Innovations of Next-Gen Gaming
The video game industry has experienced a number of innovations over the past several years. With the arrival of next-gen consoles and handhelds, gamers everywhere are enjoying crisp HD graphics, wireless Internet support, motion controls and many other technologies that we take for granted. This article will take a deeper look at the innovations of next-gen gaming.
High Definition video support
High Definition video support is a big advantage that Microsoft and Sony like to tout. While it is true that the Xbox 360 did not launch with true HD, Microsoft has since modified (starting in 2007) each model to support 1080p through the newly included HDMI port. The PS3, meanwhile, launched in 2006 with an HDMI port in each of its models from the start. The PS3 supports Blu-Ray 1080p HD movie playback. An HD-DVD peripheral was offered for the Xbox 360, but has since been discontinued along with Toshiba’s failed format. One problem for both systems: not all games support 1080p and you have to buy an HDMI cable to enjoy the higher resolution.
Nintendo has not embraced HD gaming one bit. The system has come packaged with your standard composite cables since day one. This limits the screen resolution to 480i. The highest achievable resolution (even for HD televisions) on the Wii is 480p with component cables that are sold separately. This is basically like upgrading your DVD player from standard to progressive scan. It helps a little, but if you are expecting crisp HD graphics you will have to find it elsewhere.
Wireless controllers (such as the GameCube’s Wavebird) existed prior to this console generation. This is the first generation, however, in which it has become a standard. While the Xbox 360 has a corded controller to complement its wireless controller, the Wii and PS3 do not even have corded alternatives. Both the Wii Remote and Xbox 360 wireless controller are powered by batteries. The PS3’s SixAxis and DualShock 3 have internal batteries that can be recharged through its Mini USB port at the top of the controller using a USB cable to connect to the system. While it may seem more like an overdue technological advancement, there is no denying that not having to deal with tangled controllers is a good thing.
Where the Wii lacks in HD video support it makes up for in motion controls. The console, using its sensor bar and built-in accelerometers, is capable of sensing the movement and tilt of the Wii Remote in a three dimensional space. The bottom of the Wii Remote allows for attachments, such as the Nunchuk controller featuring an analog stick and two buttons, to act in unison with each other. The Nunchuk attachment has an accelerometer of its own, allowing for further three dimensional motion control support.
Of course, like most of the other technologies of this generation, the two other hardware competitors are following suit. Sony released its own motion sensing technology in the form of Six-Axis at the PS3’s launch, but has promised to up the ante with a new wand-like controller. For its part, Microsoft has said they will release an EyeToy-like camera that senses motion called Natal sometime in 2010. Of course these are future – not current – innovations that gamers can look forward to this generation.
Universal internal storage
The home console market changed when the original Xbox launched with an internal hard drive. Not only did an internal hard drive do away with a need for expensive memory cards, it also revolutionized online gaming for consoles by allowing developers to provide downloadable content and updates, but also entire games over the Internet.
The Xbox 360 did not follow-up with a hard drive in every unit. Microsoft instead launched a “Core” console without a hard drive and a “Premium” console with a 20GB detachable hard drive. The Core has since been replaced by the Arcade, which comes with 256MB of internal memory. The Premium would become the Pro, now having a 60GB hard drive and an Elite has been introduced with a 120GB HDD.
The Wii launched with a limited amount of internal flash memory at 512MB and has since been used for the popular Virtual Console service which sells classic games for download, as well as the WiiWare service for new games from smaller developers. Nintendo was criticized for the lack of memory present on the console and responded by allowing the SD card slot to be used for storage purposes. An update allowing SDHC cards increased the storage size from 2GB to 32GB.
PS3 launched with two models: a 20GB model and a 40GB model. Both have been discontinued and replaced by 60GB (which is now discontinued as well), 80GB and 160GB models. The interesting thing about the PS3 is that Sony made it to where you can replace the internal hard drive with a larger one. So if you want a 1TB HDD for all of your game and movie downloads, you can replace the original. Sony has pushed the idea of installing games on the HDD for quick load times. Full retail releases such as WarHawk and Burnout Paradise can also be downloaded from the PlayStation Store.
Wi-Fi has become standard in (most) home consoles and handhelds. Nintendo launched the Wii and DS with Wi-Fi capability, as did Sony with the PS3 and PSP (one caveat – the 20GB PS3 did not support Wi-Fi). Oddly enough Microsoft, the company pushing online gaming the most with its Xbox Live service, opted out of internal Wi-Fi on all Xbox 360’s. Instead they opted for an external wireless adapter that costs $100. Still, this almost universal technology has made Internet access for home consoles that much easier for gamers.
Customizable personal likeness
Nintendo started this one when the Wii launched in 2006. Part of the draw of Wii Sports (which came with the system) was that you played with a customized character that looked like you (and your friends if playing multi-player). The Mii can be customized in its height, weight and facial appearance, with everything from eye shape to hair color to look like whatever the player desires. We’ve run across a lot of Mario look-alikes, as well as Jesus, Michael Jackson and even Hitler (yikes!).
The Xbox version of a personal likeness is the Avatar, which the company launched in November 2008 as a part of the New Xbox Experience. The Avatar is just like the Wii’s Mii in its more cartoony design where players can customize hair styles, clothing, body shape and gender. Games such as Uno and 100 vs. 1 Live support Avatars during gameplay.
Sony announced Home not long after the release of the Wii. Think of Home as The Sims meets Second Life. You can create a fully customizable character in a 3D virtual world. Users can connect with each other in a social environment of chatting, mini-games and more. Membership is free and only requires a PSN account to be a part of the community. You can shop for virtual items to decorate your HomeSpace (your virtual pad) and upgrade your apartment as well. Sony also promises to offer a Trophy Room in the future where 3D representations of your Trophy collection will be displayed.
Shorter load times and invisible load screens
Not much to say here other than the obvious fact that load times have gotten shorter and more games use the invisible load screen popularized in games like Metroid Prime. While games would frequently take a good 30 seconds to load in the last generation of gaming, most games these days take between 5 and 10 seconds. 15 second load screens would be considered long. The advent of internal storage devices has made it to where you can install large sections of the game to reduce load times even more.
They may be annoyingly easy at times, but there is no denying that Achievements have added a level of replay value that was not there before their existence. The Xbox 360 started this feature. There was even a podcast named after it (Achievement Junkie). Sony was quick to adopt the feature on the PS3 with the Achievement equivalent Trophies. Even some Wii games, such as The Conduit, have jumped on the bandwagon.