It’s a funny thing is our beloved industry. By the time developers have access to the know-how and audience to make ambitious projects truly worthwhile, we move on, forcing them to abandon and re-invest in increasingly expensive stuff – and it’s all seemingly in the name of progression.
Consumers are put in a similar position, too. Like developers, we’re constantly chasing the next breakthrough: the next engine, the next box, the Next Big Thing. If we want to experience what appears to be the industry’s latest developments, the prospect of a new box with new software – all attached to an inflated price tag – is hardly an appealing one. That’s not to mention the fact that consoles aren’t guaranteed to support existing libraries of software.
But if history has taught us anything, it’s that new hardware doesn’t guarantee better games. Final Fantasy XIII, a gorgeous, linear romp, with production values destined to make amateur efforts weep with jealousy, was plagued by weak characters, poor writing, and an uninviting world. Improved hardware doesn’t make a for a more compelling game – and it certainly doesn’t promise a more compelling tale.
Then there’s Final Fantasy VI, a game which, by today’s standards, might as well be crafted with paper mache, some duck tape and a pack of blunt crayons. It had an interesting world, a diverse and curious cast and a plot with the power to pull me through hours of gameplay and text boxes.
And then there’s Final Fantasy XII, a game trapped in an unfortunate middle ground – a game with fantastic mechanics, compelling combat, a thin story and a less involved cast of characters; a game in which at every moment I thought “this would be so much better on a better machine”. Its ambitious nature left it littered with loading screens and a sense of confinement – it was seemingly an open world game strangled by the PlayStation 2’s hardware.
And so I’ve yet to truly see this generation’s Final Fantasy XII – I’ve yet to see a game that screams “Oh my moogle, this really needs new hardware”.
Yet beyond that simple comparison, extended cycles would appear to have their benefits. Not only does set hardware limit the technological ‘arms race’ effect, which might force developers to invest countless resources to merely get noticed, it allows them to iterate concepts without having to constantly iterate technology to such a radical extent. A design triumph will always overcome a technical one.
Bigger budgets will further us into a ‘go big or go broke’ system. Even now, a single ‘failed’ project can lead a studio to the doorstep of bankruptcy. Yeah, we’ll see better looking games, more expansive experiences – the best of what the industry has to offer may get better.
But we’ll also see the progression of this generation’s shittier practises. No doubt, publishers will continue to marginalize second hand games; they’ll want to push more downloadable content – they’ll be looking to charge us more at every step of the way for the sake of their bottom lines.
What’s more, if technical development outstrips conceptual development, the industry will simply be flooded with prettier versions of tired concepts – as if that isn’t already the case. I fear that the advent of a new generation will rob me of my appreciation for this one – one that I’m perfectly content with.
And so arguing for shorter generations is a bit like giving a super car to a learner driver – if they haven’t learned and experimented with the basics, then all that power – that additional investment for all parties involved – goes to waste.
This isn’t to diminish the efforts of those behind this wonderful technology, of course. It’s merely to say that technological progress, at least in the short term, is a given. Think about your favourite properties – how many of their iterations couldn’t be done on last generation platforms? And how many are really any more fun for being on this one?
We’re guaranteed to see more polygons, more mapping, more light sources – by this very fact alone, technological improvements aren’t, in and of themselves, an attraction. Only when coupled with compelling concepts and characters is technology ever truly exciting.
This generation may well be the ‘DVD’ of video games – it’ll be outclassed by future technology, but will always be playable. It’s the generation whereby the industry established consistency, it established a bar not to be erased or cheapened by future generations. It is what it is.
We know developers are a clever bunch. If they want to achieve something on a stubborn piece of hardware, chances are, they’ll find a way. Let’s consider, too, the vast number of games we haven’t played in this generation.
And with so much to play, I’m happy to be the stickiest stick in the muddiest mud.
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