If you’ve ever played Grand Theft Auto Vice City, you’ve probably heard the satirical radio commercials that played in between songs as you drove around the fictional Floridian city. There were over 40 in total, ranging from BJ Smith’s Used Autos that promised “if you see a car you like, tell us, we can acquire it for you!” to Giggle Cream which claimed to “make desserts funny”.
Another of these ads was for “The Degenatron”, a video games console that “plays three exciting games”, which are:
- Defender of the Faith — Where you must “save the green dot with your fantastic flying red square”
- Monkey’s Paradise — A game that has your “red square monkey” swing “from green dot to green dot”
- Penetrator — Where the player must “smash the green dot deep inside the mysterious red square”
Of course, this was a joke, but it is also a reflection of the quality of video games at the time period in which GTA Vice City was set — the 1980s. One of the most successful titles of the era was Pong, a game that used two white lines and a square to represent tennis.
Fast forward to 2021 and video games are totally unrecognizable. Almost all of this difference is thanks to the fact that technology has evolved leaps and bounds in the nearly 40 years since.
Of all the technology that has changed the video games industry, these are some of the biggest technological advancements that made gaming what it is today.
More Processing Power
The games consoles of the 1980s used 8-bit architecture, meaning the processor could crunch 8 bits (1-byte) of data every clock cycle. Fast forward to today and engineers have managed to develop chipsets for modern laptops and consoles that use 64-bit architecture. That’s not eight times bigger, it’s 2^64 (18.4 quintillion) times bigger.
At the same time, Moore’s Law has meant that chip manufacturers have been able to fit twice as many transistors on a single piece of silicon while becoming half as expensive. That’s why modern gaming machines have 8+ gigabytes of memory instead of the 2 kilobytes found in the Nintendo Entertainment System.
As a result, video game developers have been able to make their titles bigger, more complex, and less linear.
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The more powerful processors have also helped developers to come up with better ways of creating graphics for computers. That’s how titles have gone from limited palettes of 256 different colors to being able to generate photo-realistic images. It’s also why we now have 3D environments to explore rather than the 2D side-view games of the past.
Better graphics technology has been used right across the gaming industry, from AAA titles like Madden to the video slots offered by online casinos. In the past, slots used physical reels with painted-on symbols, but today they take advantage of this technology to offer hundreds of different slot games, each with unique images, animations, and even video cut scenes. It has allowed for much more creativity among developers who have borrowed from many areas of pop culture, including the wild west and sports like fishing to create unique ideas for their games.
A recent development in this area has been procedural generation to create an entirely new map each time the player loads the game. This has helped to make them more engaging and more realistic.
The internet has changed gaming in more than one way. The most obvious one is the fact that we can now compete with others online, rather than having to use a split-screen multiplayer mode or take turns to hold the controller.
The internet has also changed the way games are designed, with many publishers choosing to focus on the multiplayer elements of their games rather than the single-player story mode.
Similarly, many games are now distributed over the web rather than being sold in physical stores, changing the “out of the box” experience completely. This reliance on digital distribution means many games are now shipped with many more bugs than they once were, with developers choosing to rush out patches after its already gone on sale.
The entire monetization model has also been changed by the internet. Instead of paying for a game upfront, players are often provided the opportunity to buy in-game items, upgrades, and customizations. This has become an important part of the industry, with some companies now making more than half of their revenues this way.
Perhaps, one of the most notable examples of these is Grand Theft Auto V. The game was released back in 2013 and, while not being the first GTA to have an online multiplayer mode, was the first to really emphasize it. Eight years on, Rockstar Games continues to push updates and offers new in-game items regularly.
Interestingly, though, there are no satirical ads on the GTA V radio stations about a Degenatron that offers in-game purchases.