The Zero Hour

Reviews, rants and oddities on video game and film culture.

The Next Generation

If you’ve paid attention to any mainstream game site over the past week, I’m sure you’ve caught your eye on one thing. The Wii 2. News started to leak about its successor last Thursday on Kotaku and since then we’ve been drip fed information from various anonymous sources claiming “confirmation” that the console will focus on the hardcore gamer, the controller will have a HD screen built containing a fully customisable interface and that its development name is Project Café (fingers crossed for a built in espresso machine).
Now, before you get all excited about this, I must disappoint you with the fact that despite all the confirmations, none of the sources are actually named and more importantly, none of those sources are Nintendo themselves. What’s happened is we’ve effectively just become involved in a big worldwide game of Chinese whispers, where this whole situation is being escalated out of hand and will no doubt lead to disappointment if Nintendo announce it and it’s just a Wii with prettier graphics. I think we need to file everything we’ve read about Project Café into rumours and speculation file till then, then when E3 rolls around, if its everything that’s been rumoured, you can be smug about being right then. Being smug about being right now isn’t worth it.

Of course, with that in mind, The Xbox 360 is 6 years old this year and the other consoles are nearly pushing 5 years, which is old age in console years and, sadly this means it’s that time again where we have to start thinking about the day they get put down and replaced with a younger sexier model. Of course, now it’s not that simple. Whilst when the Xbox 360 and Wii launched, there were games on mobile phones and on the internet, they were seen as small insignificant time-wasters. Flash games on the likes of Newgrounds.com can be very well made, but they were only seen as something to do in your lunch break or when you were bored in your ICT class. But over the past 2 years, mobile and social gaming, as evidenced through the phenomenal success of Angry Birds and Farmville, have come leaps and bounds and are very nearly at the stage where cheap apps and mobile games can take on consoles at their own game. The acceleration of technology and the turnaround of games consoles means that fairly soon, your mobile phone will be as powerful as your Xbox and will probably eclipse it fairly rapidly and once that happens and peripherals designed exclusively for games are released, it’s very likely that bigger name developers will begin to defect over to mobile platforms, due to cheaper development costs and greater chance of profit. Gamers will benefit from lower prices and instant accessibility due to it simply being a one click download, and the social aspect will enable online play that will no doubt be developed to rival the experience of an Xbox live game from anywhere in the world.

So how can Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo get round this? Well, it’s going to be a tough battle. The fact is, consoles are beginning to run out of steam and with the exception of more powerful graphics, (even this is beginning to reach its limits) there’s not much more they can innovate on. Microsoft made it their intention to make the Xbox 360 “the centre of the living room” and in doing so, they seem to have painted themselves into a corner. Games consoles now can play DVD’s and Blu-rays, stream and rent TV shows and films, hold conversations and socialise with others, browse the internet, download new content for their games and even download new games themselves. I joked at the start of this article that the new Nintendo console should contain a coffee machine, now I realise it’s the only thing that it probably won’t have. Now, there are several aspects that could be developed further, but the big question is “Is this the direction they’re going to go?”

Obviously, the PS3 already had 3D capabilities, but I can’t see 3D on home consoles catching on, mostly due to the expensive nature of the technology (3D development must cost a small fortune in itself and then you’ve still got to shell out even more for a 3D TV). Nintendo have also already denied any plans to continue 3D for their next home console, despite the success of the 3DS, due to no interest in the technology if it requires the use of 3D glasses.

Motion gaming seems to be fizzling out as well within a single generation with 1:1 motion already accomplished with WiiMotionPlus, Sony Move and Kinect’s sensors and whilst this is a shame, motion controls never managed to fully immerse players into the game in the same way as button controls have. However, they have been successful in capturing the imaginations of both developers and the public, it is impossible to deny that Super Mario Galaxy was a triumph in its use of controls.

Having said all that, maybe if and when the mobile phone or the tablet become the primary source of gaming, maybe consoles will do the impossible and innovate, giving us an experience that can’t be gotten on whatever device we’re using in a few years’ time. Similar to how arcade machines have been since the late ‘90’s and those have done pretty well.

Now, of course a good chunk of this is just my opinion and it’s all clearly speculative, so don’t start flipping out because “gaming is dead” because it’s not, it’s full of life more than ever. As far as I know, Nintendo, Sony or Microsoft could easily take to the stage at E3 and change everything and revitalise the market in ways we never saw possible, the whole social gaming movement could be a fad and die out. It’s a cliché phrase, but the future isn’t set in stone, whilst most generations prior have pretty much followed a standard pattern, we’re currently in the midst of an exciting transition period for gaming and if we keep our heads, I think it’ll be more similar than you expect…

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