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Gadgets and games – when to move on?

posted on November 23rd, 2010 by christian

One of the nicest things about this console generation has been the lack of concern over the next generation. At the very least it demonstrates that the industry isn’t entirely insane. Microsoft might have put the original Xbox to bed too quickly, but at least its successor, the 360, has been in it for the long haul. Game consoles are damn expensive, and it is a nice feeling to be able to go several years worrying only about what games you want to buy next, rather than how you will be able to afford another “investment” of several hundred dollars.

Of course, it was only a matter of time before some writer decided it was time to declare this generation dead, and this small essay is one of the first pieces I have seen so far. To be fair, it is mostly harmless – the writer is clearly basing his sentiments on the notion that, since most console lifecycles are five years long, the Xbox 360 has to be shown the door. He also believes in the notion that better hardware will lead to better games.

The problem is that, as many writers have pointed out, this current generation is atypical in a lot of ways. The technology has allowed these consoles to be updated and expanded with relative ease, and support for hard drives means that certain issues, like the lack of space on DVDs, can be mitigated by the use of digital downloads. There’s also the simple fact that after so many years, a lot of the issues facing console design have been solved. There are no more funky controller designs to iron out, and no seriously creaky online infastructures. 

But the most important difference in this generation is cost.  In the typical “five year” cycle, the “old” console is incredibly inexpensive, and development costs are reduced.  The Playstation 2 is a model example of this trend.  Today, in 2010, none of the three major consoles are readibly available at under $200.  Niche developers like Atlus a nd Nippon Ichi are only just beginning to venture into HD game development.  For both the producers and consumers, the current generation is still too costly to abandon.   When development studios are closing left and right because their game failed to be a multi-million seller, there is no way we can expect the industry at large to be able to shoulder the costs of making bigger, more detailed games. 

This leads to my last gripe – technology isn’t a cure all.  Faster hardware would help big, open world games run smoother, but that’s problably not would it would be used for.  Instead, developers would be tempted to make bigger, more open worlds which would once again run at choppy framerates.  Not to mention that if your game gets bigger, you’ll have that many more bugs to deal with, and you will have to generate that much more scripting, dialogue, and art assets.  In other words, the future of gaming is not limited to hardware alone.  Good, reliable algorithms, reusable code and APIs, and proven methods will be critical in the future.  If only more of the people covering this hobby of ours would bother to familiarize themselves with such concepts. 

When all is said and done, I am frustrated by this essay, because it is a fantastic example of how modern news outlets don’t merely exist to report on what goes on, but must also try and create news in order to keep the content flowing.  New consoles would give rise to plenty of rumors to speculate on, in turn allowing these sites to continue reporting on the industry without actually having knowledge about it. What they wouldn’t do is help the gaming industry, which already feels like it is on the verge of financial collapse.

6 Comments

  1. Marie said on November 23, 2010:

    Great meta-article. I don’t think there’s anything wrong in stopping for a moment and taking in how it’s nice not to worry about the next gen yet, which is the heart of what your saying (at least how I read it). I really hope this is indicative of the future of gaming. The fast-paced console life-spans did no one any real favors, I think, and it knocked Sega out of the major runnings when they took it too far.

    I always wonder at folks with the mentality that more technology equals higher quality games. Just today I was musing with some folks over on Kotaku on how much fun the 16-bit era Disney games were – The Lion King and Aladdin were just pure, distilled fun. And all of these throwback games we are seeing (Mega Mans 9 and 10, Donkey Kong Country Returns, New Super Mario Bros.) along with the hybrid types (Metroid Other M – and I know there are some others, but I can’t think of them at the moment) seem to suggest that somewhere along the way more tech -didn’t- necessarily solve all of the problems, and that old style games still have something to offer us.

    There’s always the point that the Wii stomped sales this generation, but that usually stirs an obnoxious labeling fight over who is “hardcore” and “matters.” I get the impression that folks around here care more about pure fun than that.

    I started this generation out with a Wii, excited by the potential its varied design offered. I really feel that developers failed to take advantage of what the console offered, which makes me laugh as now we have Move and Kinect, and more of those same problems. Rehashed, when you consider some of the titles are exactly the same!

    Later on I got a PS3. My PS3 library has grown faster than my Wii library, and I’ve enjoyed more PS3 games in general. But you know what? None of the games I’ve enjoyed -couldn’t- be done on the Wii, especially LittleBigPlanet. I enjoy the shiny high defs, they really are a treat, but they aren’t what creates -fun- in a game. I’ve played some really pretty, really -boring- games on the PS3.

    Sorry for the TL:DR, I just get the impression that this is a place where people can understand a complicated notion like enjoying -two- consoles for different reasons!

  2. christian said on November 24, 2010:

    Marie,

    Thanks for the reply. I’ve never minded long comments.

    I started off this gen with a Wii as well. Then a PS3. And a 360 only a few months ago (though I played someone else’s for years). I know exactly where you’re coming from.

    As for why people believe in better games coming from better hardware, I think it stems from very general beliefs. If one tool is more powerful than another, you’ll be able to use it to do more intense (perhaps more important) work. The problem is that when we make such a statement, we’re assuming that the person using the tool fully capable with it. With computer hardware, that doesn’t work. No one is capable of using, say, the PS3 to its maximum capability. There’s also the fact that games are in the unique position wherein they are at once both pieces of software running on hardware, and pieces of entertainment whose quality is also based on non hardware factors.

    I don’t mind if the general public has such perceptions, but tech writers should know a little more, which is why I was frustrated with that link.

    I wrote a bit about this on twitter, but it reminds me of how the people I know who are programmers or engineers of some sort, generally aren’t gadget nuts. They might have a good computer and a smartphone, but they’ll squeeze years of use out of each, rather than upgrading at the drop of a hat. They’re also not the type to jump on the bandwagon of some unproven technology. There are some engineery types who love gadgets, but they tend to have enough money to afford them all.

    In general though, I find that the people who insist on being on the cutting edge often don’t know that much about what they’re buying. It’s a status thing, and it allows them to at least look tech savvy. These people are, sadly, often in a position to comment on these products, which only makes it worse.

  3. Cunzy1 1 said on November 26, 2010:

    Not much to add really except that for all the improved hardware this generation really hasn’t produced that many all time greats for me anyway. Most of the ones that have really had me gripped have been on the Wii and a few on the Xbox 360. Also, if hardware was all that all these morons creating straw man arguments should really just get themselves a PC and be done with it.

    I hope we don’t end up with the stupid situation we have with televisions at the moment. Most people I know have upgraded to an HD TV but aside from gaming (and sports maybe?) there really isn’t that much too watch that was totally unwatchable in standard definition. 3D televisions are completely pointless right now.

  4. Marie said on November 28, 2010:

    No kidding on the 3DTVs. The Cracked Topic on 3DTVs humorously posits that the whole thing is a test to see how much ridiculous crap early adopters are willing to put up with. Sadly, it seems to be the only valid point in their existance! (http://www.cracked.com/funny-3862-3d-tv/)

    I hadn’t thought about programmers being in a different crowd as early- and mid-adopters, but it makes sense for a lot of reasons and sheds some real insight on some of the process. I honestly wonder if I had thought in terms of that before we bought our Wii if we would have followed through on the purchase…. I have a small hand-full of games I’ve really enjoyed on it (almost entirely first party, as clearly no one gets Nintendo products quite like Nintendo), but overall I just get disappointed at what could have been when I think about it.

    I still defend it, though, against people that would state it sucks because it’s “two Gamecubes taped together” or whatever. I’ve found it disappointing, but not because of it’s graphical power.

    Anyway, thinking of early adopters as wanting the status symbol is, I guess, the only way to “get” early adopters. Because otherwise they are just screwed time and again…

  5. Cunzy1 1 said on November 29, 2010:

    I can understand that people have different tastes in games but looking at my Wii collection; Mario Kart, Super Smash Brothers Brawl, Zack and Wiki, Resident Evil UC, DC and 4, Monster Hunter Tri, battalion Wars 2, Boom Blox, New Super Mario Brothers Wii, Animal Crossing, de Blob, Dead Space Extraction, Metroid Prime Corruption, Endless Ocean, Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles, Okami, Little king’s Story, No More Heroes, Pikmin 2, Wii Sports, Wii Play and We Love Golf, there’s thousands of hours worth of great games there (SSBB+Dead Rising CTYD+Mario Kart alone I’ve played for 1000+ hours and I really don’t have that much time to game…) and there’s a fair few glaring omissions (SMG to name but one). I just don’t get why people would miss out on this chunk of gaming on a technicality (not HD etc.) or because they don’t like the idea of ‘waggling’ (poor controls occur on every platform and waggling is when controls have been implemented badly).

    What more do they want? Fifteen thousand hours? 200 thousand hours? I don’t get it.

  6. christian said on November 29, 2010:

    The Wii has lots of good games, no debate there.

    To be honest, my most played console this generation is the PSP. That probably makes me a bigger joke.

    3D TV is a great example of a gadget, becuase it is a gadget that will succeed thanks to lack of thought. It destroys the idea of TV as anything close to a communal event, by requiring multiple pairs of glasses at several hundred dollars each.

    There are other gadgets I have no interest in – like iPad or Kinect – but I know they’re not going to really destroy the traditional PC (at least not for developers like me) or regular 360 games. 3D TV wants to limit the audience of a widespread technology solely because it makes more money.

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