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A GENERATION OF IRRELEVANCE

27 August 2005

We've come to the final stages of this generation of consoles (the PC striding merrily along on a never-ceasing quest for improvement), and this means that the software is reaching its cheapest point. Many excellent titles can be bought for very low prices. I recently bought Splinter Cell for the Gamecube for a mere 10 Euros. I'm interested in that title because one of my roommates is an incredible fan of the series and positively addicted.

The beauty of this all is that I can thoughtlessly buy all these games without having to worry about them being outdated when the next next generation of consoles hits. This is for two reasons: most all of them are backwards compatible (this is something so important and normal now that I can't imagine how one coped with having to keep all his old consoles just to play the older games -and for me a big reason to stick to my PC in earlier times) and the current shift to the new batch of consoles doesn't entail THAT much besides more online play and -surprise- better graphics.

A game that appears on this generation would not be terribly different had it been developed for the next. The graphics would be better in visual appearance, but it's design and inner workings would be exactly the same. I don't think there's anything you can do on next-gen (with the exception of improved online play and Nintendo's as of yet unannounced controller sleights of hand) you can't do right now. Giant armies are already a possibility. Graphic design is already here. Multiplayer a standard. The boundaries of interactivity probed as it is.

If we take Nintendo as an example (only logical, seeing as it is the only relevant company with a history reaching back to before the 3D era), the step from SNES to N64 was a gigantic leap. On the latter, you could do things the SNES crowd hadn't even dreamed of. This was truly a revolution in the sheer design and concept of a game. All of a sudden, threedimensionality was here and ready to be experimented with. Concepts like the 2D-platformer seemed outdated and for a short while, irrelevant (thank God this was only a phase, I LOVE 2D games).

This happened only ever so slightly with the shift to the Gamecube. The games got prettier, and gaming as a whole evolved, but this wasn't due to the console. However, the important boost in power meant that more massive games were possible and for the first time, I had the feeling designers weren't tied to technical limits anymore. Now, they were able to just imagine like crazy men and the machine would follow (to a certain extent of course, but not a crippling one).

But the upcoming shift isn't going to deliver any such thing. It's getting prettier once again, but designers were already perfectly capable of created just about everything they wanted. I understand why the next next generation is as important as it is logical, but in some ways, it's the most irrelevant generation yet. And I see only Nintendo understanding that and trying to come up with interesting new stuff. As the Xbox360 and PS3 shape up to become even more like your average PC, only Nintendo is trying to actually create a platform for a new type of game. It doesn't even matter whether they succeed or fail. They're trying. And all the while, the games I buy now will still be perfectly valid on the next generation.

Roderick.