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Avatar ImageLooking to the Future
By: | December 6th, 2008
Feature

Even though it was three years ago, its seems as it was only yesterday that Microsoft unleashed its newest console onto the market, marking the era of high definition gaming. One short year later, Nintendo and Sony jumped into the fray, finally making the “next generation” the current generation. Now only two years later, we have already have begun to hear rumblings of the next console generation and this disheartens me. I feel as though we just have begun to receive the games that take advantage of all that the consoles have to offer. Seeing what this generation offers has left me with one question: Where do we go from here?

Now before I get into the obvious desired changes: “better processors,” “better physics,” and “better AI ,” I would like to discuss why this generation is almost at the peak of what games can be.

It is easiest to start with the cost. The cost of making games has greatly increased between this console generation and the last. Not only that, but the effort required to make a high quality game has also increased. If the gaming industry were to make another leap in technology, then the cost to produce the games that we love would also increase, possibly beyond the point of being cost effective. We already are seeing the effects of rising costs, for example, Activision is refusing games because they do not see them as yearly franchises, and more and more games are beginning to look and play the same. It is disheartening to see games that could have great, devolve into mindless clones like Fracture. There was a game with true potential, squandered because some genius saw it fit to go ahead and slap a fresh coat of bland over everything to make it “market friendly.” If games continue to get increasingly expensive to produce, we will lose out on the original IPs and unique ideas.

I understand that many of these great ideas are, instead, being turned into XBLA and PSN games, but I do not want that. Not to say that I do not love a good downloadable game. I just do not want every good idea being forced into the format. I want my Mirror’s Edge, my Littlebigplanet, and my Dead Space to sit alongside my Braid and my Pixel Junk Eden. I do not want the retail market to become a sea of Halo 3′s and Call of Duty 5′s. I fear that the further we push into greater technology, the likelier this will become a reality.

Has anyone looked at Gears of War 2, Metal Gear Solid 4, Uncharted, and Littlebigplanet in high definition? If you have you would realize that these games look spectacular. We are at an amazing point in technology. We can create fully realized, fully detailed worlds for players to explore and interact with. I cannot see graphics moving much farther forward. I can see increasing fidelity slightly. Making it easier to have high resolution textures and run everything in real time. What I cannot see is creating photo realistic games. The more I think about the subject, the more I realize I do not want photo realism. I do not want to see people being blown apart as if it was happening right before my eyes, that was already attempted in the new Rambo movie and instead of shocking me with its realism it made me want to watch something else. The only games I could see being photo realistic are: adventure games (the point and click variety), detective games, sports games, and racing games. Most games benefit from not being photo realistic. The new Prince of Persia and Gears of War are two games that benefit from their styles. Prince of Persia looks beautiful; one of the main draws of that game is its visual style. Gears looks gritty and ridiculous. Ripping enemies in half with a chainsaw bayonet is awesome in Gears’ ridiculous over the top style, yet in a photo realistic environment it would be disturbing and disgusting. All we should be doing moving forward is making everything look sharper, and spending time and effort to craft visual styles that fit the game.

The industry has been cyclical for too long. Make new console, release to public, make games, make games that take advantage of all console can offer, make new console, wash, rinse, repeat. Why should we continue this tradition? Last generation and this generation have both proven that deep, intricate stories; not just through cutscenes, but through the game play itself. Not that every game needs a story to make it good, but for every Transformers we need a Fight Club. It is time for the game industry to realize that story should be a focus. Instead of pushing the boundaries of graphical limitations, we should be using that effort to create a game that has a lasting impact on its players. Whether that impact be through story and how its handled, a la Bioshock, the experience its self, as in Mirror’s Edge, or both (Portal says “Hi”).

There are some areas that should be improved no matter what. These areas are fairly obvious. This generation of consoles does need the obvious processor boost. Better processor means better physics and AI. As with any game, the AI will always need improving. Until we have true AI (which we never will lest Skynet destroy us all), that area will always need a boost. Physics, on the other hand, is almost at realistic levels. Of course we still run into the problem of not being able to render as many objects as we would like at once, and those weird physics glitches. However, these are upgrades that come naturally with each system. I would like these upgrades, yet I do not want to have to buy a new console in the next few years, so I can wait.

There exists yet another problem with moving on to the next generation in the near future. What will happen to casual gamers? I am not talking about the soccer moms and grandparents that have fallen in love with the Wii. I am talking about the legions of people that have started gaming this generation. Not the kids, but those who were either roped into gaming through their partner, or those that finally decided to jump on the bandwagon. These are the people who do not know that PC games have already made a jump into the future; that we could be doing so much more right now, and think that this technology is amazing and cannot believe what games can currently do. The casual are the people that finally pushed gaming into the mainstream, who are aiding in finally changing the public image of gaming as “a thing kids do.” These people that only recently purchased their console of choice and do not want to be told that, in order to play new games, they have to buy a new console. I, personally do not, in any way, want to spend $400-$600 dollars on a new console in the near future, especially if I get all three again next generation. I know Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo do not want to alienate the consumers that they are working so hard to acquire. Hopefully they will realize this before it is too late, and give us the new consoles at an appropriate time.

I can see our possibilities for the future, yet most of them are unsatisfactory. Around this time last generation, I was craving information as to what was next. I wanted an upgrade, I wanted more. Now, all I wish is for things to stay the same (with the exception of the Wii). I’m not saying I don’t want change. I want progress not just enhancements.

  1. Avatar Image Ian

    very interesting article mate!

    I’m not ready for the next generation either!

  2. That was an interesting read and a hell of a feature, but unfortunately, I have to respectfully disagree with a few points you made.

    While I am feeling the hurt of games increasing in retail cost as a result of increasing development costs, I feel that once the technology is improved upon, most likely as a result of forthcoming consoles, we will see price decreases. This is similar to the ipod, each generation they continue to improve on the design in cost effect ways, ultimately making them cheaper for the consumer. I think it will be similar for games.

    Second, I have to wholeheartedly agree that story should be the future focus in game improvement. Game’s aren’t and should not be positioned as a story-telling medium primarily. They’re main focus should be on graphics and gameplay, and a good story should NEVER be implemented if it’s a detriment to the way the game plays. Unlike television, film, and novels which exist primarily to entertain its audience with a story, the purpose of a video game is to be fun to play.

    I understand that games like Bioshock are a gross exception, but the whole philosophy behind the exception is the implementation of a system that gives the user more information only if they activate it themselves, a la the tape recordings. This was made twice as successful due to the fact that the gameplay was so tight, and the graphics and art design were entirely unique. It was something we’ve never seen, and a FPS we’ve never played before.

    Another example you provided was Portal. Portal’s story was entirely minimalist in execution. The game never interrupted immersion for the sake of exposition, and it ultimately had fairly little to actually tell the player, it provided a context for the scenario to exist, and that’s really all that’s necessary. And while the game’s story is icing on the cake, the gameplay is the main attraction.

    Lastly, I don’t understand what you mean when you differentiate one group of casual gamers from another, but casual gamers will do what all casual consumers of a medium do, they advance when they feel the technology is worth the price. That’s all any casual consumer does.

    Lastly, technology is always going to advance. Not just in games, but in everything, everywhere. It’s always going to be expensive at first, but the cost of entry is always going to go down. It’s just how things work.

  3. @Rick, you said Lastly twice, hehe.
    I do understand where you’re coming from, but I believe that story should be a major factor in games. Just as movies evolved, they gained deeper and more engrossing narratives, games should do the same.
    I differentiated between the casual gamers because, in my mind, for the most part, those who have been swept into gaming by the Wii and the Wii alone, still see it as just a toy. They haven’t and aren’t being slowly let into to gaming culture. They play the Wii, when the Wii goes away they’ll go back to doing whatever they did.
    I understand what you are saying about technology advancing and how it gets cheaper, but it isn’t at first. I truly don’t want to go out and spend $1200 (I’m want all three again) on new game consoles any time soon. I appreciate your feedback though.

    • avatar Sefad

      I’m like you, an occasional gamer so I thuoght Wii would be great but the truth is, it requires too much effort. I bought mine in June and I’m bored of it- I’m thinking about selling it on ebay. The problem is, that the wiimote is a novelty which is about as exciting as a pen once you’ve figured it out. If I wanted to play tennis or golf I’d do it for real occasionally, I just want to sit down and kill some brain cells by playing a computer game, I don’t want to be forced to do some fake-exercise-simulation. I thuoght it would be a great idea but really it’s a bit shite.BUT . MarioKart Wii and Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, totally make up for all the suckiness of the wii.

    • avatar Kouhei

      Easiest would be Wireless Connection. If you have a wireless ruetor, then just go into wii settings, then into internet settings, and enter a WEP code if you have one. If you don’t have wireless internet, then you will need to get a nintendo wifi usb connector, but if you do that wii will have to be very close to computer, where the usb is plugged in.

    • avatar Okta

      Collin,This was a great read indeed. Although the whole time I was going thurgoh this it made me wonder if we have a responsibility as designers to design for things other than extreme scenarios. All of the tracking that is going on is a bit scary I wonder whether we perpetuate the idea of the world become more unsafe by being more fearful of the unknown. I don’t have a child so some of this is distilled from how I have observed close family member and friends. I was especially alarmed by the school that is installing RFID tags in uniforms. That seems so extreme and it seems like we are designing more and more for situations that become new stories. Do companies stop and think about what the statistical need for some of these are. Being safe is one thing but monitoring your child like they are machines seems like a bit excessive. Sometimes skipping school is OK. Kids should be allowed to push boundaries so that they can figure out the morality of what is right and wrong and create a self awareness system on their own. More on this later this evening!

    • avatar Kory

      If QuotesChimp buy insurance for your car, you are a named insured. So is your spouse if you are married, as well as any other family members who reside with you.

  4. avatar spookula209

    I was just talking about this the other day. One fact about prices, not so much the next gen since it isn’t here yet, but prices for new hardware and electronics in general is the fact that new technology always costs more. The ps2 debut at $300 (american) and when dvd players first came out they were close to $1000. Having to pay 4 or $500 for the ps3 or any system with the ps3 capabilities is worth the money imo.

    I honestly would say that the 360 was overpriced until recently, and even the elite is still over priced (same price as the 80gb ps3 with no blu ray, no wifi) most people dont even realize the controller on the arcade 360 is wired not wireless so you loose features. the $300 360 is about the right price, but it should really be ab out $250 and the arcade should be $150, with the elite at $300 or so. I will not buy a new console if it were to come out within the next 2 years because the ps3 would still be going strong at that point, as the ps2 is now. I have the wii for my children and the ps3 for me, and I do not own the 360 becuase of all the friends I have had with the red rings (rrod) problem. I don’t care what games it has if it doesn’t work half the time or you have to worry about when it won’t work (I am only interested in gears of war and I am not a rpg fan).

    For any of the big 3 to come out with a new console in 2 years would be a mistake (especially sony since they are just starting to break even or make a small profit in the very near future). Microsoft forced Sony to come out with the ps3 last time. Sony would have waited another year if the 360 had not come out in 2005, and that is what Microsoft is doing, changing the rules. Sony did it too, but now it’s a different ball game.

    With blu ray and the cell, I feel as though the ps3 is the most future proof, and with blu ray the size of games won’t be an issue so they are just going to need to work on the graphics. With MGS4 and Uncharted to name a few, I do not really see how Sony can’t squeeze more out of the ps3 to compete with a new xbox if it does come out sooner rather than later. Microsoft also will have to deal with dumping tons of money into designing a new console, especially to fix the problems with the 360 as to not repeat history again. Either way I do not think it is a smart idea for any of the big 3 to release a new console before 2012, that’s just my opinion though.

  5. “but I believe that story should be a major factor in games. Just as movies evolved, they gained deeper and more engrossing narratives, games should do the same.”

    The thing is that the sole reason for a movie’s existence is to tell you a story. It’s what they’ve been doing since the concept’s inception.

    I said this in my last post, but the entire point of a game is to be fun to play. It is either impossible, or will take a very very, long time for developers to figure out how to write both an elegant, mature narrative and integrate it seamlessly with gameplay. Cutscenes are always going to break immersion, and giving players control during scripted events (a la Half-life) removes the director effect from the experience.

    Simply reduce both of the mediums to origins. Movies were telling from the day of their creation. Old school games were variations on Pong and Pac-Man.

    Next…

    “I differentiated between the casual gamers because, in my mind, for the most part, those who have been swept into gaming by the Wii and the Wii alone, still see it as just a toy. They haven’t and aren’t being slowly let into to gaming culture. They play the Wii, when the Wii goes away they’ll go back to doing whatever they did.”

    The thing about this argument is that gaming isn’t so much a culture as a sub-culture. Tech is the real culture and we are a smaller piece of that.

    The article is what’s going to happen in the future of games, companies only do what makes them money. Now the Wii and the DS are the highest selling consoles of this generation and I doubt any of them and would be surprised if even a good percentage of them are in tune with gaming “culture”.

    If we’re speaking solely of the future, then the future is going to be filled with games being developed for these non-gaming “culture” people. We already see Microsoft working towards appealing to casuals, and Sony won’t be too far behind, the future is leaving gaming “culture” behind. You have to look at the blanket nature of your statement. It’s not just Wii owners that aren’t being indoctrinated into your so called gaming “culture” it’s people that buy Madden every year, the people that play Peggle every free moment, the kids that buy every single iteration of Pokemon and the subscribers to World of Warcraft that play nothing else.

    I read Neogaf, subscribe to several gaming publications, and listen to entirely too many podcast, I’m as inscribed to the gaming culture as anyone else. I also understand that the gaming culture does NOT make a video game company as much money as those Wii and Peggle playing soccer moms and the Madden playing football heads do.

    The Wii isn’t going way, Nintendo will find out what people like and give them that the next time around. These practices ARE the future of videogames. We aren’t going to be seeing so much focus on purely hardcore titles, it’s just not viable for a company to make one and risk it failing on the market. Unfortunately this is how things have to be.

    • avatar Daniel

      I have only had a Wii for 4 months, but I can tell you I am gtietn bored with it already. Nintendo is slow at putting games out. They are really expensive too. I don’t have the Wii Fit because I am not sure how fit one can get standing on a little box. Better off joining a gym. I as well am not a gamer. My boyfriend on the other hand loves the thing. He is also gtietng less excercise than her normal would and my dishing aren’t gtietng washed much anymore either ;) .

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