Despite the fact that I've pretty much made up my mind to stay with this generation of videogames after it's over, I've been thinking a lot about the current state of the videogame industry, what the major companies seem to be focusing on in terms of big developments, and what it means for the future. And honestly, it's all very fascinating for me. To start off, let me look at the two biggest advancements this gen.
A big point of friction within the gaming community, specifically when dealing with the Wii's graphics. With the other two consoles going the HD route, Nintendo's decision to hold back from using HD graphics on the Wii hasn't sat well with some people. And this has made the whole debate about "graphics vs. gameplay" heat up more than ever.
So, where do I stand on the subject? Honestly, I don't think that graphics really matter much which it comes to a game's quality, as long as they reach a certain standard, which I honestly think was set durring the previous gen. I think that the whole HD element is a gimmick, but would also like to stress the fact that I don't think it will remain a gimmick in future gens, if the industry is heading in the direction I believe it is heading.
Anyway, the question has been asked, how much further can you take graphics? With HD graphics getting as advanced as they are, how far are we away from photo realism? If we look closely enough at the most realistic games, we can still see elements which make it obvious that it's a videogame, but even so, the graphics are becoming much closer than we've ever gotten. So, how do we improve them? We've been given our answer: 3D. Not exactly a new idea, but given how much focus has been placed on it, most notably with the 3DS, but also with the PS3, they may have come up with a surprising way to implement it that could actually enhance the graphics in an interesting way. I can't really say how much this improves the graphics, since I haven't experienced the PS3 or 3DS takes on 3D graphics, but I've been hearing some really good things about the 3DS' use of it.
We've seen a few examples of this. Touch screen on the DS, and even on things like the iPod, The Wiimote, Kinect, and Playstation Move, etc. All of these things basically come down to giving gamers new ways to interact with the games they play. It's debatable how successful these elements have been, and no matter how many people accept them, there's also people who don't care for their addition. But no matter whether you like them or not, one thing that you can't argue with is the fact that it's been successful, at least in terms of how well they sell their appeal to the general public, and this is reflected in the creation of Kinect and Move, which are Microsoft and Sony's way to try to jump on the bandwagon.
Keep in mind that these ideas are fairly new to the industry, so developers are just starting to get used to them, and there can, and will be improvements to these things in the future. One such example is the addition of Motion Plus to the Wiimote, which gives it a boost in its accuracy, bringing it that much closer to what gamers originally imagined when they were introduced to the Wiimote a few years ago. As years go on, and generations pass, there will probably be more examples of this, some which may surprise us just as much as the Wiimote did when it was announced.
Bringing it together
So, with all that said, how will things go in the future? How will these things contribute to the industry as a whole? As consoles are created in order to draw you in more and more, whether it's with its graphics, or its interactive gameplay, or other elements that I don't feel like getting into for this particular blog (improved A.I., bigger and better game worlds, etc.), I can honestly say I see things going towards virtual reality. A thing which is obviously big in science fiction, to the point where it has become a tired cliche. But then, other things in science fiction which used to be considered really odd fantasies have become things which we've grown to accept as part of reality, like cloning. It may not happen next gen, and I'd actually be surprised if it did. It may not even happen for the next 3 or so gens, but I do see things heading there. The HD and 3D graphics could be a stepping stone towards the kind of technology that would be needed to create the virtual worlds, while the interactive control methods we see this gen could be the stepping stones to the technology that would be needed to control yourself in that world.
As it stands right now, all we can do is speculate. But for me, the possibility of virtual reality seems to be much closer than I've ever expected it to be, and I'm very fascinated by the possibility.