There is a hubbub on forums everywhere decrying the end of the current generation every time a rumor teases details of the next Xbox or PS4. “The current generation isn’t maxed-out,” say fans. Others chime in with the common, “fancy graphics don’t make games better, gameplay does,” argument.
Are these assertions true? Absolutely. Do they offer up a reasonable argument to delay the next inevitable generation of consoles? No, and here is why:
The Law of Diminishing Returns
The idea that a console can be “maxed out” is a fallacy. The fact is, while the console is static, the programs the box runs are not. In other words, the more time a developer spends working on a platform, the better they become at telling the hardware how to run the game (that’s the “engine” we hear so much about in the gaming industry). Since the engine is just a program, there is no limit to the tweaks and adjustments that can be made to improve it and make games run better on current hardware.
So why not keep the current generation of consoles running forever if the programs they run can be endlessly improved? The answer is found in The Law of Diminishing Returns. As defined by Wikipedia, the law states, “in all productive processes, adding more of one factor of production, while holding all others constant, will at some point yield lower per-unit returns.”
In layman’s terms, forever improving game engines on the same old hardware will yield increasingly smaller gains. Eventually, all the engine improvements and tweaks in the world have only the tiniest effect on gameplay, physics, visuals, etc…
Want to see proof right on your home console?
Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune and Gears of War launched two incredibly successful franchises. Uncharted 2 and Gears of War 2 notably improved the gameplay, mechanics, and visuals launched by their respective first installments. The jump in gameplay, physics, and visual fidelity from the second installments in these series to the third, however, weren’t nearly as pronounced.
Simply put, Uncharted 2 was a huge leap over the original Uncharted, but Uncharted 3’s tweaks and improvements over Uncharted 2 were far less noteworthy. This is true even though Naughty Dog worked just as hard as ever to make the title as awesome as possible. Expect an even lesser jump if Uncharted 4 appears on PS3 rather than a fourth PlayStation console.
Better Graphics May Not Matter, But Better Physics & AI Sure Do
Those that say, “gameplay is more important than graphics,” are absolutely right. That is also exactly why we should be thrilled to move on to the next generation of gaming. More processing power means better, more complex physics and AI options that open new worlds of interactive gameplay.
In an age where destructible environments are still limited in scope and (generally) to select genres, imagine a world where any game that wishes can use this great feature without sacrificing things like frame rate, draw distance, and player count.
Imagine your favorite sports or racing games with physics ten times as advanced as anything we see today. Imagine competitive AI that learns as you play and always poses a challenge based on your play styles.
Envision sandbox titles where animations are more lifelike than ever before and offer draw distances that approach real-life vistas. Imagine more dynamic, moving interactions with NPCs than current-gen gaming can ever hope to achieve. Imagine that dragon actually destroying a city and not just attacking it!
These are the types of things that will change and grow with the increased processing power offered with the arrival of next-generation consoles.
More Freedom for Developers and Gamers Alike
We are in the seventh generation of consoles and have been since late 2005. Yup, your Xbox 360 and PS3 are now running on hardware designed over seven years ago.
With the above in mind, how often is a game “dumbed-down” so it can run on current consoles? Even more common, how regularly do ambitious storytellers and developers need to change their original visions because of the technical limitations of their medium?
If standard processing levels were raised across the board, ideas that could never see the light of day in the current gen would be allowed to flourish. Why? Because with the launch of each new generation the lowest common computing average jumps forward by a large margin.
For a brief time the capabilities of the most cutting edge gaming PC is virtually on par with consoles rather than leaps and bounds ahead. Suddenly the entire industry is looking at a new level of high-end gaming capability that translates into more creative freedom, better AI, better physics, better gameplay, and even better visuals.
You, the consumer, are then free to experience these advancements that wouldn’t have been possible before.
I know you love your PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, and Wii. I do too. All I’m saying is that, rather than a tweak here and slightly better render there, the time is almost right to see the new worlds a new generation will bring. You deserve it, my friends. You really do.
Agree? Disagree? Do you desperately want to point out the ugly economics behind launching a new console on both the developmental and consumer end? (As if that should stop you from expanded horizons!) Am I the worst person alive for thinking up this garbage? Let us know in the comments or tweet in our general direction @GameJudgment
Image source: Konaskorner.com