"The game just doesn't
feel 'next-gen' enough for me."
The words I hate to hear
the most since last November. Those are the words I see nearly each
day when I check out news and developments with some of the games
I'm less than certain about. This is what we all keep hearing, be it
from gamers, fanboys, or reviewers. These are the words that should
make all of our collective skin crawl.
Why are these words so
bad? Why is it a pain in the ass to keep hearing about what is the
supposed "biggest problem" of so many new games? It's simple and it
should be rather evident to any person who is proud to claim the
titles of geek and gamer for themselves.
First off, "next-gen" is
a buzz word made to represent all that it is not. Next generation is
what comes about when hardware is upgraded in substantial ways that
allow new games that cannot be handled by the old generation's
technology. For example, a N-64 was once next-gen (back when the
SNES was Nintendo's flag ship), but a N-64 with the optional memory
upgrade was still the same generation. The Dreamcast, despite what
many want to believe, was once next-gen when the Saturn was being
put to bed. The 360 IS next-gen...or at least it was when it was
new. It's now current generation hardware, while the Wii (despite
what many Microsoft and Sony fanboys want to believe) and the PS3
are next-gen because they are new, or in this case not yet released.
However, while hardware
brings next-gen, in all it's glory, software is a different matter.
Software will never truly be next-gen, since it's the same old
stuff. I don't mean that to make games sound like they can't evolve
and become more than they were in previous days. I simply mean that
the genres exist, the controls exist, most plots and styles exist,
and games are still software encoded upon some sort of media
(including digitally distributed games stored on memory cards or
hard drives) that is ran on a piece of hardware.
The Real Problem
For some reason, people
have started to get some wacky ideas of what is needed in games made
for next-gen hardware. This mainly came about due to the
technological leaps found in old generation changes. For example,
the NES looked like ass. It's true. I love my NES, still after all
these years, but I know that these games never really did look great
as opposed to looking good enough to play. Then when the SNES came
along, the graphics made giant leaps. Look at an early SNES game,
like Actraiser (in particular, the golden mask that was one of the
bosses...which I cannot locate an image of), and then look at one of
the later NES games (FF3
is a good one, and the same goes for
Dragon Quest IV). Do you see a difference? I know I do.
This remained true for
quite some time. The old days of the SNES were put to shame when the
Playstation came along and revolutionized what we could visually
take away from a game. However, while a game like FF9 would look
nice in the 32-bit days, FFX (despite how the game just saddens me
for how shallow it is) was visually superior in far too many ways to
count. This was seen in all of the previous generation advances.
last/current generation of the GCN, XBox, and PS2 were the last
generation that could really bring about more visual clarity without
needing advanced display technology (HD-TV). So, when the 360 hit
the streets almost a year ago, the games didn't really feel visually
improved as much as they were just looking sharper when shown on the
correct display type. Why? It wasn't because of the hardware not
being "next-gen" enough, but rather that we have seen too many
advances. Let's put it this way; if video games keep looking more
life-like with each generation, and they now can look very life-like
with the PS2 generation (think the afore mentioned FFX), where can
we go from here? Can we look substantially better than almost
perfect? Can games look better than real? I don't think so...in
fact, I know we can't top perfection.
Now, I'm not saying we
have reached visual perfection. That will still be a little ways
away. However, we are mighty close to it, at least as far as games
Since many of the old
systems would show the bulk of their advances in the visuals (which
are typically some of the most technologically intensive parts of a
game), where can we go for an example of improvement if the visuals
of the past are now longer just memories of horribly implemented 2D
How about we start to
dig a little deeper into what the next generation can give us? It's
not as frightening and as difficult as many make it out to be. If we
don't have visuals as our crutch anymore, it just means we can start
to use our own brains for once.
We can start by looking
at the visual feats that could not be done before, since this would
be the easiest way to leave the safety of the eye-candy crutch. For
example, in the past we could count on some massive battles with up
to a dozen or so enemies on screen at a time. While we had massive
numbers of polygons making up a single image, we still were limited
in number enough to keep the total number of creations that are made
of massive polygons pretty low. For example, while Dynasty Warriors
would usually look pretty good, we still had just a dozen or so
people fighting at once. On the other hand, in the 360 generation,
we will have hundreds of orcs battling Kameo, or hundreds of goblins
trying to stop the heroes of Ninety Nine Nights. Visual quality may
not have been greatly enhanced (outside of high definition), but the
quantity sure has.
We can also look at
where the hardware developers and software developers can meet to
make unique experiences. For example, we can soon have downloadable
games from Nintendo's Wii that span all the great past eras of
Nintendo, and even some of the NEC and Sega eras. That may not sound
like a massive "next-gen" feat, but I can tell you that I've never
played a good emulator version of a game on a console before...but
that should all chance in a few months.
Better yet, let's see
some more of that hardware/software merger in episodal content.
While the XBox gave us some of that feel with downloadable content,
it felt only good enough in most cases. However, the current 360
Marketplace seems to already be offering it all in many improved
ways. Could we update and improve Morrowind on the XBox? No. Can we
do so for Oblivion? Damn straight. True, money may have to change
hands, but the system itself is rather painless and polished. So, if
visuals being improved from "good enough" to "better" is a marker of
next-gen, then why not count game upgrading doing the same?
We also see some new
forms of interaction in one corner of the next-gen world. Yes, I'm
talking about the Wii. While spatial mouse technology is old, it was
also unrefined. However, if Nintendo delivers what it must to
survive, it will have been upgraded to the...you guessed it...next
generation. Not only is that technology being greatly improved, it
is also being introduced in a way in which we've never seen it done
(correctly, at least) before. If that's not "next-gen" enough, then
I don't know what is.
What about games...
In the end, games simply
will not be able to feel truly next-gen. This all comes down to the
simple problem that Nintendo seems to be the only company
addressing; if visuals and genres have all been done before, what
can be done to save a stagnant game industry? Nintendo is not only
trying to solve that with innovative controllers, but also with
innovative games. Brain Age? That's new to the gaming world. The
same can be seen in many of the more recent Nintendo franchises,
like Animal Crossing and Nintendogs.
So, if hardware cannot
show the shock and awe effect of games being "next-gen" it doesn't
mean that we have completely stagnated. It just means that it's time
to stop looking entirely at the "next-gen" easy answer. It's time to
dig a little deeper and see if a game is offering something that's
either entirely novel (making a game as close to "next-gen" as
possible) or offering a higher level of quality (showing off a
console's "next-gen" potential). After all, a typical game is made
for the next-gen of consoles, and it's not a next-gen game being
made for a random console.
The Real Gamer's Answer
However, in the end it's
one important fact that will remain king to all true gamers and
geeks. It's not how "next-gen" a game is. It's not how visually
impressive a game is. It's not even in this ballpark.
The most important
factor going into the Wii/360/PS3 generation, as it was with all
generations of gaming, is how good the games are. If you don't feel
Kameo is a good representation of next-gen and chose to skip the
game for that reason, then it's your loss. If you skip Dead Rising
because the visuals are not the best ever imagined...your loss
again. If you skip out on PGR 3 because it looks only a little
better than past games, then you lose again. If you try these games,
despite what many say about their "next-gen" worth, andyou still
don't like them for what they are, then you are coming out ahead by
sampling games with an open mind.
The fun of a game has
absolutely nothing to do with the looks. If looks were all that
mattered, then portable gaming would be owned by the PSP (which has
visual superiority over the DS). If looks were all that mattered,
then we would never have seen Animal Crossing take the GCN by storm.
No, the truly important games are the ones that can truly entertain
us. That's why I still have a NES, SNES, N-64, GCN, GB, GBA, DS,
Virtual Boy, and will soon have a Wii in my home. These all offer
different scopes of the evolution of games, and they all were
fun...ok, the Virtual Boy is not necessarily great, but it did have
a few bits of fun in it's red on black monochromatic world. The same
goes for the evolution of Sega, Microsoft, and Sony.
So, while next-gen is no
longer something that can easily be labeled and determined by the
most obvious of factors (visuals), it still exists. It can be seen
in small features of technological amazement (like hundreds of
characters on screen at a time), technological ease (integration of
online and offline worlds), or in the more subtle aspects (sound
quality). Try to get many of the current 360 games (that are not
direct ports from the PS2 or XBox) playable on the XBox hardware and
you'd see some serious losses.
However, this is not
what we should all care about. In fact, this is the last thing a
gamer should worry about. What matters in a time when game prices
keep increasing (be it from the cost of the game to the price of
nearly required downloads) is if the games are really worth it. Can
we truly place a price on a game by it's "next-gen" qualities? No.
However, I can easily say that Suikoden (the original), despite it's
obvious visuals flaws, would still be more worth the price of
admission, to me at least, than almost any PS2 RPG. Wild Arms was
better in it's first iteration on the Plyastation than it was remake
and "updated" on the PS2 in Alter Code F. Even FF4 was more advanced
on the "dated" SNES than on the GBA.
Let your opinions be
more focused on quality of gaming and not on quality of hype and
buzz words. That is the only way to reach true geek enlightenment.