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What Next-Gen gaming means to me

When Microsoft and Sony announced their new flagship consoles leading into the future of gaming I was quite excited. Sitting at the edge of my seat, waiting for innovation. It never came. Yes, the graphics were pretty, the people/characters in the games were rendered better, and yes I even liked that you would now be able to play games at 1080p resolutions running at 60 frames per second, but no, it wasn’t innovative. I can’t even say that I’m really excited for the Oculus Rift because all that is is a visual enhancement of existing/future games. Again, not innovation.

So what to me is innovation then? Simple…expansion of capabilities in gameplay. Confused? Let me explain.

One of the biggest draws for me as a gamer, since I started gaming in the 90’s was the fact that as time went on and new games came out, you were able to do more and more in games. If you take a look at FPS (First-Person Shooters), the jump between Wolfenstein and Quake was phenomenal. You went from a straight up style of gameplay which included walking around shooting bad guys, to being able to jump and use a much larger arsenal of unique weapons. Jump ahead yet still to Unreal and the levels are bigger and more areas become accessible. This trend continued for several years until it came to an abrupt stop as recently as the latest Call of Duty games. Almost every First-Person Shooter out today feels exactly the same and has the exact same stock features.

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What new innovations have been introduced to FPS as of late? The introduction of a dog as a companion is not innovative. In fact having a companion is so far from innovative that it is downright tedious. 99% of games that have been brought out to date, whether it’s FPS, RPG or even RTS that has included some form of escort mechanic has failed at it dismally. There has only been two games that I personally have played that has even remotely gotten it right and that was only because the developers made these characters unkillable. That’s correct! You read that right. Bioshock Infinite’s Catherine has some clever A.I. and knows how to defend herself, but she can’t die. At all. The same goes for The Last of Us’ Ellie. The character you play as, Joel, can’t make the slightest of sounds when trying to maneuver around a play-area where there are Clickers present, unless he wants to be eaten. Ellie on the other hand seems to be able to make as much noise as she wants, but she just can’t get the Clickers’ attention at all. Innovation in this case would be to make these escort-characters’ A.I. smart enough to be able to react to situations in various ways and either succeed or fail, just like the player-character would.

Speaking of A.I. I recently read an article on the new Thief’s A.I actually having to be dumbed down because the developers thought that players would not have been able to handle the difficulty posed by the enemies. I mean come on? Seriously? Would you like to see a game where they didn’t do that and the game still went on to win the confidence of gamers? Dark Souls! Dark Souls is one the the most difficult games of this generation of gaming and that’s only because the developers didn’t compromise. The game is as difficult as the developers intended it to be and it all lends itself to the fact that this is how games are meant to be. I don’t want to run around in a game and kill enemies en-masse, thinking “this is way too easy”. It detracts from the quality of the game on several levels.

Many people view gaming as a learning tool and it has been accepted as such by society. People who had been exposed to video games during their formative years have been found to have much better developed logic systems in the way they deal with every day situations. Skills are vastly improved and cognitive thought also benefits from gaming. Wouldn’t it stand to logic that developing more intelligent and difficult games, that it would lead to even smarter individuals? Yes, as gamers are wanton to do they will whine and complain about the difficulty, but eventually people who perservere and survive the onslaught will be the better for it. As it stands, difficulty in video games feels like the developers are holding our hands and guiding us through their game like we are toddlers. The majority of gamers in my circle finishes games on the highest difficulty level with little to no effort. What does that say about modern games?

Next up on my wishlist is for developers to start introducing dynamic, non QTE (Quick Time Event) instances into games. I find it tedious that you need to push X or Square of Triangle to do this that and the other. It takes away from the immersion and it also makes the moment feel artificial. Imagine a similar type of scene where you are in complete control of the situation where you can either use a bullet-time type of pause, or not, plan your next move by looking at your environment and using whatever tools are at your disposal. It would make games so much more immersive because you would have the ability to interact with your entire environment, something that has been severely lacking in video games since their inception. Imagine if you will how different Resident Evil would have been if you had been cornered by a Licker and all you had around you were a Toolbox-on-wheels, a dustbin on the floor, a painting/white board on the wall, maybe a telephone on a desk, etc. Being able to grab them and throw them at the Licker in order to slow it down would help your odds of survival wouldn’t it? Just like it would in real life.

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Then of course there is your ability to move around in your environment. I’m talking about size and scope. The GTA games already do this quite wonderfully and so do the Assassin’s Creed games, but something gamers like to talk about when it comes to games is the “What if” scenarios. One of the biggest “What if” scenarios in games is the ability to go everywhere and do everything. Example: “What if we were able to go into all the buildings in Assassin’s Creed?”. Ubisoft did introduce some aspect of that in games from AC3 and newer wherin you see the protagonist traverse his/her way THROUGH buildings as part of their parkour routine, which is a brilliant application of this dynamic, but gamers want more. What about the ability to walk around a mall in GTA, or similar to the Abstergo sequence in Assassin’s Creed 3, be able to go inside large buildings, traversing floor to floor in an attempt to assassinate someone. I’m not talking about loading up a level and you’re inside the building, I’m talking about walking out of the street and into the building and being able to go anywhere inside it without a loading screen. Picture this scenario. An assassin is being chased across the rooftops and all ways but through a building is blocked. He dives in through the window, runs through someone’s home, crashing against furniture, busting through doors and eventually jumps out the window into a hay bail. That to me is the definition of open world.

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And speaking of loading screens, can we either remove them entirely or just start doing it more like some developers handle them already? Ie. run the cut-scene while the game loads. That works great, let’s do more of that please? Even more creative ways are welcome, but I hate sitting and waiting for 2 minutes for a level to load.

There is the potential for so much, and I’m sure many developers have had similar thoughts to mine when it comes to gameplay innovation, but I don’t know why these things haven’t been implemented yet if they have. I don’t think it’s a hardware limitation as we are certainly well-off in that department. Is it a creativity issue? Are the developers just not able to wrap their heads around developing games with these features?

There is just so much potential to improve how we play games. I feel that developers are spending too much time trying to make games LOOK good when in fact they should be spending more time on making games PLAY good. If developers spent half the time they do on making games that boast innovative gameplay mechanics then we will have a truly revolutionary next-generation of gaming. That time is not yet here I’m afraid.

So in a nutshell, I don’t think I will be picking up a PlayStation 4 or an Xbox One as my PS3 and Xbox 360 does exactly the same thing already. All I’m asking developers for is this: Start thinking outside the box. Stop focussing on making a game look good. I don’t care if a game has the shittiest graphics ever, as long as it plays well. That to me will convince me to buy a next-generation console.

Weigh in below.

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