The Difference Next-Gen Can Make...
"Boredom: The desire for desires." - Leo Tolstoy
I've spent the better part of the last decade parading around the imaginative headspace of some of the world's most talented and creative artists: video game developers. Throughout this journey I have made many an acquaintance and nary a friend, met heroes a plenty and villains in droves, yet never have I been left in anything but wonder. Even in the darkest moments of the current generation of consoles, I always found a game that reached deeply into my mind, yanking me free of the mundane existence only a 40 hour work week can provide.
Alas, the last few months with my console have been a bit rough. We just don't seem to understand each other anymore. I look around and see the games for the next generation, in their high-particle, vast-expanse glory, serenading me in seductive tones. They call to me with capabilities I have always dreamed about, luring me with their siren song toward the rocky shoal of an already strained console relationship. A breach in my hull seems inevitable.
I know I should resist the urge to watch every gameplay video that takes place on a next-gen console, that I should avoid dev-docs on the making of next gen games, but the drug has taken hold. I itch; I pine for more glimpses into the future that awaits me. I look at my current console and realize one heart-wrenching truth.
Anticipation is a bitch.
I am fully aware that there exists a vast breadth of current-gen greatness available to me, both now and in the near future, but it just doesn't seem to matter. I know all the psychological, dogmatic rhetoric on how grass seems greener, but it just doesn't seem to matter. I know the logical viewing of time in relation to present circumstance versus future probability, but it just doesn't seem to matter. Believe me, I have spent days tooling around my own mind, attempting to convince myself to be patient and appreciate what I have now in lieu of what I will possess in the future, but there are three blockades on my road to acceptance, three next-gen offerings that keep me aching for more:
Despite the graphical advances made over the course of the current console generation, little has been done to increase the overall scope and intellect of the Artificial Intelligence that occupy the gamespace we play in. Each successful game from this generation has found a clever way to tweak the number of NPCs available, as well as their actions, but any more than 10 hours has me beginning to notice the redundancy of said characters (that time is halved during linear plot lines).
I am extremely excited about next-gen computing and what it means for both scope and gameplay. Not only will we be seeing larger environments, but they will be occupied by a great deal more NPCs, all behaving in a manner far less repetitive due to the developers having the power to program more varied response to player stimuli.
The same increased attention to detail applies to the artistic styling of next-gen as well. This generation's developers became very adept at crafting beauty from a distance after a few years with the tech. For instance, a landscape view of Skyrim would leave anyone breathless, but closer inspection of texture leaves much to be desired. Increased computational power will allow more detail to be applied to game environments, fleshing them out.
This does not mean that there is going to be a massive distinction in the vague "graphical" sense, merely the fine detail. This point alone will allow game artists to begin stepping outside the methods that govern current-gen consoles. Even the first wave of launch games has shown a massive increase in both scope and detail.
As a direct corollary to the previous two distinctions, I believe storytelling will be allowed to progress even further than it has the last few years of this generation.
More characters and more detailed environments will allow game developers to use once peripheral features as vital characters in a narrative sense. The dynamic worlds being currently advertised are a perfect example of this. No longer will a gamer simply be able to run through an environment in ignorant bliss, but will instead have to be aware of his/her surroundings. This is the perfect platform for creating the type of tension that can separate good storytelling from great.
A Month of Despair
These are the thoughts that plague me as I run through excellent games like The Last of Us and Grand Theft Auto V. I know that I should be experiencing all that these great titles have to offer, but I consistently resign myself to game-dreaming of a day not so far away in which I will roam fully realized worlds blissfully unaware of the myth that is reality. Oh, you gods of gaming, grant me the patience to wade through mediocrity whilst eagerly anticipating the evolution of mine own gamer persona.