Do We Need the Future Of Gaming Today?
Ben Sheene / Jun 26th, 2012 No Comments
Seven years ago a new generation of gaming consoles was unveiled. In 2005, the platforms that have become synonymous with today’s video games—Xbox 360, Playstation 3, and Nintendo Wii—were revealed at E3. Later that year, Microsoft put the 360 on store shelves and the seventh generation of gaming consoles began; Sony and Nintendo would release the PS3 and Wii the following year. Since then, the seventh generation of consoles has brought us high definition gaming, motion controls, deeper online experiences, critically acclaimed masterpieces, and best-selling blockbusters.
For all the medium’s evolution and forward momentum, we as gamers tend to be a greedy bunch. We want bigger guns that cause even bigger explosions; we want our graphics to be even more detailed and lifelike; some of us even want better stories, not just sequels and prequels. Seven years can feel like a long time when looking through the lens of a gamer. When the current generation began, developers were still finding their way around the hardware and taking time before games went from good to great. This past year the industry has felt tired and, if the recent E3 is any sign, is going to be facing a fairly stagnant future.
And no…I am not implying a near future in which all games are played on a tablet or phone instead of the traditional controller/console set up. We’ve been over all the doomsaying debates but this isn’t about people replacing their hardcore games with casual experiences (even though the market is now being shared with smartphones and tablets). This is about how current trends are creating a troublesome atmosphere for the future of this console generation and the next.
Blame it all on E3, everyone else is. The unusually lackluster convention left an impression for all the wrong reasons. Most games shown had previously been revealed, new IPs weren’t going to be released until 2013 at best, and Nintendo’s Wii U was plagued by a lack of focus and a lack of impressive software. From Call of Duty to Halo to God of War to Super Mario, if a game didn’t have a number slapped on at the end it was probably a prequel. Microsoft’s presentation was loaded with them. Nintendo barely had a game without its iconic plumber attached. Even Sony brought out all their mascots into one fighting game.
For anyone that watched all the E3 coverage on television, Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 had to be an exhausting display by not only taking up a lengthy chunk of Microsoft’s presentation but having the same demo replayed across several networks. Did so much time need to be dedicated to more of the same? The same could be said about every sequel or prequel. Sure, they will sell well and probably be fun but it all feels so tired. Risks aren’t being taken in a time where the riskiest games are the most fun and innovative. The gaming press and players are thirsty for something new and this became even more apparent by the reveal of Ubisoft’s Watch Dogs. Out of all the games shown at E3 this was one of the few people are still talking about not only because of how great it looks but its unique premise. Despite its beauty the game was still being played on a high-end PC and Ubisoft has all but hinted at a possible release for next-gen consoles. Another stand out, Star Wars: 1313, wasn’t even formally announced for any platforms.
Where does this leave us? More than likely we are going to have to wait another year for the next leap in gaming, staying impatient wishing for the future consoles. I think another contributing factor to the ho-hum reaction to E3 was that many wanted to at least be teased about the next Playstation and Xbox. Even without a hint at a reveal, gamers know the announcement is coming and have postponed any real excitement for next year’s conference. Keeping all this in mind you still have to wonder what else the future has in store. Back in 2005 we had the promise of something very new with HD gaming and the motion controls of Wii. In 2012 and beyond where are games going to go? Are we going to have “better better” graphics? Are we going to have truly better motion controls that work outside the realm of simple wand swinging and exaggerated hands free gestures (a.k.a. Kinect)? The Wii U was supposed to offer a taste of what the future generation had in store for consoles. Instead of anything truly revolutionary we were shown a great proof of concept video (Zombi U), a requested fan favorite (Pikmin 3), more side scrolling Mario games, and the promise of a bunch of games already available for systems that are already out. Nintendo focused on their hybrid controller and tablet while saying virtually nothing about what the actual Wii U console is capable of. So far the only thing new about the Wii U is that it has the capabilities to perform similarly to the PS3 and 360. Even then, where is the high definition Mario game that isn’t a side scroller? Nintendo’s Wii U gamepad doesn’t even feel that revolutionary in light of Microsoft’s reveal of SmartGlass or what Sony claims is capable between the PS Vita and PS3. Suffice it to say, the future of Nintendo’s console doesn’t feel all that unique or something that isn’t already possible on current consoles; it will take a lot to prove otherwise.
In 2004 the Unreal Engine 3 was shown off at E3, expanding the possibilities of how games could look and perform. This year we saw the Unreal Engine 4 with the Elemental demo and a stunning look at Square Enix’s Luminous Engine with the Agni’s Philosophy demo. Both demos left viewers stunned and excited for the future. Soon enough we could be playing a game that looks as good as a Final Fantasy cutscene. I have no doubt that consoles will be able to play beautiful games but there has to be more. The future of gaming shouldn’t be about increasingly better looking games but about how that technology can be used to innovate. Eventually there has to be a point where the graphics of games won’t get noticeably better and developers will have to stretch the boundaries of their games beyond good looks. Before diving into a future where everything is just pretty to look at, I hope companies take some time to present us with technology that will tell better stories and hopefully expand upon what a game can actually be.
Though we don’t have a solid release date or price point for the Wii U, it is coming this year (barring any unforeseen circumstances). Nintendo’s newest console will mark the first entry into the eighth generation of game consoles. Is it too early of a start? Honestly I think so. Not only is Nintendo giving Microsoft and Sony enough time to build even more complex and better systems, it’s putting out a system that (so far) doesn’t feel that new or unique. It is crucial for games to always improve and always innovate. By demanding a jump into the next generation we are merely asking for things to be a little bit shinier and prettier. There are some amazing games and exciting technologies coming out in the near future on platforms already available. We have seen glimpses of companies that actually get it while some are just going through the motions. The future of gaming is created every single time a new and unique game comes out. When more games like that are created the longer we can hold onto our “old” consoles and have new types of fun.