Is This Really Next-Gen?

Jan 5, 2013

How do you describe “next-gen”? Historically, with every generation we have seen better graphics and, in more recent history, we’ve seen social media and the Internet become intertwined with our consoles. In truth, history does not have to define what a generation is or should be. Every year Ford releases a new F150. We don’t call each one the next generation of Ford F Series trucks. I feel there has to be some substantial change. Perhaps it’s simply that what is possible on the new console was not possible on the previous one. Or, perhaps, it’s a reference we use socially and we are butchering the actual definition of the word “generation.” Certainly, however, we can learn from new console iterations and relish on our observations.

Dictionary.com defines the word “generation” as:

1)   a group of individuals, most of whom are the same approximate age, having similar ideas, problems, attitudes, etc.

2)   a single step in natural descent, as of human beings, animals or plants.

We Americans are not shy about analogizing English words to make an argument. As gamers we have done that with the word generation. Judging by definitions 1 and 2 we are creating an analogy that video game consoles have individuality and are capable of physical lineage. Undoubtedly consoles are closer to Pinocchio than any form of humanity. Consoles do have like attributes and are created which means their future iterations go through their own evolutionary process – not unlike human beings.

Console Attributes:

  • Age (release date)
  • Similar ideas (their purpose – gaming, DLNA media streaming, etc)
  • Problems (vulnerabilities – such as the PSN hack of 2011)
  • Attitudes (exclusives!)

Leveraging this list of attributes, I have grouped popular consoles together:

Group Consoles Age (years) Similar Ideas Problems Attitudes
A Atari 7800, Nintendo Entertainment System 28-30 Cartridge-based games, mono audio, graphical output with sprites. 8-bit graphics. Oxygenation of cartridges, no ability to save progress Exclusive titles such as Mario Bros. for NES and Pole Position II for Atari
B Super NES, Sega Genesis 23-29 Flat-shaded polygons led to games like Star Fox including additional CPUs in its cartridge. 16-bit graphics. CD-ROM drive testing led to the PlayStation Nintendo sticking to cartridges; Sega introducing CD-ROM.
C Atari Jaguar, Sega Saturn, N64, Sony PlayStation 16-20 32 and 64-bit graphics. Transition to CD-ROM (save for Nintendo) Exclusive titles begin to sell consoles; Sony’s success drives developer preferences.
D Dreamcast, PS2, Xbox, GameCube 9-15 No similarities save for graphical capabilities. Transition to DVD-ROM and DVD playback (save for Nintendo) Sega exited hardware market; Microsoft jumped in; Sony took a huge lead; Nintendo mis-marketed the GameCube.
E PS3, Xbox 360, Wii 7-8 Cross-platform titles appeared to have minor graphical differences; input was the same (controllers with 2 analog sticks). Sony transitions to Blu-ray; Microsoft bets on the Internet; Nintendo goes rogue with motion controls Exclusives again drive console sales at first; Microsoft takes an early lead with exclusives and online capabilities; Nintendo reclaims the lead with motion controlled gaming.
F PS4, Wii U, Xbox One Very few similarities; Nintendo on an island. Digital downloads and movie/TV services strong with Sony and Microsoft. Nintendo stays the course with unique input – adds a tablet to the Wii; Microsoft invests in home entertainment; Sony focuses on games and social networking
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At first these groups, or “generations” follow the Dictonary.com definitions quite well. However, with the disparities between disc format, input method, and home entertainment, we are no longer seeing logical descendants of prior consoles groups. One could argue that individual manufacturers are logically iterating their consoles, while borrowing best practices from their competition. There is, however, one exception: Nintendo. They are not borrowing ideas from Sony or Microsoft. Rather, they are fixated on a singular goal: making their games fun.

Being a “next gen” console comes with certain expectations. And for me, most recently, those expectations were not met with the PS4. Yes, the speed of the online store and the overall operating system are “next gen” but their launch title, Killzone: Shadow Fall, was not. The game is a graphical standout, particularly for a launch title, but in interaction it is the same thing every FPS is. Both Sony and Microsoft need some innovation from a gaming perspective. I was hoping to play the game in a way I couldn’t before. An example of this is playing Mario Galaxy for the Wii for the first time. The motion controls allowed for a new way to play Mario and it was a lot of fun. The same can be said about Escape Plan on the PS Vita and several other titles that made me feel like I didn’t want to go back to the previous generation.

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Given these findings, we should consider how we address the “next generation.” Perhaps something as generic as “new consoles” would suffice.  Truly, this isn’t a real problem. People aren’t arguing the definition of “next generation.” If they are, they’re missing the point of getting your hands on something new that can outperform its predecessor; when discussing Sony or Microsoft. Again, Nintendo is on an island. I truly feel each new console from Nintendo is a generational step. And that applies to their handhelds which are absent in this editorial.

One thing that’s true is graphical output and general computational power increase over time and some have chosen to take that power to improve the experiences of players. Microsoft are using unique cloud-computing solutions to improve game performance; Sony has created a zippy console that outputs incredible graphics; and Nintendo have bet on a younger audience with their tablet + motion gaming. We’re in a good place – don’t get me wrong. Perhaps it’s time we all realize we’re a few years away from truly playing in the next generation.

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