PC -is- the new Next-Gen

PC -is- the new Next-Gen


What did the Playstation 3 and Xbox 360 really do to bring us Next-Gen games? All things considered, not that much. With the technology behind the two machines rapidly aging and no new consoles in sight, it stands to reason that real Next-Gen gaming in the next few years will be done on the PC.

Since the arrival of the Playstation 3 and Xbox 360, all eyes in the gaming industry have been turned towards these "Next-Gen" consoles as the leading platforms for gaming innovations. In hindsight, neither console did much to improve the gaming experience other than raise the bar for graphics. While there is no denying that the graphics have indeed made a huge leap forward, I don’t necessarily think that better graphics make a game Next-Gen. Granted, the expectations that we (the gaming community at large) had for the two heavy-hitters were inordinately high. Initially these expectations were fulfilled by the graphical prowess of the early games. The visual splendor was seen as proof that the Playstation 3 and Xbox 360 were beastly machines and that they would in time be able to live up to the rest of our expectations; better artificial intelligence, more dynamic and fully destructible environments and new ways of interacting with the game world and its characters.

But they didn't.

AI adversaries are not noticeably smarter than they were towards the end of the "Last-Gen" cycle which is perhaps the biggest letdown. With the only exception being Red Faction: Guerilla, environments are not more dynamic or destructible compared to what PC games were producing prior to the release of the Playstation 3 and Xbox 360. We are only now starting to see games with procedurally generated content on consoles. But that technology was first made big by Spore last year which, as you know, is a PC game (the Wii version is utterly forgettable). And we still interact with our gaming rigs with the same controller, albeit most do it wireless now. Only the former underdog and wildly underpowered Nintendo Wii offers something new and refreshing and truly Next-Gen with the Wii-remote. It does not seem to be likely that any of this will change until Sony and Microsoft enter the market with their Gem or Wand (do these names strike anyone as a bit too pixy-fairy?) and Project Natal respectively. Even then, they are in some ways still playing catch-up to Nintendo.

It is worth noting that truly Next-Gen technologies -are- possible on consoles, they are just not being implemented. The fact of the matter is that game developers feel that creating industry evolving technologies is simply too expensive. Instead, they rely on what Microsoft, Sony and perhaps a handful of small, creative and technologically advanced companies have to offer. With the high production values that gamers have come to expect from the games that they purchase, I can't really blame them for playing it safe either. History learns that many an innovative game ends up a bargain bin hero soon after release simply because the technology is not ready yet, expectations do not match the hype or the technology itself is fabulous but the developer lacked the creativity to create a - game - around their technology. With true innovation failing to materialize, Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 owners have settled for games with better graphics and perhaps a good narrative or particularly stunning cinematic experience. In other words: brushed up games that offer little more than improved looks.

As a result, owners of both platforms have claimed bragging rights over the graphical abilities of their favorite machines from day one. It is a shame that they have been on the losing end from that very same day as well. One of the first big games to arrive on Next-Gen consoles, Oblivion, already proved that PC gamers enjoyed much crisper graphics. Later graphics comparisons between different platform versions of many multi-platform titles yielded similar results in almost every case. So I think we have established that the PC has retained its graphical lead for maybe as long as a decade. Who has bragging rights now?

What makes all of this so interesting is that neither Microsoft nor Sony is inclined to resign their (now) ‘Current-Gen’ machines. They have both invested too much to send their machines packing and would rather work on enhancing the experience of their current consoles than to start over any time soon. Oh, I am sure that they are both working on new machines, but most industry analysts agree that the "Playstation 4" and the "Xbox 720" are at least four years away. We are stuck with this generation for quite some time which is disturbing news for some. Why? Because the PC is about to take the lead in other areas than just graphics.

It is often said that the PC is at the heart of gaming innovation. The most obvious reason is that almost all games - including those on consoles - are developed on PCs. As such, it would be fair to assume that new technologies will be available on PC first. That is a powerful statement in itself but there is more.

Remember all the fuss about the Playstation 3 having 8 CPUs (or rather, SPUs - Synergistic Processing Units) and how this would make it so powerful? It did, but it also complicated developing for the machine to the point that some developers have stopped bothering altogether. With quad-core Intel CPU's being mainstream and hexa-core being the defacto choice for many a PC enthusiast nowadays, the Playstation 3 is no longer the most powerful gaming machine. In addition, developing for the PC is much easier and much cheaper than it is for other platforms and the market for PC products is much larger. So much larger in fact, that a startup company with a good idea will almost always opt for developing technology for the PC. The technology behind Natal for instance is said to be developed by an Israeli company that has been working on it for a couple of years, but not for Microsoft. Other technologies such as body force feedback, true 3D graphics and groundbreaking physics are likely to become mainstream on the PC long before they will appear in any gaming console.

So it is safe to conclude that the power of the PC combined with the creativity of PC hard and software developers -will- make the PC the Next-Gen platform for the coming years. My old PC gaming heart is strengthened with the thought that there are golden times ahead of PC gaming and that, indeed, the PC is the new Next-Gen. It always has been and it will likely remain so, even if powerful consoles will strive for the crown occasionally, but never for long.