All About 43n1m4
How quickly the years seem to pass. Has it already been nearly 7 years, since the first 'next-gen' console had its launch? Apparently so. Looking back at previous generations of consoles, the PS1 & 2, the N64, the first Xbox, a 7 year long cycle would've meant that new consoles would already be on the market. That is not the case, however - and the reason why is quite simple: The current gen of consoles have been quite successful and forward looking.
The Xbox360 and the PS3 still sell, and as long as they are doing that, MS and Sony will do their best to prolong this cycle. Games look quite good and are (generally speaking) running rather well, mostly due to ever more efficient software optimizations on the well-known platforms, and their closed-box nature. Going back to 2005, MS was rather lucky with their hardware ...not the stability of it, mind you, as the RROD problems of the first two sub-generations of Xbox360's was hard to ignore - but the feature set and performance of the hardware, not to mention the relative ease of developing software for it as well. In the long run it has made the console strangely competitive and elevated the XBox brand from being an outsider, a newcomer, to the console scene to a battle-worn veteran, with its share of victories and defeats behind him.
Initially it set the bar rather high for the competitor, and Sonys ambitious plans for the PS3 was somewhat crippled by the reality of production costs (among others), which was the main reason for the relatively unbalanced design - no matter how you feel about their console and its advantages and disadvantages, Sony went from market leader to figthing for the last place with MS - in terms of consoles sold. Nintendo surpassed both of them in console sales, but the attachment rate (and software sales) for the Wii has been significantly lower than for both of Nintendos competitors. Sony reacted to the success of the Wii (particularly among the so-called 'mainstream' gamers) with the Move controller, and MS's response is Kinect. Sonys deliberate inclusion of, and strong support for, blu-ray and some very strong exclusive titles did ensure that Sonys Playstation is still a very relevant brand on the console scene.
But no matter the history, the victories or the failings of the current gen of consoles, the time for a new cycle is nearing. In the last 7 years the performance of (high end) hardware has increased more than 10 times, and even the lowest estimates for the next gen of consoles from MS and Sony seem to put the performance between 4-6x the previous generation. Looking at the relative performance differences between earlier generations, and 8x increase of performance seem to be more plausible. If MS of Sony go the ambitious route of the current consoles, a 9-10x increase is possible.
People tend to forget that the Xenos GPU of the XBox360 was a bit ahead of the PC equivalents, in terms of features (not necessarily performance), and if MS go that route again, it will be hard to predict what will be inside the next console, as we simply haven't seen the hardware yet. It is not far-fetched, however, to expect a GPU from AMD, as rumours has persistantly pointed out AMD to be the sole provider of GPUs for all three next-gen consoles.
The world is a different place than it was in 2005. Xbox Live and PSN has become full-fledged online portals for communication, streaming, online play, messaging, demoes, arcade titles, and even full priced games (XBox360).. as such the future for consoles will very much depend on their online capabilities, which I fully expect the next gen to expand upon. What that means remains to be seen, but even in the current generation software updates of the consoles has expanded their online capabilities massively. If you had the Xbox360 at launch, think back on the first 'blades' dashboard and its online features, and it will pale in comparison of what you can do today.
But more importantly, as it cannot be changed in the course if its cycle, the hardware will play a predominant role for the success of the new consoles. More CPU cores (my guess is somewhere between 4-8 cores, each capable of handling even more threads), More ALUs on the GPU, more bandwidth and naturally more RAM will change the limits of what we can expect from games.
I've come to like the graphics of the current consoles, which have reached a natural plateau at this point in their cycle. But what can be achieved in the future is hard to imagine. Even a 'simple' 4x increase of performance will probably give better graphics than we have right now - at full 1080p resolution, instead of the usual upscaled 720p, and sometimes even lower resolution on the current consoles.
Imagine then an 7-8x increase of GPU (Dx11+ capable), CPU and RAM, and the next gen (AAA) games will surpass even the most demanding gamers initially... and hopefully give developers a platform on which there are even less creative restrictions and room for new ideas and technological breakthroughs.
In short, the march of the consoles are beginning. And me? Even though I enjoy gaming on the current gen, I'm beginning to look forward.
A recent story on Eurogamer about the hardships of the online MMO EVE Online had me thinking about my experience of the game - which in turn seems to be more about my general view of MMOs, but EVE in particular, as that game is the only MMO I have spent a significant amount of time on.
For further information about the turmoil EVE has gone through, please look to this site and Eurogamer (or Google it), there are more than a dozen articles, forum discussions (and more) about the subject.
I stopped playing EVE just after the Incarna expansion. It is important to stress that I didn't stop because of the controversy surrounding the micropayments, or the annoying 'captains quarters', or even the arrogant attitude of CCP.. it was just getting boring. The problem with EVE Online is that it is hard to define any real goal, so after months and even years of looking through cost/income charts, reading about various low-sec tactics and trying out a lot of different ship fittings, one night a friend (who had started two months before) asked: "What is the purpose of all this?". I couldn't answer. There is no end-boss. There are no clearly defined goals, except amassing tons of ISK. But for what? More virtual spaceships? Better augmentations?
It is not because there is anything wrong with EVE in a traditional sense. It is an engrossing experience. And for the most part, you learn a lot from the game. Real trade skills, analyzing data and playing the market. It's just when someone shows you how pointless all your efforts are, and when the game's actual missions (outside PvP and corp wars) are rather repetive. It's like a cartoon character hanging in mid-air. As soon as he looks down, he will just fall.
Today, I'm back playing offline games.
To me, that the games actually end is becoming important.
And to me, that I play many different games is still very important.
Who knows? Maybe some day I'll get back to EVE and buy more virtual spaceships. But right now, that seems highly unlikely.
Let me tell you a story. An unpleasant one, in fact.
I visited a friend this weekend - one of these few but old, very good, friends. Visits has to be carefully planned months in advance due to family, children, work/school etc. In short, planning a long weekend with this particular friend is not a trivial matter and time passes much to fast in his company.
One of our plans was to play Might and Magic: Heroes VI. As longtime fans of the series, the slow turn-based gameplay is ideal for long sessions of gaming and talking about this and that. To be on the safe side, I downloaded the demo prior to the visit and packed my bags. If the demo turned out to be good, we would probably buy it the same evening.
However, when I arrived at his apartment, and opened Steam on my laptop, the demo wouldn't run.
This is a brand new Lenovo laptop with a fairly powerful GPU. All I got was a black screen, a mouse cursor that looked like a glove, and pushing ctrl-shift-escape, Windows could tell me that the game wasn't running anymore.
What should've been a good evening of Heroes and red wine, quickly turned into a futile hunt for bugs. I am by no means an apprentice on a PC - in fact I've built PCs since '98 and am currently learning OO programming - but no matter what I did, the same, cold black screen stared back at me, creaking 'Nevermore'.
I wasted much of that evening trying to get the game working - Ubisoft wasn't much help either. They stated that they don't support laptops at all - a bold (some would claim ridiculous) statement in 2011. Their forums is littered with people who has had similar problems.
If people ask me, why I mostly play console games these days, I turn and look them straight in their eyes and tell them the same story. Then I grab my coat and wander the lonely streets at night. Seconds later a slow whisper from the evening haze can be heard in the distance. "Stability", it says.
I think it is a keyword in this story. But then again, It might as well be a bug among so many others.