Let’s pretend for a day that everything I talked about last week on the egregious problems surrounding rumored plans by Microsoft and Sony to block used games are not coming to fruition. Let’s assume that the next gen consoles will be extremely desirable in terms of power, game variety, and implementation of interesting new game mechanics. And let’s understand that no matter what we might say right now regarding whether or not a next gen set of consoles interests us, Sony and Microsoft are going to do their damnest to make the PS4 and Xbox 720 (assuming those are the names, of course) extremely shiny and new. A part of you will want one, even if it’s small and tucked away. No need to be defensive about that fact. We all love us some new technology boxes.
But is now the right time? Aren’t we only just getting settled comfortably into the PS3 and Xbox 360 graphical pillow? Or is it getting old playing in 720p almost exclusively? Or witnessing the HD illusion break apart as soon as you stand even a little close to the TV? Of course, graphics aren’t the only area that will improve with greater console power, and time will tell if such improvements stand to change gaming or perpetuate its forward growth. I’m willing to discuss amicably, if you are.
I brought up graphics first because graphics are, indeed, the most immediate difference between console generations. Graphical prowess to consoles is like raw horsepower is to cars. It’s the very bottom line regarding flexibility, and it’ll be the first thing to note about the next generation. Some are perfectly satisfied with the state of graphics on consoles right now. But I’m not, not when compared to the always growing beauty of PC versions of games. Textures are still low-res when up close, 3D models still have relatively simple construction, and particle effects still aren’t completely satisfying. We have leg room, let’s not hide it away defensively and invite the development world to take advantage of the new power we’re about to be introduced to.
But one may ask if the leap from current gen to next will be as noticeable as it was before, when the gaps between Playstation to Playstation 2 and Playstation 2 to Playstation 3 were so wide. Will next gen graphics be more akin to a higher resolution upgrade with a little graphical cleanup (similar to the jump from console to PC versions currently are), or will we see graphics like we’ve never witnessed, employing particle effect systems and active polygon smoothing like we’ve never seen before. Will hair finally be free-flowing with tens, even hundreds of thousands of individual strands all working in their own independent physics? It’s entirely possible. I guess what I’m really aiming to ask is if HD+ remakes of current gen games will be desirable then like HD remakes of last gen games are now. Will the jump be that drastic? Time will tell.
But graphical power isn’t the only thing to factor into a console just as horsepower isn’t the only facet of auto design. With greater advancement likely comes superior potential for smooth AI, rock-hard online systems, unparalleled world scale, and a huge assortment of other benefits that the next gen will allow for, especially if developers aren’t encouraged to only focus on showcasing a new graphics capability. Of course much of this will be up to the developers, as bad games with broken mechanics can be made on any platform, regardless of capability. But think about just how well Naughty Dog pushes the strength of PS3, or just how good Halo 4 looked and felt on Xbox 360. They’re worlds away from what the PS2 and Xbox could ever do, graphically and technically. Will the next consoles see their graphical power grow in such a ferocious capacity? I guess we’ll see next week.
But games make an interesting spotlight too, as many oh complained lately that new intellectual property development has stagnated recently, outside of indie game development, of course. While some claim that retreading old ideas and beating them into the ground is just the way of the industry now, regardless of where we are in terms of console lineage, I believe that consoles do sit at the heart of this issue. Yes, lately we’ve seen almost nothing but sequels and spin-offs in the last few, save a few notable examples. Yes, that’s a shame. But I don’t believe it to be a downward trend, more an affect of an aging generation. With the promise of newer technology to come, publishers have very little incentive to waste their most ingenious ideas right now, instead waiting until we all get our hands on the shiny boxes of the future so their products look cutting edge.
Think back on all the truly great, successful, and beloved series that came in the span of the last generation. Bioshock, Mass Effect, Portal, Assassin’s Creed, LittleBigPlanet, and many, many more interesting and ground-shaking franchises were born on the current gen. I think it would be silly to assume that we won’t see another wave of huge, innovative titles that seem to come out of nowhere. Of course until that gen gets old too and those games get too many sequels for their own good. And the cycle repeats itself.
I anticipate that this coming E3 will have some really interesting new stuff for us to gawk at. Big name developers aren’t always as conservative as they might usually seem, and who knows what they’ll be bringing to the table. But beyond the world of AAA titles, a huge innovation in gaming was also born during the last seven years, and that’s the rise of the indie game community. While some have taken advantage of the PSN and XBLA as a platform for success (think Braid and Super Meat Boy), there’s a whole wealth of development for Steam, iOS, and Android that the consoles miss out on entirely. As one of the lead developers of the original Xbox asked recently in a blog post, “Why can’t I write a game for Xbox tomorrow using $100 worth of tools and my existing Windows laptop and test it on my home Xbox or at my friends’ houses? Why can’t I then distribute it digitally in a decent online store, give up a 30% cut and strike it rich if it’s a great game, like I can for Android, for iPhone, or for iPad?”
If they’re smart, Sony and Microsoft will know how to operate in today’s market, with the current trends. Think about how successful an iOS or Android style market could be on next-gen consoles. That is, in essence, the entire basis behind the excitement for Ouya, but we wouldn’t have to worry about the technology getting antiquated anytime soon or the companies behind the consoles failing to build their audiences. Playstation and Xbox both pull so much weight, and it would be in both of their best interest to open up their consoles to a tighter relationship with small teams and enlightened programmers with really interesting ideas. This, above all else, is what consoles need to stay alive in a world slowly dominated by mobile and PC.
Don’t get me wrong. Being a PC elite sounds wonderful. You get access to such great technology that’s constantly flowing with a number of platforms (Steam, Green Man Gaming, etc) that are literally warring it out with price cuts daily for you money, leaving you with great games for great prices. You can even connect your choice of controller if you want to emulate the console feel. But I call it “elite” for a reason. It’s the hardest of the hardcore among you that can finance such machines of power. There a huge bulk of kids out there with a ratty couch in the garage and a small TV. They can’t go out and buy the latest hardware and become intimately literate with the techno knowledge required to get the very most out of PC. But consoles suit their needs. Same with the young father who doesn’t have the time to invest, and wants something to play with his kids. Or even people like myself, a busy college student with tuition to pay. I can’t be buying no high end PC with the latest graphics cards. Not possible. Someday, maybe. But for now, I still hold on to my anchor in the mainstream bulk. That is why consoles still matter and why they are still necessary. It’s relatively high-end gaming for the masses.
Are you going to get any of the next-gen consoles? Does anything I write about interest you? Hit me up in the comments and let’s discuss.