Why the next generation Xbox and PlayStation ARE coming soon: A rumour free guide, using just the facts

So the rumours of the next generation of consoles are coming thick and fast. As thick and fast, in fact, as a sweet, frothy milkshake served from the catering trolley of the Japanese Bullet Train. There are a ton of variants, a ton of angles, and most importantly, a metric shedload of vested interests at play. And naturally, such a broiling cauldron of conflicting influences is usually likely to impart naught but a seething broth of purest acrid bullshit.

But I don’t think that’s necessarily the case this time. You see whatever the latest subjective interpretations of garbled translations of vague, foreign executive statements (and that's really what they are, if you look around a bit) I reckon the next gen is gearing up right now, and building steam all the time. Of course, nothing has been officially admitted. These things never are. But if you look at the spaces between what has been said; if you look not at any particular event for the truth, but at the general shape outlined out by them; and if you do that with the main potential next-gen rumblings of the 2011… Well, well then you’ll find one hell of a clear narrative, detailing exactly where we’re going.

Allow me to elaborate…

New graphics tech is coming, and that will need new hardware

The march towards the next gen started in early March of 2011. You might remember that back then Epic Games, the developer of Gears of War and the Unreal series, and owner of the dominant third-party game engine of this generation, bandied about demo footage of its proposed new graphical tech. This wasn’t just another of those incremental “Look, now we can do meat / water / foliage / incredibly realistic coffee froth!” demos for the standard Unreal Engine 3; the ones that traditionally come along just before a new Gears of War game turns up full of tactile gore, plant-life and motion-controlled barista mini-games.

No, this was a proper, kick-you-hard-enough-up-the-arse-to-make-your-eyes-pop-out upgrade, running on PC hardware powerful enough to bully Tron’s master control program. It was intended purely to show exactly the kind of nonsensical real-time visual fidelity Epic now has its sights set on delivering in the near future.

In August, Epic’s next gen engine-touting was joined by that of its eastern counterpart in the noble art of graphics-whoring, Square-Enix,. A supposed demo video leaked onto YouTube, and a few screenshots were released, which very favourably (read: nigh-indistinguishably) compared Square-Enix’s new rendering to photographs. The lighting effects were staggering, giving the whole thing an almost photo-realistic look. The engine – named Luminous Studio – will apparently feature very impressive procedural animation tools, being able to adapt mo-cap animations on the fly based on new variables like terrain-types and the weight of equipment carried by characters. It will feature some impressive AI too, which will operate based on making characters fully aware of the environment around them.

Above: Admit it. You thought it was the dullest image ever, until you realised that one of them is computer-rendered. Now all you want is games about car parks. Good work, Squenix

So, two notoriously visuals-led developers, revealing showboating new technology way in advance of what current console hardware can run. And doing so, rather suspiciously, without a specific game to show off. There’s a stink in the air, and it smells predominantly of one thing. An early licensing pitch. One intended to entice external developers into using Epic and Square-Enix’s software to build their next generation games.

Tech-leasing has always made up half of Epic’s business model, and having got the current generation sewn up early with the Unreal Engine 3’s ubiquitousness, it’s going to want to lock down the next one ASAP. After complaining of the costs and technical traumas of developing for the current generation – Final Fantasy XIII’s linearity was largely explained as a symptom of this – not to mention funding the development of three other game engines, it would not be at all surprising to see Square Enix looking to recoup some of its investment by setting up stall.

But it would be foolhardy in the extreme to do so without a business roadmap. So whether possessing inside knowledge, or trying to give the wheels a grease themselves, both Epic and Square-Enix must be confident that a market for their engine tech must be coming relatively soon. And neither company will simply be banking on uber-powerful consumer PCs. And that means that more powerful consoles are very likely on the way soon.

And then, just as we’re talking about powerful consoles, we ironically come to the importance of Nintendo within this merry next gen dance…

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  • shnazzyone - February 1, 2012 11:32 p.m.

    I loved this article. One of the more interesting articles i've read deconstructing the current console state of affairs. E3 should be interesting this year.
  • Rhymenocerous - February 1, 2012 10 a.m.

    What about CryEngine 3? But yeah, after reading this, 2013 doesn't seem like a rediculous prediction for console releases at all. Not that I'm in such a rush though, I'm happy with things as they are.
  • psptwo-roundup - February 1, 2012 3:39 a.m.

    Considering the current latest PC graphics cards are going for $400+ each, lets guess (wildly) at: $150 for the four-billion transistor GPU, $100 for a quad-core processor and $80 for 8GB DRAM - based on $1.25 for 2Gbit memory (spot market prices - that's proper research that is!). $200 R&D, build, marketing and guff $530 - convert that to £s = £530 (not £333 thanks to evil money-grabbing types who ignore the .63 $/£ exchange rate.) And we're almost at the point where a next gen console becomes affordable. Can't be too far off, but while the middleware and graphics engines are now more than capable, most developers will need a good deal of ramp up time to produce the games that these consoles demand. The most important part of the equation - the Grand Theft Auto/Unreal/MGS/id-engine teams need to have finished their final this-gen products, had a holiday and settled down to master the next-gen code engines before its worth announcing anything.
  • aratiatia - February 1, 2012 12:16 a.m.

    The New Zealand scenery was a pleasant surprise in this article! Very cool.
  • D0CCON - January 31, 2012 6:57 p.m.

    I liked this article, and then I remembered that the title said rumor free and wondered how this article deserves that title.
  • Stiltzkin - January 31, 2012 5:48 p.m.

    Huh. Odd choice of photo with the highway (this way to next gen). Was wondering what the heck New Zealand had to do with this. Apparently we just have easy to photoshop highways?
  • tiben36 - January 31, 2012 3:29 p.m.

    there wont be a next gen console before 2014 (wii u is current gen btw, just veeeery late)
  • CH3BURASHKA - January 31, 2012 12:34 p.m.

    Dammit, just missed the Dinosaur Penis offramp... guess we're turning around, kids!
  • RedHarlow - January 31, 2012 10:18 a.m.

    "Rumor free" -> The entire article is speculation and hearsay.
  • ClusterShart - January 31, 2012 10:04 a.m.

    Well, you can't really consider it the next gen, just hardware upgrades. From what has been released, the Xboxwhatever doesn't even look like it will be able to play modern PC games, let alone at 1080p without cutting more than a few corners. I don't even know if Sony will have enough money to produce another console.
  • sam-street - January 31, 2012 9:52 a.m.

    David, I normally enjoy your articles but christ! Next gen consoles coming, 100% rumour free based on just the facts? This entire article was complete speculation! Reading between the lines will give you the real answer? So the fact that Kaz Hirai himself has said on record that Sony will categorically not be showing PS4 this E3 or that's it's coming anytime soon is trumped by reading between the lines? I'll stick to the facts in this case.
  • ZhugeLiang - January 31, 2012 9:12 a.m.

    "...lolloping along the track behind its big two rivals again like a tired dog with ever-shortening legs." Damn, Dave. That's some Byronian shit. As far as the photograph/screenshot comparison of the lighting engine goes, it looks impressive, but I'd be more interested in a comparison at a much, much higher resolution.
  • CaptCOMMANDO - January 31, 2012 9 a.m.

    I bet 5$ through PayPal to everyone* that SkraightSkreet will post in this articles comments and start some crap. *I will not really send money to anyone.
  • ultimatepunchrod - January 31, 2012 8:48 a.m.

    First party games ARE NOT drying up on PS3. They just all came out in 2011. There's nothing left for 2012 except Sly 4, (maybe) the Last of US, and Twisted Metal. But look at what came out in 2011: Uncharted 3, Littlebigplanet 2, Infamous 2, Resistance 3, Ratchet and Clank all 4 one, Motorstorm Apocalypse, Ico and Shadow of the Colossus collection, God of War origins collection, Killzone 3, Socom 4, and there are even more, but the rest just aren't that good. I liked the article, but that entry made no sense.
  • Barnsley Pal - January 31, 2012 10:31 a.m.

    I think you are missing his point. He means that the amount of future PS3 exclusives are drying up. It doesn't matter how many exclusives they have released in the past. He is not suggesting that Sony are not making future exclusives, but that the majority of those in development are still unannounced and for the next generation hardware.
  • AwesomeMan - January 31, 2012 7:34 a.m.

    As an Xbox gamer, I could use a bit of an upgrade in terms of power under the hood. I'm interested to see if they'll put a Blu-ray disc drive in the new Xbox, DVD's won't last forever. Also, whatever next Battlefield game comes out better have more than BS 24 player support on consoles! 64 preferably...32 the BARE MINIMUM!
  • ThisIsMyFuckingThirdAccount - January 31, 2012 8:52 a.m.

    No Blu-Ray. Maybe they'll bring HD-DVD back for games?
  • SalvadorZombie - January 31, 2012 6:33 a.m.

    Good, interesting article. Seemed a little rushed with all of the structural errors, but there were some interesting points.
  • taokaka - January 31, 2012 6:12 a.m.

    I think sony should wait for the ps4 otherwise the vita will lose support and will end up like the psp. But I can see the positives of new hardware, mostly first party studios will be able to make even sexier games while most third parties continue to make games that look like you've rubbed Vaseline in your eyes in comparison. Also to all the PC elitist people that will comment saying stuff like consoles are for noob casual gamers, real hardcore super gamers have PCs with nine motherboards and can anti-alias the anti-aliasing in games, etc etc, I just have this to say
  • LEGOMatrix - January 31, 2012 5:44 a.m.

    This article has gotten me all excited for a Last Of The Summer Wine game!