Culture

Bit Slap: Breaking the cycle

Borderlands

Well, we tried to hold it off as long as we could, but in November Nintendo is officially taking the first step into the next console cycle with the Wii U. Sony and Microsoft can’t be far behind with third party developers reporting access to development kits and even showcasing demos of games for the yet unannounced consoles. So let’s face it, as much as I can tout it isn’t needed, new consoles are coming. And with them come promises of the next generation of gaming. But what exactly do we want from the next generation and how can both developers and console manufacturers ensure their new consoles are still relevant in what could be the coming age of mobile and handheld gaming dominance? LIST TIME!

— Emotions

Remember in August when 2K Games Global President Christoph Hartmann said in order for games to elicit a real emotional response, they need photorealistic graphics? Well that opened up a can of worms about games like Journey and the use of stylized graphics to bring out emotions in the player. I think Hartmann is correct in that games will not be able to recreate the same emotional responses as movies can, but then again neither can books. They are different mediums and it is up to developers in the next cycle to look into playing up the strengths of this interactive medium to achieve what movies can, but using a vastly different approach. The goal is to create empathy in the audience and in games. You are already a step ahead of movies by having the player actually control the character. This bond should, for lack of a better term, be exploited by game developers who wish to give players more than just a thrill ride experience.

— Speaking of graphics…

As advanced as graphics have become, we’re still a long way off from photorealism, and that’s mostly due to nutty technical terms like the uncanny valley. Rather than pushing the envelope forward, this new generation has to finally understand that it’s not the size of your graphics card, it’s how you use it. While the Wii was forced to use creative design elements to mask a less powerful console, doing so forced developers to get creative, a creativity that can get lost in both eastern and western game design. Take a look at Borderlands, a game which was cast aside upon it’s initial announcement as yet another brown-toned shooter. When the game got a graphical “underhaul” turning it into a cell-shaded wonderland, the press took notice, which upped the coverage and turned it into a success with a sequel out this week. See, you can market your design choices!

— Connectivity

Sorry Microsoft lovers, but the Gold Accounts have got to go. When Sony and Nintendo offer free online gaming, Microsoft’s archaic method of charging becomes a blemish on what was otherwise a fantastic gaming cycle (ignoring those Red Rings of Death as well). Now maybe those payments prevented down time or gave Microsoft the revenue to buy exclusivity rights to DLC, but when you need to pay a monthly fee for the ability to stream Netflix (for another monthly fee), it smacks as a bit greedy. Nintendo meanwhile is so concerned with online predators using their consoles as a buffet that Friend Codes are still in use, while Sony faced a PR nightmare after it’s online system was hacked, costing them tons of cash and goodwill. Because online gaming/game downloads/updates/DLC/Media Streaming/Social Media is such a huge part of the gaming world, you’d better make sure your console can handle online content, and understand that your consumers are not all children and spend $60 on a game in addition to nearly a grand on the console and accessories.

— Remember where you came from

I am thrilled I can watch Netflix on my PS3 or manage photos on my Wii. But I also have a computer and tablet that perform the same functions. I know people argue that tablets and smartphones are going to cause the downfall of traditional gaming, but you know what will prevent this? If consoles stop competing with these devices. Nintendo found success by going it’s own way on the Wii and DS rather than competing with graphical powerhouses. The same can be applied to all consoles. Focus on what you can offer that a tablet can’t like precise controls, multiplayer gaming, experiences that suck you in rather than distract you. Remember above how I said games should be trying to create that emotional response in a way movies and books cannot? Well think of it in the same way. Or develop a way to constantly call gamers using an iPhone to interrupt their games. You know you’ve thought about it…

— Come home!

Consoles trying to do too much is one thing. Consoles trying to attract families through gimmicks is even worse. Take for example my brother in law, who asked for my advice when wanting to purchase a console. I suggested the PS3 of course, because I knew he wasn’t a big gamer so the system would eventually just become a Blu-ray player. However, he had tried the Kinect at a friend’s house and thought that was the next evolution of gaming. I tried to warn him he’d play it once and never use it again, just as I had done with my Playstation Move and with my choice of Wii games that didn’t feature motion control. Sure enough this past weekend I asked how the 360 was treating him and he said he liked the console but never played it anymore. As for the Kinect? Used one time by my sister for a dance game, and then quickly chucked in the back of their television cabinet. My point is, stop trying so hard. Controllers are awesome and have been perfectly awesome since the NES was released. Peripherals come and go, and this generation needs to stay in the idea stage. No matter what you release, nobody will ever feel like they’re actually wielding a lightsaber…and nobody should really know that feeling. Not really. Not in the world we live in.