What is Next-Gen Gaming?

As I made a video on next-gen gaming, I decided to post the transcript here in the form of a web article. So, here you go!

Hey guys! GamerZakh here with a discussional video—next-gen gaming.

Developers, publishers, and gamers all hype and get hyped about next-gen gaming, but what are we actually talking about? Is it just games that we already have but with better graphics?

For a long time, the new Playstation was called ‘next-gen’. It was praised for revolutionary innovations in technology and heralded as the bringer of a new age of gaming. Then, the Playstation 1 debuted.

Time is relative, so that means ‘next’ is relative. There will always be a ‘next-gen’, and as ‘next’ becomes ‘present’, and ‘present’ becomes ‘last’, let’s have a look at where we are now and where we could go… next… or perhaps where we are… or where we were… depending on what year it is when you watch this video.

Hardware?
The simplest thing to point out is the power of our hardware. Maybe what ‘next-gen’ means is simply what the next gaming machine is to be released.

Going from the PlayStation3 to PlayStation4? Xbox 360 to Xbox One? DirectX 12 on Windows 10? New platforms such as Steam Machines, Nvidia Shield, or OUYA?

Maybe it’s not even about new games? What if we just take games we already have, but make them run on modern devices—DOS games on tablets? Game Boy games on mobile phones? Can we call that ‘next-gen’ gaming?

mooreslaw
A hardware upgrade might be seen by some to be a move to the ‘next-gen’, but hardware is improving exponentially. Moore’s law states that computing power will double every 2 years. The only limits are physical laws as we approach atomic levels of manufacturing. Surpassing that barrier would be a little harder than just making things smaller.

However, it’s getting to a point where it’s inefficient and impractical for individuals to constantly upgrade their gaming machines. Some solutions are being contemplated, such as modular computing. Perhaps the future is subscribing to a computing streaming service? A remote computer does the processing and streams it to your many sized screens. Upgrading hardware is left to some company while you just play the latest games on ultra settings, without ever having to buy any sort of computer or gaming console.

This version of a post-PC era may or may not happen but it would eliminate all need to buy new computing devices, meaning there would no longer be a ‘next-gen’ platform. We would have to focus on new forms of interaction that would be difficult to predict at this point but we could imagine.

Gameplay & Interaction?
So, maybe ‘next-gen’ gaming is actually about gameplay and how we play our games? Maybe it’s about features, mechanics, or methods of interaction that we didn’t have before? Some interesting developments have been:
– Physical computing
– Anonymous multiplayer
– Gesture recognition
– 3D cameras
– Augmented reality
– Projection mapping
– Multiple screens
– Procedural generation
– The Omni
– Virtual Reality

These elements have emerged and evolved in recent years, and are changing the way we play video games.

In terms of interaction with computers, we have gone from CLI to GUI to NUI to OUI, and now we’re transitioning into AUI. Soon, we may be able to communicate and interact with computers as if we were interacting with another human being—with concepts such as Apple’s Siri or Microsoft’s Cortana—or maybe the computer will be a part of us, something we attach or implant into our bodies, allowing new forms of gaming.

Sim-toy Dissonance?
uncannyvalley
However, one problem in our endeavour to make games more realistic is the uncanny valley. This graph compares human likeness to familiarity—level of realism VS acceptance. On one side of the valley, characters are obviously not realistic and we have no problems accepting these cartoony depiction, while on the other side, things are lifelike enough to still evoke positive emotional responses. In the valley itself, however, we find the pseudo-real, fake looking, and likely creepy appearance that our brain rejects as a poor imitation or just that something is wrong, such as simple prosthetics trying to look real or zombies. In gaming, this valley usually refers to our brain’s tolerance and acceptance of characters and worlds, but this can also apply when relating a game’s aesthetic with its mechanics. As video games’ themes and graphics become more realistic, traditional ‘gamey’ or ‘arcadey’ mechanics seem out of place and break immersion or acceptance of the game world.

Adrian Chmielarz at theastronauts.com calls this the sim-toy dissonance.

“The more the game is a toy, the more we enjoy its gaminess. The more the game is a sim, the less we enjoy its gaminess.”

Gaminess is fine, but if you have traditional gameplay while presenting it in a serious tone, it can causes sim-toy dissonance. It’s about communicating certain concepts to the player using metaphors, and old gaming metaphors don’t work when set in next-gen hi-fi games.

Godus, Little Big Planet, and Disney Infinity are obviously playful and toy-like, making their gamey mechanics enjoyable, if not at least acceptable, but if the realistic Battlefield Hardline presents the serious theme of criminals and law enforcement while having arcadey FPS mechanics like heavy weapons just lying around for pickups and capture the flag through a money pile, then it can cause the sim-toy dissonance.

Revival of 80s and 90s gaming?
This brings us to trends in gaming. If we go back a bit in video game history, most games resembled toys. Playful and silly adventures; arcadey shooters and racers. We’ve always had our simulations and simulations really are where modern gaming came from but technology limited how realistic they could be and always had the stigma of being playthings. As we move forward, we’re looking at 2 forms of gaming—sim VS toy—and we are starting to see a rekindling demand for what we could call 80s and 90s-styled, arcadey, toy-like gaming. GOG.com and the increasing popularity of indie development proves there is a market for old toy-like video games and has encouraged the revival of a number of IPs including Grim Fandango and King’s Quest, while spawning many new IPs that go against the grain of the previous decade of gaming—constantly aiming for higher fidelity and realism.

Community Gaming & Spectator Sport?
Then, we have a another type of gaming… the watchers. As we talk about next-gen gaming, it would be strange to talk about people who don’t play video games, but that’s the point. Gaming—professional or casual—is also a spectator activity, and it has been for a long time. This may sound weird to some, evident by Jim Reed’s report on BBC’s Newsnight in 2014.

“Who would want to watch teenagers just clicking away playing their video games all night?”

People all over the world watch sporting events, tournaments, or even friendly local matches without ever playing a single game themselves and video games are no different.

You could be the ‘watcher’ of games in the household. More recently, games such as StarCraft and DotA have expanded their audience. Valve is also pushing VR tech not just as a gaming tool, but as a spectator tool. Imagine watching a DotA match as if it’s on the table in front of you, seeing the fights up close. Or maybe watching a Hearthstone match as if you’re inside the tavern, looking over the shoulders of the players. Game development often takes into account how people not playing the game can get involved.

Maybe ‘next-gen’ gaming is about the gaming community? Not just the players, but the supporters; the fans; the watchers, coming together and driving videos games forward in new societal aspects? Gaming is in the top 3 categories on YouTube and with the popularisation of live streaming, anyone can play a game with a global audience, receiving and providing instant response to the watchers. Gaming may even develop forms of community gaming, such as Twitch plays Pokémon or Upsilon Circuit where only 8 people can play at a time and everyone else contributes by watching—part gameshow; part action-RPG, as they call it.

This communal gaming opens up entirely new areas for innovation and it’s likely that we’ll see many crazy ideas come and go over the years. Maybe, this is where ‘next-gen gaming’ lies.

Conclusion
In the end, there seems to be no single definition of what ‘next-gen’ means and perhaps that’s a good thing. What came before and what comes next is all relative to your perspective.

So, I’ll leave you with this question: ‘What does next-gen gaming mean to you?’

Alright, that’s all for now—thanks for watching—and I’ll see you in the next video!

REFERENCES

Watch Dogs
https://youtu.be/hmmMk5Wb3YU

Assassin’s Creed Unity
https://youtu.be/Y5tBpPxdZGs

Winulator running Caesar III on Android
https://youtu.be/R1ViCeOCS-o

Moore’s Law
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moore%27s_law
Yes, Wikipedia, because there’s just so much on this. Check the references at the bottom of the page.

Modular Computing – Razer Project Christine
http://www.razerzone.com/christine

Prodigy
https://youtu.be/JnpU42FCg1E

Quadrilateral Cowboy
http://blendogames.com/qc/

The Omni
http://www.virtuix.com/

Uncanny Valley
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Uncanny_valley
Yes, Wikipedia again, this isn’t a thesis! ಠ_ಠ

North Korea children playing the guitar
https://youtu.be/gSedE5sU3uc

Battlefield Hardline
https://youtu.be/ex1GlZS-t7c

Adrian Chmielarz on sim-toy dissonance
http://www.theastronauts.com/2013/04/why-the-next-generation-will-change-games-forever/

Free to Play: The Movie
https://youtu.be/UjZYMI1zB9s

What is Twitch? – Newsnight – Jim Reed
http://youtu.be/OPLool1mCvU

Valve VR
http://www.polygon.com/2014/6/3/5774892/valves-experimental-dota-2-virtual-reality-experiences-lets-users

Twitch Plays Pokémon
https://youtu.be/aG2Dc2bp4oU

Upsilon Circuit
http://www.upsiloncircuit.com/

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