Redefining Handheld Gaming

This article was originally published on Ferretbrain. I’ve backdated it to its original Ferretbrain publication date but it may have been edited and amended since its original appearance.

Like our editor, I’m convinced that PC gaming is dying, if not dead already. Specifically, I am of the opinion that consoles have reached a stage in their development where no game genre that was previously held to be superior on the PC cannot be presented just as enjoyably (if not more so) on a console system. I used to be big on first-person shooters, yet the last three I played through were on the PS2; having been privileged with a glimpse of Bioshock running on the XBox 360, I have seen how even the more complex FPSes can be presented with ease. It used to be the accepted wisdom that non-Japanese RPGs had to be played on the PC, yet Oblivion was released on the 360 and I don’t see any reason why versions of, say, Planescape: Torment or Knights of the Old Republic couldn’t work on a console these days. While some genres are still stronger on the PC than on consoles these days, that’s not for a lack of processing power or control mechanisms on consoles; it’s simply a matter of market attitudes. People believe that PCs are better at certain games, therefore people buy certain types of games for the PC preferentially, therefore games companies produce those games for the PC.

But, of course, innovative game companies can and will find ways of coming up with new console experiences, and thus disprove the myths which are currently providing PC gaming with a grotesque parody of life. The life support machines are being turned off, one by one, as consoles come with new features for designers to play with – internet connectivity and hard drives for the PS3s and XBox 360s, and for the new Nintendo consoles we have new and interesting control systems. It is those control systems which have enabled game companies to produce workable first-person shooters, real-time strategy games and turn-based skirmish wargames for the Nintendo DS, three genres I never expected to see on a handheld gaming system. Two out of three of these games – the more successful ones – make heavy use of the DS’s innovative stylus-and-touchscreen control mechanism, which can essentially replicate anything you would normally do with a mouse – simply substitute point-and-poke for point-and-click. Of course, just because the technology you have available supports the sort of game you want to make doesn’t guarantee that what you produce is any good – decent gameplay, competent presentation and general talent on the part of the design team are also needed. Some of these games are more successful than others.

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