Squareblind’s year in gaming 2016

Stripping the entire events of 365 days in a species’ existence down to three events is perhaps a disingenuous way of preserving 2016 in the annals of history. No matter how much you may love a listicle.

After all, one could easily assume it was a year of seemingly endless high profile celebrity deaths that took music and cinema icons, as well as sci-fi princesses.

In sport, many revelled in spirited underdogs shaking up perceived wisdom and the status quo, before an equally unlikely group of politicians and reality TV star repeated similar electoral and referendum success with very uncertain ramifications for the world. But even these events do not a year make.

But as we flail towards 2017 whether ready or not, we have endeavoured to bring together some of the gaming events that stood out for us in 2016.

That mobile gaming ‘fad’ doesn’t seem to be dying anytime soon….

With the number of individuals participating in mobile gaming now estimated at over a quarter of the global population – or 1.5bn individuals based on 2014 figures – collaborative gaming became an event, defining current affairs and as well as the technology world

While the stats may hardly be new, gaming stalwart Nintendo has finally begun to make waves in the area of smart phone games after spending years producing exclusive content for its own Gameboy and DS series of hardware.

Having been protective for decades of its brands and titles appearing on non-Nintendo technology, Pokemon Go earlier this year – a title developed by Google-owned Niantic – seemed to take over the world based on a licence of one of Nintendo’s most profitable properties.

Having opted out of developing a smart phone Pokemon title itself, later in the year the company finally stepped into the lucrative phone gaming market with Super Mario Run, a platform adventure designed to be played one handed with some dexterous screen prods.

Released just before Christmas exclusively for Apple phones, the title gained significant attention for representing a gaming giant seemingly pushing past its traditions with an eye to potentially conquering the world of apps.

From a media and financial markets perspective, Mario Run has been a solid, but under-performing seller at present.

Yet with questions over the success of the title from a sales perspective ahead of a release onto Android devices, how significantly Nintendo continues to push into third party device support is uncertain.

What we do know however is that gaming on the go is seen as being central to Nintendo’s future strategy as it pivots to compete with a changing console environment dominated from a sales perspective by more powerful Sony and Microsoft machines.

Its solution was unveiled in October in the form of the Nintendo Switch, a home console that has detachable controllers and a built in screen that can be removed from the console unit and reconfigured into a handheld to be played on the go.

With only a genuinely well received teaser trailer and few clear technical specs or pricing yet for the console that is set to launch in March, eyes are on the company now to see if it can emulate its last commercial hit in the Nintendo Wii that launched around a decade ago.

Wherever you go in 2017, expects games to be literally omnipresent on people’s lives for better or poorer.

Not all Playstations and XBoxes are created equal

As Sony moved to create a VR unit to try and compete against more powerful, financially draining models like Oculus Rift, questions began to be raised this year over the technical limitations of the current generation of consoles.

Initially touted at the Playstation 4.5 console, Sony unveiled an updated and more expensive version of its flagship console to support more streamlined high definition gaming and virtual reality experiences. Although no exclusive titles would be developed for the console that would not be playable on the earlier Playstation 4 models, enhanced graphics and experiences are being touted as a key selling point for the new machine.

Meanwhile, under the name ‘Project Scorpio’, Microsoft will also launch an upgraded version of the XBox One console next year promising similar processing enhancements and backwards compatibility for its previous XBox 360 console.

However, writing earlier in the year for the Windows Central publication, Jez Corden argued that the strategy by both companies could challenge the traditional concept of purchasing a single gaming console designed to span five to six years of games development.

“It seems like Sony is about to pull the trigger on more frequent hardware iterations for home gaming consoles,” he wrote.

Corden added, ”There’s also the concern that Sony could set a precedent. If the PS4.5’s incremental, smartphone-like refresh is successful with consumers at large, then will we be seeing new consoles every three years? Every two years?Every year?”.

The proof may well be in the pudding, or more accurately, sales figures.

Long development times were not a death sentence…

icogame

Finally after ten years of development and delay, two of the most hyped releases of recent times finally found their way to home consoles in the form of The Last Guardian and Final Fantasy 15.

When a final round of delays were unveiled for both titles around September time, we questioned what this might mean for their eventual reception and quality, and whether there was a shelf life on innovative game design before its goes stale.

Considering the increasingly rapid rate of technological advancement, can games with such a long ranging development cycle ever prove to be the epoch defining titles that reshape the videogame industry forever when they are released up to a decade later?

In reality, both titles have been met with fairly strong – but not wholly uncritical – reviews from major publications, with the scope of both titles and their perceived development titles largely winning over gamers.

Gamasutra reported that for The Last Guardian, a range of developers welcomed the title’s interaction between a human character and a giant creature that created a completely unique, meditative experience not often undertaken in the current generation of consoles.

“Many regard it as a masterpiece, and a worthy successor to Ico and Shadow of the Colossus, the previous games made by Fumito Ueda and the team at GenDesign,” wrote Joel Couture.

“Others say that the game is a buggy, frustrating borderline-unplayable mess. Some argue that both reactions are true.”

For Final Fantasy 15, Developer Square Enix found itself posting significant sales numbers just over a month before Christmas from the game’s release.

Squareblind itself found the game to be a unique experience that threw out many long standing traditions of the popular Final Fantasy RPG series to create an open world adventure that captured the unique experience of a group road trip and a healthy breakfast.

Yet in borrowing the DNA of dozens of popular gaming titles released in the last ten years, it is arguable role playing videogames may never be the same again.  Whether this is a good thing or not will be entirely sujective.

Either way, a hit is a hit and Final Fantasy will likely go marching on.

In the last remaining 24 hours of 2016, whether you’re gaming, going out, or trying to hide away until 2016 is well and truly done. We wish you a fantastic – or at the very least – survivable New Year.

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