Con-soul Searching: The Next Boxes
The next generation of consoles have ridiculous codenames, don’t they? Orbis. Durango. Wii U. Oh I’m just kidding. Orbis is kind of cool. But seriously, folks. Whether you’re ready to plop down another 599 U.S. dollars or not, these systems are coming. We should have Wii U by the end of this year and Orbis and Durango by 2013. We are on the cusp of the next generation. It’s been such a long time coming, I barely remember what to do with myself. All the previous talks of processor speeds, graphical power and backwards compatibility seem so distant. However, I did realize something the other day. I think this will be the best launch for a generation we’ve ever had.
We already know the Wii U will be a slightly more powerful 360. In terms of graphical power, the Wii U won’t be far above the 360. This isn’t a bad thing as developers are quite comfortable developing for the 360. The thing nobody seems to talk about, and maybe because we don’t know yet, is the impact the processor structure has on development. Consider the PS3. It is capable of far better graphics than the 360, but due to its more complex cell structure, most developers prefer to build for 360. This means a lot of games are built on 360s and then ported to the PS3. However, if you find a studio that knows the ins-and-outs of the PS3, like Naughty Dog, then you get something amazing – like Uncharted.
But that’s this generation. What about the future? How will things be different? First of all, we have already made the jump to HD. This was a huge deal with the 360 and PS3. HD TVs were just starting to be affordable when the current systems launched. The Wii has been constantly nagged from its lack of HDness. The HD wave was pushing the industry in more ways than one. Now that the tide has come in, where do we go? 3D was never going to be the next thing, no matter how much Sony and Nintendo wanted it to be. So now we sit with HD TVs and a new set of systems over our heads. I think this means the jump to the next generation is going to be smaller this time around. At some point we hit diminishing returns on graphical power. Going from 480 to 1080 was a big deal but, while we can go over 1080, there isn’t much reason to. Plus who wants to buy a new TV that puts out a 1200i signal?
This time around, I think we will see developers settle in with parameters they are more comfortable with, and thus more efficient developing under. It’s expensive to relearn game development every five years. Thanks to the length of this cycle, I think we are starting to understand that. We don’t have to keep doing things like we have in the past. Video games are evolving and so is there development. We finally have enough history to be able to look back and say, “Why are we doing things like this again?”
I’ve noticed a lot of devs are now building on high end PCs and then porting to the respective consoles. I’m not sure how much of this is due to the impending generation switch, or how much is from building from what is comfortable. Who knows, maybe it’s all driven by wanting the best graphics possible. But as I have said in the past, I feel graphical capability has grown too fast compared to game design. We take the time to mo-cap a horse but we still run into invisible walls. How does that happen? I guess we have been so focused on making games look realistic, we forgot to make them play as good as possible. Maybe it says something about us psychologically. We want video games to be taken seriously, so we have raced away from pixel art into the uncanny valley as fast as processors can carry us.
Hopefully, this small step to the next generation will give developers time to look at other aspects of their process that isn’t just graphics. I have a feeling we have already seen some titles that will be the start of the next gen. Odd thing is, they we most likely intended to be the tail end of this generation; Watch Dogs, Overstrike and Bioshock Infinite. While all these games look awesome in their own way, you can also see a trend that focuses on something other than graphics. This is what the next generation means to me.