Published on November 7th, 2013 | by James Hart6
Blog: The State of Play (PT.3)
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…
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.