The End of a Generation: The 7th and I
I'm writing a series of posts about the seventh generation of consoles and the games that graced them (PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Wii, PSP and DS). This will include a Top 20 countdown, thoughts on the industry, silly pictures and whatever else comes to mind.
November 2005 saw the release of the Xbox 360 in the US, the first home console of the seventh generation. It also happens to be the month that I upped sticks and moved to Japan. I don’t recall being aware of the 360 at the time, in fact my interest in video games was at an all-time low, but that would change as the generation progressed. The era of 360-PS3-Wii-DS-PSP spans some of the most exciting and eventful years of my life - I'm not dead yet, but I’m told everything goes downhill from 30 - and it turned my interest in video games into a passion. All in all, it was a pretty good eight years.
My decision to move to Japan was a rather hasty one. I was supposed to be going back to university to study law following a year out. However, as much as I tried to sell myself on the prospect of fourteen hour work days, pinstripe suits, coke, cocktails and hookers, I was far from convinced. A summer of travelling introduced me to a world outside of my comfort zone, and then the following year a fortnight backpacking in Japan confirmed my doubts. So I cancelled my university place, got myself an English teaching job with the despicable NOVA, secured my visa and headed out to Japan in search of adventure and cheap, convenience store booze, both of which I found in abundance.
I arrived in Japan with only my Gameboy SP, Tactics Advance and a middling Sonic game. When I left in January 2010, I shipped four large cardboard boxes full of discs, cartridges and superfluous peripherals. Those were four years well spent and I've been adding to that collection ever since.
My seventh generation began with the PSP in late 2005. It was a long wait for my first pay cheque in Japan, and clubbing all night in Shibuya twice a week was taking its toll on my bank balance, yet I still splurged on a white PSP. I took my new toy everywhere, as I guided my Phoenix Suns through a season of NBA Live 2006, raced through Wipeout and tried to find a practical use for Talkman.
In those early years of the Seventh, I did much of my gaming on portables. The PSP was my main distraction and a DS would follow a year or so later. They were my train companions, as work took me across the length and breadth of Tokyo. I was able to invest tens of hours into games like Metal Gear Solid Portable Ops, Crisis Core and Chrono Trigger while successfully avoiding eye contact with other commuters.
Both systems would suffer once we moved back to England in 2010. With lengthy commutes a thing of the past, both handhelds quickly fell out of favour, though the PSP made a brief comeback in 2011 with the excellent Tactics Ogre. Things have certainly changed this year, as stunners like Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate (3DS) and Persona 4 Golden (Vita) have ensured that my portables have seen plenty of action.
The Wii was my first home console of the era. Although we like to ridicule the visuals and family-friendly software, at the time I was greatly impressed. The Wii was and remains The party console. Some of my all-time favourite local multiplayer experiences, somewhat of a throwback in an era of online fragging, belong to Wii titles like Resident Evil: Umbrella Chronicles and of course Wii Sports. Although it’s not quite a game, I adore Joysound Karaoke and it will ensure that the Wii remains plugged into the TV until the end of time, or at least until the Wii U, English version gets up to speed.
Then came the PS3, and it was love at first sight. Between my original, fat black brick and the slim model that would replace it, I have spent thousands of hours on my PS3 since the spring of 2008. Speaking of replacing hardware, this generation has been more expensive than any other. I have had to fork out for a second PS3, PSP and 360 over the last few years due to a range of faults, all of which occurred just outside of warranty. To Nintendo’s credit, I could probably crack a walnut with my DS and it would still work, or batter a home invader with my Wii without interrupting our karaoke session.
Doing some game journalizms at TGS 2009
The PS3 introduced me to online gaming, friend lists, digital purchases and trophies/achievements, all of which are now thoroughly integral to my video game experience. When I think of the seventh generation, I think of the PS3 first and, despite Sony’s numerous mistakes, I can honestly say I have never had as much fun with a console as I have with the third PlayStation.
I knew I wanted an Xbox 360, but I wasn’t really sure why. This was of little concern when, one evening, I staggered into a local electronics store after an afternoon spent in the pub and picked up a bundle. For the first time ever, I had all three major platforms and I tried to make the most of this new found wealth. I've enjoyed a number of games on the 360 - Mass Effect 2, Alan Wake and Dead Rising are the first that come to mind - but it was never more than an occasional distraction.
I try to give every platform a fair shake, but I did find Sony’s 7G exclusives to be far superior to Microsoft’s. Familiarity and Metal Gear Solid 4 made me choose the PS3 at first; the quality of the software ensured that I never jumped ship, despite Sony’s best attempts to sabotage its image. High prices, overconfidence in their brand, lack of innovation in everything but the software and of course their mishandling of the PSN hack marked a difficult generation for Sony, where they lost a great deal of goodwill earned over the last fifteen years. It will be interesting to see whether they can build upon a strong finish and also maintain the lead that Microsoft has gifted them into the next generation.
I bought far too many games over the last eight years - I blame Akihabara (Tokyo) and online shopping. In Japan I learnt to love the high street again; back in England I remembered how to hate it. Shopping in Akihabara was a joy, once you learnt to ignore all the other human beings, whether I was looking for new games or raiding the retro stores. The high street experience is abysmal in England but I found solace online, where most games are heavily discounted within a month or two, as retailers vie for your attention in an effort to offload five thousand unwanted copies of Fuse. Although you wouldn't know by looking at suggested retail prices, it is now cheaper than ever to build up an extensive library of games, and I certainly made the most of discounts over the last few years.
“I can feel it coming over me, I feel it all around me”
As my enthusiasm for games and the industry grew throughout this generation, I started to look for ways to share my interest. I began blogging in 2008 and then made my way to 1UP the following year, where I met countless other gamers from all over the world. I eventually settled here in late 2010, as well as contributing to other sites and even appearing in print on a couple of occasions. For a while, playing and writing about games became inseparable, as I'd dedicate a few sentences to even the most forgettable of titles.
Attending Tokyo Game Show on a Press Pass from 2009-2011 was a high point. It was a chance to view the inner workings of the industry and its PR machine, or at least gate-crash the party before being chased off by an angry SEGA rep. It was two days each year of new games, drinking and looking down my nose at all the plebs attending the nightmarish public days, and I loved it.
My seventh generation hasn’t just been about playing games. It’s been about sharing them with like-minded people, deconstructing Metal Gear Solid 4 over several beers with friends, posing on a Yakuza throne, listening to a teenager battle rapping an entire Call of Duty lobby, retail therapy, considering burying my dead PS3, trying not to swear too much on a podcast, singing the Street Fighter IV theme tune at karaoke and keeping a regular blog for the best part of five years. It’s all these things and so much more. But yeah, I suppose it’s mostly been about playing games, lots of games.