Tuesday, 27 September 2016

Instruments Vs. Ideas in the console gaming space

I find the title to this article to be sufficiently effective in typewriting terms, but if Blogger allowed for subtitles, I would have probably gone for a more explicative "... or what people don't get about roles in the gaming industry". As you might have heard, something very interesting is happening in the console space, where Sony and Microsoft are bringing about the latest technological trends (VR, 4K rendering, and the introduction of HDR colour gamma) in pretty different ways - the former by creating an enhanced version of the current PS4, the latter by going generational with a new and exponentially more powerful platform. It's a moment of intense water testing for the companies, and the console market as a whole is poised to massively change its configuration from the next year on. Looking at the social networks output, the general gaming public is not too happy about the situation.

Some complains about companies jumping too soon onto the 4K bandwagon, while forsaking the implicit promise of this generation - true 1080p/60fps gaming. Others, apparently more concerned with a general lack of innovation in game design, are asking console manifacturers to put the technological theme aside, and instead focus on giving devs more ways to express their creativity. The oxymoron here is strikingly obvious: what should manifacturers do other than providing the hi-tech gadgetry needed to flex the software makers' creative muscles (and offering appropriate promotion, of course)? In terms of pure game design, higher resolutions and color depth have next to no impact on gameplay features, but the thing is, every developer is entitled to use the additional power as they see fit. Having a 4K capable machine doesn't mean you have to run your software at that resolution, especially if you plan to have lots of on-screen objects, advanced AI, physics or any combination of those.

That's to say that nowadays, if a team has a really good idea and the talent to back it up, chances are the available machines are powerful enough to turn it into an actual product

That's to say that nowadays, if a team has a really good idea and the talent to back it up, chances are the available machines are powerful enough to turn it into an actual product. Traditional consoles are perfectly good instruments. Paying a little bit of attention, people should be able to realize that a good chunk of the most brilliant gameplay concept of the last decade can be replicated on much less powerful machines than those they were brought on - the demake culture has made a whole point out of this. The problem is, a sizeable part of the gaming audience is neither able to, nor concerned with, assessing the basic relationship between ideas and instruments.

This leads to sadly frequent, yet almost comical misunderstandings such as comparing the VR phenomenon with the 3DTV one to prove how the former is actually just a gimmick and it's going nowhere after these days' boom... Believe it or not, some people are actually convinced of that. Instead, they should realize how VR constitutes a new instrument with enormous potential to deliver radically different experiences than what we're accustomed to - new design ideas that stems from VR and makes real sense exclusively in that purview. In other words, it's the manifacturers' most appropriate answer to those concerned with the lack of new avenues for creativity (*): once game creators will have found their footing with it, we can realistically expect them to develop a specialized creative mindset and come up with something really evolutive. And that, sirs, is how the roles really are laid out.

(*) unless Nintendo NX turns out to be something truly groundbreaking, but nothing seems to suggest it at the moment.

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