I have been able to keep up with iPhone, I think, just because the games are so cheap that I am willing to spend that dollar and then feel great if I get an hour of gaming. I spent a dollar on Angry Birds and have stopped after completing the first campaign, which is only about half the levels available at this time. I am totally satisfied with my stopping point. I got the enjoyment from "another physics puzzler" and now I have HAWX loaded up for another dollar and we will see what transpires.
Meanwhile, on my mac, my iPhone development device, a platform I was not even intending to be a gaming platform, I am playing a port of Cave Story. Wow. It really is as great as people say. Accessible but difficult, plenty of story weaved behind a much greater emphasis on gameplay, and a pseudo-linear game-world. (Or would that be pseudo-open-ended?) I started Kingdom Hearts recently to see what all the fuss was about, and I do not know if I will have the patience to keep going with it just because I am not playing it, I am watching it. Cave Story has this awesome integration of story, it is broken up into bite-sized chunks in a great balance between platforming gameplay, boss battles, and story. None ever seems to overwhelm the other. Granted I am not near the end yet (do I ever finish games?), but even when I get to a boss battle with story exposition before, I find that I do not tire of getting through the cutscene. I almost don't mind that there's no skip-cutscene button. Almost.
The inspiration for this post was partly Ian Bogost's recent blog post on Plumbing The Depths. In it he talks about the failure of designers/coders/the industry in really exploring all that is possible with each new round of technological invention. It seems to me that it is because we are moving so fast that we have not thought of a new game mechanic before someone ups the processing power/input capabilities of consoles. Technology moves fast because it can. Game design is an arduous, experimental, whimsical process that cannot move as fast because it is bound by our creativity which, no offense to anyone, tends to get stuck in ruts. Game designers, even the greatest, have their idea, and then they keep pushing it. Sim City, the Sims, Spore. Metal Gear, Metal Gear Solid, Metal Gear Solid: Rising. Civilization, a bunch of other interesting strategy games, back to Civilization! And I am not criticizing, these are amazing guys. But we have our niches. We have our interests and our ideas, and when one is successful, we stick to them. (I also just looked at popular designers who have pressure to build upon their successes, so that was a bit biased.)
What I perceive is that designers are thinking of what they can do with the tools available, not dreaming up new tools. And then we get new tools thrown our way without our consideration. Are designers dreaming up the tools? Or someone just says hey, we discovered new ways to detect human motion. Go think up something! That is why there is so much derivative work. People still like swords and dancing, let us dress them up with a new input. We had not even done all we could with swords before, but we have a whole new interface.
This is one other reason I like Cave Story. It has awesomely refined gameplay. From the single life with well-spaced out saves to the awesome interplay of weaponry upgrades and damage taken and damage received. This game is great, cleverly designed fun opportunity spaces. In the end, when I am playing Cave Story and other older games, I do not really care that I am a generation behind the times. I have played Wii. It's fine. I know Cave Story is even on it. But I have my Z+X+arrow keys and I am having more than enough fun for free to feel the need to pay hundreds to keep up with the technology curve that has yet to redefine my thoughts on gaming.