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Published on November 7th, 2013 | by James Hart

6

Blog: The State of Play (PT.3)

Still here? Excellent. This is the final part of my views on the future of gaming. Please make sure you catch up with the previous blogs posts (parts one & two) in this series.

To recap, we have so far discussed the iconic and industry advancing events of the last 25 years or so, with ’80s and ’90s Sega and Nintendo systems being some of the first big impacts on home gaming, followed by PS1 then PS3 and 360. With Mario, Sonic and Half Life arguably being the most definitive of games series. We have also discussed where we are currently, ahead of a new console generation about to begin.

Up to this point, gaming has changed and advanced beyond anything imaginable back in those earlier days and is now starting to become as legitimate as other entertainment media such as movies and music, both in terms of popularity and as an art. However, there are some serious pitfalls gaming is heading towards that these other industries went down many years ago to some degree. So what does the future hold? Is it all about money and the art of gaming is dead before it barely began? Or will some shining lights appear and propel us forward once again into even more satisfying territories? Let’s see shall we…

The Future

Firstly, I want to address Wii U. It has a very interesting concept, but to be honest, I don’t think it has or will bring anything huge to gaming, as there’s a lot of other companies doing the same thing, namely NVidia Shield and PS Vita. It looks good for what it is, but it’s more of an evolution of Wii. So that brings us onto PS4, Xbox One and PC.

The main thing that interests me hugely about the new consoles are that they are based on x86 architecture. For those that are not aware, this is the technology that Intel and AMD processors and PCs in general have been based on for the last 20 odd years. It is a mature and standardised platform. Of course, you still have various specifications within that such as different graphics card, processor and motherboard technologies, but they are all based on the core architecture. So with that said, it should be obvious what the biggest benefit of the new generation will be…Standardisation. Currently, we have PS3 and 360 having custom made hardware in the form of Cell and PowerPC. This means there are 3 extremely different technologies to write code for and hence some games appearing better on one than the other, as developers will have more experience and ability to use the ability of one over the other. However, now they are essentially the same as PCs and Macs in a Sony and Microsoft shaped box, there is less to learn between them, there’s one technology, one API, the only difference being the hardware specifications. This should in theory make development between machines easier, with less time spent porting code between them and more time spent refining as best as possible, so therefore should mean a multi platform game will be very similar on all 3 major machines and be far better than current multi platformers as a general standard. It will hopefully mean platforms with more powerful hardware do not have their games dumbed down so that they can run on all platforms, as the game should be the same at its core, but only differs to maximise use of the available specs. So it may look better on PC than PS4 and in turn Xbox One, for example.

So, with that said, the key differences between the platforms will be hardware and services available on them. To firstly talk about hardware, they both have hardware made by AMD and the specs don’t seem hugely different. The main thing for me is the amount of RAM available and the different types of RAM. It appears that PS4 has more standard memory (graphically and centrally), with more available to use. Whereas Xbox One is using a new technology and the OS taking up a lot of resources. In theory, at this very early stage, PS4 looks to have the clear advantage to me and will be far easier to develop for, but over the next few years, it may be very much like the last generation and developers will get used to the Xbox One hardware and how to make the most out of it. However, with all that said, they both look good for the current time, but within 2 years at most, I think they will already be outperformed by PCs of the same price.

Moving onto services, they do not appear to offer anything hugely new or unique and simply offer what each other and PC offers. Xbox Live and PS Plus seem to be very much the same thing and have very little difference. Both are paid for, both offer on demand games, music, TV, etc, both offer certain free games, and so on, I’m sure you all know everything about them. This is the same as PC, however, PC is an open platform and will not be bound by the same restrictions, due to everything having to go through PSN and XBL and therefore approved by Sony and Microsoft. Some order of control can be good, but it can be very detrimental in some cases, such as certain games not having updates on Xbox 360 that do on other platforms, or apps being removed from the Apple Store for no apparent reason. There’s also the issue of pricing, with no competition digitally and the aim to reduce physical sales, there’s no incentive to give competitive prices through the consoles.

Finally, the games themselves. There do appear to be certain titles on the horizon such as Watch Dogs that are pushing graphical and gameplay to new areas and that is fantastic. However, this is a very small portion of what is planned for the next gen at the moment. The rest, to be quite frank, is the same old sequels and money makers that we already have. Fifa, PES, Call of Duty, Battlefield, Halo, so on. And the worst thing of all is a lot of these are still only running at 720 resolution. With the hardware these machines have, there is no reason whatsoever that most games cannot run at 1080 with over 40 or possibly even 50 to 60 fps. The fact they are not is nothing short of a disgrace and shows that the focus is primarily on getting the yearly iterations out in time for launch, money over quality.

So, to summarise, the final part of this series has a lot more somber feel as to be honest, I have no interest in the new generation whatsoever. Nothing about it says there’s something new and exciting. Even in the older days where some machines were more evolutionary than revolutionary, as discussed in my previous parts, they still brought something very unique to the industry, these simply don’t. In my mind, they are nothing more than PS3 and Xbox 360 with better hardware. They will not last the same amount of time as the current machines and I do seriously fear they will be a major part of the industry bottoming out in the coming years. Unless someone steps up to the plate and changes the game so to speak, games are going to go the way of movies and become generally mundane entertainment that has lost its soul and purpose. However, as some form of epilogue, I believe there is someone. If you have read part one and two, you may call this predictable, but that someone is Valve.

Steam Machines & PC

At this early stage, I don’t believe the future is Sony, Microsoft or Nintendo and I most certainly don’t believe the future is closed restrictive software and platforms beyond the next 5 years. The future is openness and collaboration, the future starts with Steam machines and with them, Steam OS and Linux.

Steam machines are PCs, nothing more, but they will have Steam OS on them, which is a Valve developed system based on Linux. There is a very big drive at the moment to get games onto Linux and using technologies such as OpenGL, as well as the traditional Windows and DirectX. This is good as Linux is free, open and very low on resource usage. It means the games don’t need an expensive purchase of Windows or OSX to run on and are not restricted to the graphics libraries they use, as well as having a lot more of the metal to use for their games as it’s not being taken up by the OS, all whilst being integrated with the already very well established Steam digital platform and the ability for others such as Origin and Uplay to be potentially used as they currently are on Windows. This is the polar opposite to the consoles and could potentially drive huge improvement in gaming, from the smallest indie to the massive studio, due to the low cost and high output of their products.

The other thing is the controller to go with the machines. It has no front buttons, it has 2 pads and a touch screen. The pads have haptic feedback and the entire controller is fully customisable. This really blows the current controllers out of the water as it can mimic the options and precision of keyboard, mouse and pads, a combination of them all, or it’s own thing entirely. It’s whatever you want it to be and accounts for any possible control requirement out there. It would be a huge disservice for me to try and explain the technicalities of it, so here is a video by Valve demonstrating the controller.



So for me, gaming is going along nicely at the moment, but it is heading towards a very uncertain time. I truly hope the consoles become a lot more than I expect them to be and I have a huge amount of excitement for what Valve can deliver with their work, it really could push gaming into a new era. I hope you have enjoyed reading my series of blogs and I hope to see you around on the site or on Steam in the future. Whatever your choice may be in the coming months and years, I hope you take a great amount of pleasure from it.

All the best.

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About the Author

I have an interest in music, movies, technology and games. Enjoy football, gigs, cycling and swimming. I'm a Java developer and trying to learn Android. I'm 29 and Welsh. I've been interested in games since ZX Spectrum 128K. I've owned a Dreamcast, Xbox, Xbox 360 and PS3 but PC has been my main passion. I am a huge advocate of Steam and believe Valve are one of, if not the most progressive games companies there is.



6 Responses to Blog: The State of Play (PT.3)

  1. Robert Young says:

    James – thanks for this content, it’s been an absolute blast to read them all and I’ve enjoyed all of them and I think I’m with you on the view that gaming future looks a little bleak.

    I attended EGX and the only thing that captured my interest of everything I played was Titan Fall but even so not enough for me to shell out close to £500 for console, controllers and a game.

    Also after seeing the Steam Controller video that does interest me a bit and the prices are so much cheaper on the PC versus a console and the amount of console stuff I still have unplayed is depressing.

    I was spoken to various HGR members about how I currently feel with gaming (bored and disillusioned) and have had suggestions that I may be playing too much or I may be ‘saturated’ but I hardly play any games, nothing takes my interest now, the last time I played a game was last Friday on the gaming night with the lads and that’s probably the only reason I’ve kept my 360 well that and the fact we watch movies etc via the 360 but I can see how easy it would be to live without a console now with my attention elsewhere with my art taking up any free time I have and we often use the 10 year old laptop with our projector to watch most movies.

    So my next move is unconfirmed, I used to get real excited about games and bought every new game that came out but got bored with games so quick unless they really were ‘that good’ and kept my attention until the end and very few have. I’m in need of a new computer soon and I’m losing faith with Apple, not interested in next gen and may consider a PC which I could use to run Mac OSX as well as windows and also play games… time will tell my next move!

    Again great articles and sorry for my mini rant. Look forward to more of your content bud!

  2. I have hope for the future of gaming. Maybe I’m an amazingly naive chap but as you stated there are other exiting options appearing such as the Valve system and hopefully the bigger names will step up and provide us with something surprising.

    You started this post talking about how gaming is now being seem in a similar light to movies and music and maybe we should look at them the same way.

    There is currently and will probably always be a huge amount of rubbish produced in each format but there are also some diamonds as well, from the big studios as well as the smaller studios. These are the ones to took out for and they should be easy to spot shinning in the mire.

    And there will always be a play for the tried and trusted. Just because It’s a Hollywood ‘Summer Blockbuster’ doesn’t stop it being fun and in the end that’s why it sells. And that’s why I watch films, listen to music and play games, because they’re fun.

    Those Rob my dear are some reasons you should keep the faith, after all the next sparkling gem could be a new Burnout game!!!

    • Robert Young says:

      Perhaps Barry but Hot Pursuit was meant to be the next Burnout but I bored of that so quickly. GTA is great fun but after an hour on any game I get so bored of it… If the Xbox One does drop in 2014 maybe I’ll take more notice but nothing on show at EGX interested me and although I had a great laugh with the HGR lads none of the next gen stuff on show excited me like when the 360 came out but I know this time round it’s not all about GFX but more about depth but James raises solid points about the longevity a console will now have.

      This next gen will be the most expensive but with the least life (MS, MD, NES, SNES, Gameboy, PS1, Xbox 1, PS2, Xbox 360, PS3…) How long will it be before we see these next to giant consoles out date?

      Each machine before lasted at least 10 years right? Will the demand for innovation and new tech supersede the need for what gaming is mainly about… fun? I loved the first Xbox and LAN and then the 360 blew me away but these two new machines just don’t appeal to me right now 🙁

      • Gary Mullen says:

        Thing with the 360 was it was a game changer, Microsoft toyed with Xbox live on the first Xbox but it was fragmented, not a lot of flow from one game to the next, 360 launch with everything focus around Xbox live and it changed how we played games on console, we now expect games to have online functionality and raise an eyebrow if there none

        Problem is there not a lot more game changers you can do, you can change the graphics etc but how we game stay the same, for this odd reason I respect Microsoft sticking to the guns on kinect, they are looking for the next game changer, market just not ready yet (same happened when they started pushing tablet operating systems, people laugh at how stupid it was, Microsoft launched smart phone people attitude was why would I want to send emails from my phone, Microsoft announced xbox, reaction wtf you make software not hardware, leave it to the experts) what lesson? We maybe don’t really know what we want, we don’t like change as such, however in 5 years time we could look back on kinect and how it changed gaming, may not be used the same way as it is the now but never forget the power of imagination anything is possible!

        chances are we look back at kinect as stupid but am willing to give it a fair crack at it, as for the power of the cloud, i know it potential and people should actually look at what it can and cannot do, sony seem to be banking on VR being the net big thing, not sure the world ready for it yet but one thing am sure of, regardless of current speed the next gen war will cause some form of ripple affect in how we play games

  3. James Hart says:

    Thanks for your comment Rob, glad you enjoyed my articles. That’s the thing about PC, the games are cheaper, the platform isn’t a walled garden (well, unless you use Windows 8), hardware is customisable and better than what the new consoles can provide. The consoles are pretty much current high end PCs in terms of hardware and provide the same software, but with a lot of restrictions and control. They are more focussed on media and licensing stuff like NFL than just innovating with games.

    I think if I had gone to Eurogamer, I would have felt the same as you. New machines, new games, but does it feel any different to the years before? Probably not. As you said, consoles before all had their unique traits, what do these 2 have in reality? Nothing in my opinion.

    Barry, you raise a valid point regarding fun, that’s what it’s all about and if people enjoy the likes of Call of Duty then good luck to them, same as if people like a new Saw film every year, or a rinse and repeat war film. It’s their prerogative, but what does it do? How are current COD games that different to Modern Warfare 1? How is Halo 4 that different to Halo 2? You have games like Half Life 2, Tomb Raider, World of Warcraft expansions, etc which change things up and introduce a fresh feeling to their franchises, their genre and gaming as a whole. HL2 introduced a gravity gun and hugely immersive dialogue and environments nearly 10 years ago, COD can’t even dream to match that even today. They may be fun to some people, but they do absolutely nothing for the wider industry, they are completely focussed on making money and that’ll do nothing but start the destruction of gaming in the long term.

    “Games as art” is a long debated idea, but they have started to achieve that now, but games like COD are pulling away from that idea even harder than games like Portal 2 are pulling towards it.

    Rob, maybe in the new year, we could hold a Google Hangout On-Air and do a retrospective discussion on how things are? Maybe have a discussion about where we think things are going, similar to this blog, but with more knowledge of the new machines. Anyone from the site can take part and it would be streamed on YouTube, as it’s on air.

  4. Robert Young says:

    No probs James, happy to have you on here and hope you feel more part of the site, nice to have a place to spill those thoughts out eh. Love your writing style and honest approach and I love the idea of the google hangout discussion… Could be fun and also get heated and I know a few who might join in too.

    As for my gaming future it remains with the 360 can’t see myself buying a new console… I do like the sound of having a bespoke PC in the living room that I can work on and also use as a media center.

    Will deffo miss the gaming nights but will always have the catch ups on google if that kicks off.

    Time will tell!

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