Author: Aaron Hall
Another year brings, as does every year before it, the winds of change to thousands of young people across the land. Moving on from home to university life, somewhere new and completely different, brings a wealth of new experiences, faces and places to enjoy. For others it’s moving on from beyond the security of education, to living life as a graduate in the real and very much adult world. This cycle repeats itself, year in year out, but within the world of gaming it’s remarkably different. The cycles last far longer, and 2013 is the year that ushers in the remaining hitters in the next generation.
The PS3, Wii and the Xbox 360 have been around for far longer than any other gaming generation before them. Each console grabbed an audience and held on with an iron grip; their appeals broadening the scope of what gamers expected from their gaming machines, and ultimately reshaping the industry to be focussed on more than just games and who exactly was a ‘gamer’. Motion controls were introduced alongside the typical controller and the capability of the hardware proved leaps ahead of what came before it. The idea of a digital world filled with entertainment, communities and a plethora of content became more than just an idea, it became a reality and one that is now just accepted as an everyday part of life. What lies on the horizon, proves to be an extension of that; more an evolution, than revolution.
Sony’s Playstation 4
Teased in February and revealed in it’s entirety at June’s E3, Sony’s successor to their Playstation 3 improves on every aspect of it’s predecessor. Releasing November 29nd at £349.99, Sony’s offering boasts dramatically increased graphical and hardware capabilities, offering gorgeously detailed and photorealistic gaming alongside an extended online network and extensive functionality with their flagship handheld, the PS Vita.
Gamers are able, via the newly designed but ever so familiar Dualshock 4 controller, to share their gaming feeds to other PS4 users, and stream directly what they’re playing onto Youtube with the dedicated ‘Share’ function. The controller also houses the Playstation Move functionality, Sony’s attempt at doing what Wii first pioneered, and is a visible light bar along the top face of the pad, allowing motion controls and tracking to be utilised in a handful of games.
PS Vita owners are able to use their handheld as a dedicated second screen, or even if the TV is busy, use it as the main one streaming their PS4 games to it via WiFi. A companion app for Android and iOS based tablets will also be launched allowing those to also function as second scren. The PS4 however is not backwards compatible with PS3 titles and accessories, a small blow to gamers who never owned a PS3 and those that have invested in the console since it’s release.
Nintendo’s Wii U
The first eighth generation console to hit the market, released November 30th of last year, is Nintendo’s first foray into HD gaming, Wii U. A successor to the wildly popular Wii and priced at £249.99, Nintendo has once again gone down the route of innovation rather than matching raw graphical power, focussing on fun, families and social gaming as well as the more traditional gamer too.
The Wii U boasts a fully integrated, 6.2 inch touchscreen into it’s main controller, the GamePad; alongside a camera, NFC reader, microphone and traditional controller input buttons. Whilst serving up new ways to play, the console also brings with it a dedicated Pro Controller more akin to an Xbox 360 pad, aimed towards the more traditional gamer, as well as keeping full backwards compatibility with Wii software and accessories.
The Wii U also ushers in with it an overhauled online presence for Nintendo, a vast update from their Wii days with a dedicated eShop full of content from games to entertainment, and a dedicated social network just for gamers. More similar to Twitter than say Facebook, Miiverse allows gamers to post thoughts and opinions, and even drawings, into dedicated communities for games, or they can ask for help on certain levels or organise online matches and tournaments.
Microsoft’s Xbox One
Announced in May and retailing November 22nd at a princely £429.99, Xbox One is Microsoft’s next generation console. Similar to the PS4 in many aspects, Xbox One is all about the power, the entertainment and the online experience. Integrating TV and film entertainment seamlessly with gaming, users can simply hop back and forth between one or another, or simply do both at the same time. A redesigned interface has more than a whiff of Window’s 8 about, with Skype, Internet Explorer and other features fully integrated.
The 360 controller, one revered as the best by many gamers all over, has been subtly redesigned for Xbox One, offering a sleeker design, contoured buttons and thumbsticks and an advanced vibration feedback and impulse triggers setup. Past accessories and software from the Xbox 360 era are no longer compatible, however. It, like the other two consoles also steps out into the second screen market, termed SmartGlass, Xbox One will allow Android, iOS and Windows based tablets to be used for second screen functionality.
Xbox One has however had a turbulent time since it’s reveal; Microsoft’s always online strategy, and always connected Kinect 2.0, it’s new finely tuned and incredibly advanced camera and body tracking sensor packed in with each console, was not well-received by the gaming community and although has since been reversed, has left a rather sour taste in many gamer’s mouths.
Looking to the future, beyond this eighth generation of gaming machines, to what may lie in store in their successors, it is difficult to predict exactly how much of a precedence gaming will take, or what indeed the state of the industry itself will be in. Gaming consoles now offer far more than they did 10 years ago, they quite frankly have to in order to stay relevant and competitive in response to the ever-growing market of tablets, phones, TV and online services and what the consumers themselves demand. Gone even now are the days where we have devices dedicated to single tasks, so what will become of machines dedicated solely to gaming? Will Sony and Microsoft continue to battle it out head-to-head over who has the prettiest graphics and the longest list of features? Will Nintendo stay down the path of innovation, and keep pure childlike fun their primary focus? What will they even come up with next?
Questions perhaps we shouldn’t be asking ourselves just yet, for we don’t know how exactly the next cycle will play out. All I do know is, we have a new wave of consoles that continue to offer up excitement and anticipation, and those two things alone are enough to keep the passion for gaming alive for just a little while longer.