Once upon a time there was a game company named Valve Corporation, a team full of talents that in 1998 made a splash with a little thing named Half-Life and that, during the following years, confirmed over and over again to be one of the most important studios of all times for the FPS genre until they brought out the absolute masterpiece, the video game that everyone should play at least once in a lifetime known as Half-Life 2. Nowadays, twenty years after being founded, Valve is essentially the most distant thing from a team of talents making timeless classics: the corporation makes money, a lot, nay too much money with Steam digital delivery and Dota 2 microtransactions, and when they announce something new it usually is another dull crap like the Artifact card game. Players are starting to get tired, but Valve will obviously continue to make too much money with digital delivery and microtransactions until the death of the Internet. And then no one will be able to play on PC anymore, except for those of us having in their archives pirated copies of Half-Life 2 and Portal. Happy digital delivery anyone!
Eh, good times when retro gaming was an activity performed by me, Nicola Salmoria and a few other mad fellows obsessed with raster graphics and arcade games based on Motorola CPUs. Nowadays old games are trendy, they feed the buying and selling market of used and rare stuff that doesn’t know price limits or, even worse, an endless revival of the classic machines emulated on low-profile hardware. In this new world of old bits that never go out of fashion every discovery of an unfinished prototype becomes almost an event, and a historic game like the first Half-Life is still being supported with patches and bugfixes 19 years after its release. For Valve, at least, there is a valid excuse: they don’t make original games any more.
June, a month traditionally devoted to that gaming madness known as Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3). A show that this year achieved record numbers thanks to admissions from the public plus the press and professionals, and that saw the PC triumph as the most complete gaming platform – and of course the most powerful one – where in the upcoming months the finest gaming software will land. But June 2017 also saw other mad stuff related to video games, like the cassettes baked in the oven (at 45°) in the effort to recover the source code of old textual adventures by Magnetic Scrolls, or like the very expensive on-line auction by John Romero, id Software co-founder that sold one of his Doom 2 copies for more than $3,000 on eBay. Rather than madness, in this last case, we can safely talk about a theft.
Lately there is a lot of chit chat about Nintendo, and not just for the commercial performance of the new Switch console (about which I hope to write a post soon). After all the Japanese company boasts a history like very few other players of the gaming business can match, and let’s not forget the missed opportunity of the Nintendostation and the potential parallel universe without a Sony PlayStation that could have stemmed from the machine. Nintendo’s censoring behaviour against unofficial “tributes” and fan games like Zelda: Breath of the Wild 2D is also the same, just like the corporation ability to treat its most passionate fans – at least the ones paying for the software and not using emulators – in a much more human and sensitive way than many other companies.
Evolution of PC gaming hardware never stops, dedicated GPUs are reaching new performance records every few months and VRAM chip standards are running fast to try and keep the pace with all this endless improvements. And yet there is a significant amount of players still spending their time on an MS-DOS racing game released 27 years ago, or that goes purchasing a title like Bayonetta when it gets finally released on PC 8 years after the original version. Why, someone will ask? For Bayonetta the fact that the game runs wonderfully well even on old hardware surely helps, while for the rest reaching xkcd can be helpful in finding a possible answer to the riddle.
I will never get tired of praising that wonderful cultural movement generally defined with the term “emulation”, a world where technical barriers are regularly knocked down and where rare – or even unfinished – digital artifacts are preserved in favor of the present players and the future scholars. Emulation is the technology wonder that let the most resolute among us to go hunt for the earliest easter egg put into an arcade game, or to try new combos in a game (Street Fighter 2: World Warrior) we though everything was seen and said about. Little matters that some parasite would like to turn every gaming bit of the past into an endless source of profit: pure emulation is not a business, it never was and it will never be.
Pessimists believed that Denuvo should have killed piracy on PC once and for all. Obviously that goal failed spectacularly, and the saga of the anti-tampering system turned into a ludicrous soap opera: release time of a working crack for a triple-A game like Resident Evil 7 shrank to less than a week, while the developer’s official Website proved to be full of holes from where e-mails, data and executable files came out. Of course Denuvo defeat didn’t stop Capcom shipping 3 million copies of its new survival horror and quickly recovering development costs, and the latest data about the entire gaming industry are anything but negative. So much for Denuvo, DRM and the parasites profiting from them.
If there is one thing that we must rightfully concede to the contents industry, surely it’s the ability to reach concrete results in its fight against unauthorized file sharing. The copyright corporations are experiencing a happy time, and it little matters that practically nothing seems to change for the aforementioned file sharing: beggars can’t be choosers, they say, and no one like the majors can be satisfied with the results achieved by their relentless anti-piracy effort.
The first time I played Half-Life 2 I was twelve, maybe thirteen years younger, and like many folks in the same condition (a not particularly powerful PC, a not exactly fast ADSL) I welcomed the package prepared by Valve with conflicting emotions: Steam was and still is an unbearable shit, HL2 is one of the most important gaming experiences of my life. We’re in 2017 now and they are still talking about a possible sequel to that experience, with Valve wasting all this time in unnatural experiments and Gabe Newell continuing to troll the entire world with his worthless “Yep”. I’m actually fed up, with all this talking about Half-Life 3. And now excuse me while I go and install HL2 again for the fifteenth time…
28 years after the original release, Prince of Persia continues to be the obsession of a community made up by enthusiasts that never forgot their first, stunning encounter with Jordan Mechner’s platform game. And they are not just freaks like yours truly, who considers PoP his first computer love and that is still trying to beat his own personal record by playing the game every now and then under DOSBox. Nope: here we are talking about developers that are capable, determined and willing to dig the secrets hidden in the code of an ancient software to keep alive a myth that doesn’t fear the effects of obsolescence.