There and Back Again: Where Will Video Games Go Next?

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The year was 2002.

I was the last one in my circle of friends to be informed of a little mini-craze that was sweeping arcades across the nation, or at least the ones in larger cities: Dance Dance Revolution.  After being assured of its awesomeness, we headed to the local arcade, where apparently they had not only DDR, but other weird games from Asia as well.

And there, the Bemani collective blew my mind.

DDR was fun, obviously the most popular, and we joked that it was a good way to stay in shape.  Soon we were buying the Playstation versions and whining about the quality of floor mats.

However, I was more drawn to two other games: Dance Freaks (where you waved your arms like you were being attacked by bees) and Beatmania, where you played with a record that looked like it was out of the old plastic Fisher Price set and some ridiculously oversized “piano” keys.

In many respects, these games harkened back to the arcade games of old, where you needed to be in the arcade to get the full, satisfying experience, and game play was far more than a few buttons easily replicated on a console.  I spent many a frantic minute crouched on a bar stool in front of Beatmania, trying desperately to beat a song called Hell Scaper, always failing, yet walking away satisfied.

Later that year another, fancier arcade opened up.  I was introduced to DrumMania and Guitar Freaks, essentially earlier versions of what would become Rock Band, and I had a new obsession.  It seemed Konami was way ahead of the curve, that we could never dream up such awesome concepts and even if we did, mainstream America would never go for it.

Well.  Maybe DDR and Konami opened a window in our consciousness, maybe we just needed to get rid of the j-pop, but Konami and Harmonix teamed up for Karaoke Revolution, which was pretty popular.  Soon Guitar Hero and Rock Band were born, and we all know what a hit those have been.

And you know what?  I really find them more fun than their older Bemani counterparts.   I consider the inclusion of master tracks and constant evolution to be both more challenging and beginner-friendly a step forward.  I also think my Ion kit for Rock Band is on par with the Yamaha set they used for DrumMania, so I’d say the arcade experience is replicated as much as it possibly could be in a living room.

So Harmonix has made the next move, taking the music game to a new level for their home audience instead of just an American version of a Konami game (although I must say, I am a major fan of Amplitude).  Will Konami take the challenge and come up with something even more awesome?  Will a third party sweep the video game world off their feet with an unforeseen innovation?

I can’t predict the outcome, but I sure am looking forward to watching the battle. How about you? Any predictions about the next big thing?

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