ages to produce and needs a huge number of people to do it, and even the latest and greatest stuff only tends to look like how we think we remember stuff on the last gen looking.   

 

The real revolution has been with indie stuff, when small teams can do wonderful things with limited resources.  

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Think there has been plenty of technical innovations in terms of hardware that has allowed advancement of games - improved physics engines for example and sound - 3D audio. Graphics too sure.

 

This has added to the richness of experiences to make them deeper and more enjoyable from a story telling point of view and allowed for bigger game worlds, more complex AI etc. However it has slowed down considerably over the past 5-10 years IMHO with more iterative changes. I booted up Half Life 2 last year for example - a 16 year old game - and it still felt advanced, the physics engine in the game etc. If released today it would still make the grade IMHO. 

 

I think the limitation now is the flat 2D screen - no matter  how many polygons and textures you throw on there you are still essentially interacting with a simulation of a 3D world on a 2D device and manipulating it with a piece plastic with lots of buttons. I expect the next advancement is when we ditch 2D screens for another technology - whether it be a VR or other VR like tech and the interaction seamless without holding things in your hands.

 

However at the moment games will keep iterating over the same thing... the images will get prettier, the controls perhaps more complex etc. This is why I'm really interested to see where VR tech goes... as its the only real development I've seen in gaming over the past 10 years or so in terms of evolving the experience and moving it away from a 2D screen.

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I think that the narrative and writing in games is becoming more sophisticated.  Portal 2 fits just about in the timeframe and that was - and still is - the gold standard for me in terms of characterisation and storytelling, but there are a lot more games reaching for that.  I keep going back to Deliver Us The Moon as an example of a very well written story. Call of the Sea is another. Even something like Omno and the way your character builds a relationship all the way through to deliver the payoff in the ending.  Games seem to be working towards different emotions than the "satisfaction" of repeatedly blowing something up.

 

My completely unexpert opinion is that smaller companies are concentrating on these things as a differentiator in the market from all the massively expensive triple AAA, thousands of devs type stuff which is still as cliched as ever.

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3 minutes ago, Plissken said:

I think that the narrative and writing in games is becoming more sophisticated.  Portal 2 fits just about in the timeframe and that was - and still is - the gold standard for me in terms of characterisation and storytelling, but there are a lot more games reaching for that.  I keep going back to Deliver Us The Moon as an example of a very well written story. Call of the Sea is another. Even something like Omno and the way your character builds a relationship all the way through to deliver the payoff in the ending.  Games seem to be working towards different emotions than the "satisfaction" of repeatedly blowing something up.

 

My completely unexpert opinion is that smaller companies are concentrating on these things as a differentiator in the market from all the massively expensive triple AAA, thousands of devs type stuff which is still as cliched as ever.

Absolutely, didn't think of this while I was writing the post but storytelling is one area where I feel games have really improved during the current/ previous generation. 

 

I did think we would have got destructible scenery, by now, though. Thinking back to the time GTA 3 came out, for example - I'd like to have thought that by the time we get GTA 6 - 20 years later - that if I fired a rocket launcher at a suburban home, it would knock the wall down. Or that I could take a chainsaw and hack down the front door if I wanted to get in. Perhaps that will happen by the time GTA 6 comes out but I doubt it. 

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24 minutes ago, Anne Summers said:

I did think we would have got destructible scenery, by now, though. Thinking back to the time GTA 3 came out, for example - I'd like to have thought that by the time we get GTA 6 - 20 years later - that if I fired a rocket launcher at a suburban home, it would knock the wall down. Or that I could take a chainsaw and hack down the front door if I wanted to get in. Perhaps that will happen by the time GTA 6 comes out but I doubt it. 

 

I think that destructible scenery is nice in priniciple but doesn't work in reality.  I'd be amazed if several devs haven't tried it while putting a game together (Crackdown 3 being a famous demo example.)

 

I think that it is very difficult not to affect the game balance.  If one imagines Forza Horizon 5, that would be largely flat by the end of the players second day.

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12 minutes ago, Plissken said:

 

I think that destructible scenery is nice in priniciple but doesn't work in reality.  I'd be amazed if several devs haven't tried it while putting a game together (Crackdown 3 being a famous demo example.)

 

I think that it is very difficult not to affect the game balance.  If one imagines Forza Horizon 5, that would be largely flat by the end of the players second day.

Red Faction Guerrilla is the only game I can think of that really committed to it. And the destruction was permanent, so as you progressed through the game, the whole map did indeed gradually get fucked up. It worked really well and it's surprising how committed you'd have to be to really level entire areas. You'd have to grind away with explosives and rockets for ages.

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We are still living through huge gaming innovation trends, they just aren't as obvious as "nicer graphics".

 

Two of the biggest that immediately come to mind from the last 5 years are the delivery model, namely subscription-based gaming services (such as Game Pass) giving you access to hundreds of games for one monthly fee, and even more importantly, cloud gaming.

 

Cloud gaming is nascent but has the potential to be absolutely fucking massive, a total revolution in how the gaming landscape works. In the short term, it'll mean anybody can play games, anywhere, on anything, with just an internet connection.

 

But long term it can lead to new, supercomputer-powered experiences impossible on home hardware, which is really fucking exciting.

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56 minutes ago, Anne Summers said:

Absolutely, didn't think of this while I was writing the post but storytelling is one area where I feel games have really improved during the current/ previous generation. 

 

I did think we would have got destructible scenery, by now, though. Thinking back to the time GTA 3 came out, for example - I'd like to have thought that by the time we get GTA 6 - 20 years later - that if I fired a rocket launcher at a suburban home, it would knock the wall down. Or that I could take a chainsaw and hack down the front door if I wanted to get in. Perhaps that will happen by the time GTA 6 comes out but I doubt it. 

 

The problem with your GTA example is that it means you would need to craft interiors for every single building on the map which would be a ludicrously enormous effort, even if you liberally reused assets across the map for similar building types. The sheer variety of buildings in a typical GTA map means you'd have to create an enormous amount of assets for the interiors to make it believable.

 

It's one of those things that are nice in theory but I can't see every actually happening. Not in a GTA type world anyway.

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5 minutes ago, Majora said:

 

The problem with your GTA example is that it means you would need to craft interiors for every single building on the map which would be a ludicrously enormous effort, even if you liberally reused assets across the map for similar building types. The sheer variety of buildings in a typical GTA map means you'd have to create an enormous amount of assets for the interiors to make it believable.

 

It's one of those things that are nice in theory but I can't see every actually happening. Not in a GTA type world anyway.

 

I think it's a great example of where something may be technically possible but expectations of fidelity have made it untenable. As you say, you'd never be able to create assets of the desired quality to handle it all. But it might be possible on a much simpler 3D open world (like that voxel-powered 100% destruction game that came out a couple of years ago) with destructible buildings. Perhaps something more akin to GTA3, but made today.

 

I often think about how Rushy said (I think) that the first Motorstorm had really awesome terrain deformation that was dropped in later games due to increasing expectations in graphical fidelity. I might be misremembering the exact details there.

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People need to stop making things BIG and start making them DEEP. 

 

Some of the best, most original games I've played in recent times have all been relatively 'small' games..  Obra Dinn, Papers Please, Disco Elysium, Oxygen Not included, Spiritfarer, etc etc. 

 

I'm pretty sick and tired of massive, overblown AAA games that all feel so formulaic.  And can we please have fewer games where murder is the primary method of interaction?  

 

After watching the stupendously good Action Button season 1 by Tim Rogers, I really wish we had more games that were about unusual subjects, and games that are generous, containing lots of stuff, which most players only see a fraction their first time through.   At one point, Tim suggests that CDPR should use their talents to make a Downton Abbey game, and he's not wrong, I'd play the SHIT out of that. 

 

Like I've tried to play cyberpunk, but I kind of wish it was a visual novel because the other gameplay elements in it are weak as piss. 

 

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Can't find it at the mo but I recall seeing a video where a guy at Crytek had made a proof-of-concept where they could procedurally generate interiors, they had a large city and he was flying to into rooms in tower blocks which had simple layouts of low-poly furniture. Was pretty impressive but obviously didn't go anywhere, yet. 

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Games have advanced much more in terms of backend stuff, such as Games As A Service becoming a thing (for better lor worse. Mostly worse), and nowhere near as much in terms of front-facing game design and tech. Indeed, GAAS design has been pretty reductive, really - just look at something like Marvel's Avengers, which clumsily tried to fit that design (probably not on day one of development) into what could and should have been a very exciting campaign-focused game like Spider-Man, and could have been much more ambitious as a result.

 

I also think that the homogenisation of games from certain publishers like Ubisoft hasn't helped. You really get the sense that in a team of 400-500 people, the potential for risk-taking and being daring in terms of design is massively nullified. You never get the sense that a creator's unique vision is present, it's all a mush of averageness. What worked once will be made to work 20 times with diminishing returns. As has been said so many times before, it feels like Ubisoft's games are all blending into one.    

 

Instead of having 100 icons on a massive map, why not make the map a bit smaller and only have 50 icons where all the activities are well designed, well written and great fun to play? I'd much rather enjoy that sort of game than a 100 hour epic where much of the content isn't actually very good. But I guess that's not what the hugely flawed (and probably set up to deliver a specific result) focus groups are telling publishers. I actually think it's very wrongheaded groupthink that comes up with the notion that the public want ever bigger but more shallow games - I don't believe this for a second. 

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Games were already good 20 years ago. Has football really advanced in the last 10 years?

 

The problem with games is the business model insists on constant newness for the sake of it. This cult of progress has a stranglehold on the landscape, when actually we don't need progress. Let United play in last year's kit and it won't affect how they play. Let us play last year's games and we'll still be hanging out with friends and winning and losing. The rest is window dressing to appease the gods of consumerism and convenience - who, by the way, are basically married at this point.

 

"But the graphics are better", "but the networking is different", "but the themes are more mature". If that stuff was critical nobody would have bought a Nintendo 64.

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Diminishing returns is definetely in full effect, Uncharted 4 is over five years old but still looks absolutely top tier.

 

I was playing Max Payne 3 on BC last night, and nobody's bettered that gunplay yet - and it isn't just the weighty feel of the guns, it's the amazing enemy reactions to getting hit, the big differences between hitting body armour and flesh, the elegant 2 handed weapons solution, the ability to fire from mid air, prone and on your back and all of it feels good to do so.

 

The Tony Scott editing style is divisive but you know what, nearly 10 years later its given the game a unique visual identity and the soundtrack and cutscene direction are chefs kiss. Where has this type of risk taking gone in the AAA space?

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AAA games cost so much to make, it's simply a formula nowadays. Tiny incremental steps forward (honestly, take a look at Forza Horizon or Far Cry, how much have they really drastically moved forward beyond setting? I'd argue not a lot) - but guess what, both these games metacritic well to okay, and sell well to okay, so customers keep buying them. Why take a risk? when you know what you're making will achieve what you want it to. Profit.

I'd love to see more "Deep" games as someone correctly said above, games which have much smarter AI. We're still in a world where AI doesn't really react beyond 1 step to a players actions - this is woeful, we could go much much further, but we won't. Because graphical progress trumps everything else at the moment. Technical budgets are all pushed towards the screen, not to the experience. There's no desire in the echelons where it needs to be, to push boundaries that aren't just back-of-the-box pretty graphics. There simply isn't the appetite to take risks to make the next complicated and clever deep Skyrim game.. when the next icon-collect'em'up can be done in 12 months and guarantee a profit. New IP is really really dangerous and risky.

Simulation and deep systems that take a long time to describe, learn and understand are not console games, they're (traditionally) PC games, and I think the PC world is thriving. Games like Factorio and Rimworld exist, as well as an incredible array of indie games. Console games are never going to go deep. Which is a shame imo. 

 

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There have been quite a few, ranging from services like GamePass, new ways to play like VR, the indie boom, technological advancements like new input tech, 3D audio, motion-matching and ray-tracing.

 

VR might be the biggest for me. Games like Astro Bot, Lone Echo and Alyx are incredible experiences that felt unlike anything else I've experienced before.

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VR has been the next big thing for the last twenty years.  It's not happening.

 

The last thing the industry needs to be chasing is "MOAR graphics".  I completely agree that graphics hit "more than good enough" a while back, it's probably why we're seeing different, more artistic graphical styles coming to the fore more and more often.  As m'colleague said above "less big

, more deep".

 

The problem with stagnation is also the vociferous gamer minority and places like Digital Foundry who insist on measuring everything but have no concept of enjoyment. Given that publishers are already deciding everything on metrics, then outside influences demanding more metrics simply kills innovation.

 

37 minutes ago, alistarr said:

Has football really advanced in the last 10 years?

 

Yes.  But in subtle ways that you really have to watch the game closely to appreciate.

 

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I think there's been a greater understanding of what games are, and can be.

 

Ten years ago, the expectation was still that games would be £40 experiences delivered on a disc. Indie games existed but were still predominantly the preserve of the PC space, and a handful of breakout XBLA hits. They were very much ghettoised and people were reluctant to pay very much for stuff that wasn't considered a "proper game". Meanwhile AAA games were often quite formulaic, forced to offer a certain amount of "value" (aka playtime) to justify their cost and relying on a handful of proven genres to try and guarantee returns. It was the golden age of brown cover shooters.

 

Now, games come at all price-points. You've got AAA videogames costing up to £70 that come with years of post-launch support, but then every price tier and genre imaginable all the way down to 99p eShop shovelware. There's a huge range of really interesting stuff coming in at the £10-£20 range which was never a thing before. Developers experiment with all manner of graphical styles without feeling that everything has to look cutting-edge.

 

And delivery systems like Game Pass make these much more accessible to people. The increasing reliance on digital delivery, and constant price drops / sales, further blur the distinction between "full-price" and "budget" games. You can go online and find something interesting to play in no time at all.

 

I think it's all really healthy. AAA is always gonna AAA but for many of us that isn't where the really interesting stuff is any more.

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23 minutes ago, Strangelite said:

I'd love to see more "Deep" games as someone correctly said above, games which have much smarter AI. We're still in a world where AI doesn't really react beyond 1 step to a players actions - this is woeful, we could go much much further, but we won't. 

 

I remember being blown away by the AI in FEAR, how they would work together to flank the player . They didn't just drop into a room, take cover behind a box and pot shot you until one of you keeled over, they would split up, aggresively moving towards your location . Sometimes I didn't realise they were behind me until the screen shook as they buttwhipped me with a rifle. Really , really good stuff.

 

Even that games own sequels couldn't capture the same sort of clever AI behaviour and it is all but forgotten about. I got a real kick of watching AI navigate the game world to get to you like that. 

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1 hour ago, Majora said:

 

The problem with your GTA example is that it means you would need to craft interiors for every single building on the map which would be a ludicrously enormous effort, even if you liberally reused assets across the map for similar building types. The sheer variety of buildings in a typical GTA map means you'd have to create an enormous amount of assets for the interiors to make it believable.

 

It's one of those things that are nice in theory but I can't see every actually happening. Not in a GTA type world anyway.


I imagine you could create a library of, say, 5000 assets of furniture and homewares with variable textures/patterns and then have an algorithm stick it all in for you like Ubisoft do with vegetation in their open worlds.

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There have been some pretty big technical advancements. Look at the new Flight Simulator - ten years ago, the idea of a flight sim that covered the entire world in near-photorealistic detail, with live weather (including tropical storms and hurricanes) would have been preposterous. Like, out of all the enhancements I thought the current gen of consoles was going to bring, I wouldn't have thought they would have included a realistic 3D render of my own house, plus the locations of every single holiday I've ever been on, and in fact everywhere me or anyone else I've ever met has ever been (to varying degrees of detail).

 

The same goes for Cyberpunk 2077. Say what you like about the game mechanics and the state it launched in, but Night City is the high bar in terms of aesthetic and technical achievement. It feels like a real city. You couldn't have done this ten years ago; partly because of the lack of grunt on people's computers and consoles, but also because there weren't the technical support tools and pipelines to realistically build something like this.

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1 hour ago, Majora said:

 

The problem with your GTA example is that it means you would need to craft interiors for every single building on the map which would be a ludicrously enormous effort, even if you liberally reused assets across the map for similar building types. The sheer variety of buildings in a typical GTA map means you'd have to create an enormous amount of assets for the interiors to make it believable.

 

It's one of those things that are nice in theory but I can't see every actually happening. Not in a GTA type world anyway.

Thinking about it, something like COD with its much tighter, smaller arenas would be a better first use case for destructible environments than a big open world. With a COD type game I could imagine it happening pretty soon, because interiors are usually already there.

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oh and on the subject of interiors and destruction. You absolutely 100% can do destruction and interiors, (putting the gameplay balancing issues aside) - 

Procedural generation isn't just for planets, it can be small scale too, You make the assets that define a room and then use tools like Houdini to specify how those objects interrelate to each other inside a room.  (A room is really defined by the objects within it) - it's absolute possible, some teams are already doing it. UE5 and nanite will be a game changer for this sort of thing.

Mass scale destruction is similar, it can be done, there's hundreds of ways of achieving it, but whether or not you want to is a game design thing - i'll wager the next GTA has large scale destruction AND interiors. (and probably time travel or something) - 

edit: again, something like Elder Scrolls VI will probably have procedural dungeons or something similar I'd imagine. Interior generation is a problem that's been solved many times over, (no mans sky does a brilliant job of it too) - procedural and destruction is the next step, but battlefield and the DICE guys have been doing that since Bad Company 2 - it's just a question of "when" really... I'd say this generation will give a big open world with detailed interiors and mass destruction. Definitely. Just Cause 6 or something.

 

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1 hour ago, Vimster said:

Can't find it at the mo but I recall seeing a video where a guy at Crytek had made a proof-of-concept where they could procedurally generate interiors, they had a large city and he was flying to into rooms in tower blocks which had simple layouts of low-poly furniture. Was pretty impressive but obviously didn't go anywhere, yet. 

 

I think that advances in AI will make the possibility of procedurally generated interiors more of a possibility. The bigger question for me is whether they need to be included. Procedurally generated stuff can feel very clinical and lifeless if there is no real gameplay purpose to them. I guess you would also have to have an associated and persistent procedurally generated inhabitant too, but then that starts to feel like something that is becoming a whole other thing altogether. It might also add a lavel of discomfort to GTA-like games. At the moment if you harm an NPC, even if accidentally, there's not really any sort of emotional impact. Maybe your karma drops or something, you might even feel a little bad that it happened, or you made that deliberate choice. But if you start getting persistence of individual NPCs, then you might feel considerably worse if the person you'd seen outside their house everytime you drove past in now gone forever because of something you did.

 

Maybe I'm overthinking this stuff (and going off on a tangent from the original thread question)... :)

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I feel like games are better at stuffing in plenty of diverse mechanics into one engine whilst still being a cohesive whole. Previously you'd have a "mould" that was built for cover shooting and not much else, but games like Nier Automata, Elden Ring or Yakuza LaD manage to offer much more than just an action vessel, a Souls reskin, a brawler locale. I definitely don't think that the only future can come from giant "omnigames"... but my point is that there's a lot more flexibility, and these environments can potentially feel more like worlds and less like movie sets.

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The thing that really has progressed is the delivery method. We’ve left behind a (largely) disc-only world, reserved for AAA and AA games, with console download games being treated like second class citizens. Some of the best games I’ve played over the last few years have been cheap, indie, download-only titles. They wouldn’t have existed ten years ago.

 

So yes, games have progressed. A lot. We’ve never had it better.

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By and large the big genres aren't going to change dramatically, because they're popular (or at least, blandly inoffensive so they're acceptable to the largest number of people). It's like expecting blockbusters to suddenly become experimental art pictures because they got better CGI.

 

Like, you're not going to see crazy AI or whatever, because AAA game design is usually about power fantasies and being accessible, people want the enemies to be blind and predictable so they can crouchwalk behind them and push the takedown button, they'd fucking hate it if stealth sections involved human level awareness. Same with combat AI, they're supposed to have no self-preservation, to fit a gameplay role of a mook or heavy or specialist, so that you can do your crazy outpost conquest where you take down six guys in a few seconds and then have a cool car chase setpiece. No one wants the version of that where every enemy ambushes them from hundreds of metres away in a concealed position, then backs off when you push up and switches weapons at various ranges - if you wanted that you'd probably play something incredibly hardcore and tactical like Tarkov.

 

Then separate from that you have your fads (I mention this because you talk about new genres and technical stuff interchangably), we've had loads of these since 2010, in fact the flavour of the month thing seems a big new gaming thing. Zombie Survival Games, Crafting Games, Collectible Card Games, MOBAs, Battle Royales, right up to Among Us or whatever. Most of them tend to be F2P and rely on a wide audience and so aren't particularly technically demanding. Sometimes AAA games will agglomerate things from these as influences, but usually a little late, after they've crested.

 

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2 hours ago, robdood said:

People need to stop making things BIG and start making them DEEP. 

 

Some of the best, most original games I've played in recent times have all been relatively 'small' games..  Obra Dinn, Papers Please, Disco Elysium, Oxygen Not included, Spiritfarer, etc etc. 

 

I'm pretty sick and tired of massive, overblown AAA games that all feel so formulaic.  And can we please have fewer games where murder is the primary method of interaction?  

 

After watching the stupendously good Action Button season 1 by Tim Rogers, I really wish we had more games that were about unusual subjects, and games that are generous, containing lots of stuff, which most players only see a fraction their first time through.   At one point, Tim suggests that CDPR should use their talents to make a Downton Abbey game, and he's not wrong, I'd play the SHIT out of that. 

 

Like I've tried to play cyberpunk, but I kind of wish it was a visual novel because the other gameplay elements in it are weak as piss. 

 

Amen.

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For me personally, the games haven't really changed much if we're strictly looking at anything 2011 to now. 2011 was pretty much the dawn of me any my group of online friends owning PCs and moving on from the X360/PS3 era as it was long in the tooth at the time.

Shifts in how games were marketed was already happening, with lots of indie games existing and free to play games started appearing on computers - Super Monday Night Combat, Spiral Knights and League of Legends were staples for us back then, and Path of Exile's closed beta realm started in August of that year. LoL and PoE still persist to this day.

Of course, PCs ten years ago were already a majority in digital ownership. There's been a trend of companies splintering away from Steam these days, with varying results.

Although this year, it was finally nice to get a Steam port of El Shaddai. Which, funnily enough, only took a good ten years to come around.

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