The fog around new generation hardware is rising and players are finally starting to see more clearly what to expect from new consoles from Sony and Microsoft. Recent presentations for PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X have provided an overview of the games that will shape the industry in the years to come, as well as some of the technologies that make them possible. But even if more information is published, the answer to a key question remains vague: what defines a “new generation” game?
It is not the physical material you use to play them. People want to know the new horizons that are opening up; they want to know what is not possible today, but it will be soon. We’ve heard of ray tracing, solid state drives, triangles, reduced load times, etc. – but how do they translate into gameplay? How do they change the way you interact with worlds and characters? How do they help create larger, faster and prettier versions of familiar models?
These are not new questions. These are the same ones we have asked for in each transition to a new generation in the past 20 years. And just like the previous transitions, it is probably too early to expect definitive answers. This could be described as a failure by Sony and Microsoft to “sell” the full potential of next generation games, but I don’t see it that way. In fact, gradually discovering the answers to these questions is my favorite part of going from one generation to the next.
I’m not a game developer, but I know it takes time, iterations, and expertise to figure out how to get the most out of new hardware. Although we have received many good exclusive games in new console launch windows, truly revolutionary games are rare. Pending PS5 and Xbox Series X, it would be premature to point to a specific feature, capability, or specification that defines the next generation gaming experience. Instead, the fun comes from seeing this vision solidify thanks to the efforts of many studios that create games that push boundaries in different ways.
I’m surprised by the games of the current generation, I think, in retrospect, illustrate experiences that weren’t possible before. I’m thinking of Dreams, which not only provides a wonderful set of creative tools, but also facilitates creativity and community between players. I’m thinking of No Man’s Sky, who was ambitious in concept but who really found success with Hello Games’s commitment to continuous improvement with new content and updates. I’m thinking of Red Dead Redemption 2, which I originally thought was just “bigger, faster, prettier” than the original, but which rather gave life to the Old West through its magnetic characters and its complex world.
My point is this: all these games seemed interesting to me before their release, but I did not know how they would change my point of view and increase my expectations. I would not have known that before the launch of PS4 and Xbox One, these games would have qualities that would help define my perception of the greatest advances of this generation. And even if I could have known it, I don’t know that I would have wanted to do it. I love to be surprised and amazed. I love the moment of admiration when I realize that I am playing something special.
That’s why I’m not bothered by the “What does the next generation mean?” question. We just don’t know yet, and that’s fine. But I am delighted to find out over the next few years. In the meantime, I look forward to my time with cross-generation games on new hardware; even if they don’t represent what the new consoles can offer exclusively, I know I want to play games like Cyberpunk 2077 and Assassin’s Creed Valhalla at their best. Beyond that, I embrace the uncertainty of the future. I can’t wait to be shown things that I didn’t even know I wanted to see.