The last major innovation to be seen in the world of gaming was the WiiMote motion controller, first available in 2006. It set the scene for the current generation, but has since been overshadowed by the technically superior Xbox Kinect. But 6 years on I have to ask – is that it? Are we done with innovation now? Were motion controllers really the last word, and now we can just go back to meanless iterations of increasingly more powerful GPUs and cell shaders? That makes me sad, and the most recent Playstation 4 reveal has done nothing to abate my fears.
After much fanfare and announcements of announcements of announcements, Sony finally gave the world a glimpse at their vision for the Playstation 4 (or rather – we glimpsed the idea of the Playstation 4, because they didn’t have an actual device to show). Like the rest of the the gaming world I had waited on the edge of my sofa, but after the full nauseating 2 hours had elapsed, I was at a complete loss for words (not that you would think that, reading this). Ideas cherry picked from existing devices, plus some silly gimmicks – is this what’s to come for the next generation?
The above screen is NOT the PS4. But it is a pretty render of what one might be, from here.
Second Screen Play
Second screen gaming is being pushed heavily in PS4, and is certainly original – if you discount the derisible Wii U touch screen controller, and the rather poorly implemented SmartGlass app for the Xbox 360 – that is. It hasn’t worked for them, so what is Sony thinking? It’s not like the PSVita has a huge install base to integrate with. They’re planning tablet apps too, but how are you supposed to switch from using that elaborate multi-button controller to the touchscreen?
Why has second screen play been so unsuccessful so far? That seems kind of obvious to me. It only works at home, partially because that’s the only place you’ll have a decent WiFi connection; and if you’re at home, you’d want to play on the big screen. The only possible time you’d want to play on a second screen is during a lengthy session sitting on the loo, and I just don’t think that’s an awfully good marketing strategy.
A Radically Innovative New Controller
A mini-touchscreen on the controller? Really? That sounds suspiciously like an amalgamation of the monstrous Wii U and the old Dreamcast VMU. Neither of which proved to be particularly useful. Do gamers really want the annoyance of having to look down at their controller whilst transfixed to the 50″ HDTV screen in front of them? I bet that really helps the feeling of immersion. Controllers shouldn’t be the focus of anything; they should be invisible to the gamer.
And let’s not forget the colored LED that “helps to identify the player”, similar to their existing Move controller – I just hope they’re not proposing we start waggling the main controller around too. Alas, the Move controller is not dead yet it seems, as Media Molecule took to the stage to demonstrate its use in helping you “realize your dreams”. Sadly, it came across as a kind of Rock Band for kids with muscular dystrophy (video link; skip halfway through and prepare to either LOL or cringe).
Perhaps I’m just a cynical old man, but this trend of increasingly complex combinations of screens, different shaped plastic controllers, and color changing LEDs just doesn’t equate to innovation for me.
So, we’re officially done with innovation then?
So far we’ve only seen the next generation offerings from Japan; both Sony and Nintendo hail from the land of the rising sun. As a generalization, I think it’s fair to say that Japanese companies are fantastic at taking something and improving on it; but don’t ask for anything creative or original. Please don’t take that as a racist slur – I truly love Japan, and having spent 6 years teaching in a variety of school levels, I can tell you that the lack of creativity is almost institutionalized from a young age – I was constantly told that even the shortest of creative writing would be impossible for my students.
Microsoft on the other hand – listen carefully, because this is one of the rare moments I’ll actually compliment Microsoft – has managed to pique my interest with their fully immersive room environment, IllumiRoom.
Now, whether or not this is an actual feature of the next generation console or just another tech demo that amounts to nothing, there’s no denying it is exciting. It does give me hope that innovation hasn’t vanished entirely from gaming. It doesn’t mess with the controller – which isn’t really broken - but it does concentrate on the gamer’s experience. How can we make the gamer truly feel like a part of the game? Do something with their peripheral vision!
But this discussion wouldn’t be complete without talking about the immersive possibilities brought to the gaming table by the Oculus Rift. The virtual reality headset is an affordable way to bring true immersion in a gaming environment, and it’s clear to me that greater immersion is the future now. My developer kit is arriving soon, and really can’t stop myself from squealing like a little girl. It’s going to be that awesome.
Games of the future will not be played on a tiny second screen or even a big HDTV screen; there won’t be any screen at all. Just the world, laid out in front of you. This is innovation, this is what excites me. If I see another touchscreen pointlessly integrated into another device, I’m going to explode in a fit of WiiMote waggle madness.
What do you think? Do you see any other gaming innovations? Am I being too harsh on the Playstation 4?