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Games Technology

Has the Console Arms Race Stalled? 231

An article at Eurogamer argues that even with a successor to the Wii on the horizon, the console arms race we've watched over the past few decades is in the process of changing dramatically, with base hardware taking a back seat to software and peripherals. "Even the most basic yardstick for console improvements has become a little hard to read. It used to seem like a reliable idea that every five years or so, consoles would catch up to the PC — a platform which sees advancements every few weeks — and remain competitive for a while, before the PC's cutting-edge accelerated away. ... However, the upgrade cycle appears to have slowed considerably — with games that actually demand cutting-edge systems being few and far between, and core gamers far more likely to continue happily playing on two-, three- or even four-year-old PCs than they were in the past. ... If not a halt to progress, this is certainly a slowing — and probably one which is welcomed in most quarters. Consumers love improvements in graphical quality, but most would probably prefer to see any major increase in development budget being spent elsewhere — more detailed content, more expansive storytelling, more progress in areas that have been neglected in the former headlong rush to cram more polygons and effects onto every screen."
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Has the Console Arms Race Stalled?

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  • Quality v. Content (Score:5, Interesting)

    by JJJJust ( 908929 ) <JJJJust AT gmail DOT com> on Sunday May 22, 2011 @04:59AM (#36206872)

    Graphics aside, it's no secret that there's been a big change from a mantra of "quality, quality, quality" to "content, content, content"... and non-related content at that. A PlayStation did one thing - it played video games. The PS3 can do nearly everything... even function as a computer if you don't upgrade the firmware.

    In prior years, it would take you at LEAST a week to finish a campaign on any respectable video game. These days, you can finish a video game completely in two days. Then spend five more days fiddling with the "bonus content". If they spent more time developing a good story as opposed to unlockables, that race may accelerate again. Developers aren't struggling to use the processing power they have at their disposal. There's no reason for innovation at this particular time.

    We need to get back to a time where developing solid and expansive CORE content -- not extras -- was what mattered.

  • by Leo Sasquatch ( 977162 ) on Sunday May 22, 2011 @05:25AM (#36206966)
    Graphics look amazing. Crysis on high-res looks like you could open the TV screen and pick a leaf off a tree. But the immersion factor of the gorgeous graphics breaks down when you try to play with them. When you shoot a car windscreen, and it doesn't break. Or shoot the tyres, and they don't pop. Or the gas tank and it doesn't explode.

    Even sillier - shoot your AI squadmates in the head, and they just go "Ow, quit it!". Worse, you have a magic gun that won't let you pull the trigger if you're pointing it at a non-enemy. I played the opening level on Halo Reach, and was so bored when I got to the first farmer, that I just shot him in the head to shut him up so I could get on with alien-killing. Well, the gun went bang, and a blood-spatter hit the wall behind him, but he never missed a word of exposition. I shot him 10 times - the same thing happened. On the 11th shot, I just died. Up until then, my teammates hadn't seemed concerned about my actions, and they didn't actually take offence, just some mighty vengeful god struck me down until I agreed to play nice.

    Or the world looks open and inviting, but you're just as much on rails as if you were playing some arcade light-gun game. Like Bad Company 2, where any deviation from the set path gets you a 5-second countdown to insta-death. Or Gears of War, where you're a grotesquely-muscled space marine who can be forced from his chosen path by three chairs piled on a table.

    The thing is, many games have got bits of it right. Just Cause 2 gives you an enormous world, and near-total freedom within that world. Heavy Rain changes the gameplay based on your actions. The Witcher makes every choice have a consequence you might not like, but at least you get to make the choice. Modern hardware has the power to create incredible, immersive game experiences, but a lot of studios would rather make Big Guns, Shiny Metal 5 using a well-established engine because that's easier, cheaper, and practically guaranteed to sell to their target demographic.

    Maybe the next arms race will be environment engines that come a little closer to replicating the properties of objects, so that glass always breaks, wood and cloth always burn, and you don't need the red key if you've got the rocket launcher.
  • Re:It's about ROI (Score:5, Interesting)

    by aix tom ( 902140 ) on Sunday May 22, 2011 @05:30AM (#36206990)

    Exactly. I also still remember soundcard "arms race" where they trumped each other with the midi channels and sample quality every few months. That also has reached a "good enough" level so that nobody really cares about that any more. The same thing is or will be happening to graphics.

  • Re:Yes. (Score:4, Interesting)

    by im_thatoneguy ( 819432 ) on Sunday May 22, 2011 @06:35AM (#36207218)

    Despite how much the Slashdot and Gamer community decries DLC... it's kind of to 'blame' in my opinion.

    I still play TF2 more than anything else. It was released in October 2007 and it still feels fresh.

    We're not only stagnating on the engines our games run on... we're not even necessarily playing new games.

    Hardware manufacturers aren't the only ones who are realizing that it's more profitable to hold onto what you've already made and just make more of it.

    Sticking to the current Source Engine has probably saved Valve a boatload of money. Epic Games has continued to improve Unreal Engine 3. But it's mostly be evolutionary add-ons and optimizations for multiple platforms. They're able to ship more copies of UE3 without having to re-invent the wheel.

    We're also going to hit a bottleneck. With rasterization every little effect and feature is a unique hack. In order to have those hacks work together is a nightmare. And then artists have to spend a significant portion of their time optimizing their assets for a rasterized pipeline.

    I think we're hitting the limits of what people can manage to keep straight with rasterization. The future is raytracing in my opinion--it's just too slow at this very second. But it's fundamentally far simpler and easy to create content for. You want a reflective material. Great. Create a ray. Shoot it in the reflection vector. Once it hits something it'll follow that shader's properties. And so on and so forth.

    Lighting, shading, rendering, effects.... it's all easy and straightforward to write. It's just kind of slow. Maybe Caustic's OpenRL and Optix will fix that in the future. Time will tell. But the status quo is an unfortunate dead weight hanging around the advancement of image fidelity.

  • Re:It's about ROI (Score:5, Interesting)

    by DarkOx ( 621550 ) on Sunday May 22, 2011 @07:13AM (#36207358) Journal

    In fact the graphics might be as realistic as some people want them to be. I like FPS and sandbox type games, but I am not sure I would want to play one that is photo real. Part of the fun of these games is that its cartoon violence. If they reminded me more of the terrible things I have seen, or the really terrible things I have seen on the news I think it would remove the joy of play.

    Do you really want to drive down a street in GTA past some meth-head twitching with withdraw showing their missing teeth and jaw swollen infection? Do you really want see the guy you just shot go pale and grab at the wound in despair? These games are about escapism to some degree and while up to a point making them more and more realistic made them more emmersive, we are near the place where if we carry it much farther we are going to start feeling bad for the fates of the characters. If that is what you want perhaps you'd find a John Stienbeck novel more satisfying than a game.

  • by antifoidulus ( 807088 ) on Sunday May 22, 2011 @07:16AM (#36207374) Homepage Journal
    The console arms race has stalled largely because the economy has stalled. Developing a console, investing in manufacturing facilities etc. is quite an expensive process, one that a company really doesn't want to go through unless they feel that they will be able to sell the console as well as a large number of games for it. In this economy, it's going to be very hard for people to rationalize plopping down $500 or $600 for a new console. Furthermore, since console hardware capabilities are (relatively) fixed, by the time the economy picks up again your competitor will be able to utilize the latest and greatest technology to come out with a console that is better than yours, and you will be stuck like that for the entire life cycle of the console. So there is actually a rather large disincentive to release a new console at this point. The risk to reward ratio is simply too great.
  • by captjc ( 453680 ) on Sunday May 22, 2011 @09:09AM (#36207932)

    A PlayStation did one thing - it played video games. The PS3 can do nearly everything... even function as a computer if you don't upgrade the firmware.

    The Playstation is a bad example. It was always the Media Center of consoles. The first one gave users a CD player (some say a pretty damn good one too) when most people were just beginning to buy CDs. The PS2 brought DVDs into many people's homes. Lastly, the PS3 is all about Blu-Ray and video streaming.

    If you want an example of only playing games, that is Nintendo. The Wii is their first console that did anything other than play games and even that isn't that much compared to the PS3 or 360.

    In prior years, it would take you at LEAST a week to finish a campaign on any respectable video game. These days, you can finish a video game completely in two days.

    As for single player campaign length, I think there is also the rose-colored glasses of nostalgia in play. I believe that game design has improved much over the last 10 years, length included. On average, games have become shorter, but IMO it is not necessarily a bad thing. I believe that plenty of older games have about the same amount of content (give or take) but seemed to stretch the length out with tricks like too much repetition, back tracking, and difficulty spikes that kept you replaying over and over until you got it right. It only had the perception of length. Go back and play some of those old school classics and see for yourself. Many modern games (the good ones anyway) eschew this (or at least try to keep it to a minimum) in favor of a 8-12 hour campaign.

    For myself, I prefer a game that is 8-12 hours over one that is 40+ hours. Besides the repetition of "kill hoard, reload, repeat" and wading through 20-40 hours of backtracking and kind of crappy story lines it is easy to get either bored and lose interest or say "screw it" and put it into god mode and finish in a few hours. Whereas I can beat a 10 hour game in a day if I really wanted to or a couple hours a day for a few days. If anything, I find myself finishing more games now than when I was a kid.

    What I am saying is the quality is the issue and not length. I have rarely concerned myself with bonus content. Once I finish the game (being the end boss), I am done. I don't care about finding the hidden coins or getting the skulls or every achievement or what-have-you. It is extra content for the "true believers." Don't concern yourself with it if you don't want to but don't fool yourself into thinking that it would be a better game without it. It would be the same game just minus the filler. The big difference is that filler used to be in the campaign, now it is more of an optional extra.

  • Re:Yes. (Score:4, Interesting)

    by hairyfeet ( 841228 ) <bassbeast1968 AT gmail DOT com> on Sunday May 22, 2011 @03:38PM (#36211002) Journal

    I wouldn't say it is just that, it is also that there is only so much eye candy you can look at while getting shot at, and too many turned gamers off by putting out completely shitty console ports, with just a little bling added if that.

    In the 90s and early 00s I was the type that had a new PC every two years and was constantly upgrading in between, all trying to get the good framerate. But now with so damned many games being designed for crappy 5 year old consoles first you know what? kinda pointless ATM. I'm quite happy with my Phenom II 925 quad (picked up nearly 2 years go) and the HD4850 my GF picked up for me (those were released in what? 07?) and even on newer games like Batman AA and Just Cause 2 frankly I get all the eye candy I can look at and it runs just fine at my native 1600x900, so why bother upgrading?

    I think the problem is too many focused on the bling bling and not the overall gaming experience. I have a couple of gaming customers that bought Crysis for the benchmarking, but do they actually play it? Not really. Sitting here playing in the shop I have folks come in and go "ooooh wow, what is that?" when I'm playing Brothers in Arms, even though that game is going on 8 years old. The reason they oooh and ahhh is because they focused on the experience with decent acting and a story that flows, so you feel like you are in the middle of Band of Brothers on HBO.

    Frankly, and I doubt I'm alone, I'd be happy to play a game with Far Cry 1 level graphics if it has a decent story and great controls. Too many of the newer games feel like nobody even bothered to test it with a keyboard to see if it was playable, or it has show stopping bugs that make it so you end up having to wait, sometimes months, just to get a game stable enough to play through.

    Bling bling is nice, but give me story, give me some decent AI, I'm so sick of devs bolting on MP and expecting that to be the "fix" for their shoddy AI. If I wanted to run around like a chicken with my head cut off while someone screams nigger and faggot I'd be playing halo. Thanks but no thanks devs. Give us atmosphere and a believable world, give us AI that will put up a good fight instead of the cheap "rubber band AI" that EA uses, where on hard you have a private that can snipe from 1000 yards behind cover while taking more rounds than the Terminator. We have multicore now, why aren't you using them for pathfinding and AI?

    And finally do something about your shitty DRM devs! I'd list all the times it has bit me in the ass but I think this guy [] says it best. So in the end I end up playing older games, games where all the patches are out, where I can download the crack so DRM don't bite me in the ass, games where I've seen enough reviews to know it is actually worth my time. In the end I'd say the consoles are just a symptom of a larger disease, the Activision "Lets milk that IP!" disease, where everything is just another copy of another copy and is frankly boring as hell. Why should I bother upgrading, when the new bling bling games the only thing they offer is bling?

The unfacts, did we have them, are too imprecisely few to warrant our certitude.