The video game industry has exploded in the past decade. This could be called an irrefutable fact. So what about this medium of entertainment has changed? Well almost everything would be the answer, so how about the design process?
Empathize and Define, what about these early steps has changed from the beginning of the industry until now? Back in the 80’s there was not a large consumers market for video games and the only real form of profit was in arcade machines. With no home consoles it was incredibly hard to reach out to loyal customers who enjoy the platform, or to put themselves in the shoes of someone who might be interested in purchasing their products. Nowadays you have mediums like game stop, reddit and steam that act as hubs for gamers. These hubs have allowed for a community to be born and in turn have allowed for strong voices to reach developer ears, and that has led to developers receiving good input to increase the quality of their games.
Ideate is probably the step that has seen the most change. Originally the ideate process was limited by the technology of the era. Often video games were limited by the lack of “room”, “speed” and “flexibility”. That isn’t a reference to floppy disks but to the fact that nowadays programming is written, deleted, written again and debugged for hours and hours on end. But, this flexibility allows for testing and nuanced changes. So to focus in on the ideate step: games back then were very single minded in development. You are a marble, you travel through a level avoiding obstacles, rinse and repeat tens to hundreds or even thousands of times. There were no complex stories back in the day, there was no far cry, the last of us, the walking dead or battlefront (One of those is not like the others haha, its a jab at EA games). So the ideate step in development was totally different, I already said that but why do I keep repeating it? Because it wasn’t just different, it was REALLY different. Today developers have the chance to brainstorm and come up with fun fantastic games with a wide variety of events to include. For example the very infamous game GTA 5, this game is mostly about crime and the story focuses on you the player participating in planning and executing a heist at one point. Today if you go on youtube and look up GTA instead of robbery and other mindless violence you will see the occasional trick video where someone uses two mountains as a ramp for a motorcycle so they can land inside of a flying carrier. The focus of the story has nothing to do with that, or playing tennis, racing awesome cars, or even diving deep into the sea in a submarine. The ideate process today may be the most fun of the 5 because of how technology today does not limit the entire game to one activity and instead allows development to include as many fun and whacky events, quests, or random gameplay options.
Prototyping and Testing. Whats different today you may ask? Well even if you didn’t I’ll let you know: its different because back in the day when you created a game you worked with the hardware. When you created a prototype, that was your test and that was a single copy of your prototype game that you could let someone play. If you created a game with 25 levels of gameplay and the 13th level had a bug in it then you were screwed; you were screwed because you had to pull apart the hardware and guess at the problem before create another physical game. If you fixed the problem then great with the fix for level 13 you are good up until level 13 but you have no idea about the rest of the levels, so now you have to rip apart your prototypes which ends at a certain level and guess at the problem before fixing it or creating a new one. Today alphas (incomplete games that are only consistent of software and not reliant on a specific hardware) are opened to hundreds of people and then developers accept input and improve their game until a beta is created and opened to thousands of people. The process today is much more streamlined and bugs don’t require new hardware, or an investigation into why the old hardware was not working.
Old games are incredibly fun to play but they definitely suck compared to today’s artistic marvels. We are at the point where old games that required months of ingenuity and innovation on the part of the industry leaders can be programmed in a week during your second semester of a programming class. There are even developers today who create vast worlds and as a nod to their earliest works place the entirety of their early games into the new large games on a virtual computer as an easter egg.