Will we see the next generation of video game consoles? That was the question on many gamers’ lips prior to E3, the video game industry’s annual trade show, last week. But Microsoft and Sony refused to let any details slip on their follow-ups to the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. Rival Nintendo did show off the Wii U, a new console with a tablet-based controller, but it is no more powerful than existing consoles.
Do we need new consoles?
Console generations normally last around five years. Refreshing the hardware lets developers make use of new advances in graphics hardware, leading to a whole new range of games. The Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 are now nearly seven and six years old, respectively, with no successors in sight.
But game graphics have gotten better in the last few years. What happened?
Many games at the start of this console generation were simply higher-resolution versions of older titles, with little improvement in graphical fidelity. Since then, though, game developers have been learning to exploit each platform’s technological quirks.
“The PlayStation 3 is quite a complicated machine to develop for,” says Simon Green, principal engineer at graphics hardware firm NVIDIA. In addition to the normal processor and graphics card, the console has eight sub-processors which handle computations in parallel. “That took developers a long time to get their heads around,” he says.
What else has changed?
Developers now employ huge teams of artists to ensure that games look their best, but this means modern games are much more expensive to make than before. The longer generation means consoles are also able to employ graphics techniques that had not been invented when they first came out, and borrow tricks from other industries, such as cinema.
For example, the 2001 film Pearl Harbour was the first to use a technique called ambient occlusion, which provides more realistic lighting in a scene. It was only in 2007 that graphics researchers were able to replicate the technique in real-time, making it suitable for use in games. “That’s something that didn’t really exist when the PS3 came out,” says Green.
What can developers do now?
New graphical tricks mean developers can make new kinds of games. At E3 developer Quantic Dream, based in Paris, France, announced Beyond: Two Souls, an interactive drama game starring actress Ellen Page. The trailer shows a strikingly realistic virtual Page being interviewed by the police but refusing to say a word. Instead, Page’s facial expressions tell the story, with a level of emotional detail rarely seen in games.
What about the future?
Of course, new consoles will eventually be released, with many industry analysts pointing to 2014 as the likely date. Some developers have already started preparing. Square Enix in Tokyo, Japan – the firm behind the Final Fantasy series – demoed a brand new game engine at E3 that resembled modern animated films, though it is unclear what hardware the game was running on – most likely a souped-up PC.
Games on high-end PCs have already outpaced consoles – Green says the latest graphics cards are 24 times more powerful than the one in the Xbox 360. This gap in graphical power was made obvious when Epic Games, makers of the Unreal graphics engine that powers many modern games, showed off the newest version of the engine on a top-of-the-range PC. Even the next generation of consoles is unlikely to match that.
Cloud gaming, in which games are rendered on distant servers and streamed as video to the player, is also an unknown factor – streaming firm Gaikai announced a partnership with TV manufacturer Samsung at E3. Game graphics on cloud-equipped TVs could constantly improve as servers are outfitted with the latest hardware – no console required, though you do need a fast and reliable internet connection. “One day, the whole idea of owning a separate piece of hardware to play games on might be completely redundant,” says Green.
Blowfish12@2012 blowfish12.tk Author: Sudharsun. P. R.
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