Link(s) To The Past is a new weekly feature in which we look back at least year's big news and analyze how far we have (or haven't) come.This week Microsoft's Adam Orth told people to "deal with" always-on consoles, BioShock Infinite got us talking, and rumors painted a troubling picture of Doom 4.
Then: Not so long ago, the Xbox One was set to require an Internet connection in order to really, well, do much of anything. Understandably, a lot of fans weren't comfortable with the new ball and chain, even if it did manage to cram a couple neat features between its shackles. But even before that feature was officially announced, Adam Orth sent out the tweet heard 'round the world: "Sorry, I don't get the drama around having an 'always on' console. Every device now is 'always on'. That's the world we live in #dealwithit." Orth, then a Microsoft creative director, took huge flack for that and a few other incendiary comments, and he left the company shortly thereafter.
Now: Most obviously, the Xbox One doesn't require an Internet connection. Perhaps one day the benefits of constantly connected gaming will outweigh the restrictions, but for now we live in a world where Xbox One does its thing whether plugged into the world wide web or a plain old house-wide wall. The PS4 is, of course, also functional offline. Meanwhile, SimCity recently dropped its oft-maligned net requirement on PC, and Diablo III's PC version continues to receive flack for weaving its connective tissues into the Internet's sometimes-unreliable fibers.
It's worth noting, however, that those are all gaming mainstays with offline-enabled legacies. "Always on" as a concept is hardly buried, nor is it even particularly dead. Multiplayer-only games (sans Local Area Networking functionality) are becoming more and more prevalent, fiddly DRM systems like Ubisoft's Uplay continue to exist, and multiple popular free-to-play games offer SimCity and Diablo-like experiences that require connections, but fans don't mind as much. My personal hope is that offline options never disappear from games where it makes sense to have them, but I also don't think it's an inherently inferior or "evil" arrangement. It's just more easily taken advantage of than some other options. Let us hope Microsoft's thunderous gaffe lands a nice, glossy section in the What Not To Do section of the history books.
Secondly, Adam Orth is making a game! A really neat-looking game. While initially branded an irredeemable Internet arch-villain, Orth turned things around by fessing up to his mistake and publicly exploring where things went off-rails in his personal and professional life. "It was never my intention to cause any of this trouble," he told Kotaku in an interview. "I just made a mistake. I deserved to be criticized rationally, but that's not what happened. It just turned into this epic moment in time where I couldn't go anywhere on the Internet without running into it. It was really powerful and really big and really painful."
Internet abuse consumed his life, but in that low moment he realized his time was better spent on other pursuits. His family, his health, his own character and personality. Now he's channeling those lessons into >Adr1ft, a first-person space exploration game with a "gentle" pace and a plot that Orth hopes will affect people in a positive way.
A lot can change in a year. The Internet never forgets, but that doesn't mean people can't grow or better themselves. That's a lesson worth keeping in mind even when the end result isn't an entire video game dedicated to the topic.
Then: BioShock Infinite was the talk of the town when it first hit the streets, but after an initial wave of adulation, people began to dig a little deeper. Irrational's city in the clouds was impressive, but it could've flown so much higher. Hyper-violence gave the world a decidedly cartoonish tinge, Booker felt like a gun on two legs rather than a human being, and the game's handling of racism and other major issues felt shallow, shoved to the background in favor of slavish devotion to systems video games find themselves struggling to outgrow. It was still a good game, but also a far cry from the absurdly ambitious living world Ken Levine first proposed so many years ago.
Now: Well, developer Irrational's more or less gone, though not necessarily because of BioShock's Infinite's deficiencies. Two DLC episodes came together to weave a tale arguably more compelling (but no less strained or incoherent) than the main game, and now we're left still trying to piece together exactly what sort of legacy Infinite will leave behind.
It sold well, but not so well that the Call of Duties of the world will rush to paint over their garish cityscapes with glowing golden vistas and intricate webs of philosophy and men and cities and lighthouses. If anything, it probably serves as a cautionary tale in creating a game with such a singular, specific scope, given that it took far longer than originally planned to release and couldn't keep its own studio afloat in the aftermath. Ken Levine, the studio's charismatic head honcho, is now off to continue making games his way, but on a much smaller scale.
Honestly, though, I don't think Infinite's successes and failures can be measured in simple numbers. In a medium that never stops moving forward, sometimes to its own detriment, people are still talking about the game that turned out to be Irrational's swan song. I can't tell you how many developers I've interviewed who put its production values and world design up on a gleaming pedestal or tore down its simplistic views of race and society. I don't think many games or series will become BioShock Infinite, but the writing is on the wall, plain for all to see: developers have been profoundly influenced by it, for better or worse. Only time will tell what that means for the games of tomorrow.
Then: After id Software confessed that previous major release RAGE spent far too long gummed up in the studio's oily, toily inner workings, Doom 4 was supposed to herald the beginning of a new direction. Or at least a slightly less time/resource-intensive one. Clearly, it didn't. Bethesda confirmed to Kotaku that quality concerns led to a full-on reboot in 2011, but sources close to id still didn't seem very optimistic even afterward.
Now: If you pre-order Bethesda's Wolfenstein: The New Order, you'll get beta access to the next Doom. Whenever that happens. Also, id's not calling it Doom 4 anymore. Just the next Doom.
On id Software's end, things have changed both for the better and worse. On the upside, the grandpappy of all things first-person and shooty managed to rope in Pacific Rim artist Hugo Martin, which is a win by pretty much any measure. However, it also lost legendary tech guru John Carmack, a man so synonymous with id's legacy that his departure for Oculus Rift's be-goggled pastures left everyone wondering if the giant VR simulation that is our world had finally glitched out and showed its hand.
So what will we play when the next Doom finally lands in our woefully BFG-free hands? Honestly, we're not much closer to knowing now than we were last year. We can, however, rest assured that it will be something. Someday. I'm gonna go ahead and hazard a guess that it'll involve shooting demons. And hopefully also kaiju.