Published on March 6th, 2013 | by Liam Dean3
A game of horizontal expansion
Ah technology, how we both love and depend upon it. Without the computing knowledge we have amassed as human beings, we wouldn’t be able to do our online banking, program satellites to go into outer space, or rant endlessly at people we disagree with on internet forums. It is the digital glue that holds together our rapidly evolving online world. Without the steady evolution of computer science, it is debatable whether we would continue to expand in other areas of our worldly knowledge so fruitfully. Most importantly though, we wouldn’t be able to evolve in the way we make video games.
It is debatable whether or not all technological advancements have benefitted games development, but invariably some of it must have. I don’t think we would have ever seen Bioshock Infinite running on a Super Nintendo, for example. The storyline may have been there, but the artistic direction would have been significantly limited. Until now though, pretty much all of the technological advancements made with games hardware have been to facilitate more complicated graphics technology. With each iteration of a console that comes out, we have seen more and more raw computing power and little other than games on the software side. This has satisfied us as consumers – until now, that is.
This idea of vertical hardware evolution from console developers has occurred to me in the past, but it is something that jumped out at me after reading a recent interview IGN did with Hideo Kojima. By this point, we all know that Sony has announced the next behemoth in its long line of consoles: the PlayStation 4. When asked about future Metal Gear games on the system following the recent success of Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance, Kojima said that he was far more excited about “new ways of interacting with the game world” than the graphical fidelity that the PS4 could offer. Apart from commenting on the interesting new social features Sony has announced, Kojima went as far as saying that future Metal Gear games could involve interactions from smartphones and tablets.
Even though the idea of some sort of inane Metal Gear/Angry Birds crossover makes my blood run cold, I have to concede that touch-based controls on smartphones and tablets are incredibly popular. Obviously Sony thinks so to, because they have included a touch pad on the prototype PS4 controller, meaning that they think the technology will remain popular for at least the next seven years. Either that, or they have used it and some of the other social features to simply woo their fan base with gimmickry, blindly poking around in the dark for the “next big thing” after Nintendo’s runaway success with the Wii’s motion controls.
There is a certain weight of expectation that’s been built up around gaming over the past couple of generations, after all. Whether we like to admit it or not, we take the inclusion of more horsepower as a given. Certain gamers love to insist that graphics are the be all and end all of gaming, but it takes more to impress us these days. Throughout the current generation of consoles, the Playstation 3, the Xbox 360 and the Wii have all evolved to become more than simply games machines. They include Netflix, allow us to make online purchases and even come packed with web browsers — all tasks that we had previously reserved for our PC or Mac. The result is that they have become almost unrecognisable (from an operating system point of view) next to their original launch versions. They have changed, whereas every console that came before them — with the exception of the PS2 and Xbox towards the end of their life cycles — remained static.
This need to change with the times is an unavoidable trend, and one that the big console manufacturers undoubtedly need to adhere to in order to remain competitive with the PC and smartphone gaming markets. But, is this need to pack as many features into one machine needlessly blurring the lines between consoles and other devices? If there’s one device that’s capable of streaming online videos and browsing the internet, then why must its functionality be replicated across the other entertainment centres in your home? Don’t get me wrong, I really like the ability to upload PS4 game footage straight to the internet and the Wii U’s interactive TV functionality, but it comes by replicating technology, making some of it feel redundant instead of cohesive. I can’t help feeling like the best tactic Microsoft could take with their new Xbox would be to include a built in washing machine.
The point is that in order for the crossover between features to make sense, they need to complement each other in some way and lend to the greater goal of making games richer experiences. These are the types of features that excite me most about the PS4, and I think that they’re potentially worth more than the ones which can be found on current generation platforms. Just as we welcomed things like 3D graphics technology and online matchmaking in multiplayer games, so to must we welcome advances like social gaming, motion controls and touch based devices – for now, at least.
Even though they may appear to be bordering on gimmickry or needlessly oversaturating our games consoles with features in the meantime, they may prove to be the next horizontal evolution of gaming in the long run. It’s easy for us to forget just how far we’ve come in the past seven years of console development, and it’s exciting to think how far we could go with the next generation. For now we just have to have an open mind and be prepared for the possibility that this evolution is not primarily based on better graphics, but a reassessment of how we interact with our games’ worlds.