PS5 and the Majesty of a New Generation

Welp. It’s finally here. After all of the hype and anticipation, I received my pre-ordered PlayStation 5 on release day, luckily enough. I have to say, one of the things I failed to mention in my post about previous console launches is the insidious worry that the coveted console that you have been waiting months for… might not live up to the hype. In the yesteryears of gaming, that wasn’t much of a concern. The leap in graphical and audio presentation alone between console generations was enough to satisfy an excited enthusiast such as myself. You didn’t move from an SNES to an N64 and think “eh, this is okay, I guess.” But starting with the PS3/Xbox 360 era, there was a valid concern that your shiny new console might just be a slightly faster, barely more powerful version of the box you’ve been playing on for the last half decade. The question many people would ask going into a new generation is “is the upgrade worth it?” And that question is difficult to answer when virtually no one has played the new machines, not to mention the fact that the earliest games on the platform surely don’t showcase its true potential (unless you’re Nintendo and you release genre-defining games right off the bat).

I don’t want to give the impression that this was a huge concern for me. I’ve yet to become the old, cynical gamer that constantly and needlessly asks “do we really need this?” about every new console or feature. I hate that question, in fact, because it’s an exercise in futility. We don’t “need” any new video game or console. That question seems often to be used as a rhetorical way of saying “I don’t want this new thing,” but it attempts to elevate it beyond a “want” and to include others in the assessment. I see it very often with movie and video game remakes or reboots. People will say “Ugh, do we really need a reboot of Jurassic Park?” Again, what they really mean is “I don’t want a reboot of Jurassic Park,” but that rightfully sounds selfish and petty, so reframing it as a problem that “we” are all facing softens the blow a bit. “We” seem to only “need” reboots of things that we like or approve of. One person may “need” a remake of Chrono Trigger, one may not. It’s a ridiculous argument that never serves anyone, but somehow it seems to have become a staple in discussions about new consoles.

I’m used to it from people outside of gaming. Friends, family members, people who don’t keep up with gaming and aren’t champing at the bit to spend hundreds of dollars on a new console frequently ask “is it worth it? Does it really do more than the console I already have? Why do I need to upgrade?” This generation, however, I have been surprised to hear these kinds of questions from a lot of people in the gaming industry and fan communities, though. On podcast after podcast, I hear hosts saying they probably aren’t going to buy one of the new consoles, or they wouldn’t get one if the company they worked for wasn’t providing them with one for review. On a pre-launch discussion episode of the GamesIndustry.biz podcast, the hosts were pretty much unified in how underwhelmed they were about the upcoming generation. The question “do we really need new consoles?” was asked specifically, and the person asking pointed to the recent spate of excellent titles, particularly on the PS4, as evidence that the current generation still had legs. Isn’t that how console generations work, though? Aren’t the best games always released at the end of a lifecycle? How long do we wait before taking the next step? Do we expect platform developers to wait for their competition to take that step first? They continued, lamenting the fact that there was nothing that truly screamed “next gen” about these consoles, other than the Quick Resume feature on the Xbox Series X.

I understand I am on a bit of a soapbox here, and I apologize for the rant. I was just struck by how loud the discourse seemed this time around, and it certainly contributed to the worry that maybe these consoles weren’t going to be as amazing as I wanted them to be – as much as it pains me to admit that the opinions of others was swaying my own, however slightly. So, regardless, I was somewhat worried that I would get my PS5, set it up, hit that power button… and be utterly underwhelmed. As with all of the other anxieties described in my previous post, this concern was quickly and thoroughly dismissed.

Before I get to gameplay or interface, let me set the scene and describe the ritualistic receipt of a new, divine device of fun made manifest. As my previous post probably illustrates, these launches are cherished events for me, and I treasure every moment. First, I have to comment on the unit’s size (okay, yes, that is what she said, now let’s move on). Again and again, I saw reports of how gargantuan the PS5 was. On social media and podcasts, gaming journalists reported that it was even bigger than they’d expected. Upon opening the exterior delivery box and removing the PS5 box itself, I was… not blown away by its size. It was heavy, yes, but if the box was any indication, the hype surrounding its hugeness seemed overblown. It was definitely bigger than the PS4 box, which I remember being surprisingly slight, but it wasn’t the mammoth I was expecting. The PS3 and original Xbox were pretty big systems, too, and their boxes were large, so this wasn’t the first chonky gaming console I’d seen. Bellatrix, my curious and much beloved kitty, hopped up to investigate what was stealing my attention away, so you have a sense of the PS5 box’s size in comparison to her. She is a small cat, less than ten pounds.

Also, I would be an absolute monster if I didn’t share this very important outtake of Bella’s impromptu photoshoot:

I mean…

Blep.

Anyway, so the exterior box didn’t exactly reinforce the “thick boi” reputation the system had gained. Pulling the system out of the box felt, as always, magical. As I gently removed the protective plastic wrapping, the size began to make more of an impression. Or did it? It certainly felt big, even outside of its weight. But when I put the system on the outer box, it again seemed smaller. And when I put the controller on top of it, it seemed absolutely average sized. Huh.

This trick of the eye, I would guess, is by design. I’m no artist or visual designer, but I imagine the curve of the upper and lower “blades,” the use of contrasting colors, and the tapering of the inner dark face from right to left were all done to trick the eye into thinking the system looks smaller than it is. I was very excited to find that it fits into my entertainment center, and planning out a new configuration for the systems connected to my TV was also weirdly exciting. I moved my PS4 Pro over a couple of slots and am leaving it hooked up as a dedicated PSVR system, and once I get an Xbox Series X I will disconnect my Xbox One and replace it with my 80GB PS3, giving me full access to the entire history of PlayStation games between the PS3 (fully backwards compatible with PS and PS2 games), PS4, and PS5.

One of the most important components of a new console launch is the controller, and I was very pleased by how good the DualSense controller felt in my hands. I don’t seem to be as picky about controllers as others, but I certainly have had my favorites. I thought the DualShock 4 was a much needed improvement over the previous PlayStation controllers and I was perfectly happy with it, but as soon as I held the DualSense I felt good about the prospect of holding it for many hours to come. The weight, the texture, the joysticks, and the clear buttons and directional pad, made this feel like a shiny new toy all its own, wholly separate from the console. The joysticks feel especially good, though that may just be the newness of the rubber coating. I am a little worried that they will wear away like the DualShock 4’s did, and I will be far more nervous about cracking these open to replace the sticks if I have to.

As I was connecting the system I noticed a fun little detail about the textured interior of the blades:

The setup process was mostly painless, though transferring my old game files was an ordeal. Before I get there, I want to say that I was very pleased with most of the setup process. Once I connected the PS5 to my network, it pulled over my profile and settings from the PS4 effortlessly. I also thought it was cool that it asks you to insert a game disc so that it could install the game and be ready to play by the time you get everything finalized. The fact that you could just check boxes for the games that you have installed on your PS4 to be copied over to your PS5 seemed amazing, but it proved a little too tempting. I almost checked a bunch of boxes, because if it was that easy, why not just copy them right over? Well, I thought twice and scaled back to just games I knew I was going to play: Grand Theft Auto V, The Dark Pictures Anthology: Little Hope, Telling Lies, The Castlevania Anniversary Collection, a couple of the Jackbox games, and That’s You. In total, it was still over 200GB, and that should have been cause for reconsideration, but I stupidly went ahead with the transfer. Well, it took over twelve hours and within the last hour or two there was an error that prevented the Jackbox games and That’s You from being transferred, but other than that it went fairly smoothly. I only found out later that Sony has you use your home network to transfer profiles and game files because it helps prevent data caps from being exceeded (because you’re not downloading several massive game files from the internet). Fair enough, but it’s definitely a slower process.

Once everything was transferred over and I was able to log in, I was again pleasantly surprised by how intuitive the interface was. It’s a more compact, contained version of the PS4’s (and PS3’s, really) horizontal access bar design, so having that previous experience probably contributed to the sense that everything just felt right and made sense. There are several features I was pleasantly surprised by, and one (well, a lack of one) that I was not. The Remote Play feature, which allows you to play PS5 games on a PS4 system, is cool, though I don’t know how often I’ll use it. I also like that you can set things like difficulty, perspective, and performance/resolution in the system itself, and that they will automatically carry over into compatible games. Again, I’m not sure that I’ll use any of them very often, but it’s neat that they’re there. Perhaps even more surprising, and something I personally appreciate, is the ability to set the system to avoid spoilers. How cool is that for people like me, who hate spoilers? The feature that I was sad to find missing was a lack of support for themes. I remember an announcement from Sony not too long ago where they said they would not sell themes on PS5, but that any themes you purchased before they stopped selling them would still work. Maybe they just meant they would still work on your PS4, not your PS5, but I am very disappointed that I’m not able to use the incredibly beautiful Persona 5 Royal dynamic themes I fought so hard to get by platinum-ing the game and pleading with Atlus support for over a month. I’m hopeful they’ll find a way to integrate old themes with the new interface at some point.

Okay, I’ll probably have separate, more thorough posts for specific games later, but I want to talk briefly about a few, including the pack-in game Astro’s Playroom for a bit, because it’s a real showcase for the system’s features, particularly the DualSense’s haptic feedback. It can be difficult to explain how different and more specific the DualSense’s rumble and trigger pressure is than other controllers. To say that the rumble feels different when your character is inside a ball and rolls over different surfaces doesn’t adequately convey much. Previous controllers used variable speeds to make rumble feel different for different things. I remember vividly that in Metal Gear Solid for the PS1, one of the earliest games to use the first DualShock controller, when a helicopter was taking off the controller started vibrating lightly, and as the blades rotated faster the controller vibrated more and more. You could tell, however, that the vibrations were coming from the grips of the controller, where the motors were, and that remained true through the DualShock 4. The vibrations in the DualSense are so fine, though, that the sensation seems to come from various parts of the controller, even traveling throughout, including the triggers (since some of the sensation works in concert between the rumble and the haptic feedback).

Again, none of this really helps to truly describe the feeling. The game is designed to introduce you to a multitude of environments and situations that create different sensations, and there were a few that really made me perk up and realize the potential of this controller. The first was rain. I had been running around an early level and, sure, I could tell the difference in feedback as I ran across different surfaces. But when I first entered an area with rain, I was, as the kids say, shook. It felt like rain drops were impacting the controller. And when I moved to an area with heavier rain, the invisible drops on my controller also seemed to increase in size and intensity. This was more than simply “rumble.” Later, there are sections where your character is in a monkey suit and you have to climb upward. There are certain handles you can grab onto after a jump, and they zip you along a serrated track. I was again shocked by how much it felt like my controller was a real version of those virtual handles, because the sensation I felt seemed like exactly what I would expect if I were really zipping along that track. I could feel the bumps, the force of movement, and the sway when I stopped. I should note, too, that the controller’s built-in speaker seems leagues ahead of the speaker built into the DualShock 4.

With many of the haptic experiences in Astro’s Playroom, like the serrated track, I couldn’t tell how much of the experience was the feedback and how much was the sound, because they complimented each other so well. In the parts of the games where your character is in a frog suit, for example, you use the triggers to compress the spring under your character, then release to bounce away. As far as I can tell, three things happen when you do this. First, the trigger resistance is adjusted so that it feels harder to squeeze than usual. Second, the controller is vibrating slightly to give the sense of a spring tensing up. Third, the speaker projects the sound of a spring being compressed. This all sounds simple, probably, but it comes together so well that it truly does feel like your controller is making something spring forth. Speaking of the speaker, I also tested the controller’s built-in microphone and speaker for chat, which is something I had low expectations for. It worked shockingly well. I tried it with two friends, one of them for almost four hours, and it was almost as good as using a chat app on your phone (with speakerphone on, of course).

I played a lot of Astro’s Playroom by myself, but I had a couple of friends over (hi, Amy and Russell!) the day after I got it, so I was able to watch them play it as well. I’d tried to not make a big deal of the controller beforehand, but they had heard tell of the hype surrounding it so I was worried that they would be like “meh, it’s not that cool.” When Russell ran into the rain area, he exclaimed much like I did and handed the controller to Amy, who seemed equally impressed. Controller function aside, I had such a great time playing Astro’s Playroom with them. The game is filled with so much creative charm and love for PlayStation’s history. Many of the levels are made up of actual PS components, so as you explore you might see a PS1 controller port in a wall, or a PS2 memory card or HDD plate acting as a platform, or any number of cooling fans churning away in the environment. You also collect “Artifacts,” which are just consoles and accessories from past PS generations, and the level of fidelity and detail on these models was pretty amazing.

Each level is based on a different PlayStation generation, and the nostalgia triggered by hearing the startup sound of an old console is powerful. There are also little groups of Astro Bots in each level reenacting scenes from some of PlayStation’s most historic games, and spotting a new one at every turn was so exciting. Maybe all of this nostalgic magic affected me, because handing the controller back and forth with Amy and Russell truly made me feel like I was a teenager again, huddled in front of an exciting new PS1 game with my friends, taking turns playing and frequently interrupting with a “ooh, go there and check that thing!” or “maybe there’s something if you go around that corner there, you see it?” We raced around, explored the lovingly crafted worlds, got some trophies for being silly, and it was just a genuinely good time. For a free pack-in game, I think we were all thoroughly impressed.

I was very close to getting the platinum trophy for The Dark Pictures Anthology: Little Hope on PS4, so I decided to see how the PS5 handled a backwards compatible game that had yet to be patched for optimization on PS5 by playing my final run of the story on my shiny new machine. I’d say the results were mixed. I had a hard time determining if the game looked better at first. I thought it did, slightly, but I couldn’t tell if that was a placebo affect because I wanted them to or thought they should. When I saw the first demon, however, I was certain that I could make out loads more detail in the character models. The demons looked very dark and shadowy on my PS4 Pro and I thought that might have been a design decision, but on the PS5 I could make out way more detail and finer features. The framerate was also noticeably improved in the PS5 version. It was especially apparent in segments where something was scrolling on screen, like the heartbeat sections. I could tell almost immediately because I had played through the game six or seven times on the PS4 just prior to getting my PS5, and I doubly confirmed it when I went back to the PS4 version. On the downside, the game crashed several times and even corrupted my save file when I was nearing the end of my run, which is why I ended up returning to playing it on the PS4.

PS4 version shown

Lastly, I am around eight or nine hours into Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, the PS5 version. As usual, I’ll probably dedicate a whole blog post to this game later so I’ll save comments about the game as a game and just focus on how it looked and ran on the PS5. I can’t compare it to the PS4 version, obviously, but I have played the previous two AC games extensively, so I almost immediately noticed the improved framerate. Look, I have long been one of those people who love to say that I don’t see the big deal about 60fps. And, truthfully, I’d never been impressed with any of the 60fps videos I’d seen. Between these three games, though, I can see why people prefer it. It really is noticeable, so while it doesn’t magically make a game look better, it is a really nice bonus. In terms of fidelity, this game is unsurprisingly beautiful. At first, it didn’t seem like much of an improvement over Origins and Odyssey, though, because those were also notably gorgeous games. In those games, however, if you looked close enough you could pretty easily spot a muddy texture here or there, or some aliasing on a wave or blades of grass. I have yet to notice much of that in this game. I’m sure it’s there somewhere, but the times that I’ve stopped Viking-ing to just appreciate the setting, I’ve been impressed with how crisp and smooth things look.

It’s been a week since launch day, and I have plans to try Grand Theft Auto Online, Spider-man: Miles Morales, and Bugsnax soon, but overall I am thrilled with my purchase. Despite all of the apparent doom and gloom about these consoles not feeling “next gen,” I am very happy and impressed with my PS5. I know it’s only been a week, but the little things still excite me. Moving through the menus feels fresh. Picking up the controller feels sweet. The startup sound is tinged with magic. Console launches are so rare and I am grateful each time I get to participate in one. The pundits can fret all they want over whether or not we “need” a new generation. We got one, and I am loving it.

E3 2017 Wishlist

I’ve been thinking about E3 for a few months now, particularly with Nintendo’s anemic release schedule for an otherwise successful Switch launch. E3 is not quite the spectacle it once was, but it certainly seems to have gotten some of its mojo back in recent years. So much so, in fact, that I continually find myself excited to watch the keynotes (as awkward as some of the speakers are) to see what surprises are in store. Since E3 is just a few weeks away and I have the space to ramble about the games I hope to see revealed there, I figured I’d post them here. Some of these are pie-in-the-sky wishes, I know, and I’m skipping games that have already been announced or are heavily rumored to appear (like the new Assassin’s Creed game or Super Mario Odyssey). But speculation can be fun, even if hopes are dashed or wishes go unfulfilled.

Nintendo/Switch

New and Improved (and Retroactive) Virtual Console

Okay, so I just finished saying I won’t be including obvious things on here, but it seems like there is a genuine air of mystery surrounding Nintendo’s plan for their Virtual Console service. It makes sense that Nintendo would save it for the fall, though, to add a huge bonus for holiday shoppers who might be on the fence about Nintendo’s new console. What’s less certain, it seems, is what the service will look like. Will they start from scratch? Will they include GameCube games now? Will it include handheld games, given the Switch’s ability to act as a portable system? The Virtual Console was incredible on the Wii, but it definitely dropped off early in the Wii U’s life. I suspect this might have been due to slow sales and Nintendo’s determination to introduce a radical new console successor so (relatively) soon after the Wii U’s launch. So my guess is that Nintendo saved their resources by shifting their Virtual Console development from the Wii U to the Switch much earlier than we might have thought. So, in the end, here’s my hope: they announce the entire Virtual Console back catalog will be available this summer, and new titles and platforms (including GameCube and portable systems) will start rolling out regularly in October.

switch-virtual-console-launch

Mother 3/Brand New EarthBound Game

Part of what informed my thought process for my Virtual Console prediction/hope is how Nintendo handled their release of EarthBound Beginnings (Mother) for the Wii U Virtual Console. Nintendo’s announcement that they would release the game for the first time outside of Japan came out of nowhere and reignited the rumors that Mother 3 would eventually be released here, too. Reggie Fils-Aimé was even sort of evasive when asked about the prospect of a port, saying something about not having anything to announce and waiting to see what happened with EarthBound Beginnings. Well, what happened with EarthBound Beginnings was that it was very successful for them, and it was a mainstay on the front page of their Wii U Virtual Console store for months. So all signs seemed to point to an eventual release of Mother 3, and 2016 made the most sense, being the tenth anniversary of the game’s Japanese release. A loud, widespread rumor that an announcement was imminent made the rounds that year, but nothing came of it. So why now? Well, by 2016 Nintendo was almost certainly winding down Wii U development behind the scenes, and as I said about the Virtual Console, I bet they abandoned most plans to introduce new games or console options and moved team members to the Switch team. It makes sense when you look at the Wii U’s weak Virtual Console offerings in its last year (or longer, really), and it would explain them holding off on a release of Mother 3. With the Switch and NES Classic, Nintendo is riding high on a wave of nostalgia and adoration from both casual players and hardcore Nintendo fans, so they know they need to capitalize on that this fall. Announcing Mother 3 (or, if I’m really dreaming, a whole new EarthBound game) at E3 would be something for the faithful Nintendo fans and would definitely make a splash with the gaming press. I have been disappointed many times before with regards to this series, but I’m holding out a little more hope than normal this year.

Mother3small

New Eternal Darkness Game

Nintendo recently renewed the trademark for Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem, though that doesn’t necessarily mean a sequel is on the way. It could, sure, but it could also just be a matter of housekeeping for Nintendo, or it might mean a port of it is coming for the Switch’s upcoming Virtual Console. I’m hoping that it really does mean that a new game or a remaster is coming, though, for a couple of reasons: first, the Switch has lots of new technology that a development team could play with. The most interesting and innovative thing that Sanity’s Requiem introduced was the “sanity meter” and the weird effects that the game would employ when your sanity meter ran low, specifically the ways in which they tried to mess with the player and make them think that weird things were happening independent of the game – the console rebooting, sudden deaths, fake television volume changes, etc. The Switch’s Joy-cons have infrared sensors on them, meaning they could actually change your television’s settings (if you have it synced). Those same sensors can apparently read movement and shapes, too, and the HD rumble can produce sensations that the GameCube controller never could. Bugs crawling in your palm? Maybe. The game could also force you to switch between the handheld mode and television mode, or read your game history (like Psycho Mantis does in Metal Gear Solid). So the possibilities for fun, creative, disturbing uses for the Switch’s hardware make a sequel an exciting and not totally unlikely scenario. My second reason for hoping for a sequel is in Nintendo’s new approach to their core audience. After the relative failure of the Wii U, they seem more keen to listen to their core audience than they have been in a long time, and they seem almost giddy with unannounced secrets. Sequels to games like EarthBound and Eternal Darkness would be shocking to many, so the buzz among the hardcore audience would increase noticeably, I think. Also, the Switch is going to need some original content for mature audiences, since it seems unlikely that many of the popular shooters will make their way to the system for a while, if ever.

eternal_darkness_screen_1_small
Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem

New Smash Bros.

This one might also seem like a given, but what I’m actually hoping for is a new Smash Bros. game, not a ‘deluxe’ version of the Wii U Super Smash Bros. The odds are not in my favor, though, since Nintendo could probably have a deluxe edition ready by year’s end, and with much less cost, but if they announced a brand new game that would be out by next spring or fall, I’d be excited. I know some people are hoping for a deluxe version with all of the current DLC and maybe a couple of surprise new characters or levels, but I’m worried that a precedent will have been set by Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, with deluxe versions of other Wii U games delaying new entries in some great series. So, yeah, sure, I’d buy Super Smash Bros. Deluxe, but I’m really hoping for a new game announcement.

Bayonetta SSB

Animal Crossing Switch

What worries me about the prospect of a new Animal Crossing is that there is an upcoming mobile Animal Crossing game. I’m cautiously enthused about that game. I don’t think it will be a full Animal Crossing experience, though, so what does that mean for the Switch? Will it give Nintendo an excuse to neglect the series for a while? It’s been five years since the series’ last proper installment, New Leaf for the 3DS, so it does seem like a good time to announce an Animal Crossing for the Switch. If we’re lucky enough to get that at E3, I’m hoping to see an easier way to visit people’s towns, vastly improved detail in the graphics (the simple design is fine, but Nintendo’s always seemed to use that as an excuse to be lazy with the graphics), and maybe more non-village places to visit (vacation homes, perhaps). Also, I know Nintendo abandoned the ability to collect and play classic NES games after the original Animal Crossing because they would go on to sell those same games digitally, but I think it would be kind of neat if you could buy/earn/find various consoles in a new Animal Crossing game and then access Virtual Console games directly from your Animal Crossing world (games you’ve already purchased, of course). If they threw in a free NES game (one per account) for your first birthday in the game, that would be even cooler. But now I’m really dreaming.

animal-crossing-mario-kart-8-small
Animal Crossing track in Mario Kart 8

Sony/PlayStation 4

Dragon Quest XI

Nintendo’s 3DS has gotten plenty of Dragon Quest love in recent years, but the last numbered entry in the series to be released on home consoles in America was Dragon Quest VIII. That was in 2004. From what I’ve seen, the world of Dragon Quest XI has the same colorful beauty that I loved about VIII, so I very much want it to make its way across the Pacific, and an announcement at E3 would be amazing, if not the most shocking thing to be announced. With the release of several successful remakes and spinoffs, like Dragon Quest Builders and the Dragon Quest Heroes games, it seems like Square Enix have every intent to fully invest in making the core series as successful in the US as it is in Japan. But the fact that their MMO, Dragon Quest X, never got a western release makes things a little more complicated. If that one wasn’t worth translating, manufacturing, and distributing, will XI be worth the same financial risk? We’ll see, I suppose, and hopefully at E3.

Dragon Quest XI small
Dragon Quest XI

Until Dawn 2

Until Dawn was such a nice surprise when it came out. The premise and mechanics are so simple and straightforward that it would have been easy for me to overlook, but luckily I had a friend that highly recommended it to me. The game is gorgeous, the subtle (and not so subtle) nods to a myriad of horror films were fun to catch, and the game was short and exciting enough to easily invite multiple playthroughs. Some of the actors have said that they’d be willing to do a sequel, and the game’s executive producer has expressed interest in continuing the series beyond the game’s spinoff, Until Dawn: Rush of Blood. But other than that nothing has been announced or even heavily rumored. So I’m hoping for some kind of announcement at E3, even if the game itself is a couple of years away. Bonus round: What if the sequel is fully VR? Yes, please.

Until Dawn small
Until Dawn

Multi-platform

Bully 2

Every time there is a rumor of an upcoming Rockstar announcement, or they say that they’re working on more than one project, I hope that it’s Bully 2. It’s strange, really, because it took me a while to warm up to the first game, and even still it’s not one of my favorite games. It is fun and quirky, though, and I did end up growing quite fond of the characters and the small world that they inhabited. Members of Rockstar have said that a sequel is likely inevitable, but with Grand Theft Auto V, released four years ago, we’ve seen a dedication to producing extra content for existing IPs rather than development of a number of new games or sequels. Red Dead Redemption 2 is scheduled for spring of 2018, but what beyond that? Four years of DLC and then another game? I doubt it, but I want at least a couple of non-GTA games in the next few years, and I hope that one of them is Bully 2.

bully-scholarship-edition-xbox-360-small
Bully: Scholarship Edition

New Tomb Raider

With two and a half years separating the release of Tomb Raider and Rise of the Tomb Raider, the announcement of a spring 2018 release of the next installment in the series at E3 would be of little surprise to anyone, especially with the release of the rebooted movie slated for March of next year. I haven’t heard much from Crystal Dynamics or Square Enix, though, which makes me think an announcement at E3 is likely. Will it be another timed exclusive, though? Where will the game be set? Will they try something shockingly new with this one, or will it be another refinement of an already solid formula? I’m hoping for a big, flashy, informational announcement at E3.

Rise-of-the-Tomb-Raider-2-small
Rise of the Tomb Raider

Soulcalibur VI

I could swear I recently read an interview with someone at Namco Bandai where they said they have no plans to continue the Soulcalibur series, but I can’t seem to find it anywhere. I can’t find very much about the future of the series either, though, so maybe that’s saying something similar. As it stands, it seems like there are no immediate plans for a Soulcalibur VI, but I would love to see something at E3. I do feel like the last couple of games have been less accessible than Soulcalibur II, but the games are always visually stunning and fun to (clumsily) play with friends. I’d love for the next entry to be a bit more casual/arcade-y, because I don’t have the time to commit to mastering fighting games like I used to, but I’ll take anything at this point.

soulcalibur-v-viola-small
Soulcalibur V

I have other hopes and dreams, like a surprise fall release date for the Final Fantasy VII remake, or a Chrono Trigger sequel, or a new Parasite Eve game, but those seem pretty unlikely, so I’ll just cross my fingers and hope I get half of my list above.

War Never Changes

I just finished reading Blake J. Harris’s Console Wars, about Sega’s war with Nintendo for dominance in the home console market during the Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis era, and my mind is tingling with nostalgia.

Mario and Sonic

Like many videogame-loving kids during that time period, my parents were only willing to buy me one console (and only after months of pleading and a hefty price drop). Having been a proud owner of an NES, the choice for me was clear, especially because, as the book points out, Sega didn’t really start offering much to entice players to switch allegiance until the Sonic games came around. So I was team Nintendo all the way, a willing participant (or consumer pawn) in this ‘war.’

There were times when my loyalty wavered just a bit, though, and the Mortal Kombat blood debacle was one of them. I was used to playing the arcade version of the game at a corner store near my house, and the idea of a watered-down, blood-free version did not sit well with ten year old Joey. I also remember gazing longingly at the screenshots of the Genesis version of Jurassic Park and wishing my SNES version looked as gorgeous.

Genesis

Jurassic Park Gen

SNES

Jurassic Park SNES

There’s something to be said for the SNES version of Jurassic Park combining third person overhead segments and first person interior segments, especially given that the latter made good use of the SNES’s Mode 7 capabilities. But when you’re eleven years old and in love with the superb special effects of the Jurassic Park movie, you want your digital dinos to look as close to the ‘real thing’ as possible, and Genesis delivered in that department.

Aside from spurring a stroll down memory lane, the book prompted me to reflect on my experience as an observer of an ever-changing home console scene. In the late 70s (not that I was alive yet), Atari was huge. Untouchable. Until they weren’t (and they really, really weren’t). Nintendo owned 95% of the home console market during the NES’s reign in the mid-late 80s, and they too seemed invincible, until they weren’t. I would argue that they ‘won’ the SNES vs Genesis war, but not before losing a huge portion of the market to Sega. It seemed unimaginable that the generation after that would be anything but Sega vs Nintendo: Round 2 (well, Round 3, technically), but Sony changed everything with the introduction of the first PlayStation. The Sega Saturn was not very powerful and didn’t have much support in the software department, so it basically came down to Nintendo’s N64 and the PlayStation. The likely victor seemed obvious at the time. The N64 was (arguably) twice as powerful, produced 3D worlds that really felt expansive, had an innovative controller that introduced sensitive joysticks and rumble, launched at $100 less than the PlayStation had, and Nintendo’s first party games remained among the best on the market.

But they lost. It’s a fact we take for granted now, but it bordered on unbelievable at the time. It wasn’t Sega that slayed Nintendo, it was Sony who knocked them both down to size. Sony, who (as the book describes in some detail) had been on the verge of handing their original PlayStation design over to Nintendo and, later, Sega, before dumb corporate politics got in the way. But how? Well, Sega had a lot to do with it. Nintendo had an iron grip on the industry in the 80s and placed strict restrictions on how many games developers could release, and then monitored the quality of these games closely (which saved the market from collapsing in a heap of crap, as it had done in the 70s). To convince those same developers to make games for their Genesis, Sega promised far less restrictive control. While it didn’t help them outright win their war with Nintendo, it did change how business was done in the market and freed developers to seek more than one place to publish their games. While Nintendo failed to learn from this, continuing with expensive (but tightly controlled) cartridge manufacturing, closely monitoring third party output, etc., Sony capitalized on it and made their console easy and cheap to develop for, welcoming companies to produce games more freely than Nintendo had. This quantity over quality approach eventually resulted in a glut of poorly made, ugly, or buggy games, but PlayStation owners enjoyed the freedom of a vast library of games which Nintendo just did not have. And of course there was marketing and the perception that the PlayStation was for adults and the N64 for kids, and plenty of other of factors that contributed to the outcome. But Sony won in a big way.

They won in an even bigger way with the PS2, leaving Nintendo’s GameCube and Microsoft’s newly-christened Xbox to fight for second place. But in a huge upset the following generation, the Xbox 360 dominated against the PS3, and Nintendo’s Wii outsold both of them quite handily. In the current generation, it’s all mixed up again. Nintendo’s Wii U is a distant echo, and the PS4 is once again Sony’s claim to home console dominance.

I probably didn’t need to regurgitate all of that, but it’s, in part, what’s been running through my head lately. It’s been hard to determine which console or company will be the victor of any particular generation’s ‘war.’ But what really struck me is this: going all the way back to the NES versus the Sega Master System, consoles seemed to offer something noticeably different than their competition. SNES games looked different than Genesis games. You’d never mistake an N64 game for a PlayStation game. GameCube games were distinct from Xbox games. With the Xbox 360 and PS3, the lines began to blur, and now it seems as if having a home console that boasts any kind of obvious technological advantage is increasingly unlikely. The Wii changed the landscape a lot, forcing Sony and Microsoft to invest in exploring motion control and other avenues of expanding gameplay beyond the controller. So is this generation going to be defined by PlayStation’s virtual reality and Microsoft’s augmented reality? What about next generation?

Microsoft’s openness to cross-platform play with the PS4 was shocking, but could it be indicative of something more? Research and development of console hardware is incredibly costly, but game publishing is lucrative. Could Microsoft plan on moving strictly to Windows gaming in the future, developing and publishing games for the PS4 on the side? I know that people say similar things every generation (Nintendo has been on the verge of giving up the hardware game for 20 years, according to these people), but it’s becoming increasingly hard to not only imagine how consoles from two companies will define themselves in relation to one another, but how they will differ from a moderately priced PC. Those distinctions were easy to make in the past, but other than peripherals or interface or services, I have a hard time believing the next Xbox and PS will be very different at all, in terms of hardware. And if I were looking at having to invest hundreds of millions of dollars to keep up in that race, only to potentially ‘lose’ another round, I might think about other, less risky avenues to stay in the market.

This is all amatuer speculation, of course, and this generation still has plenty of potential surprises in store, I’m sure. But it’s fun to think about this stuff. And you never know what will happen. You might not have ever convinced 12 year old Joey that he would one day buy Sonic Adventure 2 for a Nintendo console, or buy an issue of Nintendo Power with Sonic on the cover, or play a Nintendo fighting game with Sonic as a playable character, or own a Sonic figure with a Nintendo copyright stamped on the bottom. But here we are. What a time to be alive.

Nintendo Power Sonic