Next Generation?

I was reading a piece of literature about the Wii the other day. You know, the usual suspect: the glossy ten page magazine saying that the product will revolutionise whatever market it is coming to. Surprisingly, it was an interesting little mag, but it was two words that caught my eye. “New Generation.”? These two words by themselves mean little to anybody, but let me be nice and put them into context for you: “It’s better to think of the Wii as a new generation console rather than next generation.” This throwaway media statement got me thinking more than it should have, and now I’m wondering, what actually makes a next generation game?

The more helpful way to look at the “next generation”? is to start by considering the Xbox 360. It’s been around for almost a year now, which is more than ample time to really cement it as a next generation console. But what is it that makes it next generation?

This ugly car is rendered in beautiful 3D.

Some may say the raw power. Sure, the 360 is a damn sight more powerful than its predecessor, and could quite comfortably cook your eggs and bacon on the case, but does more power make the game next generation? If we were to begin by looking at one of the 360’s launch titles with the benefit of hindsight — Project Gotham Racing 3 — it’s safe to say that that game is far from what we’d call next generation gameplay-wise. It didn’t capitalise on the prequel in the slightest, and was basically an exceptionally pretty PGR2.

Magazines at the time, however, were calling this next generation. Almost always in the same sentence came a statement about the unbelievable graphics. Its shiny bonnets and fancy particle effects. Its sleek HUD and bright, vivid colours. And “”oh my god, you’ve got to see this on a HDTV.” For me, this is an example of when raw power doesn’t make a blind bit of difference to the game apart from the wow factor. This game could have been released on the original Xbox quite easily, but it would lack the great graphics. It’s an interesting, but wholly unanswerable question to ask — would this game have appealed so greatly if it would have been released without the pretty graphics? Or would it have been dubbed as a just a repeat of the last?

Power isn’t always used just for better graphics. It’s sometimes used to actually make the game better. Take Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter for example (here on in to be called the much more boring GRAW). Ubisoft took the Ghost Recon series, mixed it with the power of the 360, and came up with something that was truly immersive. The first sign of a good use of the power was the cross com feature: a feature that allowed you to see what your comrade was seeing in the top corner of the screen all the time. This wouldn’t work on any other current generation console, so does that make it next generation?

If I were to put my GRAW fanboy hat on (I do love that game), I’d be inclined to say yes. Since I’m trying to be all serious and journalistic here though, I’m going to have to go for the much more antagonistic answer of no. The rest of GRAW followed the same formula of the aforementioned PGR3 — it had the pretty graphics and the fancy effects, but everything else had been seen and achieved on consoles ten times over for the last gazillion years. Here’s an even more paradoxical statement though; I consider GRAW to be next generation.

It’s like I’m really in the action…in France.

Let me explain. What makes you become immersed in a game? Some would love to say gameplay, but frankly it isn’t the right answer. It’s the attention to detail. It’s the attention to detail that makes you halt your belief that this is in actual fact a game, and what you’re playing is real. It never tends to go that far, but you get the picture. The amount of attention to detail boils down to how many pixels can be put into that TV of yours, which in turn is down to the power of the console you’re playing. Put less technically and more simply, it’s the graphics that immerse you, and it’s the graphics that provide that attention to detail that allows you to become immersed. The more “next generation” the console is, the more grunt can be put into the game.

But is this it? Is this all next generation is? The same is the current generation but with prettier graphics? If the current year of the 360 is anything to go by, then yes, that’s how it’s going. Maybe next generation merely means the generation that followed the last, and just maybe it’s the term new generation that really means something.

If the current software and games are anything to go by, then next gen is pretty depressing. At least the Wii will save us.

Won’t it?

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17 years ago

I don’t like to admit it, but Next Generation, for me, is merely a term used to get systems into people’s hands. Sony and Microsoft all use the same marketing technique to make you think that these new systems will usher in a new level of gameplay. If games were rated solely on graphics, then yes, they are not lying. But, of course, games are much more complex than just graphics. If we think about it, 3D games can show no real improvement, only because it would have been done by now. We’ve had 3D for 2 generations now, and the last one showed as much originality that I can see coming, outside of the Wii-mote. It’s been refined to a point where we’re only going to see little additions, like the cam in GRAW. It definitely helps, but not as much as w were promised with the Next Generation. I like to think that whatever you couldn’t do on last generation systems is what makes a system next generation, but with overly static controllers, what can’t be done that hasn’t already? Even Xbox Live Arcade and Achievements could have been done on the original Xbox in a firmware update, but marketing shows us it’s better to split stuff like that up to make people see a valid reason in buying a new system. Very good article, though. Definitely got the brain running.

17 years ago

I agree with you. I have an issue with the wii. The more I play it the more I realized that I am subsituting movements for button presses. I would like everyon who has a we to seriously think about it…. has the mecahnic of the game really changed? Has gameplay changed? Or is it just the input that has given you a different feeling? AS I got used to my Wii mote I started to wonder….. at what point in time are people going to start clamoring for something new again.

17 years ago

I just read someone in a forum claiming the Wii isn’t next gen. What does that mean? It’s a new system, though apparently that’s not enough. It does seem most people base generations solely on graphical prowess and not merely a progression of time. Once that’s established, though, who gives a shit what generation they’re playing? Some people have mocked the new Zelda for being last gen. Does that actually mean anything other than "the graphics aren’t as good as the PS3s"? This obsession with which generation consoles lie in makes me think I was on to something when I wrote this.


[…] immersion really dependant upon graphics? In a recent piece, Craig theorized that this rationally follows from the assertion that attention to detail creates […]