With a fairly in depth reveal of Sony's Playstation 4 console recently, and the all but certain reveal of Microsoft's rival next gen console due to be shown in April, the topic of "next generation" gaming is well and truly at a head. With gamers and tech geeks alike climbing the walls in anticipation for full reveals at E3 and inevitable Christmas launch windows when we can finally get our hands on the lovely, shiny new bits of kit and lock ourselves away in a dark room for several weeks and/or months.
But that got me thinking... What DEFINES a "generation" and will it actually be what the majority expect?
First and foremost, the first thing that people will immediately think of when they read this question is "amazing new graphics!". While this is partly true, in my opinion, graphics are merely a natural progression of technology within the consoles and are not necessarily what defines either an individual game or a generation. When developers are creating a game, their first thought when fleshing out concepts and mechanics is not straight to graphics, the visuals merely go hand in hand with the idea's and mechanics. The gap from one generation to another in terms of visuals will gradually start to decline and interactivity (which i cover later) and effects will become more prominent than the mere resolution of textures.
You can have the worlds greatest graphics going on in a scene, but if the task/mission your character is on within this scene is dull and repetitive, then there is no point in putting so much behind the visuals when some of those resources could boost AI or expand on actual fun gameplay (here's looking at you Crytek...).
On the topic of AI, for me personally, this is a HUGE aspect that is due improvement and i fully expect to be overhauled "next gen". With Sony committing to 8GB of GDDR5 memory and huge amounts of processing power to play with as a potential industry standard (pending Microsofts reveal), there are absolutely ZERO excuses for games to release with broken or simple AI like many games have suffered this gen.
As an example, if this gens current trends stick and we still have military FPS games releasing every other week, then AI is crucial. When i shoot a guy in the leg, i want him to limp instead of run, when i change from pistol to RPG, i want the guy in my sights to go "Oh sh*t!" and run off to cover that could actually sustain an RPG round in place of his current wafer thin wall he's behind. We may not see this in the first year or 2, but beyond the teething phases of studios adjusting to this new industry standard, this would be a great goal to achieve and would make games 10x more immersive.
Another expectation of next gen, again, not necessarily within the first few months, would be the scale and interactivity of environments to play around in. Or at the very least more inventive ways of hiding or preventing you from entering area's that you aren't allowed to go in. How many times have you played a game thinking "dude, this is AWESOME, oh cool! what's that over there!" only to run over and hit a huge invisible wall preventing you from going any further without any warning or clear hint that area is inaccessible. Same again goes for objects etc within environments, 90% of the time most objects are solid assets just super glued to a table that don't move, do anything, or as much as make a mark if you shoot or attempt to blow it up.
A good example of what could be possible within future games but on a relatively small scale would be the Battlefield 3 "Close Quarters" DLC - http://www.youtube.com/watc...
Naturally the context will differ dependant on the game and whether damage is warranted for an individual title, "Journey" on PSN wouldn't be enhanced by being allowed to blow everything up, but the general idea of having fully interactive surroundings where you can break stuff that isn't integral or something as simple as being able to switch a lamp on and off like you can in Fallout but across all games and objects would be fantastic. Not only would it make games more immersive, but is one of the less obvious types of things your average consumer wouldn't necessarily associate with "next gen" and is something you would sorely miss if you were used to it in every title for 3 years then went back to a previous gen corridor shooter with zero interactivity.
Probably my biggest request for "next gen" is simple. FRESH NEW IDEA'S! Yes it's something so obvious and so simple, yet glaringly absent in all but a few titles circulating at the moment on our games circuit. You can have the worlds most beautiful environments, with literally every single item within your plane of vision interactive and usable, but if you give me a plot of "Russia bad, 'Murica good, 'Murica shoot Russia, 'Murica win, roll credits" and just tell me to shoot people in the face and climb a few ledges for 6 hours, then all of the nice new technical stuff behind your gun is worthless. Granted that some games pull this off than others. Uncharted for example technically having the same end purpose as Terminator Salvation, "aim, shoot, win" but done with so much flair and polish you can forgive the games basic premise over another.
And last but not least, user interface, ease of use and how it fits into your life. I'm fully aware this makes me sound like the big wigs that appear on stages at events and spew the crap you don't really want to hear about, but bear with me on this.
Remember back in the day when every man, woman, child and their dog were giving Day 1 PS3 owners a rough time with "LOL you guys don't even have an in-game UI!", "you can't even check messages while playing a game, you have to quit!" and PS3 owners (myself included in this, i had a 360 too) would respond with "Does it make Resistance any less fun?", "at least i'm still enjoying my games, i don't need to sit and message people while i'm gaming".
Both sides of the fence on the above scenario were correct to an extent, yes we still enjoy our games, but can you really imagine going back to having no in-game XMB and having to bail on a game if your best PSN buddy sent you a message again? I know it would sure as hell piss me the f*ck off. So yes, despite most gamers not wanting to hear about UI's, ease of use and social connectivity etc, you sure as hell would miss these things if they were taken away, and whether you realise it or not, this things are more important than ever before in a post-Apple market of connectivity and silky smooth UI.
ANYWAY... that's my 2 cents, or more like $10 worth of input about next gen and what means to me and potentially others. I appreciate this has been a fairly long post so thank you for taking your time out of your day to read this and hopefully i may have opened a few eyes or at least shown a few people a slightly different train of thought.
Please comment and leave your feedback on share your thoughts on anything i may have missed, or since this is the internet and all, shout at me for talking bullsh*t and maybe it is all about graphics and everyone in fact does want 7 more years of COD sequels =P
Graphical Improvement from PS1 to PS3. But is that all that matters? or are we hitting our visual ceiling?