Ubisoft CEO: Interesting IPs require new consoles, my response

Video games are near and dear to my heart, mainly because I play them almost constantly, and have for a good fifteen years or so. So, when this article came out, quoting Yves Guillemot saying that the industry needs new hardware to be creative and innovative, I was a little shocked at the plain, bald ignorance shown by the CEO of one of the biggest companies in the industry.

How about looking at the indie scene? Indie games are some of the most inventive and creative out there, because they have to be. Games like Braid and Limbo? Those were made on current-gen systems without access to the developer kits that big companies get to use. They push peoples' expectations, and with some of the simplest ideas.

New hardware won't do anything. Hardware is technical. Yes, you can have more guys on screen at once. Does that mean your enemies are inventive? No. Yes, you can have a better physics engine. Does that mean your physics engine is being utilized in fun, interesting ways? Not at all.

In acting, there's a common dichotomy that's used to explain the different aspects of acting. Actor1 is the technical side of it; getting the lines right, blocking, making sure you're not looking into the camera, that stuff. Then, there's Actor2, the emotional side of it, the side that makes a performance believable and unique, by providing actual emotion.

I believe the same metaphor can be applied to gaming. Let's take Call of Duty for instance; Call of Duty 4 was a marvel for its time. It's what defined the modern FPS style of both singleplayer campaign and multiplayer experience. The developers for that game were already established in making good games, and then they let Developer2 run wild with the idea of a modern conflict, rather than rehashing bits of World War 2. Modern Warfare 2 went on to try to top CoD4, with arguable success, because Dev2 was still kicking.

Then Black Ops came out, and it felt a lot more like Dev1 was drowning out Dev2. It felt like it was more concerned with trying to emulate Call of Duty, with trying to be a set piece marvel, but fell flat on its face, because there was no heart in it. The world's largest video game factory had finally sealed itself as just that; a lifeless, soulless factory, pumping out games, year after year.

What I'm saying here is that you can be creative and innovative, and still make amazing games on current-gen hardware. Hell, you could do that on older hardware. The PS2? The Sega Saturn? The NES? How far back do you have to go before you can't make something new because the hardware limits it? The answer is, you'd have to go back to before video games existed.

Hardware lets you represent your story in a prettier fashion, but in the end, that's all it really accomplishes. Yes, you can now have animations for every little thing in your world; do you need them? No. Take machinima for example. The guys at RoosterTeeth, those behind Red vs Blue, formed eight coherent seasons of stories about dudes whose only differentiating characteristic, visually, is the color of their armor. We get a sense of who those characters are through the voice acting, through the writing, and through what they're doing. Or implied to be doing, in most cases. With the exception of their most reason series, they had a grand total of seven verbs they could show on-screen, because of the limitations of working inside a video game never meant to be used as a set for a show. But that's what they did, and they made it work, because they had the passion and drive to make something unique and interesting.

There are examples all over every form of media of people making things unique and interesting in spite of the limitations of their hardware. Being creative isn't about making the explosions bigger, it's not about getting a better framerate, and it's certainly not about how big and beautiful you can make your set pieces. It's about doing things a little different, and no amount of pixel shading will ever make a game more than it is.