Whither Gen?

One cringe-worthy phrase which will be ever-present at this year’s E3 is “next-gen” – as in, “that title is truly ‘next-gen’” or “those graphics just aren’t ‘next-gen’ enough” or “does it really have ‘next-gen’ gameplay?” The assumption, of course, is that there is something so fundamentally different about the new wave of consoles that our games will need to take entirely new shapes or forms in order to succeed. This assumption is just not true.

Let me ask this question – what new types of gameplay emerged in the last generation? What were the great games from the Xbox and PS2 generation that changed our gaming landscape forever? There was just as much talk back in 2000 about the “next generation” of consoles and how much games would be changing. Remember Sony’s “Emotion Engine?”

Certainly, significant improvements were made in the previous generation, but I am at a loss to describe any sort of “next-gen” gameplay that defines it. The open-ended world of the GTA series is certainly inspiring, but it seems more an important exception than anything else. Online play has finally started to come of age, of course, but PC gaming has always been the leader here. Thus, if there is “next-gen” multiplayer gameplay coming to consoles, you should already see be able to see it on the PC.

Simply put, was there actually revolutionary change over the last five years? If not, should we expect it in the next five?

I don’t. I see people still playing games in their living rooms, sitting on their same old couches 10 feet from the TV, holding the same old controllers they have since 1995. (Of course, Nintendo is an important exception – but when one hears the phrase “next-gen,” this is not what it refers to…) Sure, the TV’s might be in high-def now, but this is simply the same promise of every other generation: better graphics.

If the games are going to change in some fundamental way, why haven’t they changed already? If a programmer can imagine the gameplay working with the current inputs and outputs (controllers and screens), there is always a way to make it work. It boggles my mind that Sid was able to squeeze Civ onto an early-90s PC, but he did. The human mind hasn’t changed one bit since “Pong” – so if the consoles aren’t changing fundamentally, why should we expect the games to?

Which reminds me… I really need to post soon about why I love my Nintendo DS. Different console. Different games.

One thought on “Whither Gen?

  1. (Of course, Nintendo is an important exception – but when one hears the phrase “next-gen,” this is not what it refers to…)

    What “is” Nintendo Wii then?
    If Microsoft and Sony works on the “next-gen” of graphics and horse power, than Nintendo is working on the “next-gen” of gameplay and controls (expect a lot more of “same old gameplay with different controls” but at least the tools are provided to create something new).

    Patience will be rewarded (while I wait.. where is my DS now?).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *