In a memory bank somewhere in most peoples heads there are memories of flashing lights and vibrant noises that would dazzle any child and even a few adults. A place where your hands would smell of copper and musty metal. The same place where people would come together to revel in winning and console each other when losing the battle. Groups of people would gather to watch the best in the area hammering buttons as if their lives depended on it. The success and the glory is all they and you were working for, everyone strived for the highest score.
These are distant memories now as most arcades, in the UK at least, are now homes to gambling. Fruit machines and touch screen based gambling products are now the most “played” machines in our humble arcades.
Everybody, no matter who they are, has a memory of pumping ten pence coins into games like Track and Field or Street Fighter 2. However, now these days are dead or dying in towns around the world and it’s up to companies like Microsoft to offer fans of gaming a way to battle for that elusive Hi-Score.
When stepping into the race for the crown of “king of the Hi-Def generation” Microsoft brought a lot with them to the dance. Among the High Definition graphics, improved interfaces and bringing consumers an online experience that is second to none, Microsoft also brought fundamentals of gaming back to the fold.
With the relaunch of XBOX Live arcade(XBLA) and the new addition of achievement points, Microsoft had given everyone their own little arcade and the feelings that come with it. Hi-Scores and leaderboard bragging were soon becoming big business again and the competition would soon stand on their tiptoes to peek into the gardens of Microsoft and go scrumping for their ideas.
Granted these additions can never replace the feeling of playing the latest games in an arcade or typing in your three letter initials so that people can see you were there. However this is the closest some people will get to reliving those memories.
By downloading these arcade games on XBLA people can now play games, of which the majority are designed with competitive leaderboards in mind. Your three letter tag is now an inventive gamertag and you’re no longer confined to your local area for competition, the world truly is your oyster.
From old school classics like Pac-Man to contemporary games like Outrun Online Arcade, XBLA is now your fix for Hi-Score gaming.
Here I am stating the obvious, that Microsoft was successful in launching XBLA. However people overlook the fact that they have effectively launched a gaming platform within a gaming platform. During previous generations there wasn’t always a place that everyone could go to battle it out in a way that is reminiscent of days gone by. Now that XBLA exists it’s become a way of life for many gamers, some people find that their money can be better spent in the new virtual arcades. It’s a place to find their friends and a way to play for supremacy.
Since it’s launch on XBOX 360 there’s been over 200 titles released on XBLA, one of the first games was actually bundled with 360’s on their hard drives, the game was Hexic HD.
A perfect launch game to hook people into the arcade concept. Microsoft eased gamers into this new addiction by offering a new game from Alexey Pajitnov, best known as the creator of Tetris.
From playing Hexic, people have built vast collections of arcade games many of which people consistently venture back to, probably more so than some retail games. This has led to Microsoft bringing in a lot of money for themselves while bringing many smiles to both “hardcore” and “casual” gamers.
However as mentioned before, it’s not just the arcade games found on the marketplace that bring back a sense of nostalgia. Microsoft ushered in a radical prospect of gaining Hi-Scores across your gaming career. Bringing in achievement points or a gamerscore as it’s otherwise called, gamers could play all of their retail and arcade games and garner a points value for their hard work.
Although some gamers find achievement points to be frivolous and though they can be easily exploited, those little badges of self satisfaction that pop up on screen have changed gaming for the better.
Gamers are getting more from their games now.
Sure there have always been a select number of people who would hunt for every collectible in an open world or those that would play up to the highest difficulty, but now more people are searching for all of the orbs and playing on veteran because they’re after those elusive points.
It all comes back to Hi-Score hunting. Humans like being rewarded for their hard work and achievement points do just that. As a gamer of many years, I’ve played hundreds of games over time and many of them have been finished and I’ve moved on, but I would never normally jump up to the higher difficulty as there was always something else to play. Now I want to delve inside these games more and experience each set piece and nuance that the developer has put there.
Many gamers be they, “hardcore” or “casual” see certain achievements as important or more so than finishing the main game. To some, searching out each lightseed on Prince Of Persia is of equal importance to that of getting to the end credits.
The point I’m trying to get across in a roundabout way is, that back in the SEGA Vs Nintendo generation of plumbers Vs hedgehogs, games were played over and over. Most of the time this was due to their cost and the fact that you or your parents had spent a lot of hard earned money on those games, so you wanted to squeeze out every drop of gaming. You would complete it as many times as you could, you’d collect all of the rings and chaos emeralds and you’d explore all of the worlds with and without warp whistles.
Microsoft has tapped into that feeling of exploration and completion, by offering you a reward for exploring areas that you may have passed by. Climbing to the top of the agency tower in Crackdown bagged you 10g towards your gamerscore and then just for fun you’d get another 10g for jumping off into the ocean.
These additions to our gaming lives have reignited passions amongst players. Those same people that stood in loud arcades on a Saturday and played far too much Virtua Cop and Sega Rally are now the people who stand proud on the leaderboards of Geometry Wars and they will often check back to attempt to beat their previous scores.
Players can also use the XBOX dashboard to compare their gamerscores with each of their friends, challenges can be thrown down and you can race each other to the usual completion total of 1000 points for retail games.
Whole websites are being set up on a regular basis for people to track their total gamerscore against other XBOX users. Forums all over the internet are awash with signatures that are homes to gamercards. A calling card with your name and gamerscore on, it’s almost like saying meet me at this arcade at this time and “come and have a go if you think you’re hard enough”
Many people will claim that Nintendo has revolutionised the current generation of consoles by bringing motion controls and easily accessible games to public attention, But really Microsoft are the ones pulling at your heart strings. They may have their problems, Red Ring Of Doom and E74 errors haven’t helped Microsoft in their quest for victory, But hardware faults aside they are pushing boundaries that are now being mimicked.
SONY now has trophy support for most of their games and achievements can even be found on steam and through flash game websites. It’s pretty obvious that we as gamers crave our names to be attached to Hi-Scores, be it through arcade games on XBLA and to a lesser extent on PSN or via that magical number that sits below your gamertag.
Publishers can never take you back to the arcades but the community still lives on, it’s just evolved into a different beast. Microsoft has lead the charge and others have followed suit, blatant copies or not, gamers around the world can get the rewards they seek and developers can show off their games to a better extent because we will explore them more. As more gamerpoints are earned and as more people break new scores on arcade games we can find a place to throw our hats into the ring and hope to have our names in lights.
Microsoft HAS brought back the memories of days past and the arcade feeling still lives on.