Next Gen? Why?

What I'm about to say here might be a tad bit controversial, but I'm at the point where I don't give a damn, so whatevs.

Heavy Rain developer David Cage today said that he doesn't see a need for a next-gen console until 2017, citing Quantic Dream having not run into any PS3 tech limitations. While he also harped on about violence and shooters and RPGs, that's more a matter of taste and what sells. This blog's going to be focused on tech, and how the pursuit of graphics may have reached its limit for most of the industry.

Now, many on gaming forums, and indeed many in the jaded gaming media, have been clamoring for new consoles, despite the fact that some truly amazing games have come out in the latter years of this cycle, not because there's anything that can't be done on these consoles compared to the latest and greatest PCs, but because they're not as pretty. They don't have super-maxed-out resolutions and trillions of polygons and particle effects, yadda yadda yadda.

What people don't seem to realize is that we've run into a very real limitation already this generation.

It's no secret that game development has ballooned this generation compared to previous generations. For many "AAA" titles, a million units sold is no longer a breakout hit, but rather the baseline, minimum expectation for a game to be considered profitable. Only the biggest companies are really able to get the most out of even the current consoles, simply because of how bloody expensive it is to make games for them. In these years, we've seen the games industry become more reliant on sequels than even the creatively bankrupt film industry, while companies desperately search for ways to nickel-and-dime customers, trying to get just a bit more return on their absurdly high investment.

What happens when the next systems come out? When the gaming media knocks points off for anything that isn't 1080p, 60FPS with the largest, most detailed textures possible? What happens then? Well, for the biggest companies, the answer is most likely to forsake new IPs and ideas altogether, or to banish them to the iOS/downloadable ghetto. When budgets start doubling or tripling, games start costing $70 or more, with even more content held back to be charged for later, or even holding back vital single-player content. When these become the norm, how many people will simply walk away?

And what of mid-tier companies like Atlus, Capcom and the like? Most likely, their games probably won't change much at all. They won't have the money of an EA or Activision to churn out the latest and greatest graphics tech. What happens to them? Are their games even viable in the mainstream marketplace? Or does the hunger for "bigger, badder, more" consume them, drive them to the downloadable underground with the indies? I don't know about you, but I don't like the idea of some of the most respected companies in this industry being damned to invisibility for not having the money to push a platform to its limits.

I'm not saying that we should never have new hardware. Obviously at some point it's going to become needed. However, I think for the industry not to suffer an eventual second crash, everyone involved - media, developers, publishers and fans - are going to have to ask how the next gen's development can be made more affordable rather than less, or barring that, what do people want to sacrifice in the name of higher definition graphics.

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31 Comments
Posted by YukoAsho

What I'm about to say here might be a tad bit controversial, but I'm at the point where I don't give a damn, so whatevs.

Heavy Rain developer David Cage today said that he doesn't see a need for a next-gen console until 2017, citing Quantic Dream having not run into any PS3 tech limitations. While he also harped on about violence and shooters and RPGs, that's more a matter of taste and what sells. This blog's going to be focused on tech, and how the pursuit of graphics may have reached its limit for most of the industry.

Now, many on gaming forums, and indeed many in the jaded gaming media, have been clamoring for new consoles, despite the fact that some truly amazing games have come out in the latter years of this cycle, not because there's anything that can't be done on these consoles compared to the latest and greatest PCs, but because they're not as pretty. They don't have super-maxed-out resolutions and trillions of polygons and particle effects, yadda yadda yadda.

What people don't seem to realize is that we've run into a very real limitation already this generation.

It's no secret that game development has ballooned this generation compared to previous generations. For many "AAA" titles, a million units sold is no longer a breakout hit, but rather the baseline, minimum expectation for a game to be considered profitable. Only the biggest companies are really able to get the most out of even the current consoles, simply because of how bloody expensive it is to make games for them. In these years, we've seen the games industry become more reliant on sequels than even the creatively bankrupt film industry, while companies desperately search for ways to nickel-and-dime customers, trying to get just a bit more return on their absurdly high investment.

What happens when the next systems come out? When the gaming media knocks points off for anything that isn't 1080p, 60FPS with the largest, most detailed textures possible? What happens then? Well, for the biggest companies, the answer is most likely to forsake new IPs and ideas altogether, or to banish them to the iOS/downloadable ghetto. When budgets start doubling or tripling, games start costing $70 or more, with even more content held back to be charged for later, or even holding back vital single-player content. When these become the norm, how many people will simply walk away?

And what of mid-tier companies like Atlus, Capcom and the like? Most likely, their games probably won't change much at all. They won't have the money of an EA or Activision to churn out the latest and greatest graphics tech. What happens to them? Are their games even viable in the mainstream marketplace? Or does the hunger for "bigger, badder, more" consume them, drive them to the downloadable underground with the indies? I don't know about you, but I don't like the idea of some of the most respected companies in this industry being damned to invisibility for not having the money to push a platform to its limits.

I'm not saying that we should never have new hardware. Obviously at some point it's going to become needed. However, I think for the industry not to suffer an eventual second crash, everyone involved - media, developers, publishers and fans - are going to have to ask how the next gen's development can be made more affordable rather than less, or barring that, what do people want to sacrifice in the name of higher definition graphics.

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Posted by BestUsernameEver

The entire future of consoles is cloudy anyway, they will just start becoming media boxes featuring games.

Posted by 71Ranchero

I wonder how Skyrm would have been on PS2.

Nah, obviously better hardware is just for improved graphics.

Posted by RedRoach

I want consoles for more then just better graphics. I want 64 player MP, better AI and so on.

Correct me if I'm wrong but aren't next gen engines focusing on trying to reduce dev costs?

Edited by Draxyle

I've already mostly shunned the big budget industry in favor of indie titles in this gen alone. With some exceptions, those ten and fifteen dollar games have disappointed me a whole lot less than the sixty dollar games have. The reality is, those big titles just aren't being made to cater to us "old fashioned" gamers anymore. Marketability matters more than artist intent when the budgets start rising.

Modern consoles have definitely hit their breaking point, but I'm really not interested at all in what they'll do with more power. Limitations breed creativity time and time again.

Edit: Not to say that we shouldn't be getting better consoles at this point, we definitely need them. I just want to see developers do more than add pixels to the screen.

Edited by benspyda

Better consoles won't mean higher development budgets because things are already in HD, its not like the jump from PS2 to PS3. It just means more memory and processors so games can run in 1080p and 60fps, or have bigger worlds (show more of a view distance). Plus most of the heavy lifting will be done by Epics's next unreal engine and other engine developers.

Posted by august

Because science.

Posted by YukoAsho

@Jason_Bourne said:

I want consoles for more then just better graphics. I want 64 player MP, better AI and so on.

Correct me if I'm wrong but aren't next gen engines focusing on trying to reduce dev costs?

Well, the next gen consoles are nothing more than rumor and speculation (aside from the Wii U, obviously) so it's hard to tell what the focus will be on.

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Posted by IrrelevantJohn

I'm at a point where I kind of want better graphics, I dont care if it's still in 720p or whatever. Plugging my Gaming PC to my HDTV has crossed my mind several times.

Posted by YukoAsho

@benspyda said:

Better consoles won't mean higher development budgets because things are already in HD, its not like the jump from PS2 to PS3. It just means more memory and processors so games can run in 1080p and 60fps, or have bigger worlds (show more of a view distance). Plus most of the heavy lifting will be done by Epics's next unreal engine and other engine developers.

Engines are all well and good, but most game development costs nowadays are going into asset creation. Speedtree's all well and good, but you're going to need a whole lot of other procedurally-generating middle-wear to get that down.

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Posted by Tim_the_Corsair

Come back to PC and get graphics now that are better than anything next gen consoles will ever do, but with a thriving indy community AND without the restrictive licensing fees of developing for console, PC is the past, present, and future baby!

Edited by Gamer_152

Well an upgrade in tech doesn't just mean better graphics by any means, but you're theory seems to be grounded around the idea that anything on the upcoming consoles which isn't graphically perfect will take severe hits from critics and therefore won't be successful, and I think there's a few problems with this idea.

  • I don't think it's ever been the case that gaming publications on the whole place that much emphasis on graphics. Perhaps a handful do, but this idea that they'll completely go to town on anything that's not 60FPS/1080p/super high-res textures seems way overblown.
  • Just because critics mark something down doesn't mean it can't be a financial success.
  • There will be higher expectations for graphics in the coming generation but better console hardware also makes it easier to develop games with better graphics.
  • There's already a major gap between those with more money and those with less money in the industry, why does this problem suddenly get massively exacerbated with the coming generation?
  • It's actually the case that the mid to low level games developers have games which change much more than those at the top of the industry. The big players like EA and Activision are the ones most known for their iterative sequels because they don't want to take risks, they want to stick with what they know makes them money, while lower down companies can target niche markets or stand out from the crowd by doing different things, why would that change in the coming generation?
  • What's so bad with developers working in the downloadable space? The ability to do this has actually been a godsend for a lot of developers like Double Fine, Mojang, Bizarre Creations, and so on.
  • New ideas are certainly risky, but I don't understand why new IPs are meant to be graphically inferior now. There are plenty of games in new IPs that have come out, with varying levels of quality in gameplay that have all managed to look good.
  • This idea about budgets doubling and tripling seems highly speculative.

These are just a few of the issues I have, but overall I just think these ideas are a little flawed. There is a big gap between those who do and don't have money, the games industry is getting frustratingly iterative, and budgets are likely to be a problem, but I don't think next gen means the games industry apocalypse outlined above.

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Posted by RedRoach

@YukoAsho said:

@Jason_Bourne said:

I want consoles for more then just better graphics. I want 64 player MP, better AI and so on.

Correct me if I'm wrong but aren't next gen engines focusing on trying to reduce dev costs?

Well, the next gen consoles are nothing more than rumor and speculation (aside from the Wii U, obviously) so it's hard to tell what the focus will be on.

I mean Development tools and engines. Unreal Engine 4 is supposed to be much easier to use, driving down the price to create things.

Posted by tourgen

More memory, larger worlds, more dynamic objects, more things generated and modified in real-time

Things you haven't even considered because you've never seen it done before. Because its not possie on current hardware

Edited by benspyda

@YukoAsho said:

@benspyda said:

Better consoles won't mean higher development budgets because things are already in HD, its not like the jump from PS2 to PS3. It just means more memory and processors so games can run in 1080p and 60fps, or have bigger worlds (show more of a view distance). Plus most of the heavy lifting will be done by Epics's next unreal engine and other engine developers.

Engines are all well and good, but most game development costs nowadays are going into asset creation. Speedtree's all well and good, but you're going to need a whole lot of other procedurally-generating middle-wear to get that down.

My point was that they are already making HD assets for the current generation, compared to the jump from making assets for a PS2 game compared to a HD game would have been quite a hit. Also a better console means access to better shader's and effects that doesn't necessarily mean more man hours.

Posted by Video_Game_King

@YukoAsho said:

In these years, we've seen the games industry become more reliant on sequels than even the creatively bankrupt film industry

Because there's no way in hell a sequel to anything could ever be creative. Super Mario Bros. 2? What the hell is that? (I know I'm being nitpicky, but this is one of my gaming pet peeves.)

To say something on topic....it may mean another Valis game, I guess? I'm not entirely sure how to convince you, but that's mainly because of how uninvested I am, myself.

Posted by MikkaQ

Hah they might not have run into technical limitations with the PS3 and Heavy Rain because they were outputting at 720p. When most games released on consoles can't even take full advantage of modern TVs' resolutions and struggle to run at 30FPS, you know it's time to move on.

Posted by Korwin

A new console has greater potential to cut down on development resources. Being able to implement things like proper realtime dynamic lighting (something that half of all current games lack, which is crazy), radiosity and more complex ambient occlusion cuts down on the amount of work environment artists need to perform. There is also potential to reduce the man hours spent in the modeling department by eliminating the need to generate and tweak low res/poly count versions of assets from their more complex masters in favour of just using the high poly versions in all game play scenarios.

Posted by Pinworm45

Other people have already explained some of the various aspects at play here, but new graphics aren't the only advantages of new consoles. Updates to the hardware and accompying drivers/software fixes various bugs, gives them better performance. It's kind of a fallacy to say that better graphics will by necessity require more work - in some situations that's true, but typically, new tools are released that make various jobs easier. It'd be like comparing modeling software from Half-Life 1 to Half-Life 2 and saying "Man, it would take YEARS for them to do all of that!". Well, no, the technology to create assets evolves with the maximum quality. In fact, it gets to a point where developers WANT to use new creation software because it's easier or faster and of a higher quality, but the system limitations prevent it from being possible.

It can also limit gameplay, or force developers to reduce their quality in order to allocate CPU/GPU/RAM to other more critical things.

Point being, the idea that the only advantage new consoles will bring is graphics is a fallacy, as is the idea that improving graphics is purely negative, or that it should be undesirable, or that it comes at the cost of gameplay (sometimes, it can be the other way around).

Posted by Deadmanforking

Quadratic Dream?

Posted by Little_Socrates

I want new consoles because the hardware manufacturers are trying to cater to a media consumption base that the consoles are not currently built to handle. There's a reason Metro sucks on Xbox 360 more than anywhere else, and it'll continue to suck until at least the next hardware iteration. Building a new software infrastructure that properly handles downloadable games and content, along with incorporating media services more appropriately, is essential and will be the element that truly defines the next generation.

You're right that there are problems with technological upgrades on the next generation and that the idea is a bit scary, though.

Posted by YukoAsho

@deadmanforking said:

Quadratic Dream?

Heh, thanks, that was an oopsie on my part.

@Little_Socrates said:

I want new consoles because the hardware manufacturers are trying to cater to a media consumption base that the consoles are not currently built to handle. There's a reason Metro sucks on Xbox 360 more than anywhere else, and it'll continue to suck until at least the next hardware iteration. Building a new software infrastructure that properly handles downloadable games and content, along with incorporating media services more appropriately, is essential and will be the element that truly defines the next generation.

You're right that there are problems with technological upgrades on the next generation and that the idea is a bit scary, though.

A new console focused on the backend seems interesting, but perhaps a harder sell to people who don't feel the need for a set-top-box. I'd like to see how it goes from here though.

@Video_Game_King said:

@YukoAsho said:

In these years, we've seen the games industry become more reliant on sequels than even the creatively bankrupt film industry

Because there's no way in hell a sequel to anything could ever be creative. Super Mario Bros. 2? What the hell is that? (I know I'm being nitpicky, but this is one of my gaming pet peeves.)

To say something on topic....it may mean another Valis game, I guess? I'm not entirely sure how to convince you, but that's mainly because of how uninvested I am, myself.

Nobody's saying that creativity is impossible in sequels, but especially recently, sequels are much safer than pushing out something entirely new.

And honestly, I think the ship's sailed on Valis. With Telenet deat and Sunsoft not doing anything with those IPs, I don't see it happening, much as I'd like it to.

@Korwin said:

A new console has greater potential to cut down on development resources. Being able to implement things like proper realtime dynamic lighting (something that half of all current games lack, which is crazy), radiosity and more complex ambient occlusion cuts down on the amount of work environment artists need to perform. There is also potential to reduce the man hours spent in the modeling department by eliminating the need to generate and tweak low res/poly count versions of assets from their more complex masters in favour of just using the high poly versions in all game play scenarios.

Interesting view on that. Moving closer to just using master assets probably would be a boon to development, though it'll likely be more than one generation to have completely uncompressed assets, and probably more than one new format.

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Posted by Guided_By_Tigers

Good points, I wouldn't mind staying in this generation till 2017.

Posted by SexualBubblegumX
@Tim_the_Corsair
Except you know the liscence fees on Steam and Origin.
Posted by whyareyoucrouchingspock

David Cage resorts to tits and hands getting cut off.

Posted by mikey87144

You realize most devs are clamoring for new consoles to

Posted by YukoAsho

@whyareyoucrouchingspock said:

David Cage resorts to tits and hands getting cut off.

See, that's part of why I didn't wanna go to the violence argument. It did come off as somewhat hypocritical, nevermind having nothing to do with the next gen. Sex and violence are here to stay in all media.

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Edited by whyareyoucrouchingspock

@mikey87144 said:

You realize most devs are clamoring for new consoles to

Alot of them are claiming they are limited. Personally, I think that is bullshit.

What they really want, is a new way to hype titles new or old IP's. A new console acts almost as a reboot button. So in some (small way) Cage is right imo.

Edited by BestUsernameEver

@Video_Game_King said:

@YukoAsho said:

In these years, we've seen the games industry become more reliant on sequels than even the creatively bankrupt film industry

Because there's no way in hell a sequel to anything could ever be creative. Super Mario Bros. 2? What the hell is that? (I know I'm being nitpicky, but this is one of my gaming pet peeves.)

To say something on topic....it may mean another Valis game, I guess? I'm not entirely sure how to convince you, but that's mainly because of how uninvested I am, myself.

Yeah sequels are different for games, it's expanding on the gameplay and story. Movies only have the story, so sequels are much more of a lazy move in the movie industry than games. Sequels serve a huge portion of the games industry because it in it's nature is different than any other media.

Posted by mikey87144

@whyareyoucrouchingspock said:

@mikey87144 said:

You realize most devs are clamoring for new consoles to

Alot of them are claiming they are limited. Personally, I think that is bullshit.

What they really want, is a new way to hype titles new or old IP's. A new console acts almost as a reboot button. So in some (small way) Cage is right imo.

Even if that's true what's wrong with that? Don't you think the current crop of ip's has gotten stale? Also it's time to see improvements in AI, art, crowd effects, and other things more powerful hardware gives us. The current consoles are also holding back PC development too so it's not like spending money on a PC will give us those benefits either.