The Next Generation

I am going to talk (moan) about something completely unrelated to books – because I’ve never done that before…

I want to talk briefly about next gen console gaming.

The jump from Xbox to Xbox 360 was very exciting for me. The jump from Playstation 2 to PS3 not so much, in my case, because it was just too expensive. The leap in graphics was amazing and the kinds of games that were being shown were very impressive.

This time, I’m not too excited about it. There’s the usual feeling of getting something brand new, but I don’t think there’s a lot to be excited about, unfortunately. Graphically, there won’t be as big a leap as there was to the current gen. But it’s more than that.

My concern is that developers won’t make the kind of effort required to truly move into a new generation of gaming. Next gen, to me at least, should be about more than just pretty scenery, more happening on screen at once, and all with a smoother frame rate (and considering that Knack, one of the games shown at the unveiling suffered from slow down in a pretty simple-looking section, even that is a bit iffy).

To me, next gen is about the opportunity to make much more in-depth games. Games with proper stories, proper acting, real choices. I suppose games that are entirely ‘run from point A to point B and shoot anything in between’ have their place, but games will never evolve much by sticking to those.

I don’t just mean RPGs. Take the latest Tomb Raider. It details how Lara Croft went from innocent, starry-eyed teenager to hardened killer and survivor of any situation. For me, it failed to deliver the emotional impact it tried to simply because the characters she cared about (and that were meant to too) were never properly developed, but I won’t go into that. It was for the most part a fairly emotional storyline (whether it fully delivered it or not) that was not there simply as an excuse for shooting everything that moved.

Tomb Raider is also a good example of subtle detail that I think should be in all next gen games. Lara’s facial expression changed the longer the game went on. From wide eyed deer in the headlights, to glary eyes and ‘don’t test me’ frown. It may have been my imagination, I’m not sure, but I think the longer the game went on, the less girly a manner she held the handgun. Those are good touches. Little things like that will help make next gen. Or should.

So to me, developers need to start making sure writing and acting is top notch, and not rely on the ‘well it looks pretty, so it’ll sell’ angle. The new technology should, in my mind, be used to give the player a much deeper experience, even more so than a good looking one.

When I talk about choice, I don’t just mean in a (pre-ME3) Mass Effect or KOTOR kind of way. Being able to choose your path through a level, or choose the way you take on (or not) the enemy, too. Having plenty of things going on in the background, that isn’t necessarily a part of the story that can be interacted with and investigated. Basically, making the game more than just the facade of a world.

And my concern is that most developers don’t share that view of the next generation. Judging by the small amount we’ve seen so far, it’s going to be more of the same. Just nicer looking. Killzone 4 we’ve already seen. Battlefield 4 is being unveiled soon. It’s more of the same. More ‘Let’s make our way through this deserted area of town…I wonder where everyone is…oh, what a very big surprise, we’ve been ambushed…let’s shoot anything that moves then do it again in the next area’. There’s a degree of mindless entertainment in such games, but they get extremely boring very quickly.

Think of the best films you’ve ever seen. Clever, emotional, exciting. The kind that end and you realise you’ve been sat an inch above the seat, leaning towards the screen for the past hour with your mouth wide open. How many games are like that? Yet they’re interactive. Surely they should have more of an impact. Where are the Inceptions? The Dark Knights, the [insert brilliant movie comparison]…

Where is the real writing? The real acting? The real depth?

The games industry is bigger than Hollywood, and yet it isn’t taken seriously. The media still blames it for just about everything. If there were less mindless kill everything games, and more intelligent, story-driven games, wouldn’t the industry start being recognised for what it really is? Or can be.

Even Heavy Rain, which is basically an interactive movie, had terrible acting. Developers need to realise that they can’t just drag in anyone off the street to do their voice acting. They need real voice actors. People who can actually act.

But, I think so-called ‘next gen’ will be more of the same. And as a gamer, I find that depressing.

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