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Games Entertainment

What is Next-Gen? 75

Posted by Zonk
from the toaster-oven-console-action dept.
Rosethorn writes "IGN's Sci-Fi Brain has a weekly column covering relevant topics in video games as they relate to science fiction. This week TK-422 defines what it takes to create a 'next-generation' gaming experience. He examines some innovative games from the past, and looks at where innovation will come from in the future." From the article: "Contrary to popular belief, the ability to create more realistic and lifelike graphical environments doesn't always count as innovation. Next-generation graphics should not just rely on a console's or PC's ability to render better visuals. Next-generation graphics should permit players to become completely immersed in the universe that the developers have created for them."
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What is Next-Gen?

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  • by ardor (673957) on Thursday February 16, 2006 @07:12PM (#14738219)
    Graphics reached a "good enough" point. The next major breakthrough is likely to be real-time raytracing and/or real-time global illumination. Also, animation still sucks. Completely believable animation with real-time reactions to environmental changes and to player actions is still far off (it involves physics and AI too).

    An example: A guard patrols an area. You are hidden behind a wall, waiting for the right moment to sneak past the guard to the room's other side. Then, you accidentally hit a bucket. The guard hears the sound, and runs to investigate it. No problem so far, this can be done with premodeled animation sequences (walking, standing, running...)

    But then there is a rock on the ground. The guard hits it with his left foot. What happens? In real life, the guard would fall down. Now this is quite hard since the animation has to change in real-time. It involves physics (rock shape, amount of force, collision location...) and AI (since the animation has to change in a convincing manner, and this is achieved by letting an AI decide what to do next). This further leads to letting the guard stand up, checking himself if there are serious injuries etc. None of this is even remotely possible today.

    So, you want next-gen with "next-gen" being purely technical? Look for advanced animation.
  • by nick_davison (217681) on Thursday February 16, 2006 @07:51PM (#14738479)
    "NextGen" sadly - whatever we might hope - doesn't mean anything other than a quantum step in graphics power.

    The author identifies three categories:
    1) Gameplay.
    2) Scope.
    3) Graphics.

    I'll use a simple question: If you added the feature to a game from say the early 90s, would you suddenly call it NextGen?

    Gameplay
    So we're playing Doom on the SNES. The author claims a great control scheme is what makes it work. Would adding Halo's controls to SNES Doom make it NextGen? I'm guessing most people would laugh at the idea.

    Scope
    The author says NextGen games should be bigger. Anyone remember Ultima 7? That thing was freaking huge. Morrowind was also huge. Both are from previous generations. Both are bigger than anything seen on future consoles, even in previews, with the exception of Oblivion. Take a small Ultima type game. Give it a massive game world with lots of cool things to do, you don't get NextGen Ultima, you get Ultima 7.

    Graphics
    Take a fairly typical console racer. Give it 720p graphics and nothing much else. That gets called NextGen pretty quickly. Take a basic beat-em-up and add 720p graphics, again, NextGen.

    We may want Next Gen to mean quantum increases across the board. We may feel a true "Next Gen" game should step up its game in every field not just shiny stuff. They're a whole bunch of nice ideals but the sad truth is, we're judged by our actions and our actions have us simply calling a quantum increase in graphics "NextGen" because it's the only thing that really needs the next generation of systems to be possible.

    Better music, better gameplay, bigger worlds, longer playtimes, [basic] physics systems, improved AI, better control schemes... These are all great things but none of them require the next generation of system - most of them can be done on the system before last (PS1) or even earlier.

    About the only thing that requires the next generation of systems are prettier visuals. It may feel empty, it may not suit our ideals, but, truth is, that's all NextGen really is.

    The only reason people question the "NextGen"ishness of some 360 launch titles is because, as with any new system, many of the launch titles are so inefficient they really aren't that quantum step up from the old one.
  • by LoveMe2Times (416048) on Thursday February 16, 2006 @08:21PM (#14738689) Homepage Journal
    I'm going to make a broad generalization here, so bear with me. There are basically two types of games:

    1) Abstract, pattern, or board type games. Puzzle games, party games, and non-game-games.
    2) Stylized simulations of various kinds. Simulated driving, sports, fighting/combat, and so forth. Even fantastical worlds have kind of implied rules that are being simulated.

    For type #1, since there's no pseudo real world to simulate, designers are free to make up their own rules, and convincing physics or human-like AI aren't so important. Additionally, good graphics tend to be irrelevant to these types of games. As a result, there's almost no such thing as a "next-gen" puzzle game, because pretty much any puzzle game that gets made could have been done on previous-gen hardware. One exception might be TetriSphere.

    However, for simulation type games, the drastic changes come from increases in the fidelity of the simulation. Since perfect simulation is impossible, we're stuck with a mixture of scripted/canned behaviors that cover a wide array of interactions along with actual simulation. So a primary driving force in making these games feel "next-gen" is migrating an entire category of functionality from scripts into simulation. Doing this requires more horsepower, thus next-gen hardware, and makes the game seem qualitatively different because player freedom has increased.

    I think a basic development that has to happen soon is a move towards more realtime skeletal animation. I think it's practically criminal that new games being made today still have characters get hung up on the slightest corners of objects. Getting "stuck" on a crate is ridiculous, or a doorframe or a rock or anything. You need to appropriately account for momentum and have skeletal animation to realistically show the effect on the character, so you can stumble, bump, trip, twist etc. Deformable environments need to be common place, with decent collision/impact calculations (I've never played Red Faction, so I don't know how good of a job it did). Elements in the environment need to react properly to extreme heat or cold. You can come up with an almost endless laundry list of these things.

    These types of things will give players more freedom and more convincingly immersive games. You could then make Sequel 127 and have it seem fresh and distinct, as the play experience will be unlike what came before. But then you'll need something else by the time you hit Sequel 130. But for right now, there are plenty of REALLY OBVIOUS things that need to be done, but don't seem to be chased very much. Of course, that's because these things are *hard* while improving graphics is easy...
  • Next gen is... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Sathias (884801) on Thursday February 16, 2006 @09:11PM (#14738990)
    ... when the first time you boot up a game your jaw hits the floor at how much better the game is than the ones you currently play. As far as FPS games go (which have the most instant visceral effect) Doom did that to me, so did Quake 1, the next one to do that was Half-Life during the sequence where the portal opens into the alien world and everything goes to shit. Far-Cry was probably the next one that did that to me when you come out of the caves and see that massive view distance for the first time. I have a feeling that Oblivion will be the next one that has that effect on me.
  • by atomicstrawberry (955148) on Thursday February 16, 2006 @09:58PM (#14739240)
    While it's true that most of the supposed 'innovative' gameplay entries listed are the games which are often credited with these innovations, most of them aren't the true innovators. Others did it first, and they've simply given it a bit of spit and polish, and been able to exploit newer technologies.

    It's already been pointed out that Halo was hardly the first playable FPS on a console - while not quite as polished in control (mainly due to the controller design, IMO) as Halo, Perfect Dark and Goldeneye both did it earlier. If anything, Halo could be seen as polishing refining the ground that Goldeneye really innovated in.

    Half Life was not the first FPS to integrate a decent story with the gameplay. Marathon did that nearly five years earlier, and System Shock beat them as well. Depending on whether you class it as a FPS, you could even argue that Pathways into Darkness did it even earlier.

    Resident Evil didn't really tread any new ground that hadn't been gone over in Alone in the Dark (which was a better game, in my opinion).

    Did Mario 64 really innovate that much? It's certainly a hallmark title with fantastic gameplay, but the point of this article was supposed to be *innovative* gameplay, not highly-polished gameplay that other games had done beforehand. Hell, Doom listed as being innovative because it was a FPS? What happened to Wolfenstein 3D? Doom is a great game, but again, it refines on the innovation provided by earlier games.

    This is not to say that refining existing game ideas into new games is a bad thing or anything - far from it, it's how games have always developed. If you're going to start listing off the games that were truly innovative and created a lasting impression on whole generations of games to come, then you should be listing the ones that did it first, not the first ones to gain mainstream approval for it.

    In terms of next-gen gameplay innovations, the truth of the matter is that games have always employed an evolutionary model. They started very simple, and as time went on some new ideas (mutations) came in, making new varieties of game. Some types of games died out, and others thrived. Complexity increased and increased. In games, as in genetics, as the complexity increases, the amount of impact that a single mutation (idea) can have on the overall product is reduced. What I'm attempting to say is that back at the dawn of gaming, new ideas could be pretty simple (for example, adding a high scores table) but a single, simple idea could make a huge impact on the game. A lot of us gamers have been gaming for a long time now, and we've watched the complexity increase. There's a sizeable number of people who decry the current state of games and the supposed lack of innovation, but I can't help wondering whether it's just that simple innovations aren't going to be as obvious any more. We point to the big changes that went on ten years ago (or more) and note all the huge innovations, and are expecting that the same huge jumps should still be happening at the same rate now. It's just not going to happen any more, unless the actual hardware undergoes a paradigm shift. What we're going to see, I think, is more combining and refining of existing ideas. There will still be great games, and there will still be awful games. There is no single special quality or qualities that somehow makes a game 'next-gen'.

    Of course, the truth of the matter is that the games which will later be accepted as being 'next gen' will be whatever makes the publishers the most money.

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