When looking back at these last few generations of gaming consoles, sometimes it seems like they have been exceptional in some ways. Not in terms of games, quality or the like, but the machines themselves. Outside Nintendo’s offerings, the HD Twins, as they were called, don’t really separate themselves too much anymore from what they do and how. Both Sony and Microsoft tend to push similar boundaries with their consoles without really doing anything special on the side. Microsoft has that whole Windows ecology to work with, and the Xbox brand has become their universal mark of gaming, more or less. Sony’s jumping the multiplatform cross-over play, for whatever reason, but I guess now that developers can make shit work across all major platforms is a positive thing to have in your back pocket. Then you have the whole upgraded systems thing, which hasn’t been a thing since the second generation of consoles, but came back rather hard with all the new upgraded consoles all the three major console companies have been pumping out. Guess the first modern example would be DSi.
One thing that seems to be making a comeback is games spanning multiple discs. Historically speaking this has always been a thing in gaming, with old PC games spanning multiples diskettes. I remember Beneath the Steel Sky coming on fifteen disks on the Amiga. X-Plane 10 supposedly spans eight DVDs. Everquest 2 was on ten CDs when it was released. Command and Conquer may have only come on two discs, one of each having campaign for the two respectable sides. Consoles didn’t have multi-cartridge games in similar manner due to how you can’t just yank the cart from the console without the danger of damaging both the console and the game. After all, there is a live current going through the cart, it is effectively part of the machine itself. Disk and discs are read and not part of the PCB, after all.
Not to say multi-disc games have been gone at any point really. The X360 used DVDs and many of its larger games came on multiple discs compared to their PlayStation 3 counterparts. Lords of Shadow is one, for example, and came on two discs. Blue Dragon supposedly required three. The Blu-Ray Disc, or BD, really allowed just to throw everything on the disc uncompressed. It’s sound files that most often take the space hungry spot, be it music or voices. Mostly voices nowadays. Because of practices like this, game filesizes have been increasing steadily to the point of stupid. Games that are several tens of gigabytes, or perhaps even hundreds, could be shaved down in size by compressing and packing things properly, but it seems that skill has been lost to modern game developers. Maybe it’s because all the tools and engines that are around are readily made and nobody really wants to tackle a problem nobody sees a problem, at least not in the industry itself. Consumers on the other hand tend to groan when they have to wait for several hours for their game to download when it’s a digital entry, not to mention shit has to be installed. I miss the days when I could throw a game inside a console and let ‘er rip, but nowadays I need to sit back and wait another thirty minutes it to install. There’s a damn good reason I keep playing Switch more than PS4 nowadays.
It’s strange to think that multiple discs per game would be a detriment in itself as it has been a standard practice, well, since the first floppy diskette couldn’t hold all the DnD characters some nerd had cooked up during his university days. Reading a bit around, I can’t really find any bonafide dislike toward multi-disc games, but there are some individuals here and there that seem to consider the industry is pushing for digital-only due to lack of space per disc, like Allie-RX, a Youtuber of some sorts. Should we consider multiple discs to be a valid reason to further a push for digital-only materials? Hard to say, but it might as well be one of the arguments, but with modern politics, the argument wouldn’t sway to the direction of lack of space. It’d be about how it is more environmentally more sound to have digital-only, that we’re going to save the planet by not printing all that plastic. Wording which is largely horse shit. As space limitation on the disc, BD XL has 128 Gb of space, and 4K Ultra HD BD discs offer some 100Gb. While we talk about terabytes and petabytes in modern computing as the standard large-scale units, we a game taking over 100Gb should raise an eyebrow and make you question what exactly is taking all that space. As mentioned, it’s largely the uncompressed data on the disc and the lack of know-how regarding compression and packing. We’re well past the era when developers had to develop new compression algorithms to shove everything to a disc or cut down the number of discs. For example, Capcom had to come up new effective ways to compress all sprite data of Mega Man X4 in order not to run out of space. The PlayStation really sucked for 2D sprite games with its limited RAM, and some companies had to come up clever ways to change the sprites in memory on the fly. Then you have companies that want to go for the flashy stuff, like Square and its FMVs in same era Final Fantasy games. Despite their quality and compression, these FMVs still took majority of the discs’ space. If you’d remove the FMVs from the games, each game would’ve fit into one CD just fine. That, I would argue, is where modern mindset comes from. It’s not that there isn’t enough space on modern discs, but that developers don’t need to concern themselves with limitation of space. Much like so many other aspects of game development, space is a thing that has lost its limitation and it is very easy just to let it bloat like a dead body in the water. So much rotten hot air inside, and the colour ain’t really healthy either.
Digital isn’t really a solution to the problem the industry supposedly faces. Not everyone has multiple terabytes of free space on their computers. Some people have the minimum required amount of space bloat on their PCs, some can’t even use external devices in of themselves to expand the memory. It’s a case where we may have all this space in our hands, yet there are surprising amount of consumers limited by it. An easy argument for streaming perhaps, but streaming anything has its own issues. It might be a solution for films, music, television and Visual Novels, but not for computer or console games. There is no real solution to any of this, though I guess HVD would be one if they ever managed to finalise this decade old tech and launch it commercially as BD’s successor, but BD still has life left to it. Still, 3.9 Tb of space on a single disc should be more than enough for all your needs regarding movies or games. I doubt people are willing to pay 100 bucks for a movie ever again, unlike what they did with VHS and LDs back in the day. Of course, the industry could also stop wasting space, but that ain’t happening.