Just what is it that makes a game distinctly next gen?
Technically we’re in the ‘next’ generation meaning more correctly we should be referring to games as current gen when reaching for best performance from the newest consoles. Nonetheless next gen is a term still getting branded about in the overlap between the last (PS3 Xbox 360 etc) and the current generation to denote the game in question has something new and shiny to it that is specifically worthy of the latest consoles.
However much life is left for the last generation consoles, current games on the market are often still aimed at PS3 and Xbox 360 although sometimes as is the case with Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor for instance they will be a stripped down version without all the alluring next gen bells and whistles.
It should be noted that games may well keep going for the last gen, PlayStation 2 wasn’t discontinued until 2013 . Big games like Destiny, itself banging the next gen drum are still set to come to PS3 and Xbox 360 so why in the foreseeable future would you want to upgrade?
In the generation gap we have right now multi-platform releases might not be legitimately next gen either when coming to PS4 et al. So just what is it about a next gen game that’s going to make it that much better and warrant you desiring a ‘next gen’ console?
You will hear a lot of talk about 1080p and 60fps referring respectively to how many pixels there are on screen and how many frames per second the action moves at. For gamers who’ve been with the current generation from the start there has been a lot of resolution/frame rate niggles that at times put people off, with a sense that if a game can’t deliver both (or 60fps at least) it’s failing its next gen obligations. You can argue that at the beginning of the current gen life cycle, games devs are still getting to grips with pushing the best graphics performance. An analogy you could use is to compare the original Uncharted title on PS3 with games like Uncharted 3 and The Last of Us (all from the same devs). You can see the progression there on the last gen and there’s every reason to expect more and more game getting the magic 1080p and 60fps standards as the current generation matures. In reality a 900p resolution up against 1080p for example is pretty much identical, reaching 60fps is more desirable especially with fast moving games like racers, as the action is going to run more smoothly. Graphics aren’t everything although things with more textures, bump mapping and polygons are nicer to look at.
Along with better looking objects your next gen game should have more of them. Able to flesh out the world with more objects and characters to inhabit it and provide more individual animations for things like foliage and hair, a good example of how that might look is here.
Also backing up your HD resolution graphics could be accurately mapped ‘real’ conditions. Day and night cycles, changing weathers and things effecting the game in real time. Looking at the upcoming Sony online racer DriveClub you can see some of this at work. The idea also that with dynamic weather as an example will make the game world you’re in avoid repetitions if it’s a windy day grass and tree branches will blow about, The Witcher 3 is using dynamic weather to this end. Extra detail to the actions of characters can also now be done with next gen kit and hundreds of animations can be performed by a single model giving them more variety and realism to their movement and how the movements of others affect them.
Artificial Intelligence that makes the non player characters do things less mechanically. Learning AI in Forza 5 can copy how you drive a car and repeat the driving style with cars controlled by the game. Titanfall gives you a multiplayer team all controlled arificially which in turn affects the games narrative.depending on the result of a battle. We’ve already mentioned Shadow of Mordor which brings in an interesting Nemesis system (but only to next gen) wherein if you spare the life of a foe he might go off, seething with vengance to train up and come back for you. Like many things with next gen you can see moves already for clever AI going on with PCs, in fact you can argue next gen for consoles is all about making them better at doing what PCs do. Take a look at the proposed AI coming with SoE;s Everquest Next MMORPG in which groups of enemies you repeatedly fight might go off and set up camp elsewhere, or even go and seek the help of reinforcements and come back for your blood. Along with your next gen graphics all being dynamically chopped and changed having entities controlled by the console do things in reaction to you again makes the level of game immersion deeper.
The next gen Minecraft ports, Batman Arkham Knight and Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain are among the many games all giving you much larger worlds to traverse than before. The ability to place you in a much larger world gives a greater impression of being in said world which along with all the features above making it more realistic gets you more deeply immersed again.
The days when changing between single and multiplayer modes may well become a thing of the past with games that have already been such as Dark Souls and Watch Dogs you’re able to enter another’s single player experience or vice versa. Destiny is having a lot of money spent on it to ensure the seamless multiplayer is brought in. You can be out in the Destiny game alone and on the fly be able to jump into PVP battles or co-op missions. Xbox One’s exclusive shooter Sunset Overdrive will allow you to jump into a multiplayer game by entering a phone box in game. Again this functionality isn’t all that new but following the idea that consoles want to be more like PCs you can see this becoming big. Imagine not only a nice big realistic world to explore but also one that is populated with real people that could attempt to get one over on you or be your friends (or both). Once again the game world you’ve stepped into becomes more realistic.
Turtle Rock’s shooter Evolve is a great example of this. Four players controlling human sized characters against one player controlling a giant monster. Similarly the upcoming RPG Fable: Legends will allow for a single player to play a Dungeon Master style role, setting challenges for groups of adventurers to overcome. It could be that the idea of different roles in games gets played out in more complexity giving more options to players with different skills and playing preferences.
Second Screen Support
Going hand in hand with asymmetric multiplayer, support for mobile and tablet devices can be used to allow a separate player on a second device to oversee or interact with the game differently. For Nintendo who have an out of the box second screen solution with their Wii U GamePad there’s some interesting projects ahead such as Project Guard where the second screen is used by a single player with others watching the action on the main screen joining in with audience participation hints and directions The idea seems cute but one that does make for a more sociable experience with games, sitting and watching one person repeatedly die in a game on a TV has never been much fun.
In a climate where YouTubers can earn huge amounts of money for sharing gaming videos it’s understandable more and more will want to share the best gaming moments. Both the PS4 and Xbox One offer functionality to easily allow for gamers to show off footage from games they’re playing to be shared on Twitch streams and YouTube. Beyond the notion of gain there’s also a sense that gamers relish in sharing what they’ve done and what they’ve created allowing others to view or engage with their experience and more and more devs are working to incorporate easy sharing and live streams into their games.
Most importantly the best games from across the generations feel great to play and have a robust character and charm that gives them more soul against the waves and waves of similar games. The next gen indicators mentioned above will come into play more and more with new games coming up and many are there to make things more real and thus more engaging but that won’t necessarily mean they’re instantly going to be better. If the game gets the basics right and has next gen features to make it shine then the purchase of an 8th gen console becomes harder to resist, even more so if the game is also doing some new that works.