You Should Be Careful What You Call “Next-Gen”
The following is a transcript of the above video.
Today I’m going to be discussing an issue that has been bugging me lately in the wake of the PlayStation 4’s launch. Naturally, with the next generation of consoles finally being here, expectations are sky high and this has resulted in numerous launch games being rated significantly lower than gamers expected. Gaming media has been surprisingly more critical than they usually are on these games, with some even going as far as to disappointingly claim that these games are not “next-gen” enough to warrant the hype.
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Hold the phone there. This is where I feel I need to step in, and introduce a few very important things that I feel are being drastically overlooked by many gamers and media. The first is that people naturally seem to have short memories. If you go back to the launch of the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, both systems arguably had poor software line-ups, with the Xbox 360 having many games that were simply ports, such as Need for Speed: Most Wanted and Quake 4, and there being few exclusives, and likewise on PS3 where for me the only title worth acquiring was the great Resistance: Fall of Man. Fast forward to the present day, and both platforms boast far superior launch line-ups than their last generation, with an enjoyable combination of ports as well as exclusives. But this isn’t the main point I want you to walk away with, this is just a little detail I wanted to gloss over before getting into the real heart of the matter. I mean, often launch games are simply teaser posters if anything else.
Right now, I am taking big issue with the fact that some gamers and media are stating that certain games, such as Killzone: Shadow Fall, are not “next-gen” enough and then bring forward the argument that these games are possible on current-gen. Sure, in the case of maybe Dead Rising 3, where it didn’t meet next-gen promises and runs at 720p and 30fps yet still allegedly experiences frame rate drops, the accusation holds more weight, but in the case of Killzone: Shadow Fall or Forza 5 or maybe even Ryse (which we’ll know about once reviews land), I would like to make a few things abundantly clear.
Firstly, I challenge anyone to please, right now, explain to me what classifies as “next-gen”. Go right ahead. You’ll find that it is pretty damn difficult to give me a comprehensive, detailed answer, especially with regards to gameplay, or mechanics or narrative or immersion. And why is that? Well, because quite simply we have not yet been shown what next-gen can do or is capable of. On the one hand, you can say that a game like Killzone: Shadow Fall is possible on current gen, at least gameplay-wise and mechanically speaking, but then there is the fact that you don’t know what is now possible that was previously impossible. Why is that? Quite simply, there has not yet been a game that has pushed the bar. The only benchmarks for what determines next-gen for us right now is to do with graphics and performance. Quite frankly, we don’t know better yet, and how could we?
Let me explain with this comparison. Towards the end of this generation, the limitations of it have become blatantly apparent. Games are often highly glitchy, there are visual bugs aplenty in the form of texture pop-in issues and textures failing to load quickly enough, there’s the fact that your console can often chug and experience severe frame rate drops when maintaining high levels of detail seen in games like Assassin’s Creed III and there are loading times to cut gameplay where you wish there were no cuts. Then there are lack of high resolution textures in games, I mean, just try and play BioShock: Infinite and Far Cry 3 on console again after experiencing them on PC, and the reality that games are not able to use the latest graphical enhancements and all sorts of other indicators that are showing you that this generation has definitely reached its twilight years and is facing serious technical limitations now with its much aged hardware. Hell, even amazing games like Grand Theft Auto V struggle to maintain a solid frame rate in its open world, and has to make numerous concessions with the world in order to keep the game running as it does.
Fast forward to the next-generation, and with selective titles you can now experience gaming at 60 frames per second, and at 1080p, essentially with performance and graphics that far surpasses what came before it. All of this was previously impossible on the last generation. And unfortunately the truth is that this, right now, it’s the only indicator we have that shows advancement from the last generation to now. So how can you declare the games to be “not next-gen” enough, when there quite literally has not yet been a game that raised the bar, changed our beliefs of what is achievable or set the new standard for any given genre?
I’m not trying to say you’re wrong to maybe feel let down or to have high expectations, not at all because I myself carry really high expectations and have high standards, and often my reviews reflect this. But I am saying be wary of having high expectations without anything concrete to back up those expectations. Random example here: after Batman Arkham Asylum, expectations for licensed games were rightfully raised as the world now had an actual game that had set a new benchmark. After that game, people no longer just tossed licensed games to the side and actually demanded a higher quality, and games such as High Moon’s Transformers and Beenox’s Spider-Man tried to deliver on that. I hope you now understand the idea a little better that you can’t simply raise expectations without knowing what future products should aspire to be like, or what you’re actually raising them for and now expecting.
I look back to the previous generation. I remember when I picked up the original Assassin’s Creed, and for its time that game blew me away. Forget the sheer graphical detail, but the realistic animations, of which there were hundreds, the vast open world, the immense freshness of it and the amazing contextual gameplay that brought a new kind of fluidity and interactivity to gaming experiences, for instance with the way every landmark or object could be interacted with and scaled naturally…that all convinced me that the new generation had most definitely arrived. It changed my perceptions of what the open world genre could do, and from then on my expectations for games in that category were raised. Why? Because I now had a solid indicator from which to compare future games. I now had a benchmark. I had seen and experienced what was now possible that previously was not.
Likewise, when all those amazing games such as Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots, God of War III and Uncharted 2 and 3 began to drop and we saw scale in games that we had never seen before. When real gems like Forza did wonders for the racing genre and driving simulation gameplay. Or when Mass Effect and The Witcher 2 came along to completely evolve the role playing genre, and games like Heavy Rain, Spec Ops: The Line, The Walking Dead and The Last Of Us raised the bar for storytelling in gaming. Or what about when Batman: Arkham City forever changed the industry by raising the bar for licensed games, proving that they can compete with full triple A games? Or how about Gears of War blowing the waters out of the third person shooter genre and becoming the poster child for multiplayer experiences? What about indie growing ridiculously fast to become a dominant, innovation-driving force in the industry?
There are so many more examples. Countless in fact. But the simple point is this: it took actual games and their achievements to show us what was possible on the new generation and what the standard now was, and only once we experienced these games, could we then raise our expectations accordingly. Right now, media and gamers are being hypercritical of games not being “next-gen” enough, but the only indication we have right now of whether a game classifies as next-gen is whether it runs at 60 frames per second, has 1080p resolution and has sick graphics. That’s it. But with regards to gameplay, mechanics, features, trendsetters and just titles that are influential to the industry? We haven’t seen anything yet. There has been no game that has demanded we set our standards higher and increase our expectations, and we don’t have any game to use as a comparison or benchmark going forward.
So I ask again, when you say the game is not “next-gen” enough and can be done on current-gen, what exactly do you mean? Personally, I concede that I would be disappointed with a game that does not meet the promised quality standards of next-gen, as far as graphics and performance goes. But for the most part I genuinely believe that this widespread disappointment with next-gen launch games right now is maybe not entirely, but significantly due to overinflated expectations without solid, core reasoning for them or any benchmark to use to describe what next-gen is capable of. Maybe it’s a little bit because our launch games are next-gen games still created by current-gen minds, and it will take time to evolve genres, or maybe it’s because media and gamers got really overhyped without knowing anything about the possibilities beyond technical jargon and graphics. Regardless, the main idea still stands: none of us here know what next-gen is or means for gameplay and future possibilities.
By comparison, it took both the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 a fairly impressive amount of time before they really kicked into gear, the PS3 more so. But once the games arrived, they truly changed gaming forever and our expectations with it. Just try to fathom what gaming was eight years ago. And where it is now. I know the cynic would point to all the nasty things we have like cash-cow sequels, microtransactions, bad use of DLC and yada-yada-yada, but purely regarding our gaming experiences, there has been evolution and innovation aplenty.
And you forget that now with the next-generation consoles hugely investing in indie, there will be a consistent stream of games that carry far less limitations and are at a much greater liberty to innovate and take risks, and this in itself could play a major role in advancing the gaming industry and pushing innovation. Do I even need to bring up thatgamecompany’s world-famous and spectacular Journey as an example? I know it’s not fully indie, but it shows how smaller games can sometimes make the loudest noise – in a completely good way.
Essentially, a better criticism for the launch games would be that, rather than saying they are not “next-gen” enough, you could instead say that you are disappointed that nothing was evolved or brought newly to the table, but again here, history – at least recent history if we look back to the last generation – tells us that you shouldn’t be looking to the launch line-up in order to do this. You need to remember that you’re buying a platform for the next eight years, and the reality is that some gamers and media were expecting a future payoff at an unlikely time.
To draw all of this to a close, the point is that it will take time. I am convinced that after the first year of next-generation consoles, we will have seen at least one game that evolves a genre or raises the bar of what we should expect from our gaming experiences. With games like Infamous: Second Son, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, Dragon Age: Inquisition, The Division, Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, Titanfall, Destiny, Mirror’s Edge 2 and many others planning to swoop in for the limelight, you can bet that the face of gaming and what we expect from it will change. It will happen, and when it does, I hope the wait is worth it.
For now, just be careful of how you go about classifying next-gen gaming, because the reality is I don’t think right now anyone could explain what classifies as a next-gen game or what next-gen could do for gaming, or features or, you know, the immersion factor or anything like that, that previously couldn’t be done. And that’s something we can only determine once we play a game that shows us that.