Achievements (XBOX Live) and trophies (Playstation Network), nicknamed "nerd points", work in a similar way as merit badges do in the boy scouts. When a player performs a specific feat in a video game, whether it is one by skill or one by silliness, he/she is rewarded with a gratifying "bah-bloop" noise accompanied by some gamerscore points. Confused yet? These gamerscore points have no real value. You can't buy anything with them, nor can you trade them for anything. They just sit there. But man, are they addicting. Players can compare gamerscore points with each other to see who the bigger nerd is.
Although these achievements and trophies don't change the game in any way, they do encourage players to play video games in different, unique ways. In Gears of War 2, for example, an achievement is awarded for playing each of the many game modes, encouraging players to try something new every time they play.
These achievement points also affect the way games are sold, too. According to a study conducted by Electronic Entertainment Design and Research (EEDR), games with easy achievements have a tendency to sell better. Going back and and playing old games without achievements now seem like nothing more than a waste of time.
9. Wireless Technology
Just about everything "attached" to your game console is wireless now. The controller, the internet, the plastic guitars, the remote, you name it. Back in the early days of gaming, there were these archaic things called "wires" that ran from the controller to the console. It's true! Whenever a friend would walk by and trip on these wires, your game console would go flying through the air as your friend plummets to the floor. Obviously, you'd run straight to the console to see if it's ok. Those awkward moments are a thing of the past now that invisible wires string everything together in your living room.
Hard drive storage has been common for PCs for a while now, but they are relatively new for gaming consoles. With the introduction of hard drives on consoles, video games are able to do things that were not possible before, such as downloading new content or simply saving your game progress. In the days of the NES, many games required inputting longs strings of code in order for a player to continue where he/she left off. If that player happened to write that code down incorrectly, tough luck to you. You have to start over!
7. Voice Communication
Does that kid kiss his mother with that mouth? Voice communication--it's a love/hate relationship that most players have for this feature. If you ever want to hear a prepubescent punk kid call you a racial slur or insult your mother, play any game on XBOX Live. It's actually rather cute to hear such obscenities coming from such a high-pitched voice! However, talking to friends live from all corners of the world while virtually shooting at them has to be among the most gratifying experiences of modern video gaming.
6. Motion Control
Although motion control is sill in its infancy, it is beginning to change the way we play video games, whether we like it or not. The Wii gained worldwide popularity because Nintendo advertised it as the system that mimics real-life motions and translates them into a digital realm. Although most of these promises never came to fruition, it did open up the minds of many developers to expand the way we play games. With the upcoming Project Natal from Microsoft and Project Colorballs* from Sony, the future of gaming may one day look like those crazy computers from the movie Minority Report.
*Sony has not named their motion controllers yet, so I made up the name Project Colorballs-- based on the way they look.
*Awesome photo courtesy of http://professionalprocrastinators.com. Thanks!
5. Gaming Physics
"Realistic" gaming physics have only been possible during this generation of video game consoles. In the early days of gaming, the fallen bodies of enemies would blink and disappear as soon as it hits the floor. Not very realistic. Nowadays, thanks to such physics engines as Havok, piles and piles of dead bodies will fall and stack up... just like it does in real life (Trust me, I'd know!). Severed heads will tumble down staircases, arms and legs will distort realistically on dead bodies, and dying animals will twitch and rattle after death. Lovely, isn't it? Gaming physics truly have revolutionized the quality of modern video games.
4. Touch Control
Touch control has almost eliminated the use for controllers, all interactions can be done by the touch of your finger. This is supposed to make controlling the video game feel more intuitive, so that it can be more accessible to a larger audience. Want a character to move somewhere? Drag him there using your finger, simple as that! Want to touch your virtual girlfriend? That can be done, too! However: Consider getting therapy.
3. Downloadable Content (DLC)
Not only has DLC changed the way games are played, but it has changed the way video games are distributed, as well. Games can be enhanced by purchasing (with real Earth money) more levels, more costumes, or just about anything that can prolong the life of the game. Entire games can be purchased online and downloaded directly onto one's system, eliminating the need to go into the dangerous outdoors to buy the game!
Downloadable content doesn't limit itself to video games, either. Music, themes, movies, are all available to download thanks to advancements in modern internet technology.
2. Multimedia Consoles
Video game consoles do much more than play games these days. They are now multimedia centers, and with it one can play music, watch movies, view pictures, browse Facebook, read headline news, gather weather information, and even watch the occasional porn. A person can own a modern game console, never play a single game on it and still had made great use of it.
When the Playstation 2 was released back in the year 2000, many non-gamers bought it because it functioned as a DVD player. Fast forward to 2006, many people purchased the Playstation 3 for its Blu-Ray functionality. These game consoles are opening up to a much larger market than they ever could have before. Because of the wide range of uses game consoles have, it's a bit limiting to simply call them game consoles anymore. They can do so much more.
1. Online Play
Online play has truly innovated console gaming within the last 10 years. Sure, you can use the shitty XBAND to take your old Genesis and SNES consoles online, but the online experience hasn't truly been refined and become the industry norm like it is today.
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Very recently, I was able to play Gears of War with friends who live in Washington, Northern California and Japan, all at the same time. We were able to chat and catch up with one another, and it felt as if we were all in the same room. Moments like this have never been possible before. The last time we were able to play video games together was in high school, when we were sitting on the same sofa playing Mario Kart 64.
The very reason why many consider this the "Golden Age of Gaming" is because of the ability to take our video game consoles online. Many of the points on this list are only possible because of this, such as the ability to have DLC and voice communication.