The Seventh Gen Part 3: 2004 – 2008

In the last article, I went over the mood before the seventh generation started, the desperation and fear as the dreaded Shift To HD came. 2003 and 2004 were part of a weird transitory era, where a lot of trends – social, technological, and economic – came to a head. The feel of the era from the people who were plugged in was that we were on the cusp of something big. A lot of bad – studio closures, industry consolidation, and a decline in game variety were big ones – but also some good. Indie Games, for example, had been a thing since as long as games had been a thing. Spacewar!, for example, one of the first things you can recognize as a “Video Game”, was distributed informally to multiple mainframe computers in different colleges. But Indie Games, as a term for games made by small teams, outside of distribution by publishers, had only been a thing for a very short time (The First Independent Games Festival was in 1999). And it’s here, in the Seventh Generation, that you start to see this scene start to pick up steam, as a defined term and community. But enough spoilers about what’s going to happen (stuff you probably remember). Let’s get into the recap!.


a thread on /v/ right now

Alright. This is where it began. The start of the Seventh Generation of Home Console and Handheld Gaming and, Because Gaming Culture Is Kinda Shared, PC Gaming During The Same Time Period. I could talk about the big stuff: the Half Life 2’s, the Doom 3’s, World of Warcraft, Nintendo Announcing the Wii, the DS dropping, but let’s be real. We know this already. These are huge, important, events, from the marked success of the Source Engine, to the relative failure of Idtech 4. And one would be remiss to not point out World of Warcraft, which became one of the biggest gaming phenomena over the next decade. And how about Unreal Tournament 2004?? That game fucking rules!!! But digging a bit deeper, there are quite a few other big events that nobody talks about.

For one, 2004 was the first release of the Atari Flashback, the first in a long line of plug and play consoles that all basically did the same thing: play old Atari games. That might not sound like much, but it’s Atari retreating from doing anything new and resting it all on a brand name and nostalgia. If you want to know why the Atari brand is now like Kodak, or Polaroid, or any other big Nostalgia brand, why the company rents out it’s logo to assorted venture capital funds from Dubai or whatever is the most convenient tax haven, it’s here that it starts. With the first in a flood of nostalgia collections of the full Atari library. 

Second is that there are a lot of hugely influential indie games, or smaller ones, this year that people really don’t talk about. Gish, developed by Chronic Logic, an indie studio based out of Santa Cruz, dropped in May 2004, becoming one of the most well received games that year in the budding “indie games” scene, at this point a small group of people talking about weird games online. The studio dissolved shortly after the release of the game due to money issues, and with that, the artist and designer, Edmund McMillen, went separate ways with the rest. Yeah. That Edmund McMillen, designer of Super Meat Boy and The Binding Of Isaac. This was his first big game that wasn’t a weird flash game! It’s crazy!

And it wasn’t the only jump from the flash game scene to “indie”. Alien Hominid, originally developed by Newgrounds founder and programmer Tom Fulp and animator Dan Paladin in 2002, was rereleased in 2004 with more content and improvements as the first game from The Behemoth, founded by Fulp, Paladin, and John Baez. The success of Alien Hominid would go on to drive The Behemoth to greater heights. Not to imply that’s all, but it’s kinda hard to sum up how huge Fulp and Paladin have been to the gaming industry. I’ll just leave it to them doing cool shit.

On the other side of the Pacific in Japan, there was some big stuff bubbling in the indie scene as well. The year kicked off with Type-Moon’s first non doujin, commercial release, with Fate/Stay Night, beginning a process that ends with Fate Grand Order as one of the biggest selling games on the app store. 2 different Touhou games dropped, with Imperishable Night releasing at the 66th Comiket and Immaterial and Missing Power, the first spinoff game, releasing at the 67th Comiket. In the middle of the summer, Yume Nikki released, which would go on to have one of the biggest footprints in all of gaming. If you’ve played an Indie RPG that wasn’t a nostalgia throwback to Final Fantasy VI, you’ve played a game touched by Yume Nikki. Nihon Falcom released The Legend Of Heroes: Trails In The Sky for the PC. This is one of those infamous, incredibly long RPGs, but it’s helped raise Nihon Falcom’s profile in the west thanks to a very, very, vocal fandom. Finally, Daisuke “Pixel” Amaya released Cave Story towards the tail end of the year. Inspired by Castlevania and Metroid, it would become a seminal entry in the indie game scene, and is rightfully considered (by me) one of the best games of all time. 

And in terms of gaming culture, one of the biggest things to happen in the year is the establishment of 4chan’s /v/ (Video games) board after a site outage. Becoming one of the larger and more influential gaming forums, for good or ill, it became a key part of the video game culture ecosystem, like webcomics. 

And so, 2004 came and went. The next year is when it really kicked off:


Microsoft's Xbox 360 Red Ring of Death Recall: HOW IT HAPPENED
the RRoD is an appropriate image to represent this era imo

2005 saw all 3 console manufacturers show off their new, next gen consoles. Nintendo’s Revolution was fully unveiled at the Tokyo Games Show. The PS-Triple was unveiled earlier that year at E3, and the Xbox 360 was revealed on MTV and released that November. The Times Had Changed. As the first off on the next gen console race, the Xbox 360 had a bit of a lead, with hot launch titles like Peter Jackson’s King Kong: The Official Game Of The Movie (and also Call of Duty and Quake 4 and NBA and all the other big ones). In Japan, besides the new console unveilings at TGS, Namco merged with Bandai to form Bandai-Namco and Square moved into the arcade industry when it acquired Taito. These are just the biggest studio acquisitions, but they are important to note – already, gamedev had become brutal, with studios going bankrupt all the time – and now, games were going to become more expensive. Expect more of that to happen.

In the video game distribution world, 2005 saw the first non-Valve games released on Steam, with titles like Darwinia and Rag Doll Kung Fu. It was a huge deal, since it allowed previously mostly unknown games to be able to cut out the retail middleman, which was biased towards larger, flashier, titles for consoles. Also in the game distribution scene, Greg Costikyan, my favorite source from the past 2 articles, left his job to found Manifesto Games, with the goal of being a new indie distributor and cutting out the retail middleman – essentially an Indie Steam.

And in the indie game scene we would see the release of Cloud, the first game from Jenova Chen. He’s one of the big figures in indie gaming, especially in the more design oriented section of the scene – which was a huge element of the budding scene at this time. Across the Pacific in Japan, SUDA51 would release killer7, probably one of the most fascinating gamecube games of all time and a complete classic, as well as The 25th Ward: The Silver Case, a mobile exclusive visual novel that has ended up becoming a cult classic in it’s own right.


Here's a picture of Chad Warden. Upvotes on the left. : r/Gamingcirclejerk
it was his year

The year of the Wii. The Year of the PS Mother Fuckin Triple. The Year of Hot Coffee, since GTA is back in the news. The Year that Gears of War came out. 

Ok, I know i’m focusing on less known history, but can I focus on that one for a moment?

Gears of War and Roboblitz would be the first commercial video games to come out on Epic Games’ Unreal Engine 3. This was one of the big engines of the era, and a huge technological step forward, with a bunch of new techniques that frankly I don’t really understand since my knowledge of 3d technology is limited to basic Maya. But it did become the most popular game engine that generation.

In the indie game scene, the world saw the release of probably one of the most influential indie games of all time; Dwarf Fortress (or more properly, Slaves to Armok, God of Blood, II: Dwarf Fortress). Taking inspiration from a variety of games – Hack, Ultima, and Starflight being the biggest influences, especially Hack – I’d argue it helped stir new interest in the roguelike scene along with creating a new genre of game inspired by the open ended, generative gameplay of Dwarf FortressMinecraft being a key example. It’s a huge fuckin deal. Also in the generative realm of gaming was Facade, which is pretty well memed now but also fascinating – it’s kinda a forerunner of the “walking sim” that would gain prevalence in the 8th gen, later on. And while Telltale is less of an “indie studio” than just a small studio, it’s pretty important to note that the first episode of their Sam & Max games came out this year, which I’d argue would help jumpstart an increase of interest in Point & Click Games that had mostly been waning. Tripwire Interactive released Red Orchestra: Ostfront 41-45, the first in a long series of WW2 sims and a seminal entry in the classic PC gaming genre that I like to call “cosplay shooters”, which pride themselves on realism and grittiness.

And across the Pacific, after 10 years of development hell Mother 3 would release in Japan. It never got an english release, and to this day the only way to play it is through online fan translations. Now, I haven’t played any of the games out of the Mother series. I’m not gonna talk out my ass about them. But I think it’s a pretty noncontroversial statement that Mother 3 has become a key influence on the indie scene, especially indie rpgs. Earthbound is a cult classic, especially to people who care enough about games that they want to make their own. So allow me to posit a hypothesis; Mother 3 never coming out in the west game an impetus to the indie game scene – giving a reason for a lot of people to make their own games, and giving them the knowledge to do so. Shigesato Itoi, creator of the series, has stated that he loves fan games and fan projects, and even would rather see the 4th entry of the series as a fan work. Also in Japan, Hideki Kamiya would release the final title that he directed for Capcom: Okami, another one of those games that was a late PS2 release that has become a cult classic. Later that year, he left Capcom and founded a little company called Seeds, Inc. with Shinji Mikami (Resident Evil, Dino Crisis, Resident Evil 4, God Hand) and Atsushi Inaba (too many games to list). Pay attention to that.

2007: Brain Age 2: More Training in Minutes a Day! : Artist Not  Provided: Video Games
I forgot to mention that Brain Age 2 was the 6th highest selling game this year until I was adding images

If there is a year that people would consider Peak Seventh Gen, it would probably be this year. Halo 3. Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare. Assassin’s Creed. Mass Effect. Uncharted. Crysis. The Witcher. Civilization 4. Metroid Prime 3. Bioshock. Portal. Pokemon Diamond / Pearl. Guitar Hero 3 made a billion dollars. Wii Sports. Wii Sports!!!. It was a huge year for the big guys. But also for the little guys, as we see.

Xbox Live Arcade was having a huge year, with downloads topping 45 million by the end of the year. At the same time, Nintendo released Wiiware and finally embraced the digital store. 

In studio news, the biggest thing is the founding of Platinum Games, created out of a merger of Seeds, Inc, which I mentioned in the last entry, and Odd Inc. But the founding of new studios isn’t the trend that’s been playing out over the Seventh Generation. Instead, after the flurry of consolidations and buyouts that happened at the end of the 90’s and early 2000’s, it was closures. NuFX (later renamed EA Chicago), developers of Fight Night and NBA Streets, was shut down this year, along with FASA Studio, owned by Microsoft, who developed entries in the MechWarrior/BattleTech franchise, along with Crimson Skies and Shadowrun (2007). And these are just the large, big studios that people know, ones with franchises and names attached to them. What about all the small porting houses and minor studios? It was a grim time. 

The indie sphere was pretty quiet this year. 

If you look at commercial releases that is.

The thing with the Indie Scene, especially at this time period, is that it was very much not huge commercially. It sounds weird now, with Indies forming a huge part of E3 trailer hype reels and forming a huge online community, but things were different back then. The commercial viability of indies wasn’t yet established, though sales numbers were creeping up every year. A huge part of indies was game festivals & awards, and one of the biggest ones was the game festival that was a part of Slamdance Film Festival.

One of the entries in 2007 was Super Columbine RPG.

I think you can understand where this is headed. Super Columbine RPG was a finalist for the competition, but was removed by the founder of the festival. In protest, multiple other finalists – Castle Crashers, from the Behemoth, Braid from Jonathan Blow, flOw by thatgamecompany (Jenova Chen and Kellee Santiago), Once Upon a Time from Waking Games, Everyday Shooter, Book and Volume, and finally Toblo, which was forced back into the competition by the college that the devs attended. USC also withdrew sponsorship of the festival. There hasn’t been a games competition at Slamdance since.

It’s a fitting bookend, isn’t it? A festival ending forever, spurred on by multiple high profile indies quitting, over a censorship debacle with a game that has become more notorious for its title than what it actually is, right before the year that Indies leave the festival circuit and imprint themselves so fully into popular culture that it becomes the year that indies started, right? Like I’m immediately suspicious.


Lehman Brothers Collapse: Causes, Impact
I think the crash is the most representative event of the year though. as much as it deserves to be spelunky.

2008 is generally considered the year that the indie scene started. Really, really, started. I alluded to this in the last paragraph, and also in the intro. But this narrative is stupid as hell. “Indie Games” as in video games distributed non commercially have been around about as long as video games are. And I don’t just mean weird experiments on room sized mainframe computers, but most of the most influential games of all time – Doom, Rogue, Wizardry, Touhou, were self published. Today they would be called indies. Indie, as a distinct concept, really only started to be a thing when Publishers weren’t just a thing, but a necessity to see the remotest possibility of making money from making video games. But at the same time, I mean, look at all the indies that came out in ‘08. Castle Crashers and Braid I’ve both seen hailed as the breakthrough indie hits, the singular proof that Indie was a thing. Castle Crashers, of course, made bank on Xbox Live Arcade, and I think was a lot of peoples first game from the scene. And Braid was a critical darling, Jonathan Blow’s game that proved that Games Are Art. 

But that wasn’t all. World of Goo. Audiosurf. Mount and Blade. Spelunky. Defense Grid, one of the first tower defence games that wasn’t a flash game and thus spearheaded an entire genre. Penumbra: Black Plague, the first release from the studio that would end up helping redefine horror games. A lot of it comes back to this year, where a combination of a variety of things – mature store technology, cleverly timed promotions from Xbox, and just a rising tide of talent that didn’t – or couldn’t – work in an increasingly precarious AAA game space made Indie go from a small, albeit growing scene, to something that people paid attention to. It was big stuff.

And if we are talking about symbolic events, I’m also gonna have to mention Resident Evil 5. No, not for the reason you are expecting. I’m gonna have to mention it so I can finally get to the elephant in the room about the seventh gen. What the fuck was up with Japanese games?

In our cultural memory, the seventh generation after the first wave of releases for the new consoles was a grim time for JP games. There isn’t really a big trigger for people thinking so, besides an event I’ll get into next year, but it’s just common knowledge. For the last 3/4ths of the seventh gen and a lot of the eight, Japanese games just weren’t good in general perception. And I think you can kinda trace that back to RE5.

I’m not gonna talk about RE5 as a game or even as an entry in the RE series. I haven’t played any RE games, and I’m very out of my depth about how good it is or how it measures up to RE4, it’s immediate predecessor. But I can talk about how I see it perceived, which is that it was a weird shift for the RE series. Resident Evil had always been popular in the west, but with RE5 the appeal was cranked to the next level. It was an action-y zombie shooter, complete with Co-op. It was perfectly made to appeal to the West, and so it forms a perfect segue into the era of Japanese Gaming where the big studios tried to get those sweet Western sales and failed, making watered down games that were too Japanese yet too Western for consumers. And it wasn’t just the games, though even in the year 2008 there are plenty of examples, but that big people were leaving studios. Leaving the game industry. Japanese studios were consolidating and seemed unable to stand on their own. RE5 didn’t cause this. Not really. There are far larger, more systemic forces at play that make themselves very obvious later down the line. But I think appealing to the West kinda helped.

It also did end up becoming the biggest selling RE game of all time and the best selling Capcom game until Monster Hunter World a little under 10 years later. 

Curious about what the fuck was up with Japanese games? Look no further, than the far off year of 2009!!!! Coming to the next installment of this retrospective; THE SEVENTH GEN PART 4: 2009 – 2013.

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