Next-Gen Gaming – What should we expect?

Round 3 is about to commence!
Round 3 is about to commence!

Ding Ding Ding!

Sony and Microsoft; arguably the two biggest names in home console gaming.  For years they have faced each other in the console arena, battling for the coveted top spot in the market.  Sony had the head-start, giving us the original PlayStation way back in 1994, followed by the PlayStation 2 in 2000 and the PlayStation 3 in 2006.  Microsoft joined the game a bit later than Sony, bringing the original Xbox to market in 2001 and the Xbox 360 in 2005.  As you’ll notice, Sony has brought out it’s releases of new consoles every 6 years; breaking that trend this time around however and stretching out the life of the PS3 to what will be a total of 7 years.  Microsoft’s first console was comparatively short-lived, though in that time, it gained a sizable following.  Back at that time, the battle was more of a Nintendo-Sony thing.  Xbox was relatively small-fry.  But then came the Xbox 360 and PS3, which brought the HD Revolution into our homes and things changed.  Over the last 7 years, Microsoft’s Xbox 360 has seen steady growth and taken the crown from Sony.  Nintendo’s efforts are not to be disregarded completely I should point out.  They have put up strong resistance over more recent years, especially with the massive success of the innovative (at the time) Wii.  Also, along with Sega, they pretty much had the market to themselves back in the pre-PlayStation era.  Their most recent efforts, to me, are less than impressive.  Personally I just don’t ‘get’ the Wii U.. Maybe it’s just the fact that I’m not their target market; however judging by their sales figures, I think they’ve lost their way and could soon be forgotten in the wake of the Sony/Microsoft head-to-head that is today’s market.

Round 3.. Fight!

I’ve not fully analysed the figures, but I’ve certainly kept an eye on them over the years and I think most people would agree that Sony had Round 1 and that Microsoft has had Round 2.  But who cares? That’s practically ancient history now, right?!

Round 3 will kick off this year.  Sony has already teased us with the new PlayStation 4 (although we’re yet to see it in it’s final form), perhaps catching Microsoft off-guard with their event back on 21st February.  They didn’t give us the full reveal, unsurprisingly, though they did answer some questions and confirmed a lot of the rumours that had been flying around.  Rumour website VGLeaks has done a great job of getting hold of credible information and after the event, confirmed what they had got right.  We’re looking at an Autumn release for the PS4, and likely an Autumn/Christmas release of the Xbox.

Now that Sony has laid most of it’s cards on the table, Microsoft are readying their own demo, currently rumoured to be in April.  Failing that, we can be sure that E3 will reveal all, given Major Nelson’s countdown that’s been teasing us since the start of January.

Personally, I hope Microsoft doesn’t rush things.  Now that they know what Sony are doing, they should have something to compare against and can prepare the counter-attack carefully.  If they’re patient and do things right, they could make the choice between PS4 and the new Xbox (Codename Durango) a much easier decision.  Having said that, we know that’s not Microsoft’s style.. They’ll no doubt panic and throw something together quickly (Windows Vista anyone?).  Both Sony and Microsoft each have a massive amount of support and consumers are likely to stick with their currently chosen brand, however if Microsoft can up their game now, it could sway some of the PlayStation loyalists to take a leap of faith.

The specs for the new PlayStation 4 look impressive, as do the rumoured Xbox Durango ones and I don’t think there’s going to be a whole lot in it between the two regarding pure hardware and pixel crunching.

The key will be in the detail.

PlayStation 4

Like the DS3, but with added lights!
The PlayStation 4 Dualshock 4 Controller

We’ve had a teaser of the new PlayStation Controller, with its touch pad and ‘Share’ button both adding potentially interesting additions to the gaming experience.  Also they will be making more use of the Move functionality to get people up on their feet and more involved with the game they are playing.  The new controller has a light bar running along the top, which allows the PlayStation Eye camera to pick up the controller in the same way that a typical Move controller would be identified and tracked.  The Eye sensor has seen some improvements, now featuring two 1280×800 cameras, four microphones and an 85 degree field of view.  It certainly looks to taken some design inspiration from the Kinect; let’s hope there isn’t a lawsuit headed their way from Microsoft!

The software is probably where we’ll see the most innovation.  The User Interface on the PlayStation has been revamped and should provide an intuitive way of interacting with the console.  Similar to the PS3, you’ll be able to utilise the console as a media hub as well as a games console, with likely support from video streaming services and the like.  Games on demand will be their big thing, providing you the ability to start playing a bought game immediately, while it downloads onto your console (suitable internet connection permitting).  The other feature that we’ve seen is the Share button, which will allow your friends to sit at their own console or computer and watch you play a game, potentially interacting with you at the same time and even joining into the game themselves.  This I think could be either very interesting, very annoying or very boring, depending on who you’re friends with and who you share your sessions with, but we can’t knock Sony for trying something new and recognising the importance of Social Media in today’s society.

We saw some nice looking gameplay and impressive tech demonstrations in the presentation.  Clearly the new hardware is capable of significantly improved visuals, though as with previous generations of the console, it will likely take a little while before we see the true potential realised.  With E3 not too far away, I’m hoping we’ll get a bit more insight into what sort of games will be on offer at launch, along with a better understanding of the presumably improved Eye/Move capabilities.  Overall the new PlayStation appears to be a welcome upgrade to the existing one and if it weren’t for the contender of the new Xbox coming at roughly the same time, the title would be unquestioned.  For those of you who were hoping for your mind to be blown when the PS4 was revealed (I know I was), well, I would say those hopes are relatively dashed, however you should bare in mind the fact that we’ve not seen Sony’s full hand yet and they have a wealth of initial industry and community feedback to go back and make use of before their next showcase at E3 in June.

Xbox Durango

Kinect Sensor
What will Microsoft change with the Kinect?

Well there’s little to say here at the moment, at least if we only look at solid facts.. Microsoft have done a pretty good job of keeping things under wraps, although potential hardware specifications have crept out, which look more or less on par with the PS4.

The other main thing that has been rumoured is a new version of the Kinect Sensor.  Many people are speculating that it will be a standard accessory, rather than a purchased accessory.  If this is true, we will likely see greater adoption of the technology in new games through voice and movement interaction.  It’s unclear at this stage whether the Kinect 2 will be compatible with the Xbox 360 too, although I would speculate that it’s unlikely, given that it will probably be running on a USB3 host, giving it greater bandwidth for what we can assume will be a higher resolution image stream (e.g. 1920x1080p) and more data from the other sensors, giving more accurate detection of body position and body parts.  I’m hoping we will see individual finger detection and a lower latency.  If they make these improvements, it’s likely that the Kinect will remain the better accessory compared to the Eye/Move combo, especially as no physical controller will be required.

Probably the biggest issue with the current Kinect is the amount of space that it requires to play.  Microsoft will definitely need to address this if they want wider adoption of the device.  Apparently the new Kinect will have a wider field of view to improve this.  I can attest to the limitations as I’m only able to use mine when I’m squished up against the sofa in my living room.  Also it means I have to have a cable dragged across my floor and to stack it on some boxes in order to use it, as my TV is wall mounted and all the other cabling is in the wall.. The result is I’ve not used my Kinect in a LONG time..  Anyway, I digress!

So we can expect improved visuals with the new Xbox, likely to be similar to the PS4′s, a new and improved Kinect sensor and probably an upgraded UI.  The interface will probably be Metro-styled, to fit in with the suite of products currently on the market under the Microsoft empire (Windows 8, Windows Phone etc.).  I’m expecting greater phone integration, especially focussing on their own Operating System; Windows Phone 8.  Equally, I would expect the same for Surface and other tablets.  This would likely provide second screen functionality, similar to that of the Wii U and probably what PlayStation will be doing with their PS Vita devices.

Other Hardware Considerations

I think my biggest hope for both the PlayStation and Xbox would be for them to embrace some of the more innovative technologies that are emerging at the moment.  The most prominent being the Oculus Rift and it’s impressive, immersive VR capabilities..  It’s quite possibly the one piece of gaming hardware that could change the way we experience games.  Unless of course, Sony or Microsoft have their own VR hardware hidden up their sleeves, which I think is optimistic yet doubtful.  The Oculus is being developed for the PC, but who knows what non-disclosure agreements have since been signed.. I know I’ll probably be sorely disappointed and this dream is likely to remain just that for the near future at least, but one can hope!

The other thing that I’d like to see, with future-proofing in mind, is 4K TV compatibility.  You may already know, from Sony’s PS4 announcement, that it will support 4K video, but there’s been no word of 4K gaming.  Baring in mind that these new consoles are likely to have a lifespan of another 6-7 years, the super high definition of 4K will likely be fairly commonplace and demand for utilising their potential will grow.

Games, games, games

This is really what will divide the masses.  We can expect a new Battlefield game on or around launch of the consoles (hopefully with support for more than 32 player games).  There will also be a new Call Of Duty and other similar cross-platform titles.  The one title that has be most excited is Watch Dogs.

Sony and Microsoft will have their exclusive titles and we can expect teasers from each at E3.  Here’s what I’m expecting:

Sony Exclusives

  • Gran Turismo
  • Killzone (confirmed)
  • Ratchet & Crank
  • Infamous
  • Little Big Planet
  • God Of War
  • Uncharted
  • Knack (confirmed)
  • Drive Club (confirmed)
  • The Witness (confirmed)

Xbox Exclusives

  • Forza
  • Dance Central
  • Fable
  • Gears of War
  • Halo
  • Kinect Sports

Expect a whole host of Kinect games too.

So who wins?

Obviously it’s too early to say.  I know who I’d prefer to have the better console, but in the pursuit of being unbiased, I think it can only be called once the consoles are in people’s homes.  That being said, I will certainly be following the Xbox announcement closely and afterwards I will be making some more educated predictions.

The next events to look towards are the rumoured Xbox announcement in April, followed by E3 on 11-13th June.

Watch this space for more info as and when it is released!

 

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