I’ve moaned about how games aren’t nearly as good as they were in The Good Old Days of 48k limits and rubber keys many a time here on TSA, and I’ve often wondered as to why that actually is. It’s not the graphics, because as much as I loved the Spectrum’s massive 256 x 192 resolution, it is rather blocky. It’s not the sound, either, because back in the 8-bit days you were lucky if making sound didn’t actually pause the processor whilst it farted out whatever bleep you’d asked it to. The controls? Well, things were simpler, too, but then you never got to grips with a small plastic record deck in the 80’s, either, unless I’d missed out on something rather spectacular back then.
I’ve figured it out though: it’s the ability to write your own programs. I’m serious, too, and probably in the minority, but I love being creative, and I think that’s why the games these days that let you make your own content – LittleBigPlanet, Gravity Crash – are the ones I enjoy the most. In-game develoment tools aren’t nearly as powerful as a built-in version of BASIC, though, and whilst I can’t remember for sure I’d say that the majority of my time spent on the Spectrum and the Amiga was in designing and coding my own games. The Spectrum had Sinclair BASIC built in, and the Amiga played host to several versions of the almighty AMOS, and a brief search on Aminet shows some of my ‘work’ is still around…
True, I was never really that good at making games – the ideas were all there and the graphics weren’t a problem, but it was just in seeing things through to the end that I generally let myself down. I’ve made puzzle games on the Speccy, platform games on the Amiga and, via Lua, a two player shooting game on the PSP (called Wedgewars – check it out) and even tried to create something on the 360 via the wicked Indie Games scheme (although I’m blaming Michael for the death of that one) – none of which were really very good but it’s just something I love doing. The 360’s way in is a nice idea but the sheer amount of rubbish on the Marketplace is staggering and probably rather tricky to stand out amongst, especially when your game wouldn’t be much better anyway.
I don’t want to make games for the iPhone – I quite like having buttons in my games, but the PSP minis dev kit is incredibly tempting. If it wasn’t for buying a new house and saving for Nofi Jr I’d probably be saving up the thousand Euro entrance fee because as far as I’ve heard the minis are selling rather well (in Europe at least) and I’d quite like a slice of that pie. I don’t think SCEE are pushing minis as well as they could be but self promotion seems to work well for the few successful iPhone developers so I’d just shove massive adverts at the top of TSA for whatever half finished project I’d decided to focus on anyway, so that wouldn’t necessarily be a problem.
The best thing console manufacturers could do though would be something like YaBasic on the PlayStation. A closed shell with next to no low level access but a powerful enough chunk of the processor to make simple ideas possible – keep the community ratings that the Indie Games label uses and let developers build stuff on the consoles themselves and publish them to some kind of central repository for others to play. Yes, they’d never be the sort of things that would worry Insomniac or Naughty Dog but it would give me one less reason to be so disillusioned with the deluge of me-too identikit games that are currently flooding the market. They’d need to bundle in some kind of image editor, music creation package and 3D sculpture tool, mind, but things like Kodu have told me that there’s a market for something.
Even if it’s just me.