The next generation is coming. Microsoft is reportedly readying an E3 2012 announcement for its next Xbox. There are whispers Sony may announce the PlayStation 4 next year, too. And Crysis developer Crytek is rumoured to be creating TimeSplitters 4 using DirectX 11 as a visual benchmark. In short, the future is around the corner.
Amid the promise of Avatar-quality graphics and streaming technology, Eurogamer spoke to a number of game developers to find out exactly what they hope the next round of consoles will enable them to do, the unique challenges they will present - and what they're afraid of.
Dungeon Siege III lead designer Nathaniel Chapman, Obsidian
One thing that is tricky with the next gen, and is beginning to be tricky with this gen, is that [the platform holders] seem to be splitting and going in their own directions with features. You have Move, you have Kinect, the Wii, and Wii U now.
What we want when we make a game is for it to be as good an experience as possible for people and we want as many people as possible to be able to play it, so there are those competing pressures.
If you make a Kinect game it has to be Xbox exclusive. If you're using Kinect to its fullest there's no way you can make it a PS3 game. Same with the Wii U. You can't take a Wii U game that has a second screen and make it on... well I don't know what all the features of the next PlayStation and Xbox controllers are going to be, but I'm going to assume they don't have a screen on them.
It's going to be very tricky to make really great experiences for that which can be cross platform. It'll be an interesting challenge how devs adopt those features and, indeed, whether or not they do.
The thing that most holds me back right now is memory. The number one difficulty in making a console game is that the consoles, to varying degrees, have very restrictive memory, especially when you compare it to making PC games. I'll be happy if they double the memory - that would make my life a lot easier. It would make developing games a lot easier and would fix a lot of the problems that people have making games right now.
Super Meat Boy developer Edmund McMillen, Team Meat
Buttons. Buttons and game pads. Just give me my f***ing game pad back.
In the past so many years we've had so many different ways to control games. The Wii came and went and it had the motion-sensing thing. The only game that was really good was the game that was made by Nintendo for the system, that came with the system - Wii Sports.
Any game after that, and please anybody chime in and tell me the games that I'm missing here, because I've played a lot of Wii games and there's not one Wii game other than Wii Sports that actually uses these controls and makes the game fun because of it. And I assume that the next Zelda is going to be good. Those are going to be the two games for the system that are really spectacular and really use the controller in a way that's fulfilling.
When it comes down to it, if Nintendo is the only one that is able to come up with awesome ideas for the peripheral, then I really doubt anyone else is going to.
And the same goes for Kinect. That thing is a piece of garbage. There is absolutely nothing good for it. It's a joke. It's a f***ing joke. It doesn't make any f***ing sense. It's painful because they justify it by saying 'a lot of people bought it', but that's just marketing. I'm telling you, there's not going to be anything for it that's so compelling that 10 years from now you'll tell your friends 'wow, I really want to break out the Kinect and play this'. It's just not going to happen.
Gameplay is what matters. Good game design. It's almost as if they thought developers said 's**t, we've hit a wall and we can't design fun games anymore, and can't innovate through game design itself, we need all these crazy-ass peripherals that are going to help break through barriers and find new uncharted territory.' No, just f***ing sit down and come up with a new genre. Chris Hecker came up with a new genre - Spy Party - so I guarantee other people can too. Minecraft - a creative MMO. And Katamari too. We don't need peripherals.
Peripherals should stay as peripherals that you buy for Rock Band or something. Don't require someone to design for your crazy-ass experimental peripheral.
Epic Games senior technical artist and level designer Alan Willard
The content we generate for the current generation, we make very high polygon objects, and then we crunch those down into the game version of them. As we move to the ability to render those high polygon objects, it actually removes the step of having to go down to taking this really nice thing and making it look almost as good on something that is another object we have to build separately.
The closer we can get to building a single nice object and using it in the engine, it makes the workflow more efficient for the artists. If you look at some of the source art for Marcus Fenix, we have five million polygon versions of him that have every scar modelled and all of the detail, that we then process down to normal maps and render on a ten thousand polygon model. There's a certain point at which we're just utilising things we've already built. We're just utilising them more efficiently.
We're getting closer and closer with every generation of hardware to being able to just use those source objects, which will be great from the artists' point of view because they'll no longer be bound by quite the same restrictions. There will always be challenges we have to overcome and workflows we need to devise and learn how to use, but every step forward gives the artists more freedom in those respects.
Might & Magic: Clash of Heroes, Sword & Sworcery developer Nathan Vella, CEO of Capybara Games
Most of all we're hoping for consoles to beat Mode 7 and ratchet it up to Mode 8, and perhaps add way more layers of parallax scrolling.
Seriously though… One of the obvious ‘wishes’ a lot of devs are sure to list is more RAM, but for Capy that has extra importance. Since we’re working outside of the 3D norm - using hand-animated 2D HD visuals - our texture sheets take up a massive amount of video RAM. As crazy as it sounds, every game we’ve made to date on Xbox 360 or PS3 has had to be dialled back and cleverly hacked to pieces in order to fit into the max RAM allotment of those consoles. More RAM means more textures fitting in memory, which in turn means we can go even crazier with the 2D HD we love to make.
As a developer whose future is directly linked to digital distribution, we’d love to see the consoles take a more serious and intense look at how the digital shopping experience can be bettered for console gamers. Steam and the iTunes App Store have shown the power well-designed stores have to drive sales - console manufacturers really must apply all the lessons these platforms have learned, plus more, to make finding and buying a game off a console a genuinely intuitive experience.
While XBLA and PSN sales numbers are great, they only represent a portion of people who own these consoles. On top of integrating a well-designed and easily searchable store right into the core user experience, console manufacturers really should spend the time (and money) to teach their gamers about their amazing service. Reaching out and attracting more console gamers to use the embedded stores provided on every platform would be a huge win for everyone - developer, publisher and console manufacturers alike.
We’d also love to see console manufacturers streamline the process of patching games, allowing developers to more quickly and more intuitively react (and interact) with their players. As it stands, the patching and updating process isn’t especially hard or especially bad, but if more power and control were to be given to the developers, the end result would be a much better experience for gamers.
Joonas Laakso, Producer at Bugbear on Ridge Racer Unbounded
I hope it's not coming yet. Bring on Wii U - we need an HD Wii, so that's fine - but we're still getting to grips with the PlayStation and finding new things to do with the Xbox. I do admit with the demand of the physics [in Ridge Racer Unbounded] we are hitting the limits of what we can do, pure processing wise, but with graphics it's good enough already, and I'm not at all convinced consumers are willing to shell out just for graphics alone.
I'm really hoping that we can do away with the physical media at some point - for me, that would be when I would welcome a new generation. Obviously I'd buy a PlayStation 4 and Xbox 720, but only because I have to!
In five years or whatever, I see a future where all of our media is going to be subscription-based, and I don't see anything wrong with that - bring it on! I'm a Spotify Premium user, and I couldn't have imagined doing that a year ago. I'm spending more money on music now than I was ever before, and it's not my problem how the music industry splits that - they should figure it out! I'm spending more money so everyone should be happy. Other content's going to go the same way - movies kind of already are, TV's in general already pretty much is, and games are going to be next.
Martin Edmonson, Reflections co-founder, currently working on Driver: San Francisco
If you're talking about the next generation of consoles - and nobody knows exactly when they're going to be - if you say we're coming into the twilight years of the current generation, surely, surely - please god! - there's got to be easy to use tools like there used to be in the old Sega Model 2 arcade boards, where you can build games very quickly without worrying about the technology.
Because we can't be doing this - we can't be building rendering and physics tech from the ground up any longer. I don't think we'll be doing that again - in fact, I'm sure we won't be doing it again. It's incredibly slow, incredibly expensive and time consuming and it's like reinventing the wheel with a slightly rounder wheel.
David Amor, executive director Relentless Software.
I want an anti-next generation machine, quite frankly. The worst possible thing that could happen to me and my work as a developer is a £300 piece of electronics is necessary to play my games. It's a huge barrier. I'm trying to make games for those 400 million people - those aren't people who are going to spend £300-£400 on a next generation console. The best possible thing that could happen, I hope, is someone will say, 'Well this is the next generation: it's £50, and it also streams Hulu and Showtime and those things as well, so people have sort of bought it by accident.' I'm not particularly interested in… an increase in polygons.
Dave Ranyard, SingStar game director, Sony Computer Entertainment Europe
I just want a portal to entertainment. I want to make some great games and I'm not that bothered about what the box is, to be honest. I just want to make a great game and get them to people to play.
From Dust creator Eric Chahi
Oddly, I don’t have any specific demands. In fact, my philosophy is more about adapting to existing technology, because there is always a way to create something original. As long as it is simple for the developer to programme and easy for players to use!
Reporting by Fred Dutton, Martin Robinson, Robert Purchese and Wesley Yin-Poole.