The Video Games landscape over the course of just the past five years has changed immensely, and not just due to the introduction of two new core platforms (Sony’s PlayStation 4 and Microsoft’s Xbox One) but also as a result of a move towards altering its basic focus.
That sort of evolution is not strange to this subculture and the people who make up its citizens. If you are surprised by my use of words like “citizens” and “subculture” perhaps you are not as deeply invested into the social side of gaming as you think. Because in most respects the VG Community as a whole and the many specialized groups that essentially make up its defined subcultures are every bit a culture-based society of its own within the greater entity that we think of as human society.
That was not always true.
When the first Video Games War happened in the mid 1980s as the value and the quality of the games that were being created and sold was called into question by its own community, the idea that a cultural identity might be formed from something like a Video Game community was certainly not what might be said as a normal evolution.
But as other media-based movements began to morph into their own basic cultural and social identities, the cataclysm that resulted from what we now consider to be the first Video Games War of the 20th Century ended up creating the sort of circumstances that naturally opened the door for just that sort of development.
To be blunt, gamers were angry over the process of creating what amounts to Shovel-Ware as cheap and fundamentally broken games were foisted off upon the game consumer community using tactics like misleading advertisements and worse, outright lies that were planted as reviews and/or social commentary at the time that totally misrepresented the substance of what the games were… All of that had a decidedly hostile consequence with the community eventually turning against the bulk of the studios who were responsible for creating those circumstances.
Taking a look back, what we now know today thanks to the benefits of hindsight is that the publishers rather than the development studios were largely responsible for the decisions to push broken or shoddily made games onto the gaming public – publishers whose interest was solely and narrowly focused upon boosting the black ink contained in the bottom line in order to appease their shareholders.
When you add into that unfortunate reality the very obvious disconnect that existed between the publishers of the games and the studios that crafted them – and then factor in an even larger disconnect between both the development studios and the publishers with their collective relations to the Gamer Community, it gets a lot easier to understand both how it happened and why it resulted in the scorched-earth war.
In the plainest terms, the one side had no clue what the other wanted from their games, and in fact it can be pretty clearly pointed out now that the nearly violent reaction – the First VG War – was absolutely necessary because it was that level of reaction that was required to make the developers fully aware of just how badly they were disappointing their customer base.
That this conflict resulted in the majority of those development studios being forced out of business alone illustrates how serious the disconnect was, and why it needed to be fixed.
Put another way, the game development studios, taking their leads from the game publishers, were pumping out what amounts to the home-console equivalent to the type of games that were popular in the arcades and bars – the games that were being installed in coin-operated video game arcade machines basically.
The problem with that was, by the mid-1980s the gaming community had matured beyond that sort of focus, and was no longer interested in what was basically a recreation of arcade games for home play.
If a gamer wanted to play an arcade-style game, they would seek those games out in their favorite watering holes or video game arcades – and they DID on a regular basis.
But thanks to some ground-breaking RPG and Action-Adventure games that were created and released through the mid-80s that same gamer community now understood and – what is more – appreciated – what their home gaming consoles could REALLY offer.
So the idea of basically being offered recycled arcade genre drivel on a routine basis not only made them angry, it made the community feel (rightly as it turned out) that they were both being taken for granted and being told what to like.
It got so bad in the end – before the war settled all of that – that a typical video game release had to make ALL of its profits from sales in the first 72 hours following release to the streets, because that was about how long it took for world-of-mouth to basically out a crappy game and kill its sales.
Logically the only possible solution to this situation – and the proper one as it turned out – was to stop making crap games and start to really put in the effort to both seek out what the community wanted, and then deliver that.
So in the end around 80% of the development studios that existed prior to the First VG War were forced out of business not by consumers choosing to boycott them (though they did do that) but rather as the direct result of their inability to change their business models to match the new economic imperative that had developed.
That is to say they did not have the capability to actually innovate – to create new games utilizing a previously established pattern that offered the consumer a larger ratio of entertainment versus cost. Man that sounds so unlikely, but it was true. The development studios were so used to picking a handful of elements from a list and then putting together a game whose sole creative elements came down to the colors that were chosen for the palate and whether or not some objects in a game blinked that they found themselves in a rut that offered no exits.
What was true then – and remains true – is that a good idea did not necessarily equate to a good game. So when a developer managed to create a good game – which meant a commercially viable and successful titles that the consumers of that product actually liked – the decision to begin cranking out sequels really was not a decision at all – it was called a business model!
Now granted, when a sequel was rushed to the market the chances were that it was going to be lower in quality and entertainment than the original, but sometimes that was not true. The Donkey Kong series is a great example of that – though to be fair Rare and Nintendo did not rush games to market as a general rule – sequel or not.
Still you get the idea – the quality and value of games went up, gamers were happy, and the game culture began to solidify into multiple sub-types based on things like platform and genre.
It was all good – some really great gamer series were the result, and from the late 1980s onward there was something of a gaming renaissance in play.
When The Need for Speed arrived on the scene it contained a collection of ideas that really resonated with the gamers of the time, and naturally the wizards behind the game saw great potential for it, as a game series.
For a long time – nearly a decade – the games that were being produced really worked well – they followed the basic pattern that the original had established, and they offered a predictable and quality game play and entertainment experience.
At some point though, as the original wizards were replaced by new and younger ones, the path that they had been following became confused. Their direction was off, and eventually it got really off. The format or formula, call it what you will, basically became a muddled idea that anything that involved racing cars was basically okay. Sort of like what we imagine the situation was when the wizards behind Battlefield came up with Battlefield Hardline. Just saying…
So when the decision was eventually made that it was time for the Need for Speed series to return to its roots, that involved far more than simply the creation of a great game following the original path. It involved first seeing if it was even possible to convince the players that the wizards had the ability to do that!
So that is where they were when they sat down to chart out the path to bring Need for Speed (2015) to market.
Need for Speed (2015)
By the time that the game released in November of 2015 the hype that had been generated around it, and the very dedicated and genuine efforts of the PRs who were behind promoting it, had succeeded in the most important parts of what it was they had been hired to accomplish.
They had, in essence, managed to communicate to the gaming public that this new game was both a reboot of the original game series, and that it would offer players the sort and caliber of game play that they not only missed but had come to expect from the series – and so found each of the last half-dozen games in the series to be disappointments because of those expectations.
That is simply amazing. And not just because it seems reasonable that the wizards behind the games had to pretty much KNOW that was happening, but rather amazing because even though they KNEW that reaction was likely as they crafted and released game after game that failed to include the basic premise that the gamer community expected – but they CONTINUED to create those diverted games anyway!
Think about that for a moment will you? They managed to so broadly alter the very basic identity of the game series so badly that by the time they got around to working on a series reboot, they had to PAY their Public Relations reps to explain to the gaming public that this new game was NOT going to disappoint them! Mind blowing. Simply mind blowing.
Here There Be Dragons
When the game arrived – and for us that came in the form of a Digital Key that we needed to enter into our Xbox One to unlock a license for the game and then download it from the LIVE service – we were pretty pumped up because the PRs had managed to successfully communicate to us that this new reboot title would not simply revert the game series back to the style and substance we had come to associate with it, but would in effect give us a game play experience that was if not identical to that of the game that first established the series, was at least similar enough so as to make the difference inconsequential.
So by the time the game fully downloaded and patched, we were good and damn ready to be pleased. Know what? The game actually delivers on that promise and, even more important, despite being handicapped by the inclusion of a large amount of more recent game play mechanisms, also delivers a level of play, entertainment, and excitement that almost made the last five years of drivel worth it!
Easing our way into NFS 2015 was a complicated and rather slow process, largely because the expectations of disappointment kept getting in the way.
Once we managed to convince the little voices in our head that this was, in fact, NOT going to be the morphed interpretation of a combination of Hot Pursuit, Unleashed, and Wanted, we were able to start judging the game on its own merits, and folks, it has a lot to say for itself.
Making it Our Own?
One of the points to the evolution of the video game as entertainment that really stands out is how well it integrates its own story and game play mech while meeting certain personal expectations that are near-universal among the gaming community.
What I mean by that is actually pretty simple – this is a street-racing game within which the primary components are the streets, and the cars.
That being the case – and admittedly we had hopes – the ultimate expression of success in this case would be the ability for the player to not only find in the catalog of cars in the game one of their favorite models, but also have the ability to customize it. And all that? It is here.
Often times when writing a post like this it helps to present an example – so as to make it clear that those warm and fuzzy feelings of satisfaction are in fact based upon some real experience rather than, you know, a hypothetical one?
1986 Toyota Sprinter GT APEX
In the 1980s there were a lot of cars that certainly qualified as performance examples – and just like any era you might care to designate, there were cars that ended up being slightly or greatly more popular than others.
In 1980s Australia (which is where I was and grew up) the go-fast choo-choo cars of the era that you often read about in race magazines about the street racing scene in Cali were mostly restricted to a small list of really expensive rails that nobody actually had in Oz. Corvettes, Camaros, Porches, and the like, which hey, we would have LOVED to have but reality bites.
No, what you found in Oz – and I suspect that this was also true about America, the UK, and Europe – was a more reserved list of cars – mostly the sort that doubled as your daily transportation when you were not taking them out on the weekend to race them.
What am I talking about? Well, this list is pretty representative of what you often found at the time on the street, actually racing:
- Alfa Romeo Alfasud
- Audi 5000CS Turbo Quattro
- BMW M3 E30
- BMW M5 E28
- Ford Falcon XP
- Holden VL Calais Director
- Honda Civic Si
- Honda CRX HF
- Honda Prelude
- Lancia Delta Integrale
- Lancia Delta S4 Stradale
- Mazda RX7
- Mini Cooper
- Nissan 240SX
- Nissan Z31 300ZX Fairlady
- Peugeot 205 GTi
- Saab 900 Turbo
- Subaru GL-10 Turbo
- Subaru GL Brat
- Toyota AE86 Sprinter Trueno
- Toyota W10 MR2
- Volkswagen Golf Mk1 GTI
From that list there was a handful of cars I truly liked. In fact one car in particular I both liked but could never quite manage to afford – and that was the 1986 Toyota AE86 Sprinter Trueno. Yeah, compared to some of the cars that came later it was really more of a bare-bones racer than the jewel in the crown, but the heart wants what the heart wants. And my heart wanted a Trueno!
So you can imagine how stoked I was to discover that exact car among the catalog of cars available in the game.
From the get go I started out with a 2014 Subaru BRZ Premium – as that was the starter car I liked best from the three that I had to choose from. Using that car I began doing races to get the bank I would need not only to buy me a Trueno, but then to afford to upgrade it.
I have reached that point in my game play. I am happy – thrilled! Tickled! Very pleased? To tell you that I now proudly race the following go-fast choo-choo Trueno:
1986 Toyota Sprinter GT APEX
Its performance specs are:
- 0-60 mph (s) — 4.53s
- 0-100 mph (s) — 9.67s
- 1/4 mile (s) / (mph) — 12.70s @ 119
- Top Speed (mph) — 166
- Horsepower (hp) — 353
- Max Torque (ft-lb) — 255
Bearing in mind that I am only Level 13 at this point and so am quite limited as to the kit I can buy, its present very winning load-out in kit and upgrades consists of:
- Air Filter: Short RAM Air Intake.
- Cooling System: Intercooler w/h 26 x 6.
- Intake Manifold: Aftermarket Edition.
- Fuel System: High Performance Fuel Injectors.
- Forced Induction: Turbocharger EliteTune-TC2-B-PRO.
- Electric System: Aftermarket Wiring.
- Ignition: Stock.
- ECU: Sport ECU Flash.
- Engine Block: Elite TUning Ported Block v.2.
- CAM Shaft: Aftermarket Sport Plus Elite 4 243 int / 283 exh.
- Cylinder Heads: Sport Plished.
- Exhaust Manifold: Sport EL Manifold.
- Exhaust: Sport Catted Race Exhaust.
- Clutch: Sport Clutch w/0.4s gear change time.
- Nitrous System: 5lb Capacity Time Refill.
- Suspension: Semi-Adjustable Sport Suspension.
- Differential: Semi-Adjustable Sport Differential.
- Tires: E/T-G2-MID-GRP SpeedHunters.
- Brakes: Semi-Adjustable Sport Brakes.
- Handbrake: Semi-Adjustable Sport Handbrakes.
- Sway Bars: Semi-Adjustable Sport Sway Bars.
That is way beyond just respectible mind you – heck in the 1980s if you had told me that I would be able to get 252 Horsepower in that configuration I would have been like ?! As in what the heck could I possible need that much for?! What else HAD that much?!
And the thing is I would totally have better specs for this ride if I was just ten levels higher in XP because why? Because the really good kit is Level-Locked!
In My Other Life
In addition to being a freelance writer who works the business and tech beats, I also write extensively on the video games beat as both a game guide and walkthrough writer, industry news journalist, and video game reviewer – yeah I know, getting paid to play video games, cool right?
That said, I reviewed Need for Speed (2015) for the Cape Cod Times – if you would like to see what my impressions of the game were in the review arena, head on over and check out the review at the following online link: