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Devil's Advocate: Why I Couldn't Care Less About Next-Gen

Author:
Matt Gardner
Category:
Features
Tags:
Console gaming, David Cage, Devil's Advocate, Game design, Graphics, Next-gen, PC gaming, Shiny things, Why I don't care about next-gen

Devil's Advocate: Why I Couldn't Care Less About Next-Gen

In a number of ways, I couldn't be less excited for the next generation of consoles. Will they allow us to do things we've never been able to do before? From a technological standpoint, almost definitely. But in terms of design, in terms of creative and cultural innovation, we've been going backwards for years.

"I’m not that interested in technology or the next generation of consoles," noted David Cage, a week or so back. "If we could continue with PlayStation 3 for another five years it would be fine with me. I think the main challenges are on the creative side than on the technical side.

"Are there technical things I can’t do on PS3? Honestly, no. The limitation is much more about the ideas we have. When you look at the past, you realised that the technology evolved must faster than the concepts we rely on.

Devil's Advocate: Why I Couldn't Care Less About Next-Gen

"As an industry we have pretty much have been building the same games for fifty years, despite the platforms changing.

"So, what do I expect from the next generation of hardware? You know, the usual. More polys, and higher resolution texture maps, and, horsepower, and, stuff. Wow. It’s so cool and exciting."

Depressingly, I'm inclined to agree with him. Does that mean that I won't laugh maniacally as my retinas cream themselves at the prospect of what the likes of DICE, Crytek, and Epic can wring from the next generation of consoles? No, I'll be there drooling with everyone else. But the heavy focus on cinematography, on bringing games in line with film on an aesthetic level has done two things that have caused fundamental problems within our industry: it has exponentially increased development costs, and it has led to a stagnation in creativity at the top of the pile.

Devil's Advocate: Why I Couldn't Care Less About Next-Gen

When we talk about design in games, when we talk about titles that have impressed us with the way they are laid out, or games that have hooked us from the start with a gripping story, or experiences that have made us laugh, cry, shout, cower, think, and feel, I often find it difficult to chart a way in which we have progressed.

But there comes a point when you have to ask the question why that is. Is it because developers and publishers have gotten lazy? Is it because the audience has switched off and there's less demand? Is it because costs have risen too high, and now risky ventures are virtually unthinkable?

Chatting to a number of friends, and it cropped up again in this week's PWNCAST, we highlighted L.A. Noire as one of the current crop of big-budget present gen titles that seemed forward thinking - a game that brought a genre that was treading water up to date with aplomb. It wasn't perfect, but it was groundbreaking. But it was also expensive too, and you only have to look at the events that came afte the game's release to understand why the prospect of following in Team Bondi's shoes may not be an attractive one.

Devil's Advocate: Why I Couldn't Care Less About Next-Gen

But the real kicker for me? The fact that L.A. Noire jettisoned its best mechanics in order to have a shoot up at the end - a finale that added nothing and took away much. Did it really need that action-packed finale? Was there really no other way of creating a climax to the game? Ironically, in throwing away the moody adventure-puzzling (just when you got to play as a proper PI dammit!) for a would-be-tense firefight, all of the tension was lost, the narrative disrupted, and the final feeling one of deep dissatisfaction.

When David Cage says that we've been building the same games for half a century, I'm inclined to agree with him. Furthermore, I'm not sure if we aren't actually going backwards in some cases.

Talking fondly about Baldur's Gate and the Infinity Engine RPGs that were all the rage back in the nineties, Jon made the point back in March that the writing had to be good on older games, that characters had to be engaging, quests interesting, customisation options deep, because the technology did not easily allow for flashy cutscenes, picture-perfect graphics, or celebrity voice work.Devil's Advocate: Why I Couldn't Care Less About Next-Gen

"Focus on tight scripts provided us with the best dialogue, the most memorable characters and some of the most heartbreaking, thought-provoking decisions that have ever featured in a game. The fact that the writers had to think about every single word meant that every single word meant something."

Step forward twenty years and you might have thought that advances in technology would have allowed BioWare to create even better experiencs, and yet why is it that we tend to look backwards so much when discussing truly great games. Speak to most Zelda fans and I bet they'll either say A Link To The Past or Ocarina of Time when asked about their favourite. Nintendo go almost too far these days in recognising that their former glories lie deep in years gone by, but at least they tried something new, even if they struggled to follow through. No one will ever forget the Wii, though they might have trouble remembering more than five games that graced the system.

Devil's Advocate: Why I Couldn't Care Less About Next-Gen

There might be those that tire of Cage's perceived whining, but I posit that's only because he's one of the few voices saying it, and to a certain extent doing something to try and change that (with limited success I might add). But when he lists his predictions for next gen, it's difficult not to agree. We'll get shooters and slashers, sports games, racing titles, Gears ripoffs, COD wannabes, and people gunning for Nathan Drake. It's all highly predictable, except for the fact that there'll likely be even less choice the next time around, with belts to be tightened and budgets squeezed.

Unless you're a PC gamer, of course. In which case you're rolling in nectar-stuffed fields of innovative indie goodness and laughing at the very concept of "next-gen" because you've been able to take the fight to 63 other players in Battlefield 3 on day one and pay a quarter less than all of the console grunts like me.

Greener grass? Yes please.

Add a comment8 comments
RiKx  May. 30, 2012 at 17:31

Unless you're a PC gamer, of course. In which case you're rolling in nectar-stuffed fields of innovative indie goodness and laughing at the very concept of "next-gen" because you've been able to take the fight to 63 other players in Battlefield 3 on day one and pay a quarter less than all of the console grunts like me.


^ THIS. I hardly touch my consoles anymore I can get the same games and more (except a few rare exclusives) and cheaper don't have to pay a subscription (for the first time in 7 years i haven't got a gold account). I used to be split erring towards consoles as I was always more at home but that time has passed I'm afraid to say. All we seem to get these days is remakes of past glories with a few exceptions.

DivideByZero  May. 30, 2012 at 18:34

Owning 2 kick ass PCs, 2 360s, a PS3 and (*Blushes*) a Wii... I feel confident that it is the right time for the next gen.

Having the ability to get more FPS and AA / AF out of your games on consoles would be amazing. Console games are badly let down (at times) by their poor graphics (think Dark Souls). Moving on to new hardware would make that instantly better and anyone who says otherwise has no idea what they are talking about.

However... it wasn't long ago that one of my favorite games to play on my £3000 PC was Super Meat Boy. A tiny little game that looked like it was straight off my Amiga 500.

Game design does NOT need to be governed by if we get a next gen or not. However, hardware performance IS limited by the lack of next gen and means games on consoles are not as good as they could be for exactly the same amount of effort.

I only buy games on consoles if they are not coming to PC, but even then, the 30fps and no AA/AF makes it painful and disappointing. This is a shame as I really love my PS3 and 360. Consoles wont be as good as my PC, but when the PS3 and 360 were new and actually on the curve rather than years behind I used to love the games that were coming out and they way they looked and ran. Take Halo 3 or MGS4 as early games... amazing. Now when you look at games TRYING to do that, they are rarely up to par.

phil16  May. 30, 2012 at 19:08

Yes - Indie gaming on PC is where its at. I loved battlefield 3 and Mass Effect 3 but the variety of games coming out of the indie scene nowadays is fantastic. I still play on my xbox occasionally but will always turn to the PC when I want something different. I also love the fact that my 4 year old £500 PC plays everything (at 1080p) thanks to a cheap GPU upgrade (second hand) and sensible choices at the start (Do I have console bring down the average specs to thank for that?).

JonLester  May. 30, 2012 at 19:57

Yes - Indie gaming on PC is where its at. I loved battlefield 3 and Mass Effect 3 but the variety of games coming out of the indie scene nowadays is fantastic. I still play on my xbox occasionally but will always turn to the PC when I want something different. I also love the fact that my 4 year old £500 PC plays everything (at 1080p) thanks to a cheap GPU upgrade (second hand) and sensible choices at the start (Do I have console bring down the average specs to thank for that?).


This.

I was going to write yet another Indie gaming essay, but yeah, that's spot on.

We can also expect the indie/boutique model (small teams, focused games and £5-£15 price tags) to become even more popular and replace traditional double-A development over the coming few years. Just look at Double Fine. Whether we're actually going to need our graphically monstrous new consoles for anything bar the occasional triple-A game (which may well become much fewer in number due to the increased overheads associated with a demand for better graphics) remains to be seen.

On the flip-side, I'm a huge fan of performance over graphics - so if the next generation can guarantee us stable 60FPS alongside decent visuals, then count me in.

Last edited by JonLester, May. 30, 2012 at 19:59
DivideByZero  May. 31, 2012 at 10:14

On the flip-side, I'm a huge fan of performance over graphics - so if the next generation can guarantee us stable 60FPS alongside decent visuals, then count me in.


Exactly! Having the hardware doesn't mean you MUST use it. Double fine is a great example. Take Stacking... lovely looking game but it runs at 30FPS which is pants in this day and age. On new hardware you could run that at 60fps and also ramp up the AA to get rid of the jagged edges and AF to sort the tile detail out and it would look and play even better with ZERO extra development.

New hardware also brings things that make creating better graphics easier too. Look at DX11 and Tessellation.

For games that try and look ground breaking and amazing, you simply can't do that on consoles any more. You just look dated and clunky.

Late  May. 31, 2012 at 16:41

We need consoles to move forwards, even if we've not yet eked out every drop we can from what's currently available. Not so that we can play against 64 people instead of 16 or have ten times as many million triangles (though that'll be the sort of thing most developers will use it for), but because the raw power needs to increase - and raw power means much more flexibility, which gives us the real changes in gaming.

We all have favourite games from yesteryear, with infinitely better scripting and playability than the current dross - but there's a heavy dose of nostalgia tinting those memories a rosy shade. I've gone back to play a few old favourites in the last couple of years, and pretty much without exception I'm left disappointed. We loved those games, and rightly so - because they were fantastic at the time. They're not now, though - and that's because gaming is progressing. It's not as noticeable as the progression in the 80s, 90s, and early 00s but that's because the industry was relatively new and always likely to develop faster at that age.

I imagine most gamers are hoping to eventually see the "full immersion" / "holodeck" type virtual reality of sci-fi - and I'm pretty sure we will see it in the next few decades. But not if hardware doesn't continue to evolve. I don't like the wii (we've got one, but it's not been used in years), and I don't like Kinnect (not got one - borrowed one from a mate a while back but it seems my front room is too small to properly use it - and the games are mainly crap) but they're both fantastic innovations, moving the industry forward - toward that full VR gaming dream. Equally strides are being made in perfecting the artificial intelligence of games/engines and the characters within them, amongst other advances. You don't necessarily need a game to be groundbreaking for it to be phenomenal - and new control methods and AI are just two examples of how we're progressing.

So give us the next generation, and soon. I'm not all that excited about it in itself, in the same way as I'm not all that excited about driving to an airport.
But I am excited about our eventual destination...

RiKx  May. 31, 2012 at 17:15

Some REALLY great comments here! Spot on guys.

wquach  May. 31, 2012 at 17:19

Even though I initially used Dealspwn as my go-to source for Euro deals (I live in the States), it has transformed into one of my top VG sites I frequent because of two things -- the excellent e-mail newsletter and Matt's features (and Jon's).

This article is no exception. He always manages to write about the current gaming landscape and hit it right on the nose; minus a few points here and there, I couldn't agree more with what's said.

"Talking fondly about Baldur's Gate and the Infinity Engine RPGs that were all the rage back in the nineties, Jon made the point back in March that the writing had to be good on older games, that characters had to be engaging, quests interesting, customisation options deep, because the technology did not easily allow for flashy cutscenes, picture-perfect graphics, or celebrity voice work."

This.

It's no reason why Kickstarter has been an avenue for more and more developer video game projects that otherwise would never see the light of day due to rising production costs. These rising costs take a hit on creativity and more risky ventures, new IPs included.

We see constant sequels, which albeit are exceptional quality (see all the GotY contenders for 2011), but are essentially reworked and fine-tuned revisions of their original predecessors and engine groundwork that had to be laid. We also are seeing more and more reboots and HD remakes that try to tap into a less risky, nostalgic built-in audience. Let's not get started on other industry trends this gen that are all pointed towards recouping costs and focused solely on profits - on-disc/release date DLC, online passes, rushed releases and post patches, constant online requirements, etc.

The video game industry is actually more or less following the current trends of Hollywood. Increase on sequels, remakes, production budgets, blockbuster-type films, and 3-D gimmicks (replace 3-D with motion controls).

I don't find Cage's points to be whiny at all because they tell the truth about the industry as it is. A few inconsistencies and missteps in the plot aside (as well as many similarities to Cage's previous work, Indigo Prophecy), Heavy Rain was a game that dared to be different and more mature than much of the offerings available on the console scene. Much like L.A. Noire, the ambition is there at the very least.

But anyway, for now, I think next gen should be held off as long as possible. Rather than focus on building the next engine or approaching their games from a technological perspective to utilize the new horsepower, they should be taking a harder look and focus on gameplay, story, and quest elements. Just like in the past, when you're faced with technological limitations, you're forced to innovate. That's what the indie scene has been doing with their budget restraints.

Devs have to go back to the philosophy of making the most of what they have.

Think differently, more efficiently, go back to what makes a game compelling (and no, it's not just tired set-piece after set-piece design).

Gamers also have a large portion of the blame - CoD sales, Diablo III sales, etc.; the ones that speak up of lack of innovation in this industry are sadly in the minority - for the most part, gamers seem more inclined to fork down $60 for the next CoD than say, Rayman Origins. It's no wonder that devs/publishers are less inclined to invest in new, creative experiences.

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