Accessibility Issues

accessibility

Inaccessible doesn’t (always) equal bad; in fact I’m here to argue the case for inaccessibility as a legitimate game mechanic, rather than simply dismissing it as a flaw.

Some games are going to have a degree of inaccessibly as a naturally occurring side-effect of their depth and complexity. Piloting a sidewinder in Elite is never going to be as simple as flinging an “angry bird” across the screen; that’s just a reality of those particular games.

However, being easily understood – for example what you need to do and where you need to go –  is a more governable facet of accessibility and I think some games (Elite is an example of this as well) can be intentionally vague or obtuse in this area by design.

See, the trouble with accessibility in this respect is that it doesn’t leave much to the imagination. In some games – many in fact – that’s absolutely fine. But, in a sandbox game like Elite, you want room for people to figure stuff out; it’s where much of the reward is hidden in the game. The same is true of other sandbox titles, like the survival game Ark for example.

Starting out in Ark is brutal. Not many games will make you feel as lost, confused and vulnerable as the first few hours of Ark. Many will write this off as shoddy “inaccessible” game design and completely overlook how important that learning curve is. Showing you the basics would, without a doubt, make the game much more accessible, but it would also completely undermine both the core survival aspect of the game and also the reward of finally turning the tables on it.

It’s a delicate balance, but the more a game shows you, the more it takes away from you discovering for yourself, and in some genres it’s worth remembering that can actually be quite detrimental.

Sometimes it’s not purely understanding what you need to do that makes a game inaccessible, but the fundamental difficulty in achieving it that is the problem. The obvious solution – one as old as the hills – is that long standing and often condescending difficulty select option (Change “easy” to “recruit” or “beginner” if you want, will still know it means “loser”). There are games where this “accessibility” has been masterfully implemented; Forza Motorsport for example. It takes a fairly complicated racing sim and makes it completely customisable to individual skill levels via a very intuitive user interface. There are other games though, where difficulty is the foundation the franchise is built on.

The most obvious example of this is the souls series of games. For a game that is notoriously difficult and unforgiving, the game has ironically been beaten by more than most because of it. I’d go as far as to say that had the game have had more accessible difficulty settings, not only would it not have been the success it is today, it would be a game breaking addition. Difficulty is the soul of Dark/Demon souls, and it’s also why so many of the other mechanics work well in the game.

From the trial and error mechanics, to soul collecting, character builds, leaving hints and summoning help; it’s all built from the challenge of the game. Undermine that and you would undermine everything.

Inaccessibilities like those found in these games also feed into a wider phenomenon; that of the gaming communities. Say what you like about gamers; when it comes to communities that form from games like Dark Souls, they’re a cohesive bunch that produce invaluable supportive advice for conquering games. From FAQ’s, to Wiki’s, YouTube video’s and forums; people come together to discuss and overcome the challenges at hand in a way that’s quite remarkable. It becomes a group effort, where vast resources of information are created for free by the community, for the community. This level of cohesion is born from inaccessibility and is not found to this degree in games that don’t have it.

From a games critique point of view, accessibility is certainly a slippery subject; one that really does boil down to personal opinion, but one that I think is definitely deserving of more careful consideration. It’s all too easy to label a lacking component as bad, without really contemplating if less is sometimes more.

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The Best Gaming Console of all Time (Part 1)

consoles

A hotly debated subject this one. The best console ever. Ever. EV-VER! Everyone has got one and, although some people apply a degree of reasoning when they state their choice, chances are it’s just their personal favourite. I’ve decided to get to the bottom of this using a slightly (can’t stress the SLIGHTLY enough) more pragmatic approach. Rather than arriving at an answer and back-filling with logic, I’m going to start at the beginning, create a shortlist and then apply a rating system to arrive at the answer. The DEFINITIVE answer. Part 1 is creating the shortlist.

First Generation

Fuck the first generation. All shite.

Second Generation

Fuck the second generation, all shite. Not as shite as the first generation, and you could argue the Atari 2600, but still shite and overshadowed by Atari’s home computers.

Third Generation

Now we’re getting somewhere. The NES (Nintendo Entertainment System) is a attributing fact to the revival of the games industry. Only a div wouldn’t put that on the shortlist. Sega’s Master System is a decent effort, but definitely on the B team of the 8bit consoles. Sorry Sega.

Forth Generation

Fuck the Neo-Geo. Who knows anyone that had a CD-I? The only consoles of note (and they’re both behemoths as far as I’m concerned) are the SNES and the Mega Drive (Genesis if you’re a yank).

I really want to push for the Mega Drive here, but I know that’s a personal bias creeping in. The Mega Drive seemed to dominate a bit more in Europe, whereas the the SNES dominated world wide, and also had a stronger library of games. The Mega Drive is the first console (that I know of) to have expandable hardware, with the 32x and the Mega CD. From that perspective it stands out from the SNES…but neither really managed to impact the industry in a fundamental way. So, I’m going to have to accept the SNES (Super Nintendo Entertainment System).

Fifth Generation

Sony Playstation. Nuff said. Sony, despite being peppy new-comers to the console market, managed to decimate the competition and own the fifth generation. It shifted over 100 million consoles, whereas the Sega Saturn only managed a tenth of that figure.

Amiga (CD32) and Atari (Jaguar) both swung and missed, marking the last time the home computer giants would venture into the market. The N64 is also going to make the shortlist. It had some extremely influential games in the console market, was a leap forward in 3D graphics and (I think) introduced the first rumble (pak) controllers; which went on to become an accepted norm in controller technology.

Sixth Generation

Ooooh, a tricky one. We can start off by eliminating the Gamecube and accepting the Playstation 2. The former is meh, and latter is mega.

The blatant Playstation win would usually be enough to knock its rival out of the running  had they been comparative machines; which they were…accept for online. The Xbox really helped take console gaming online like no other before it. Xbox live was (and still is) such a good service that, generations later, others are still playing catch up. Ok, Xbox makes the shortlist.

Last, but not least, Sega’s Dreamcast (RIP)Although short-lived and Sega’s final foray in the hardware market, the Dreamcast was a machine that was ahead of its time (VGA support, first built in modem) and one seemingly deserving of more than its lot in life.

Seventh Generation

There’s no denying the Nintendo Wii and the impact it had. Although I’m sure many of them collected dust, it seemed every living room had one nestled under the television.

The 360 vs PS3 battle is probably the most contentious of any. The Playstation 3 had blu-ray (which went on to win the Blu ray vs HD DVD battle), but was very expensive at launch, lacked games and under-performed. The 360 was actually a phenomenal all-round games machines, online and off – but was marred by crippling hardware issues (RROD).

Hardware differences aside, both machines offered the same features when it came to gaming, only the Xbox 360 did it slightly better. Multi-platform games almost always performed better, online support was far Superior and the machine was cheaper; so Xbox 360 it is.

Eight Generation

The underappreciated Wii U can be removed from the equation straight away, leaving just the similar offerings of the Xbox One and Playstation four. It’s not much of a battle though. Learning from its previous mistakes, Sony released a simple, solid gaming device. Incorporating Sony’s previous mistakes, Xbox released an ambitious incorporated media hub device and also refused to let the shitty kinect die. Xbox aimed high but missed; Playstation Four makes the shortlist from the Eight Generation.

Ninth Generation?

Nintendo’s Switch is off to a much stronger start than its predecessor, but at the moment it’s a one trick pony…and that pony is a cross-gen title. It’s too early to tell, so the Switch doesn’t make the shortlist.

The Shortlist

So this is the list of contenders for The Greatest Console of all time:

  • Nintendo Entertainment System
  • Super Nintendo Entertainment System
  • Sony Playstation
  • Nintendo 64
  • Sony Playstation 2
  • Microsoft Xbox
  • Sega Dreamcast
  • Nintendo Wii
  • Xbox 360
  • Playstation Four

In Part 2 I’ll be be putting each console through a rating process to crown one of them the winner.