We are just a few short weeks away from the the launch of two new major next gen consoles, and at the moment, it may be hard to understand why we even need them. Things don’t look much better when you look at the launch titles and realize many of them are the higher quality PC version of games already out on Xbox 360 and PS3. This may seem scary at first, but lets not forget that most of the games for the last generation of consoles were just High Definition versions of existing games, so ports are par for the course in new console launches.
But then you may ask yourself, “What more can we add to games? They are already pretty great.”
That’s true, the last generation saw huge leaps in online functionality, storytelling, control, AI and presentation, therefore it’s kind of hard to imagine what meaningful improvements we could see in this new generation when the game industry has already made such huge leaps in the past seven years. But believe me, you have only seen the tip of the iceberg. The next ten years of games will be like nothing you have ever seen, and you will no doubt be looking back at the games you are playing now and think about how far we have come, much like how you might reminisce about the games of the past today. These are only some of the meaningful additions we have to look forward to in the games we play, with more incredible things we don’t even know about to come.
The next gen game will remember the things you have done and it will have a permanent impact on not only your game, but potentially other player’s games. This can manifest itself in many ways. For instance, in Dead Rising 3, cars, survivors and items will never disappear, move, despawn or respawn. This means if you leave a car somewhere or wreck it on a telephone pole, it will never go away. It could also mean that after you clear out a shop for supplies, there is no going back to see the place magically restock with those supplies, you are just going to have to find supplies some place else. Bungie’s new game, Destiny, defines persistence as the game world continuing with or without you. This is not a new concept to PC gamers who will no doubt recognize this idea from MMO’s like World of Warcraft, but games on consoles have never really been successful at attempting it until now due to server and patching restrictions set by Sony and Microsoft.
Content in games will be much more detailed and populated. In Watch Dogs, for example, every person in the game world has a name, a job, a life. When you are walking around looking for credit cards to steal, you may opt to not rob an elderly man with a bad hip and eight grand kids to instead choose to hack some asshole with three domestic abuse convictions, even if the grandpa had more money to steal. This impressive level of detail really gives you a moment to think about your actions and let your actions in the game reflect your own moral values (or the values you wish your avatar to have). Simply put, the days of cookie cutter nameless NPCs are numbered.
Something that will have a huge impact on how games are played is procedural design. This means that all or parts of a game will be generated on the fly within certain context and rules. Procedural design can mean everything from every tree and person looking different, to whole cities being populated with buildings that can be entered and interacted with, a task that would be too large and daunting for any studio to ever be able to do any other way. Procedural design can go deeper than that though. In Titanfall, Respawn uses procedural storytelling so that the game can provide a unique and cohesive story in a multiplayer game. Players on both sides get a single player like narrative that flow is being conducted by the game’s server in response and anticipation to every player’s action. This will, in theory, create a unique one of a kind experience every time you play the game without the developers ever having to directly control the game.
For over 20 years, video games have only ever used polygons when creating 3D worlds, that is until recently with a little ol’ game you probably never heard of called MineCraft, which populates a game world with blocks that are procedurally placed to create vast, never ending landscapes. Those blocks are really just big voxels, digital molecules that can be used to create content, and they are about to get a whole lot smaller… How small? This screenshot is of Codename: EverQuest Next, and every building here is made from voxels. The neat thing about them is that voxels can be changed both inside and outside the game to allow developers and players to create new content by sculpting it like clay or to leave damage or alter in the world during the gameplay for other players to discover later
Individually these are all pretty neat things, that can add a bit to an already great experience. Consider for a moment what might happen when these new gameplay innovations are combined and feed into each other. Your actions in people’s lives could have an impact on what happens in the world. Let’s revisit considering the consequences of stealing from the man who is a well documented domestic abuser, he may have a temper and take his frustration of having his credit card info stolen out on his girlfriend. This could then manifest itself as a mission for you to choose to take part in. His apartment would be procedurally generated based on his income and lifestyle and how you enter and engage would be entirely your choosing.. The story that comes of that action was never scripted by a developer, the rooms you interacted with was never made by a level designer and yet here you are trying to stop a violent man whose anger is a direct result of your actions and the game is forever different for it.
That right there is the magic of the next gen games, you are no longer responding to a fixed game, the game is responding to you and is always changing.