In this week's Group Discussion, the Editor's of 1985FM talk plainly about what they believe we'll see in the upcoming console cycle.
New consoles! Nothing compares to those months prior to releasing new systems, rendering our old ones nearly obsolete. It’s a great time to be a gamer (YAWN) and a great time to be an American! I’m spouting so much bullshit that it’s hard to weed through all this crap.
Okay, onto consoles. No matter how much we debate the merits of tech specs, services are going to play a gigantic role in each console's success. With many of the current-gen systems being used solely as media streaming devices, it's plain to see that services will be a prime focus of the next consoles. In just this generation, Apple had a wide rippling effect on the market. Their influence was so strong that systems were eventually retrofitted and partitioned to support more services. Netflix, HD movie streaming and further integration of social apps will be more prevalent than ever before. From a standpoint of mainstream consumers adopting the future consoles, this is a must for success.
The big thing to remember when considering the raw horsepower of the next consoles, is the limited resources of most developers and the unlikelihood they can afford to produce games, taking full advantage of the new hardware. Games pushing the tech will come and more often as the cycle continues, but from a practical standpoint, I don't think we should expect to see every developer being able to afford pushing graphics to the peak of performance. With that in mind, let’s just rule out 4K resolutions, for the time being. If games are going to cost more to make, then it's only reasonable to assume they will cost more, have more DLC or micro-transactions or need to sell more copies in general. Eventually, there is a bubble on how many people will buy any given game. Alternates will need to be assessed.
Hopefully, everyone who makes pricing decisions learned from the hubris of Sony and won't release a $599 console. $399 is a more practical sweet spot, with more expensive SKUs reserved for the diehard market. I know this isn’t much of a hardware critique, but I think it's important to consider how much the spending dollar has shifted and the necessity of releasing a console that doesn't fall outside of most consumer’s excess spending.
Brian (Executive Editor)
It’s interesting how forward thinking the speculated hardware specifications of the next Xbox are. The 360’s hardware was forward thinking, “for consoles,” but even to PC hardware, it’s impressive to say the least. I’m very excited to see what the next generation will look like. I’m also uneasy, being a PC gaming enthusiast, seeing how the next generation of consoles will impact my ability to play games for the next couple years. The 360 turned my PC into a childs toy in less than a week when Call of Duty 2 came out. Sure I was able to play, but was not even close to the kind of performance the 360 was getting. Simply put, my gaming experiences from 2005-2006 felt dampened by the sudden jump in hardware capabilities.
That all being said, I am excited. This generation did some very impressive things, even surpassing my expectations. Who knew that we were going to see Killzone’s “tech-demo” become a reality and live up to its almost unrealistic expectations? The question is now: What will we see this time? While the visual fidelity of games has advanced tremendously, all that horsepower will have to go somewhere. I’d imagine that instead of the visuals improving, we’re going to see an increase in the processing of all the systems we’ve seen featured individually in games, from physics, destructible environments, dynamic environments and population interaction.
A lot of lessons were learned not only from a technical standpoint, but from the business itself. Just like the tech behind it, the industry has evolved to an unprecedented level. To the point where the industry is being taken more seriously as it becomes more ingrained in today’s pop-culture. Many of the lessons learned were on Sony’s dime. When we talk about the hardships of this generation, it’s hard to ignore the pains Sony had to go through to match Xbox in sales. Sony had a lot going for it, its system was the Lamborghini powerhouse in hardware, with the price to match. While the success Sony has had combining its system with the latest in media distribution (CD, DVD, Blu-Ray), it failed to get the momentum Microsoft got due to its $499 and $599 price tags. With the release of official information becoming more and more imminent, of that information, the key concern for consumers will be, “How much is it?” If Microsoft and Sony are going to have these behemoth systems, will they be able to distribute them without breaking the bank?
Nathan (Associate Editor)
So it’s pretty clear after spending about five seconds on your favorite gaming news aggregating website that next-gen fever is at plague-like levels. Everyone’s talking about it – everyone wants a piece of it. They want to know what the specs are, what the games will look like, what big features will define the strategies Microsoft and Sony will employ, and on and on. And you know what? It’s kind of exciting.
It’s exciting mainly because the cadence for major advancements is suddenly dictated by home console generations, whereas in years past the ripple was felt far more gradually thanks to the PC. In just a few years’ time the Xbox was outclassed by games like Far Cry. This generation, games thought to be the sole domain of the mouse-wielding elite were humbled down to fun size on our miniature home theater hotbeds. In order for us to see the real potential beyond the walled-garden consoles, we’ll need a new set of closed hardware. So for me, it’s not so much the GHz, core counts, and bandwidth that get me giddy; it’s the debut of near-photorealistic rendering in the next onslaught of games that finally show what the future’s going to be made of.
But hell, I’m a tech whore too, so it’s not as though nuts and bolts don’t spark my interest. Rumors are swirling every which way, but one that tends to stick is that the processors will feature AMD branding. AMD’s Fusion processors, taking the central processor and sandwiching it with a graphics chip, has long been the CPU (or is it APU?) of choice on would-be spec lists. With the high instruction bandwidth and flexible programmability of those GPU components, it’s my guess they’ll serve to enhance general purpose tasks like physics, or compute shader-based post-processing tasks like anti-aliasing, film grain, or motion blur.
Some sites like Eurogamer are adamant that the next PlayStation will have 4GB of total system memory, albeit of the speedy GDDR5 variety. This cuts previous rumors for memory in half, and it might prove troublesome in the long term if the Nextbox’s 8GB of RAM plays out. The same rumors claim Microsoft will reserve 3GB for background programs, evening the playing field somewhat, but in either case I find those numbers a little suspect. Other rumors suggest that while the GPU in the future Xbox won’t be quite as formidable, Microsoft might try to tip the scales in their favor with a third processor (possibly of IBM-make?) that performs specialized tasks and interfaces with main system memory, as well as super high-bandwidth eDRAM. It’s suggested this could be used for things like raytracing, or maybe object recognition when used in tandem with Kinect 2, differentiating the console from your average PC. Sony’s approach favors simplicity and raw power, a stark contrast from previous generations, and should these rumors have even a remote chance, it will be interesting to see which philosophy brings home the medal in the end.
Xbox conceptual design courtesy of Cory Schmitz.