Everything Old Is New Again
by Adam B
Apple have long made a very successful living from taking something that already exists, putting a bit of a gloss on it and then selling it to consumers while claiming that it’s a brand new innovation in whichever particular market the product sits. They did this with portable music players (iPod), they did it with Copy & Paste (iPhone) and they did it with really shitty Windows ports (iTunes). This year at E3, everyone appeared to have been taking a great many hints from Apple’s playbook, offering us a dizzying array of shiny new wonder-products that, on closer inspection, weren’t quite as innovative as they first appeared.
The concept of The Cloud has become so ubiquitous in tech circles that it’s already largely meaningless. There’s nothing really that new or clever about The Cloud, it’s still just servers in datacentres somewhere that are storing and processing data, only now instead of you owning those servers, you pay someone else who already owns servers to store and process and promise to look after your data because that’s somehow better.
Microsoft went big on The Cloud at E3: “The Power of The Cloud” they said “will enable us to do things that have never been possible before”, giving examples including the, now sadly backtracked on, ability to download any game you own onto any Xbox One so you can play it. This is revolutionary, or it would be if Steam hadn’t been doing it for nearly 10 years and even last-gen’s XBLA/PSN had elements of this functionality for their digitally distributed titles. But wait, there’s more! The Power of The Cloud also allows increased game performance as proudly trumpeted by founder of Respawn Entertainment Vince Zampella:
It allowed us to think of the game a little differently,” he said, and added that the game offloads enemy and friendly AI to the cloud, along with dedicated servers. The end result is more natural NPC enemies, and smoother online play that seamlessly blends single and multiplayer into a world that feels both organic and populated.
That’s right, due to the incredible technological advancements brought to us by The Cloud, they now have these servers which are dedicated to games. These never-before seen… no, wait, I’ve got this nagging feeling… that’s it, dedicated servers that do exactly that have been around and used by a large majority of multiplayer PC games over the last 20 years.
Before you think I’m singling out Microsoft here, let’s move on to everyone’s favourite developer of games-where-you-shoot-people-in-the-face-while-wearing-camouflage-that-aren’t-Call-of-Duty, EA. One of EA’s big talking points during their explodey Battlefield 4 demo was that the game now supports up to 64 players at any one time. Sixty Four. This is only possible due to the incredible power of the next generation of consoles… and PCs running Quake 2 back in 1997. 64 isn’t even a big number for a multiplayer shooter any more; Planetside 2 has 1,000 player battles, although it does have less camouflage and fewer scripted building collapses, so it’s not all good. They also tried to coin the word “Levolution”, which, while being of no real relevance to this discussion, is still so stupid that it deserves bringing up as another mark against them. At least it wasn’t Drivatar.
Call of Duty: Ghosts has a dog in it and some fish that sometimes move out of the way when you go near them. They feel that these are “new” features worth actively promoting. I don’t really need to say any more about this.
Now, I’m going to cut these guys some slack for a moment and say that I know some of these things are not exactly the same as the old technologies, that some of them are slightly more streamlined than before and that there are some genuine improvements, some of which are appearing for the first time on consoles. Being able to potentially use dedicated virtual servers to offload processing for single-player games is something new – well OK, Sim City sort of got there first even if it did turn out that EA were mostly lying about that too – but it remains to be seen how much of a difference it will really make to performance given its limitations (and many people’s terrible internet connections). However, all of them are simply iterations or outright copies of systems and technologies that already exist and, in some cases, have existed for longer than Sony or Microsoft have even been in the console business.
Wanting to shout about all the cool stuff you’ve managed to do with your new hardware and software is understandable and I know that you’re trying to get people excited to help rack up those pre-orders, but do you really have to pretend that you invented things that have been around for years? Rather than “We’re leveraging The Power of The Cloud to offload local processing and provide enhanced gameplay performance” couldn’t you just say “we’ve got dedicated servers now, thanks to our huge investment in our back-end infrastructure so your games will run a bit faster and the host won’t have an advantage any more”? You haven’t “introduced a revolutionary new alphanumeric input device to enhance communication”, you’ve added a keyboard, but that’s okay because not everything has to be brand-spanking new to be impressive, sometimes the simple inclusion of something previously omitted is enough to make people happy and you don’t even have to lie about it.
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