The eighth console generation has been with us for almost three years now. In that time we have had some truly great games. We have had fantastic sequels, such as ‘Halo 5’: Guardians, ‘Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain’, ‘Forza’ (both ‘Motorsport 6’ and ‘Horizon 2’), and ‘Rise of the Tomb Raider’. We’ve also had some great new IPs, such as ‘Sunset Overdrive’, ‘Tom Clancy’s The Division’, ‘Overwatch’, and ‘Quantum Break’. We’ve even had some brilliant downloadable titles, such as ‘Life is Strange’, ‘Action Henk!’, ‘Ori and the Blind Forest’, and ‘Inside’. As great as all of these games are, there hasn’t really been anything that marks a significant push for any genre or gaming as a whole.
The last console generation, populated by Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and Wii, was one of the greatest we have had. During the lifespan of the seventh console generation we were treated to the blending of genres with titles like Mass Effect (which combined a deep RPG with a shooter) and Portal (which mixed a puzzle game with an action adventure title). We saw the rise and fall of the rhythm action game with titles like Guitar Hero and Rock Band. There was the introduction of motion controls on a grand scale. Online multiplayer moved from something that PC gamers bragged about (and a few select original Xbox games had), to something that was a prerequisite for nearly every game released. There was also Xbox Live Arcade, which popularized downloadable titles in the console space.
I refuse to believe that we have exhausted every avenue of genre with which to make games. I think part of the issue is that triple-A game production is SO expensive now. Hugely inflated costs mean getting a publisher to take a risk on something new is harder than ever before. The reality is that any innovations are likely to come from an independent developer. The smaller overheads that indie games have mean there are smaller risks for investors (although developers shoulder a lot more of the risk). These smaller titles are becoming more and more popular and that means developers are encouraged to create to their wildest imagination. I truly believe that if we are going to get some innovation in games this generation, it is going to be birthed in the indie game-space. What this form this new type of gaming will take, I have absolutely no idea, but I can’t wait to play it.
As with all generation changes, one of the things that has definitively improved are graphics. While there is a clear improvement, the improvement in graphics is nowhere near as impressive as between previous generations. The improvement might be there, but there isn’t any innovation there, at least not yet. Could the real innovation this generation be the introduction of 4K gaming or virtual reality? If this is to be the case, then innovation isn’t really viable until the release of Xbox’s Project Scorpio and the Playstation Neo. To be honest, I don’t really see 4K gaming as an innovation, but as the next graphical step. Virtual reality though would be something new and a true innovation. I’ve spoken before about how I’m not interested in VR as it doesn’t work for me (I have an astigmatism in my eyes), however I can appreciate how big it could be for gaming.
One of the main reason people play games is for escapism, virtual reality pushes this to the next level. It’s not just about being able to see more that is going on, but the immersion you get from being able to adjust your view by moving your head like in real life. High quality VR would be a real innovation to the games industry. PC gamers are the first to experience this new way of gaming and it has thrown up one major issue, cost. Oculus rift, the first big name in the VR landscape and arguably the premier experience, costs a whopping $600. If you want the Touch controllers as well, that will cost you even more. To buy a new PC capable of handling VR you’re looking at spending a minimum of $1000. If you want your VR to look the best it can, you’ll probably have to spend double that. PlayStation gamers will be able to try out PlayStationVR later this year; I’m concerned about the quality of the product though. It’s not so much a case of the quality of the headset, but the way the PlayStation 4 is going to power it. I just don’t see how a console that is unable to do 1080p at 60fps on some games is going to manage to output to two screens (which is what a VR headset basically is) at a good enough quality.
Of course the real innovation this generation could be that this is the last generation of consoles. The forthcoming release of PlayStation Neo and Project Scorpio could well lead to an iterative console future. In an interview with Engadget, Aaron Greenberg (Microsoft’s head of Xbox games marketing) went as far as saying –
“For us, we think the future is without console generations; we think that the ability to build a library, a community, to be able to iterate with the hardware — we’re making a pretty big bet on that with Project Scorpio.”
Mobile phone manafacturers have shown us how this could work, but how this will go down with console gamers, only time will tell.
I love my Xbox One and will definitely get Project Scorpio on day one; I just hope that pretty soon, we once again, get some real innovation in gaming. It’s what drives this industry forward and keeps gamers excited & coming back for more.