But whatever the motivation, these dedicated few are taking a huge monetary risk. They’re making a game that caters to a tiny slice of the market. And their demographic tends to be a bit, well, finicky when it comes to the details of a game title. If they miss the mark, things will go badly for them. If a large company like EA took a risk and made a hard-core flight sim and its sales tanked, the company is so diversified that it can “take the hit”, chalk it up to experience, and move on. If a small independent group creates a game and it tanks, it could be the end of their company. Money isn’t just power, it’s safety, too.
But it might not just be bad graphics or a bad physics model that hurts a title’s sales. What about the current copy protection debate? Or a lack of stable multiplayer code? Or a rushed release that immediately needs a patch? What if Saitek and Logitech stopped making X52s and Momos right before the game’s release? Those are all elements in play as well.
What would do us some good? Some hard-core simulation titles for the Xbox 360 and PS3 would be a good start. Think about it — if we got a real, uncompromising hard-core title onto a 3rd Gen console (along the lines of IL-2 or OFP2, complete with proper controllers), the company might sell enough units to finance a more advanced follow-on for both PC and console. From there, complexity might drive better controllers, and from there, more capability in the next gen of console. Eventually, you have to realize that PCs and consoles are going to merge. As soon as that technology is available, it’ll happen. We’ll have a unit that runs our TV, records shows, buys/rents movies and plays them, purchases and plays music, controls our home audio system…and plays games. Right now, I think only hard-core Racing Sims could make this transition undiminished, because the HOTAS requirements are low and there are suitable controllers out there to run them (Logitech Driving Force Pro). Later, if Saitek or Logi could make a keypad and mouse-like controller that worked with consoles and offered about 20-30 buttons for controlling a tactical shooter, maybe a game like OFP2 could make the leap (and not be gutted in features and controls to match the buttons on a game pad).
Hardware Wars: The Console vs. PC Debate Continued
Based on the comments of other simulation hobbyists, I sometimes get the impression that there is some misdirected animosity towards console systems. When I say misdirected animosity, I don’t mean that we shouldn’t look upon most console games with kindness and joy. Most of them are of very poor content and quality, and offer very little challenge and reward. So why misdirected? Let me explain.
Like most hard-core simulation hobbyists, I enjoy computer games that challenge me, have steep, complex learning curves, and offer great personal satisfaction and a feeling of accomplishment as my skills in the game improve over time. Often games like these demand a high level of mental focus and concentration in order to play them successfully, and thus offer great depth in their game experience. This kind of game experience is often referred to as “immersion” in the gaming world or “suspension of disbelief” in the movie industry. Game titles like these often possess enough depth to afford them nearly infinite levels of replayability, resulting in a loyal, cult-like following of fans for years and years. Falcon 4.0 and Grand Prix Legends probably represent the epitome of the hard-core simulation genre — deep, demanding titles that after 7 years in the marketplace still boast a huge fan base (with the help of dedicated 3rd party development teams). These two titles also represent the very antithesis of the console game genre, often typified by shallow titles that are quick and easy to master, offer limited challenge (outside of hand-eye coordination), and only appeal to society’s ever-increasing need for instant gratification. As such, console titles are associated with limited challenge, immersion and replayability. Yet of the two genres, console games are far more prolific (and profitable) in the marketplace, and it’s here that fans of demanding and challenging simulation titles find their greatest frustration (and feeling of rivalry) with the console game market. Often that frustration and rivalry is focused on the most visible part of console gaming — the console hardware itself — it isn’t what’s deserving of PC simulation fans’ ire. It’s the console software, the game titles themselves.
When we would discuss a contentious issue in the world of sports, a helo pilot buddy of mine used to make this humorous comment: “Hey now, don’t hate the game — hate the player.” That sentiment has similar application to our hobby. Consoles are just specialized computers that only play games. As such, consoles aren’t what makes the console market overpopulated with mindless, shallow content. It’s the software titles themselves. Consoles are what they are because their design is optimized to support what the market wants them to do — play mindless, simple games that look pretty. And in their past and current form, console systems lacked the “horsepower” to provide a venue for our more demanding (and rewarding) sort of software title. And having more “horsepower” than was required would needlessly increase costs and reduce sales. As a result, the only computers that could run hard-core simulations are relatively high-end PCs — fairly expensive, complex PCs that often need expensive and complex upgrades to play new titles, thereby making them fairly inaccessible to the mainstream consumer.