Where Are All The "Next Gen" Games?

The calendar says "2009". The Xbox 360 launched in 2005. That means we're four years into the "next generation" of video gaming. If so, then where the hell are our "next generation" games?

It's something that's been gnawing at me for a while now, but as we approach Christmas 2009 – the fifth holiday season for the Xbox 360, and fourth for the PlayStation 3 and Nintendo Wii – that gnawing has turned into some serious, unchecked mastication.

After all, a new hardware generation is meant to usher in a new generation of games to go with it. And not just games that look prettier, or sound better; titles that give you something entirely new in terms of game design and mechanics, something that could only be done by taking advantage of the latest in console hardware.

Yet I think only a handful of games this console generation have done so. Which ones? Oh, I'm glad you asked. Games like:

Dead Rising – There has never been a game like Dead Rising. It's open-world in appearance, but the entire game is built around the concept of navigating an endless sea of zombies in numbers previous consoles simply couldn't get on-screen at once.

Oblivion/Fallout 3 – Two games, I know, but they do the same thing, so they go in the same listing. Nobody ever forgets that first time you leave the Imperial sewers/Vault 101 and take in the world around you, realising that Bethesda haven't crafted a level, they've built a seamless, living world well beyond the scale of previous titles like Morrowind.

Yes, they also appear on PC, but remember, these games were also built from the ground up with consoles in mind, rather than being crude ports.

Wii Sports/Wii Sports Resort – To this day, the only games that have truly delivered on the promise of the Wii Remote, integrating it so naturally within the gameplay experience that you can't imagine playing the games without it.

So as good as Modern Warfare is, as good as Mario Galaxy is, I don't call them truly "next gen" games. Why? Because they fail my "next gen" test, that's why.

Here's the test: If a game can be ported to a console in a previous generation and keep its core gameplay and overall design in place, it's not what I'm calling for the purposes of this piece a "next gen" game. Mario Galaxy was great, but really, it's a GameCube title with some star-shaking stuff thrown in. Modern Warfare? Amazing, but as the upcoming Wii port attests, it used the 360 and PS3 primarily for better graphics and sound. LittleBigPlanet? Another great game, but the PSP version shows the core experience could have been done on a PS2.

Other games I think fail this test are Halo 3, BioShock, Batman: Arkham Asylum, Uncharted, Metal Gear Solid 4…OK, pretty much everything. You get the idea. Sure, they're nice and shiny, and have lovely pre-rendered cutscenes, and there are advanced uses of physics and AI under the hood, and most important of all, advanced online connectivity, but all of those are just tweaks, improvements, icing on the cake, candy for the eyes. None of them fundamentally change the way you approach a game, or a genre.

Not like Mario Kart and F-Zero did with Parallax scrolling. Or Mario 64 with its use of 3D. Or Grand Theft Auto III with its living, breathing city. Those games re-wrote the book. You just couldn't do GTAIII on the PlayStation. Or Mario 64 on the SNES. They were true "next gen" games.

So why do we have so few this time around? What's the problem? There's refinement under the hood. There's games that some, and especially the developers, may disagree with me on (GTAIV, for example, or Halo 3 and its extensive multiplayer modes). And there are some who could argue, with a fair point, that the same problem plagued most games from the previous generation.

Certainly the cost of development can't help. Worlds are built with engines, and engines are built on rules. If you wanted to come up with something entirely new, you'd have to do it yourself, which for many developers and publishers in this current economic climate just isn't feasible.

It can also be argued that a single jump in the mid-90's – from the 16-bit era to the N64 and PS1 – will long be the most significant in gaming, taking us as it did from 2D to 3D, and that subsequent generations can't be relied upon to deliver the same level of innovation. Fair, to a point, but then there are still plenty of games like GTAIII that were able to innovate well past the 32-bit era.

One final possibility, however, is that there is innovation going on in today's games beyond the superficial. It's just, we can't see it. Chatting with Bethesda's Todd Howard on the subject, he put this idea forward:

"I think the visual component of it is the one that everyone notices first, and it's also the prime part that benefits from what the new hardware gives you," he says. "So it's just harder to see the innovations beyond that, but they're there. I'd guess there's just as much pure 'design innovation' with this generation as there has been in the last few."

"Look at the basis now for how games handle physics, difficulty, controls, save games, or simple load screens. I know it sounds silly, but I get excited by innovations in loading screens, because they're the worst part of a game. I'm interested in how games simply start."

Promising, yeah, but does that really hold water when compared to more fundamental changes? Not really. "There's been innovations in AI, but it certainly hasn't kept pace with the graphic fidelity, which yields this overall feeling of it going backwards," Howard adds. "The environments are so complex now in games, that building good AI just to manoeuvre them takes serious time. But that's not an innovation, that's simply the AI doing what it could do before in a game.

"My hope is, as we developers turn the corner on how to make the games simply 'work,' that we can innovate more on how the games respond to the player, whether that is the AI, or socially, or something else."

Maybe that explains it, and in 30 years, we'll look back on the current generation as one where developers were finding their feet, laying the groundwork for sprawling, innovating and revolutionary titles of the future.


Comments

    Left4Dead is a good example of next-gen, requiring real grunt to render the core gameplay of waves of zombies.

      actually, i'd say l4d for a different reason. the ai. the ai is good enough that it can actually make a game by itself. you can just create a playing space, with a few little things marked out, and run the nav generator and suddenly you have a whole level with gameplay and ai will traverse the world to get to you, and kill you.

    If your going by porting technology then they could have easily made wii sports for n64 as they did have motion accelerometer tech 10 years ago. Even the pulse thingy Nintendo is bringing out, was out 10 years ago in Tetris64 for the Japanese market. So does that make that mean that's no going to be next gen too? Think the transition from 8 bit to 16 bit, you could just tone down the graphics and music so that a 16/32bit mario could still run and jump on an 8 bit just not as pretty. 2D to 3D was a quite a big leap and off-line to online as well. Perhaps now its conventional control moving towards to motion. But their counter parts still remain today in many games. I think in terms of generation its definitely hardware that's the easiest measure whilst components such as "multi-player" and "AI" are just parts that form the generation at question.

    Garry's Mod, it's a PC game but it is pretty amazing. Community is mostly shit though, creator's an ass most of the time and so are the admins.

    I'm sure Uncharted 2 could be added to that list once it hits the stores.

    I disagree..a little.
    games like COD4 are utilising the next gen with AI and scripting. This is not necessarily new but The stuff going on around you has added a level of immersion never before seen in games. The first level of COD4 as you run through the ship things are exploding people are running and there is a great sense of the shit hitting the fan, this and other scripted stuff throughout the game(and many other "next gen" titles, place you inside that experience much more than ever before. Dead space also may have nothing you could say couldnt be done with the last generation but the story telling and atmosphere(it is truly scary) are far beyond anything i have experienced in a game before and does represent the next generation in bringing you closer to that virtual experience.
    These worlds are much richer fuller and believable. and that I think brings them into next gen.(this is essentually what happend from 2d to 3d. the worlds just became better representations of what they were trying to create!)
    Dan

    Rediculous article. Stopped reading about 1/3 of the way through. I completely disagree with every point you were trying to make. Stop trying so hard to create an "idea" for people to latch on to. Just keep doing what you have done in the past and quit trying to make a name for yourself.

    It'll have to be a complete format shift, as I think we're at the limits to what we can accomplish on a TV. Obviously graphics will get better and stuff, but unless the interface and the way to view the game changes, things will taper off into evolution rather than revolution.

    tldr; Virtual Reality!

    I'd include Kameo with Dead Rising as a game that the number of AI components is astounding. It's not as graphically compelling but I was still blown away when I loaded it up and realised that it wasn't a pre-rendered cutscene and that I really was controlling the character surrounded by what seemed like hundreds of enemies.

    To Dan who talks about the atmosphere of Dead Space (Dead Rising?), have you ever played Clive Barker's Undying on the PC? Admittedly it wasn't a console game, but that took atmosphere to a level I've not seen before or since.

    Dead Rising and Oblivion are very poor choices in my view.

    Dead Rising is a lot less impressive for anyone who has seen the PS2 game Sparta Total Warrior - which managed hundreds of onscreen fully animated enemies, and a very dynamic God of War style battle system. I suspect the developers of Dead Rising spent a lot of time playing it.

    And Oblivion was a medieval RPG take on the GTA III open world concept. With atrocious NPC characters, and a user interface which was obviously designed geared towards PC gamers.

    I'm going to disagree with you on one thing. I think the current standard of online play should be considered next-gen. Comparing the XBOX 360 and PS3 to the PS2 and XBOX in terms of online capabilities is like comparing Dead Rising to Zombies Ate My Neighbours.
    Sure, you could technically do multiplayer online and off, and a massive title like Halo would work, but you couldn't do your average titles. Naruto: Rise of a Ninja (360), for example, couldn't pull of multiplayer. Even when it first launched it wouldn't get enough players.

    I do however completely agree that this is a fairly tame leap. The advantages are (for the most part) just stat increases when typically we get a lot of new moves. I think it will become the standard from here on out, but hopefully that's a good thing. It might shove development costs down and force developers to examine their roots and get creative. Take Shadow Complex. Rather than simply trying to move forward, it went back and moved forward from there.
    If people go back a few generations they might travel along a different evolutionary path and give us something great.

      I agree with you DogaMan. Something that is Next gen is all of the choices gamers now have, particularly with all the downloadable content we have now. All of these smaller indie developed games for consoles, and episodic content wouldn't have been possible with the frameworks of the xbox and ps2.

      I think that the online interface that this gen's consoles have is the biggest leap.

    i honestly think that download distribution is our current gen in the working. i bought a 3000 ms points card today and bought a bunch of games over live on the system. You couldnt *really* do that last gen. Also look at the PSP Go, it may not be a spotlight piece of hardware with that price but I know I would certainly buy it if it was cheaper.

    hey dogman, i was going to write exactly the same thing! the difference this generation is the ease of connectivity and the community between players. is it not "next gen" to be able to create your own level, upload it to a server, and play with random people on the other side of the planet?

    I kinda agree with what you're saying about alot of games not taking enough chances with new hardware, but I don't agree with quite a few of your examples.

    How can you say that LBP isn't included due to it's stripped down PSP version, then include Dead Rising which also has a stripped down wii version? The PSP version is lacking alot of what made the PS3 version great. Not only that, the PSP is "next-gen" handheld with online capabilities. Please explain to me how LBP would work on last generation's consoles without complex physics engines and online connectivity?

    I think one of the biggest things to come out of this generation is achievements and trophies. If rumbling controllers can be considered an innovation, surely a uniform system of scoring among a console's game library can be considered an innovation.

    You do underestimate Wii sports titles. PES 08 was groundbreaking in terms of tactical development- granted, maybe a little shy on skillful 1 on 1 play and shooting- which could never have been done without the WiiRemote. FIFA copied it for 2009 and Konami refined it. MY main issue was lack of online opponents. TOTAL lack- as in I NEVER found anyone online to lock horns with.

    LITTLE BIG PLANET.

    SCRIBBLENAUTS.

    OOOoooOOOOoo!!! Controversial!

    Good article - i applaud you for braving the massive amount of flaming you are likely to receive from this, however - i think you are talking more on innovation rather than 'next-gen'-ness

    I agree that an enormous amount of games release on all the current gen are clones of older games given a bit of spit and polish and pushed out to the marketplace.

    LBP is, indeed, innovative for its community, GTA III for its open-world sandbox, the Wii for its approach to controls in all its games.

    Dead rising is simply an allowance in technology due to the next generation.
    and COD4 & L4D are not technically innovative either. Damn fun, but not innovative.

    Just because a game is good doesn't mean its innovative and just because a game is innovative doesn't mean its good. But when a good game is innovative - oh boy

    @Dogman: Zombies ate my neighbors!! Woo! best.game.evar. (ok, not quite)

    Undying was awesome! But the enviroments just didnt have the realism that the current games are giving us, which is what i was getting at.(although the story was engrossing(C.B. rocks). the house and even other dimension levels were still bland and a little uninteresting).
    Also I gotta agree with TANKA. Achievements have truly changed the way I play games.Im a fairly serious gamer and love having a "record" of what I have played and how I played it. As much as most will say they are useless and give us nothing. there is a certain satisfaction when an achievement pops and I can see that I did that and the world knows it! To this point I own 114 xbox 360 titles and 1 ps3 title purely because the 360 versions will give me achievements......Sad I know!

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