It’s sometimes tough to see it as its happening, when when we look back on the most recent year, some trends start to emerge, whether we’re looking at tech, movies, world news, or whatever else. It’s no different for video games. We trolled through the last year of news stories and game releases and came out with some of the common threads we saw woven throughout the year; some good, some bad, and a few right in between.
Now that the new consoles are out in full swing, we’re seeing bigger patches coming down the pipe to accompany these new games. Sometimes the developer caught onto some issues once it sent the game off for printing/publishing. Other times, a release date was found to be more important than cleaning up egregious bugs or actually finishing the game.
We started early on with a 13 gigabyte Dead Rising 3 patch that seemed mostly designed to get DLC data onto owners systems before they bought the content. Wolfenstein: The New Order had a 7 gigabyte patch ready to go on day 1 that improved the play experience for many users. Halo: The Master Chief Collection was subject to a 15 gigabyte patch on release day that added the game’s mulitplayer segment. Assassin’s Creed: Unity was patched repeatedly following release, with one patch clocking in just under 7 gigabytes. A glitch with that one was even forcing Xbox One owners to re-download the whole game.
With games getting bigger and internet connections getting faster among the core userbase, we can likely expect these patches to stay this big and maybe even grow a bit, while those with transfer caps and slower connections are left waiting days to play their games.
The Continuing Approach of VR
I’m not going to blow smoke and tell you that VR has arrived. It’s not here yet. But it’s coming, and at this point, no one can stop it.
The early part of the year saw consistently updates from Oculus VR as the Kickstarter-funded company worked on its product and hired on big names like Id’s John Carmack and Valve’s former VR lead to help develop the technology.
Sony followed Oculus’ strong start by announcing Project Morpheus in March, which it demoed at E3 this summer and at the PlayStation Experience show in December.
The biggest proof that virtual reality headsets are an inevitability, though, was the March acquisition of Oculus VR by Facebook for $2 billion. Things don’t look to be slowing down as Oculus, still operating fairly independently, continues to acquire various smaller companies working on complementary technologies. Most recently, Oculus took over Nimble VR, a company working on technology for tracking your hands, and 13th Lab, a team developing a framework to create accurate reconstruction of real world environments in real time.
Virtual reality might not be here quite yet, but all the necessary technologies needed to make it what the science fiction fantasies of yesteryear are coming together.
Big Video Game Acquisitions
Speaking of Oculus’ acquisition by Facebook, 2014 was a year of huge acquisitions in video games.
Facebook, of course, acquired Oculus, and Oculus acquired a pile of smaller companies.
Microsoft paid a whopping $2.5 billion for Minecraft developer Mojang in September, making Microsoft a company that now publishes games on PlayStation and Apple devices and enabling Minecraft creator Notch to achieve the ultimate dream of buying a house with a “candy room.”
The other big handshake of the year was almost done by Google, but Amazon beat them to it in a last minute deal to acquire the game streaming site, Twitch.tv. Twitch has grown by leaps and bounds in the last couple years, and it was only a matter of time until someone was willing to write a big enough check. Amazon wrote one for just over a billion. What’s a few dollars when you can take away another potential ad source from Google?
Twitch Matures & Dominates
Twitch has been around a while, but the platform truly matured this year as the place to stream. Both the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One have built in streaming capability, and it’s easier than ever to stream PC games.
Games like Dota 2 and League of Legends have made the service bigger than ever, and cultural memes like Twitch Plays Pokémon are spawning from it as well. It’s also becoming the go-to service for events like E3 as the way for game companies to get word out to fans. After a few really weird years of television versions, Twitch was the venue for the first Game Awards show that didn’t seem like quite as big a joke as we’re used to.
Twitch has a strong brand and the monstrous backing of Amazon guarantees its growth and solidifies it is here to stay.
Delayed Games & Broken Promises
As much joy as there was this year to be had in gaming, it was also a year with more disappointments than I can remember in recent history.
Watch_Dogs was supposed to signal the arrival of next gen. It was the first game we saw – even before the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One were announced – that we knew was going to be on the next generation of consoles. It was set to be a launch game, and the demos we saw for the game were downright magical. They looked great and showed off some neat gameplay that could make for some truly interesting scenarios. After an absolutely last minute delay, however, the game ended up arriving at the tail end of May. Instead of a magical experience, though, we got a bland game set in a bland city featuring a bland protagonist with graphics hamstrung by the previous generation of consoles (and a lack of familiarity with the new ones).
E3 and the next few months saw a number of the fall’s most anticipated games – titles like The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, Batman: Arkham Knight, and The Order: 1886 – slip into the first half of this year.
This was a disappointment until the games that weren’t delayed started to come out. While plenty were great, some of the biggest games were broken in major, inexcusable ways. While we’ve had a few troubled launches in the last couple years – I’m looking at you, Electronic Arts – the number of broken games and the degree to which they’re broken are both unprecedented.
Japanese Developers Started to Find Their Groove
While Western developers were releasing broken games with muddy graphics, though, Japanese developers were getting their groove back. FROM Software started the year strong with Dark Souls II and ended with great-looking previews of Bloodborne. Platinum Games released Bayonetta 2 after a long (very long) wait to nearly universal critical acclaim. We all agreed that Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes was too short, but also agreed that what was there was fabulous, and P.T., also built in the Fox Engine, was a unique experience in horror gaming. Games like Danganronpa gave new life to the PS Vita, while Persona Q and Bravely Default reminded us that the JRPG is nowhere near dead.
And then there’s Nintendo. It’s arguable that Nintendo had their best year of games in a long time despite the Wii U’s continued struggle. We have not one, but two great Super Smash Bros. games, one of the best entries in the Mario Kart series with Mario Kart 8, and Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze. We finished the year on a strong note with Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker. The 3DS saw games like Mario Golf, Kirby: Triple Deluxe and Pokemon Omega Ruby/Alpha Sapphire in addition to the aforementioned 3DS edition of Super Smash Bros.
If you’re an English-speaking gamer with an affinity for Japanese creations, this was a better year than the last few, with PS Vita, 3DS, and Wii U systems getting more on-time than they’ve had in a while.
Games got Colorful
Even without Nintendo’s help, games got colorful this year. Japanese games tend to be pretty colorful most of the time, but even Western games were getting in on the increased color palette. We got used to games being brown, grey, or sometimes blue or green in the last generation, but we’re starting to see some more colorful stuff.
Plants vs Zombies: Garden Warfare hit Xbox One initially, while Infamous: Second Son is a PlayStation 4 exclusive. Both came out early this year and were a breath of fresh air. Enough so that we felt like we needed to talk about it.
Fall, meanwhile, was brightened up by Forza Horizon 2, which took us to the vibrant, sun-lit fields and coasts of southern Europe to let us drive all manner of brightly colored sports car. Sunset Overdrive came through, too, on its promise to make the Awesomepocalyse a colorful, stylish experience. Indie games like Shovel Knight and about a billion others have continued to remind us that there’s a whole rainbow of colors to use.
Here’s hoping we see even more of this in the coming year.