I'm sitting at work listening to people around me chatter about the 8GB of DDR5 RAM that we can expect to sit snugly inside the PS4. We haven't heard much about the new Xbox, but I'm sure it will boast something comparable. I'm trying to get my head around how such a huge boost in the potential graphical prowess of our games will influence both the industry and game design as a whole.
With the new Killzone trailer boasting huge, sprawling cities,
and Watchdogs similarly creating an expansive metropolis bubbling with virtual individuals - it's clear that the natural progression of "better hardware" means, for many, "We can fit more shit on the screen". I'm not going to deny these games look incredible, but should that be the focus of what we want from our videogames and, more importantly, is that how we want developers spending their obviously tight budgets of both time and money throughout the next generation?
Think back on the biggest disappointments of the last few years. I'm willing to bet Mass Effect 3 is on that list - though not for it's aesthetic, but for it's conclusion, for it's story. When we play a game our immediate concerns are that of animation, of reactivity, of the weight of our movements and the impact that is reflected in the world we might inhabit - of narrative, of the artificial intelligence of both our comrades and enemies, of humour and of ingenuity. It's hard to appreciate this stuff because it's success is governed by it's subtlety - if it's been done well, you don't notice it. The appearance of these games is important but it's secondary to the other gameplay mechanics that anchor you within the game you are playing. Many titles have demonstrated that even through a thick layer of abstraction it's still possible to empathise with a virtually controlled entity - that it's still possible to create beautiful, meaningful experiences with limited physical capabilities.
In our current generation we already have games that exceed our aesthetic expectations, yet under-perform elsewhere, be it through poor level design or pacing, or whatever. There are still plenty of elements of game design which are repeatedly ignored, or undercut, or discarded. Every time I spot clipping in a pre-rendered cut-scene I hear nails scraping down a blackboard. So while I love the hype, and the optimism, surrounding this next generation of consoles, I think it's important not to forget that good graphics does not automatically mean good videogames.
This new hardware is going to give developers a lot of potential ways to expand their designs. I hope they don't waste it. A lot of them can't afford to waste it. The industry remains fragile, with solid hardworking dev teams having to shutter their doors based on the poor sales of a single title - there are a lot of studios out there who can't afford to spend an entire development cycle creating a huge realistic city which the player has no enthusiasm to explore.
Thanks For Reading