The Greatest Generation?

When the long history of video game console cycles is written, this generation should be counted among the most important to the industry. I realize there is great affection for days of old and memories of the NES, SNES, PS2 and even that long-toothed great-grandfather, now long laid to rest, the 2600. But this generation, the one that began with the Xbox 360 and which is already six years gone with no end in sight, has been a stealthy cavalcade of advancement, most of which took place in ways I had never expected.

I remember what seems like not so long ago being amazed that an arcade game like Super Mario Bros. could be recreated in a home experience. Imagine the quarters I would save! As a child that grew up on games where combat(!) between a red square and a blue square was at the apex of electronic action, the watchword for three decades was graphics. Advancement was easy to measure in wo to the power of x bit processing.

Frankly it got to the point where it felt like the only upgrade to be seriously considered in any generational advance was strictly from the perspective of raw power. As I look back over the last half decade, one in which graphical advancement has if not stagnated, at least become secondary, I see now that there is and has long been so much that can be made better, and it doesn’t necessarily require new hardware to accomplish.

Just a great generation of highly adaptable machines.

Five years ago, it seemed laughable, dare I say folly, to bastardize console machines into central pieces of home entertainment. Now, my Xbox 360 is a cornerstone of media consumption on my television. Games, while a major component of what I do with the machine are not the alpha-and-omega of my console experience. I value my 360 as much as a Netflix delivery, music player and streaming video system as I do a place to play Halo. Once Hulu or some similar service locks in, I can all too easily imagine a world where I get rid of satellite television and depend on that magic white box for all my mindless endorphin firing digitainment.

I mention the 360 specifically because it is my living room platform of choice, but the reality is that the same kinds of things can be said just as easily of the PlayStation 3. As a complete media experience, both consoles have reached the unimaginable capacity to be what seemed ridiculous at launch.

I’m not necessarily arguing that everyone, particularly casual users, have unlocked the full potential of their Modern Warfare 2 boxes. But each day it seems more and more reasonable to expect that they might, because the interface, the capabilities, the integration becomes more and more seamless with each pass.

It might be enough to shine the spotlight on media integration and marvel at how far we’ve advanced, but this generation has also changed the way we play games like never before. Achievements, seamless integration of multiplayer, online co-operative gaming, sophisticated matchmaking and friend management capacity, high-definition, motion controls, and digital downloads are just the tip of the iceberg.

The Wii alone was a revolution (sic) in how gamers and games interfaced. Many words have been penned to support that statement. If you still need convincing on that point, then there’s probably not much I can say to change your mind.

Finally, and perhaps of greatest importance, this console generation has driven down the cost of gaming like none before it. I realize this may seem a controversial statement, particularly to those who opted out of this generation precisely because it seemed more expensive, and I’m not arguing that the barrier to entry was insignificant. However, games have long bucked inflation trends and in a world where we line up to pay $400 for a phone I remain unconvinced that the big three got disproportionately greedy.

When you dig in, though, and discover the vast wealth of high quality games at or under the $15 price point on every system, the argument that this console generation is anything but a steal melts. It would be one thing if PSN, XBLA and WiiWare games were throwaway diversions from second rate development houses, but the reality is that some of the best games I play in any given week cost less than an entree at Chilis.

Not only do these platforms broaden the diversity of games that are at our disposal, but they do so at manageable costs.

In the end, I have a sweet place of affection for each of the three systems, and I’m in no hurry to see this wildly successful generation enter its twilight. As long as the platforms continue to support the creativity and capacity for change that defines the industry, I’m not looking for the next level of graphics rendering capability that too long was the only advancement companies seemed interested in pursuing.

Comments

Hear hear!

digitainment

Great word.

Otherwise I agree. I had a longer post typed out, but I realised that I was just parroting.

I also think that the longer these consoles stay around, the easier it is for people to get into console gaming. If things were drastically changing every few years, it would seem much more intimidating to people just getting into the hobby. Now, with stable platforms, and the lower costs that the stability has allowed... it's much easier to jump in.

I think one thing blocking advancement (for want of a better word, a new generation brings regressions too IMO) is the cost ceiling on economically producing games, and the ways to get people to buy them.

I'd say one of the things that might change, even in this-gen on a software level is greater flexibility in how you buy games and things for games.

Between the Wii and the appeal of "casual" titles like Rock Band, this is the first generation where gaming for people my age (I'm 40) has been at least in some way "normal". It's a big change.

Well said. Between built-in hard drives, online services, digital distribution, motion controls, plus the standard power and graphical upgrades, this generation has had a huge impact on the industry. I hope this generation lasts for a good long while.

Agreed completely! While I know the article was console focused, there's also an argument to be made that this current "generation" has been revolutionary and among the best in terms of PC gaming as well, and it starts and ends with:

IMAGE(http://3.bp.blogspot.com/_SHZeV7Wb06s/SLhCkL8k12I/AAAAAAAAAHg/qiFAvxj9BD8/s1600/steam.gif)

Why shouldn't the newest generation of gaming hardware be the "greatest"? Has there been any new generation worse than the one before it?

ChrisLTD wrote:

Why shouldn't the newest generation of gaming hardware be the "greatest"? Has there been any new generation worse than the one before it?

The initial transition to 3D was rough on consoles. The N64 and PS1 both spawned some interesting ideas and franchises, but I think they were weaker overall than the SNES/Genesis generation that preceded them.

I play mostly on the PC. What pleases me to no end is that even as this console generation has succeeded in all the ways Elysium mentions, so too has the PC market become vastly enriched as compared to five years ago. Back when I wrote for the site, my every other article was preoccupied with what, at the time, seemed an unavoidable fate: that as the consoles took over, the PC must suffer proportionately. But since that time we've seen casual and retro-gaming legitimized, indie-gaming revitalized, digital downloads proliferate, prices plummet, and no lack of AAA content to boot. I've never enjoyed better options for gaming than I do today.

Would that there were an emperor of gaming, that we might join together and proclaim "We Love the Emperor!" day.

Here's something to consider too. The multimedia capabilities of these boxes give them lifespan beyond this current generation. I can picture the day when I have a PS4, an Xbox 1080 and a Nintendo Puu, and I'll most likely still have a 360 tucked under my TV to be used exclusively to stream TV.

ChrisLTD wrote:

Why shouldn't the newest generation of gaming hardware be the "greatest"? Has there been any new generation worse than the one before it?

It depends on what measurement you use. Using gut feeling, I'd say the PS2 has probably been the most successful generally for 'disc in a box' games. I don't feel that the PS3/360 have been so brilliant across the whole industry for retail games, but with a narrower selection of games and big hits confined to big labels.

Someone will come along in two minutes and shoot me down with real world numbers.

As this-gen consoles live longer, it will be interesting to see what happens with the powerhouse graphical games with a widening horsepower gap between consoles and gamer PCs that have outperformed consoles for years. Will they stay cross platform, or will more companies stretch their wings with more impressive dedicated PC versions. I'm really not sure.

I'd like to add my voice, or at least typed words, to those stating that PC gaming is also a part of this "Greatest Generation." Steam and, to a lesser extent, other digital distribution services like Direct2Drive, has brought new life to PC gaming in many ways. The ability to purchase the games without needing to commute to the nearest gaming shop and face the onslaught of pre-purchase pitches and unclean patrons littering the aisles is invaluable. Add to that the independent studio gems and PC-centric genres like real and turn based strategy gaining popularity again and it's a great day for us all.

ClockworkHouse wrote:
ChrisLTD wrote:

Why shouldn't the newest generation of gaming hardware be the "greatest"? Has there been any new generation worse than the one before it?

The initial transition to 3D was rough on consoles. The N64 and PS1 both spawned some interesting ideas and franchises, but I think they were weaker overall than the SNES/Genesis generation that preceded them.

Particularly if you want to focus on things like the Saturn, 3DO, or Jaguar, all of which crashed and/or burned rather impressively as parts of that generation.

MilkmanDanimal wrote:

...Saturn...

Saturn with the Japanese-style controller was the best dedicated Capcom fighting game system ever made. ^_^

Jonman wrote:

Here's something to consider too. The multimedia capabilities of these boxes give them lifespan beyond this current generation. I can picture the day when I have a PS4, an Xbox 1080 and a Nintendo Puu, and I'll most likely still have a 360 tucked under my TV to be used exclusively to stream TV.

That kind of happened for me last generation. I have all the current consoles, but I still have two original Xbox consoles whose sole purpose in life is to play games that didn't get software updates to the 360, watch DVDs and keep my son's Tech9 collection from thumping away out of my living room. Even now that they're off Live, they still have a life. I keep my PS2 around for the same reason.

The Dreamcast and the Genesis are for playing the only Sonic games worth their salt and the original Furfighters.

Dysplastic wrote:

Agreed completely! While I know the article was console focused, there's also an argument to be made that this current "generation" has been revolutionary and among the best in terms of PC gaming as well, and it starts and ends with:

IMAGE(http://3.bp.blogspot.com/_SHZeV7Wb06s/SLhCkL8k12I/AAAAAAAAAHg/qiFAvxj9BD8/s1600/steam.gif)

Remember when Steam first was introduced the hue and cry that went up about it? How quickly things change.

padriec wrote:
Dysplastic wrote:

Agreed completely! While I know the article was console focused, there's also an argument to be made that this current "generation" has been revolutionary and among the best in terms of PC gaming as well, and it starts and ends with:

IMAGE(http://3.bp.blogspot.com/_SHZeV7Wb06s/SLhCkL8k12I/AAAAAAAAAHg/qiFAvxj9BD8/s1600/steam.gif)

Remember when Steam first was introduced the hue and cry that went up about it? How quickly things change.

Remember downloading halflife 2 and not being able to play it because steam was broken? The cry about it was deserved. If we had ANY idea of what Steam would become and if my copy of Halflife2 actually worked when it was supposed to, I would have been pretty pleased.

Here's a worrying trend:

System - Total number of games
NES - 767
SNES - 722
SEGA MS - 915
XBOX - 935
PLAYSTATION - 1133
XBOX 360 - 1157 (ongoing)
WII - 1146 (ongoing)

Next generation, how am I going to find time to play them all??

I am just glad that this thread wasn't announcing another world war 2 game.

Schmutzli,
I'm surprised at just how many games were made for those old systems.

Still haven't managed to catch-up to the PC.

Great article, it really is a great time for the one-closed-box that does it all. But I still prefer my hardware a little less... proprietary.

Dysplastic wrote:

Agreed completely! While I know the article was console focused, there's also an argument to be made that this current "generation" has been revolutionary and among the best in terms of PC gaming as well, and it starts and ends with:

IMAGE(http://3.bp.blogspot.com/_SHZeV7Wb06s/SLhCkL8k12I/AAAAAAAAAHg/qiFAvxj9BD8/s1600/steam.gif)

A-men. However, to guide this branch of the conversation back to the trunk, I think digital distribution might be the most important part of this generation on any platform. With all of the "discussion" surrounding piracy and used games, I think dd finally gives the consumer a powerful way to say, "I don't want to pay $60 for your game. In fact, I'd rather pirate it or buy it used. However, I'm more than happy to pay $15 for your smaller, but still good, game."

I'm hoping that this generation (of all platforms) will help created a spectrum of games, with a spectrum of prices.

Not every game on a disk is worth $60.

Heres my two cents,
I think that while it is important, especially when you count the fact that we are no longer the isolated nerds of in the corner(most of us), I most definitely think it is no where near the best time in gaming. It may be the PC gamer/Flight-Sim and classic Bioware loving nerd in my 17 year old body, but I feel that the games of the 90's capture my love and energy much more than the modern successes.

P.S I was one of those guys bitching about Mass Effect 2 and, more frequently, Dragon Age 2.

While this generation may not be the "best" or our favorite generation, no one can deny that gaming has changed much more in the last five years than in the twenty five years that came before it. That's how Elysium starts his article, and it's what's ultimately going to be written about this generation when future historians look at the era.

ChrisLTD wrote:

Schmutzli,
I'm surprised at just how many games were made for those old systems.

Me too, it was only 367 for the N64. Quality over quantity, lads

I think the expansion of the role of the console - DVD player, game store, video stream et al - has been a huge factor in the length of this generation. They've also hit a huge wall: they've got to find something really, really impressive to be able to persuade people to invest that much money in a new gaming system. I mean, in some places you still have to pay upwards of £300-£400 for a PS3. Without finding a great pulling point for the now hugely expanded gaming market to move with the technology, the major publishers and developers could face a crisis if they split the market. What part of the gaming industry wants to upset the status quo right now?

TheCounselor wrote:

...no one can deny that gaming has changed much more in the last five years than in the twenty five years that came before it.

Amen.

Jonman wrote:

... and a Nintendo Puu,

Aah, God, that made me giggle a lot.

My inner self is 5 years old, I swear. I'm a bit disappointed in myself now

Jonman wrote:

Here's something to consider too. The multimedia capabilities of these boxes give them lifespan beyond this current generation. I can picture the day when I have a PS4, an Xbox 1080 and a Nintendo Puu, and I'll most likely still have a 360 tucked under my TV to be used exclusively to stream TV.

Assuming, of course, there's still support for these capabilities in the future. One of the largest flaws of this generation may very well turn out to be how much everything depends on serverside support.

(And assuming said 360 lasts more than a few more years physically.)

I think you're right on, Elysium. I've been thinking this for quite some time. I'd add in that online play really emerging and creating whole new social connections over consoles is a huge advancement. And you can't downplay the success of the DS and its ability to innovate and also bring to life new renditions of old school games. And then there's the iPhone and what it's done.

So yeah, definitely the greatest generation, IMO.

You know, something that strikes me now thinking about the fact that we're on the sixth year of the current console generation is that, unlike every single console generation before this one, I'm not really impatient for another console generation.

It really does feel like there's a lot of untapped potential in the 360/PS3 (the Wii could use an upgrade to a true HD platform) yet to be utilized. When they came out and Sony made a comment about the PS3 being intended to have a decade-long gap before the next Playstation, I scoffed. However, I can honestly see another 2-4 years on the 360/PS3 before we reach a point where it genuinely feels like we "need" a new generation of systems.

For example, I really can't emphasize enough just how impressive Red Dead Redemption is on a technical level, and I honestly don't know how they pulled it off on the 360. It's so far beyond what I ever expected to see on that console that I know there's a lot of incredibly impressive work that can be done on it yet.