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Gen4: The Hard Sell All Around
by Benjamin Quintero on 05/17/12 09:42:00 pm   Expert Blogs   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.

 

[reprinted from...]

Maybe I'm spoiled or jaded, or maybe I am just searching for something different these days but for all the hype and leaked specs I'm still not excited about the next generation of consoles.  I don't know why, but I feel like I should be more excited by now and still, nothing.

I recently read an article on Wired that unveiled Unreal Engine 4 to the public and my immediate response was, "meh".  I know right?  Kind of shocking that 10 years have passed in this current generation of gaming and somehow the next big thing looks about as good as the thing we already have.  I read the article, and there were some definite sales points; all dynamic lighting, some bounce light calculations, and likely a number of other image-based approximations.  The article went on, plucking quotes like the push to render Avatar in real time.  That goal is fine and all but the screenshots did not really paint any of the things that were being discussed in the interview.  To me, the screenshots looked like UE3 with particles...

Epic Games has a tough sell this next generation.  We aren't seeing the generational leaps like 2D to 3D, or fixed-function to programmable GPU's.  The next "leap" for Gen4 is... dynamic tessellation, and more GPU cores for more complex shaders.  Not exactly the bullet-points you write home about.  For a long time the next generational leap was predicted to be real time ray-tracing.  Many of the image-based hacks and post-process distortion effects we do would have disappeared in favor of an unbiased tracing technique.  If graphics is the foot that we want to start with in Gen4, perhaps seeing pixel perfect fuzzy shadows and volumetric illumination across a heavily vegetated landscape would have really made a strong argument.

I recently finished Deus Ex: Human Revolution, which is an amazing game by the way.  Aside from some really bad stereotyped civilian characters and some weird bug that forced you to read emails twice to activate security codes, the game was a great experience.  This game was also a strong case for a Gen4 console.  There were inexplicable breaks in the world that would force a loading screen while other areas would briefly hitch, telling me that they were likely streaming some parts of the world in and out.  I assume that the developers were hitting system memory limits, or perhaps too much CPU was being consumed by AI that was clear on the other side of the map.  Whatever the reasons, increasing CPU and memory would have done a lot to improve the experience of this game.  Graphically, the game was very smartly designed and every room was well lit and blooming like J. J. Abrams himself blessed the development team.  It's clear that better definition could have helped solidify the characters into the world but I get the feeling that the quality of the characters was a budget constraint more than a technical one, given the large number of characters and variants in the game.

Deus Ex is a strong case for a Gen4 console, but not an easy sell.  Assuming all of the adjustments I mentioned were a product of limited hardware resources, I don't know if those changes would have turned Deus Ex into a system seller, a reason to buy a $600 console when that $200 console does the job pretty good.  Can graphics really sell a console anymore?  Or is it really aesthetics that will sell the next generation?

The funny thing about aesthetics is that we have the capability now.  As I mentioned, Deus Ex was a very good looking game.  We also have games like Journey, Limbo, or even Braid; games that seemed to look beyond the graphics and focused on the aesthetic.  It is difficult to say if these games would have been any better with more horsepower, or if that power would have simply been used to make their development schedules easier by abusing the abundance of computing power through rapidly developed, poorly optimized systems.

A resurgence of 2D games in all genres leaves me asking the question, "is real-time Avatar what we really want?"  It takes 200-300+ people to put out a Call of Duty or a Grand Theft Auto, ballooning budgets over that $100M mark.  If it continues to take roughly X hours to get Y done in game development then are we going to grow teams to 500 people and stretch development to 4 year cycles?  Can a $350M video game even make their money back?

The reason I raise those questions is because it comes full circle to the Gen4 dilemma.  If graphics is what sells consoles, and Gen4 is more of a Gen3.5, and there is a fixed cost in man hours to develop features, research, and innovate; what is the strong sell for the next generation??  More horsepower is good, but it may end up going to the tough sellers like better sound mixing, more cycles for AI, more iterations for physics simulations, ancillary animation systems, real-time subsystems for simulating world events.  None of these things are features that gamers can show their friends in a screenshot.  And even if they could show an amazing screenshot, what are the chances that the viewer could possibly understand that what they are looking at is "better" when we are still using the same fundamental techniques for creating and rendering content?  As it has been for some time now, the power really seems to be in the hands of the artists with the skills to exploit the basics; solid modeling with clean and colorful textures.

Gen4 will eventually come and overtake Gen3, but I get the feeling that artistically smart games are likely to overtake the market, not graphically superior games.  As I said before, Epic Games may have a tough time selling UE4, but only because some developers may choose to use "aged" engines that continue to exploit a more unique visual style and tactile feel than a licensed solution.

All around, Gen4 is going to rock some large boats...


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Comments


Christer Kaitila
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Sadly it is not new engine tech or minor improvements to gpus that are of importance anymore. The tech is already great. We've finally reached the stage that it is the art creation pipeline that is the true bottleneck. The real "next gen" will need a revolution in content creation tools, not an incremental evolution in graphics power. It is the human cost of creating high poly geometry, mega high res textures and normal maps, and beautiful lighting and cinematography that holds games back, not what bullet points each engine can boast.The next console that fully embraces indie gamedevs or cuts the art creation pipeline's hours of labour in half will be the next big thing. Not more polies. IMHO gamers no longer care about graphics like they used to. They want deeper games, more originality in gameplay, better stories, etc. All things achievable with current gen rendering tech.

Roger Klado
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A lot of artists feel that that art creation pipeline bottleneck is caused by the hours of tweaks optimizing thru endless iterations work that has nothing to do with final artistic output because of underpowered hardware compared to fidelity that is ultimately a compromise.In which case the artistic bottleneck is a myth when in the glorious future the artist can at one stage say...simply submit the damn zbrush sculpt and collect his million dollar check.Nice long Polycount thread debunking this myth... poke me to git off my but and post it cause it's a goodin'

Joe Cooper
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@Klado

I've observed this as well. I've been working on iPad and working to the assumptions made by the PowerVR guys means a bit of work fitting the art to the technology. There was a fuss with a funder who insisted we use "pre-made assets" but too many were simply did not jive with PowerVR's assumptions and even when they did, to max the thing out stages simply had to be manufactured as wholes.

That said, this problem -can- be approached as a pipeline problem. If a toolchain can intelligently atlas what needs to be atlased and be given high-level instructions about what assumptions it ought to make, than a lot of that work can just go away and you can get 9/10 the way there without special knowledge beyond the kit's manual.

Adam Bishop
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I remember when Spore was supposed to be breaking exciting new ground in this regard, but it seems like no else has really tried to do procedural content in the same way.

William Johnson
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Yeah, I'm not feeling next gen either. My concern isn't hardware bloat, 'cause I actually like better graphics. What really annoys me is how closed off the three console companies are. I can understand placing barriers as a way to improve quality, but as we've seen this gen, a lot of AAA developers have been going under. Unless these console makers really want there to be only a handful of studios and publishers developing games, they need to start to open up and take down barriers to allow some smaller more innovative titles.

Jonathan Jennings
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i agree with these two it's simply a matter of i can't get excited for the future of gaming when it feels like gaming has reached an awesome point technologically and is still stalling somewhat in the ability and execution of creative ideas.

I enjoyed this gen don't get me wrong but all i saw was that the next generation of consoles caused a sever dying off of several low budget game franchises i loved and a massive creative stall. the next generation just seems like it'll bring more to me and in all honesty any next gen needs to be delayed as much as launching a new console may be good clearly the vita vs. 3ds shows that fancier tech is not going to be a guaranteed financial reward unfortunately. i think we should ride our consoles now until they have become truly obsolete and we can no loner express our games on them to the degree we like . upgrading consoles just because is doomed to just mae users flock to these current gen consoles even further while they wait for the next consoles to become affordable.

David Navarro
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" like the push to render Avatar in real time."

I remember when the goal was to render Toy Story in real time. At any rate, I've always thought that game graphics hit the "plenty good enough" point with Half-Life 2. I've never since found myself thinking 'I wish this looked more realistic'.

In fact, I think that more realism is going to become an actual liability at some point, for example when it comes to combat violence - it may soon begin turning the corner from "exciting" to "offputing".

Roger Klado
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If violence in video games becomes offputting due to cinematic levels off realism...

I would say that was a triumph for realism in video games! ( unless u find validity in a society allowed to proceed with blinders attached )

This lo-fi trendyness is really getting disgusting.
What other art has to legitimize resolution, contrast ratio and fidelity? Makes me think I should have never left music where good engineering was just simply appreciated.

Michael Stevens
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@Klado
"indie" music has been working through similar stylistic tendencies for the last few years at least. You can also argue that people's willingness to go to YouTube or revisit older shows on DVD is representative of the same drive.

Minimalism and outsider styles in art and design are perennial favorites, but for slightly different reasons and mostly a different audience.

I'm also getting tired of trendy 2d spritework, but that might just be because My nostalgia is mostly rooted in the ps1 generation.

David Navarro
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@Klado - Bear in mind that cinematic violence is generally several notches short of realistic violence already, and often less so than violence in games.

Michael Stevens
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I don't think graphics will be much of a factor in the next-gen either. I think it'll be more about refining what's already there, mostly in terms of streaming, social, and downloadable content. I wouldn't be surprised if there was a period where new games were backwards/forwards compatible like the black Game Boy (color) cartridges. Microsoft needs a new system because they want to be the only media hub in the living room. They need Blu-ray support for that, and they'll probably also want to fully integrate kinect.I expect the art pipeline issue will go away on it's own for the most part. People will either build stronger procedural generation tools or start sharing trees and cars and riot shields the way we currently share engines. You can already see the start of that with Unity.

Adam Bishop
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Agree. I think the changes to the next generation of hardware are going to be more about content delivery than graphical leaps forward. The next generation will likely be designed around making free-to-play and microtransactions much easier on consoles. I think we're going to see consoles viewed more as content delivery services than as single-purpose computers. Microsoft has been moving in this direction with the 360 for a while now. It's also possible we'll see some kind of move toward the cloud, but I think a full move to cloud gaming is likely a full generation off still.

Steve Tolin
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Where did this term Gen4 come from ? Did everyone forget 1972-1993 or did we just start counting by Unreal version number or 3D Polygons? I'm looking forward to the 8th Generation. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_video_game_consoles_%28ei
ghth_generation%29

Joe Cooper
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I suspect the OP was pulling it from UDK4, but that was exactly what I was thinking. So Sony joined 3 generations ago - Nintendo and Sega were there and even had 3D (though it was limited). Anyone remember the 32X? Some tech demos looked near-Saturn levels.

Gregory Booth
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/agree with Christer et al

We are already at good enough.

Compelling gameplay and toolchains/pipelines that empower devs to create will outweigh other considerations.

Roger Klado
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The insecurity is so real u can practically smell it? No other artists reject and rally against their own benefit more than the game artist I swear!
Someday we will have cinematic levels of realtime rendering. Probably in your lifetime! And it will not be the evil enemy of video games. No more than faster responsive monitors or any other obvious end is the enemy of computer graphics.

Tony Celentano
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I'm definitely not excited for the next console generation. But I'm looking forward to what PCs are going to be capable of in the near future :)


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