Next-gen isn’t what it used to be

With the graph­i­cal en­ve­lope be­com­ing more dif­fi­cult to push is it time to re­assess how we judge next-gen games?

Australian T3 - - CONTENTS -

Gam­ing by Shaun Prescott

If there’s one thing gamers like more than play­ing games, it’s ar­gu­ing about games. With the new gen­er­a­tion of con­soles well into their first year on the mar­ket, the en­dur­ing con­tro­versy has been the ap­par­ent dis­par­ity be­tween the PS4 and Xbox One’s graph­i­cal abil­i­ties. Call them the res­o­lu­tion wars, or as I like to term it, 1080p-gate.

When new con­soles launch, it’s im­por­tant for con­sumers to feel as if they’re ex­pe­ri­enc­ing some­thing ground­break­ingly new. Tra­di­tion­ally this new­ness has been de­fined by graph­i­cal fidelity: the true 3D of the PS One and Nin­tendo 64, the poly­gon counts of the PS2, the HD lus­tre of the PS3 / Xbox 360 gen­er­a­tion. For the first time though, nei­ther the Xbox One or PS4 demon­strate any huge gen­er­a­tional leap com­pared with their pre­de­ces­sors, and when com­pared with high end PCs, they’re of­ten in­fe­rior.

The on­go­ing con­tro­versy re­ally as­serted it­self with the re­lease of Watch Dogs in June. While many com­men­ta­tors have right­fully iden­ti­fied the in­fe­ri­or­ity of the game’s graph­ics next to its 2012 E3 re­veal, it’s still a good look­ing game. It’s a lot of fun, too – a fact that may have been for­got­ten amid the hand­wring­ing over what con­sti­tutes a true next-gen ex­pe­ri­ence.

If the Watch Dogs con­tro­versy proves any­thing, it’s that hard­ware is re­ally not the de­ter­min­ing fac­tor here. In­stead, it’s the amount of money in­vested in a ti­tle. Grand Theft Auto V man­aged to squeeze juice out of the PS3 and Xbox 360 no one knew it had, and the rea­son for that is the way Rock­star op­er­ates its busi­ness: the game cost $265 mil­lion to de­velop and mar­ket, which means there were more hands on deck to cre­ate the level of de­tail and im­mer­sion au­di­ences ex­pect in mod­ern games. Mean­while, be­fore its de­lay to 2014 (it was ini­tially sched­uled to launch in Novem­ber 2013), Watch Dogs’ budget was a com­par­a­tively pal­try $68 mil­lion.

Of course, this doesn’t ex­plain why the res­o­lu­tion was higher on the PS4, but the dif­fer­ence is im­ma­te­rial. What au­di­ences need to re­alise now is that it isn’t their con­sole’s hard­ware that makes games look beau­ti­ful, it’s the people who cre­ate them. In sprawl­ing open world games like Watch Dogs and GTA V, it’s not the pro­ces­sor or the res­o­lu­tion that makes some­thing pretty, it’s the amount of man­power em­ployed to fill out its tiny de­tails. That’s why GTA V is ar­guably the bet­ter look­ing game, even though it’s us­ing hard­ware of eight years vin­tage.

This is go­ing to be an en­dur­ing is­sue dur­ing this con­sole gen­er­a­tion: games are get­ting harder and more ex­pen­sive to make, and gamers are get­ting more de­mand­ing be­cause they want their fancy new con­soles to work their hard­est. The prob­lem is, games that do push con­soles to their ex­tremes are go­ing to be few and far be­tween, and when they do, they’re go­ing to need to please as many con­sumers as pos­si­ble. Maybe it’s time we re­assess what progress and in­no­va­tion means in this in­dus­try, be­cause those who prize graph­i­cal fidelity above all else will get noth­ing but di­min­ish­ing re­turns.

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