Rumors and speculation about what will be in store for the next generation of consoles have ranged from the believable, with talk of more online-focused DRM solutions, to the outlandish, like the new Xbox being a disc-less console with tablet controllers. But, the speculation that this new trio of consoles will push graphical and programming limits to new expenses for game designers and potentially even double development costs all together is a chillingly plausible one.
Games Industry International recently posted a report citing that unknown sources were predicting a spike in investment capital necessary to produce games for a new generation, a move that would cripple creativity. With even more money at risk, producers would become increasingly scared to take risks, sticking instead to established properties that have proven themselves capable of turning a profit. Essentially, the article feared the games industry would mimic Hollywood these past few years. Zing!
But, there really is no need to worry, console fans, because this theory is no more credible than a tiny screen in your Xbox controller.
Peter Bright over at Ars Techina broke down the specifics of the rumors of potential processors for the Playstation 4 (codenamed Orbis) and Xbox 720 (codenamed Durango) with extreme precision. I mean with accuracy that is mostly lost on tapper of keyboards like myself. There’s plenty to read there about potential specifications balanced against hardware production costs, but the techno talk essentially boils down to one point.
“Consoles will still have their advantages—the range of peripherals, the plug-and-play simplicity, the reduced maintenance, the low up-front cost—but they won’t be able to offer best-in-class gaming, even at their debut.”
The Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 were powerhouses when they were released without question. They more than rivaled what the average PC owner could afford in their high-end rigs. They were top of the line, but both companies took a major loss to create such monstrous machines for their cost to the consumer. That financial hit wouldn’t pay off for years.
Unfortunately, PCs have set the bar much, much higher.
The cost to “catch up” to what modern PC rigs can do would be a ridiculous venture. It would take some majorly pricey hardware to even get close to matching PCs and, as Bright puts it, “Cutting-edge hardware is also, arguably, pointless for a new console.” This isn’t even taking into the consideration how wasteful the technology would be in those less than hardcore gamers that predominately use their machines for streaming media. Home consoles have gone under an evolution and, while some might not like it, this current generation is just as much a media hub as it is a gaming device.
What all this means is that the Durango and the Orbis will be a step-up from their predecessors, but it won’t be a Neil Armstrong moon leap. Bright seems to think that will be a disappointment for console fans, since they’ll be deprived of the massive leap from the sixth generation to the seventh. He worries a somewhat unimpressive upgrade in technology that will ultimately be behind PC users right out the gate will turn out to be a major downside.
But, there’s no reason for the PC users out there to scoff at consoles, and the console fans need not fear a fleet of Xbox 361’s. If Bright’s predictions are on point, the new consoles will be based on technology that would make them more analogous to PCs than the previous generation. No more complex cell architecture making things difficult for Playstation developers. That means easier development with less of a learning curve, which translates to better games that get developed faster. It also means a much cheaper experience to purchasing a PC, as consoles have always been.
We won’t have to fear some coming console apocalypse, but rather a modest upwards step into a new generation of hardware. PC gaming will always fill the nice of players that value visual fidelity right alongside other important game elements, but console gamers are looking for a compact experience. Not a simplified or abridged version of what’s possible, but an experience that fits properly in a theater environment. A multiplayer setting that allows lounging for the player and the inclusion of friends alongside him or her.
Those that seek that kind of experience are in luck for what’s coming. There isn’t some impending creative gap threatening to devour creativity. Instead, there’s a very likely future of manageable advancement in hardware that will allow developers to ease into improved, yet recognizable terrain. When we finally get the specs of the Durango and Orbis, they will undoubtedly look modest in contrast to PCs, even the very one I write this article on. But, that’s alright, because for console players it will mean better games developed faster and who could complain about that?