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.