Time for something new and improved
A new console generation is always a time to get excited. It's also, on the longer term, always a period of great change. Now that our online-connected machines are evolving platforms rather than strictly defined systems, there are countless ways that the next generation of consoles can change and improve gaming for the better over the years following launch.
So we've had a think. We've nitpicked the current-gen gaming experience for every niggle, annoyance and area of potential improvement we can identify. Some are tech-driven. Some are cultural. Some involve industry nonsense and some are long-standing game design irritations. But the PS4 and Xbox 720 could easily fix them all. If they do, gaming will be perfect. Let's see how lucky we get.
1. Loading times
Games are fun. Thus, any barrier to getting into a game and playing it is an irritation. This logic has held true ever since games were invented, being particularly well understood during the days of tape-loaded 8-bit home computers. Things got better during the cartridge era, but then with optical media we were right back into the loading time holding-pattern.
The advent of huge capacity Blu-ray discs this generation has made things even worse, and if you couple that issue with plain old poor optimisation of some games then you have a recipe for frustration. Lets speed things up.
2. Firmware updates
In some ways the blurring of lines between console and PC is undoubtedly a good thing. Consoles are becoming more open and versatile in their functionality all the time, able to gain powerful new abilities long after their release. But on the other hand theyre becoming more complex and fiddly to use, frequently requiring the kind of processes and tinkering that many gamers chose console gaming to avoid. System updates are a major part of this.
We probably dont need to mention which machine has been the most notorious for them, and we fully accept that updates are probably here to stay. But we ask that next-gen every console a) has infrequent ones, b) makes the process as invisible as possible and c) makes it damn quick when it has to happen.
3. Long installations
That Blu-ray problem we mentioned? Those long loading times brought about by the formats large capacity and long read-time also lead to this. Brought in to combat disc loading times, mandatory installations bring a whole load of delays themselves.
Obviously its debateable whether its better to suffer multiple mid-game delays or one long one at the start, but when combined with inopportune firmware updates and game patches, a long installation can easily wipe out a whole evenings gaming without a second played. Installations are something were probably going to have to live with, but could we please make them faster with next-gen hardware?
4. The end of awkwardly animated sex scenes
Sex scenes do not have to be gratuitous. Yes, most media uses them simply as lazy narrative short-hand for These characters now like each other, but it doesnt have to be that way. They can also be brilliant at exploring the relationships and psychological states of characters if executed with enough insight and finesse. But if thats not what a video game sex scene is doing (and weve yet to see one that has) then can we politely request a fade to black instead please?
Game rendering technology still hasnt progressed to the point of depicting anything other than awkward zombie sex, and we dont think it will next-gen either. We dont need any more shamble-porn in our lives.
5. Online moderation
Particularly in regards to the use of console camera equipment in online gaming. Remember Unos notorious spate of in-game exhibitionism? If we wanted our living rooms invaded with untoward stranger-flesh wed go on Chat Roulette.
6. Less dry business-talk at E3
If youre in the business of selling games, youre in the business of selling fun and excitement. If you happen to find yourself with a massive world-wide stage upon which to get the planet hyped about your products (say, for instance, every June in LA), then the best thing you can do on that stage is to show people how much fun they can have with your upcoming array of digital good-times.
What you shouldnt do is spent a quarter of your time showing off business pie-charts amidst vast swathes of corporate jargon-babble. With the best will in the world, no-one is watching for that stuff.
8. Less awkward celebrity appearances at E3
Electronic Entertainment Expo is admittedly a pretty broad label. But at the risk of sounding like entitled whiny forum lurkers, lets not forget why E3 is there in the first place. Lets not forget who and what built this gloriously silly electronic toy industry into something that can justify an event of that size.
Gamers are still the predominant evangelists for each and every format. E3 is their combined church, festival and cultural summit. Afterwards theyll be talking about the games they saw, not the b-list celebrities who gave awkward endorsements of TV and music distribution deals. Publishers, make sure you give them enough to talk about.
9. No more talk of built from the ground up
The phrase built from the ground up is a reassuring yet useless games industry trope that somehow hasnt died out yet. Its a hoary old press release space filler intended to convince of a products freshness and vitality, but all it really says is We made his thing and it exists. Or occasionally Youve played this before but we promise weve definitely polished up this remake.
Can we drop it now guys? Wed rather hear about the really exciting bits of your games. You dont need to fall back on this old crutch.
10. Less shooters needlessly pretending to be emotional epics
Not every game needs to be moving narrative masterpiece. Its great when they are of course. And interactive media is obviously in an incredibly exciting place right now in terms of how it can develop the future mechanics of storytelling. But consider chess. Chess doesnt need a storyline. It has a rough scenario built around an allegory for war which gives the game some relatable context, but it needs no more than that. Because its gameplay is the main draw. It's more than strong enough to stand up on their own.
Shooter devs, wed much rather you put all of your efforts into making your games play well, first and foremost. Thats what we really want. Dont feel the need to waste time and energy acting like something you don't even have to be.
11. No more tonally misleading game trailers
Similarly, wed much rather that games sold themselves based on what they do well rather than disguising their quality under reams of distracting and inaccurate marketing. Too many ads lately have felt designed to make games look like what they think they should be rather than what they really are. Theres nothing for a good game to be ashamed of.
Were onto our third or fourth human generation of gamers now. We all know why we play games. We know why theyre fun and worthwhile. Resident Evil doesnt need to be disguised as a apocalyptic tearjerker in the style of The Road. Games, be more proud of your content and tell the world about it truthfully.
12. Consistent cover systems
The cover-shooter has flourished this generation, and quite rightly so. Popularised by Gears of Wars slick and affecting presentation of the active cover concept, cover-shooters have evolved action games in a whole bunch of cool, tactical and deeply divergent ways. Yet still we occasionally come across cover-shooters in which the implementation of the supposed main draw holds things back.
Sticky or imprecise cover-systems are still happening, and after this long thats not okay. Particularly when it hampers enjoyment of what might otherwise be perfectly good content.
13. Consistent camera control
Ditto 3D cameras. Whether the player gets manual control or not, we cant fathom why these still arent 100% perfect yet. Console games have been operating in free-roaming 3D since 1994, yet still we come across the occasional twitchy, glitchy or easily distractible camera system.
All we ask is that before developers get excited by the new toys afforded by next-gen, they take some time to get the basics right. Those high poly-counts and eye-splitting texture resolutions wont look half as good if the camera is pointing the wrong way.
14. Co-op AI that knows when to step back
Companion characters can be a great way of providing in-game narrative texture without resorting to cutscene interruptions, but we ask that they respectfully acknowledge when the game is being played solo. If a single player is playing a game, then that single player wants to be the one playing. He or she does not want to sit back and watch the AI complete the campaign for them.
Dead Space 3 is great for this, going as far as to provide alternate cutscenes and story iterations if a second player character isnt required. Its a great leap forward and we want to see more of it.
15. Better default brightness settings
We are hardcore gamers. We are AV nerds par excellence. We have our TVs calibrated beautifully. Yet this-gen the gamma option screen has become a standard first port of call when firing up a new game for the first time. Too dark is not shorthand for atmospheric.
Devs, if youve made pretty graphics (which we have no doubt you will on next-gen tech) then we want to see them. Be excited about your visual accomplishments. Show them off. Shove them right in our faces. Turn the lights up a bit.
16. Less reliance on post-release patches
Bit of a double-edged sword, that old online connectivity. On the one hand, console gamers now have access to all of the ongoing improvements, tweaks and evolutionary potential that PC gamers have long enjoyed. On the other, patches have become a crutch, increasingly used as an excuse to hit a long-projected release date with a Get Out Of Jail Free card in case of unfinished code.
Just because a lot of consoles (read: paying customers) are online, that doesnt mean every one of them is. The PS3s notoriously messy version of Skyrim might technically be fixed now, but if you have an offline machine then you still just own a rather pretty Elder Scrolls-themed beer mat.
17. "Badass empowerment" not being the default aspiration
Games have evolved beautifully this generation. Theyve branched out in artistic and mechanical directions many people would never have thought possible 20 years ago. So it always feels like a bit of a regressive step when we hear a dev still talking about badassery and aggressive empowerment being the main priorities in the player experience.
Theres nothing wrong with that stuff in itself of course. Plenty of gameseven the brainiest actioners, like BioShock and Half-Life 2thrive on it. But games, gamers and the potential eclecticism of both have moved on past the need for badass empowerment to be considered the best marketing angle. Games like Borderlands and Crysis have way more interesting stuff going on than simple badassery, so lets hear more about that.
18. A wider variety of game protagonists
On a related note, while the bald-headed space-marine archetype has been fearsomely prolific this generation, a few games have proved that audiences want more than that. The Walking Dead is a perfect example. Instead of a grizzled, white, shaven-headed badass, we have an uncertain, well-meaning, often out of his depth black guy (with hair) and a realistically played eight year-old girl. The Walking Deads (large) audience adored both of them.
There are more interesting characters to inhabit than Big Griff Explodokill. Some experiences are far more interesting and engaging when we dont feel like an infallible gun-toting superman. Lets use next-gen to really explore that stuff.
19. Horsepower used for more interesting things than graphics
Graphics are the sexy, immediate selling point for next-gen games because they attack the most easily-stimulated of senses. They can be instantaneously appreciated by anyone, without explanation. Game mechanics, AI and deep, living world detail arent as immediately arousing, but in the long-term theyre more important. They do though, require a lot of work and a lot of system memory.
Consoles have traditionally been a bit lacking in the old RAM department compared to PCs, so its heartening to see the PS4 announced with a mighty 8Gb. Were really hoping that solid chunk of doingstuffability is used to add real functionality, content and depth to games beyond the obvious graphical improvements and smoother operating systems.
Anything that gets in the way of the players seamless interaction with the game world is a bad thing. Anything that screams Hey, not real! in as loud and irritating a voice as a choppy frame rate really needs to be excised, rapidly.
But this is a similar situation to the one in the previous entry. Do devs use some of the extra next-gen power at their disposal to ensure a locked down, super smooth frame rate, or do they just go all-out on the pretty and hope they can fix the performance later? Id Software code wizard John Carmack reckons it will be the latter. We hope hell be wrong or once.
21. Standardised 1080P
The number of games presenting their wares in full HD has improved over the course of this generation, but its still not 100%. We want it to be 100%.
Whatever any defensive gamer with a 720P TV will tell you, those extra pixels are noticeable and they do matter. Like frame-rate, lets hope developers make them a priority next time.
22. Online store prices
Sony has already stated that digital downloads will be the umbrella distribution method for all PS4 games, with retail discs responsible for getting only a selection of the consoles games into peoples homes. This is yet another area in which console gaming is following the successful lead of the PC. But if its one in which consoles genuinely want to compete, then they need to follow through on pricing.
Weve seen some ludicrous digital game prices this generation. That needs to stop. Financial incentives for digital purchasing--whether by way of lower standard prices or regular sales--benefit those on both sides of the business equation.
23. Petty corporate squabbles
The levels of in-fighting and fanboyism is the gaming community still need to improve, but thats not going to happen as long as highly-paid corporate mouthpieces for platform holders and publishers are presenting themselves with the same level of maturity.
We understand the need for companies to have relatable public faces, particularly in an industry as community-driven as gaming. But when execs are throwing around the same petty put-downs on Twitter as those living beneath the dank undersides of the internets various goat-bridges, theyre holding back both industry and community alike. Lets use competition more positively next-gen.
24. Less countdowns to announcements of reveals of teasers
Guys, if your game is exciting, well be excited. If its a big enough deal to warrant a major marketing push, well be paying attention. But if you start that push before youre really ready to start it and try to turn a tiny reveal into a major event, weariness will ensue by the time you have anything substantial to show off.
Dont make us bored of your good stuff. Just trust that its good and show it to us at the right time
25. The length of game credits
A hell of a lot of people put in a hell of a lot of hard work over a hell of a long period of time to make the average AAA game. That will probably only increase over the next generation. And a lot of us respect those people enough to sit through the whole end credits of a game, much like those guys who stay in a cinema until the lights come up (yeah, some of us are those guys too). But how about we limit next-gen credit rolls to the people who actually made the game?
The Third Assistant Czech PR Assistants tea lady doesnt really need to be in there, does she?
26. Not having to juggle downloading and playing
So a great new game has just hit Xbox Live Arcade. You get home and immediately log-in to download it. Its going to take a while, so you decide to fire up a game in the meantime. But you cant, because your 360 pauses the download as soon as you start. The very time-killer youre using to kill the time of the download has actually extended the download indefinitely.
Could we fix this please? We know the PS4 will probably allow background everything, but wed like that across all formats please.
27. All SKUs created equal (in the important ways)
Having multiple console SKUs makes sense. It opens up gaming to those of all budgets, allowing each user to choose a machine that suits the way theyre personally going to use it. Whats not okay though, is when different machine models restrict certain players from certain experienceseven qualities of gamingthat others can access.
Things like the 360 version of Battlefield 3 looking mandatorily duff on the 4Gb machine. Things like later PS3 users losing backward compatibility. These are things that are not okay. Extra bells and whistles are great, but we need to make sure that everyone has the same meat and potatoes.
28. Good d-pads across the board
Try to write your name on the Xbox 360s virtual on-screen keyboard using only the d-pad. Go on. Is your name now Hhgfbvdascv JOIU? Thought so.
2D gaming is still a thing. In fact the advent of XBLA and PSN have given it a major renaissance. So its a damn shame that only one of those two consoles has a controller properly equipped for authentic old-school play. Using analogue sticks to play a 2D platformer just isnt the same.
29. Keyboard and mouse functionality as standard
Consoles have become ever more open and versatile over the course of this generation. Next-gen they seem to be going even further. This is all damnably exciting, and should go some way to bringing consoles out of the shadow of the PCs Swiss Army Knife flexibility.
But if we could put one last cherry on the catch-up cake? Standardised keyboard and mouse support would be lovely, thankyou devs. It would give the PC master race one less piece of flame-war ammo, and it would open up a whole bunch more options in console game design. Lets have it.
30. The return of fully customisable controls
As good as most developers are at them, selectable controller presets do have their limitations. Occasionally a game uses a new innovative controller mapping that isnt to everyones tastes. Occasionally we cant quite find the exact mapping variant we want, despite trawling through the six available pages of eye-boggling, subtly different button diagrams and their accompanying 1000 words of explanatory text.
How about we go back to the old system of Select function, press desired button, use chosen button forevermore? It would remove every unnecessary barrier from a new games getting to know you period, and would make the customisation process as quick and easy as could possibly be.
31. Easier profile transportation
Gaming at friends houses is really annoying. Well its not. Its great to get back to the purity of old-school side-by-side camaraderie and sofa-based tactical face-slapping. But with the gift of Achievements and Trophies, current-gen gaming has also brought a new layer of stress to the situation. What if you nail that borderline impossible trial of superhuman thumbsmanship while signed in on a stinking guest profile? Your crowning achievement in this life (and probably the next) will be forever locked away in a fetid dungeon of placeholder user details.
The process of transferring a profile is too much faff at the moment. It can take ages to download to your friends machine, and just as long to get your identity back onto your own console. Lets make it quicker. It feels silly that transporting an intangible virtual presence is currently more akin to moving a sofa.
32. No more cutscene super powers
Its always jarringnot to mention a tooth-crackingly frustrating teaseto see our characters gain crazy transcendental planet-busting parkour powers during a cutscene, only to discover upon reassuming control that we are once again merely Frogger. And ironically it only becomes more jarring as our game characters become more capable in real-time.
Next-gens action game heroes should be more versatile than ever before, so shall we reign in the cutscene exaggeration a bit?
33. Customisable in-game help as standard
Its funny how Navis HEY! HEY! LISTEN! HEY! LISTEN! HEY! HEY! From The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time is still many gamers standard trope with which to reference an intrusive hint system. The amount of on-screen real estate now dedicated to hints, clues, directions and magic glowing spanners is greater than it ever was in the N64 era. It makes for a smooth experience for the less game-adept of course, but it also hampers immersion for the more seasoned player.
There will always be gamers of different levels, but the general populace is getting more game savvy all the time. How about next-gen consoles acknowledge both sides of the equation and give us customisable help levels as a standardised cross-game dashboard setting?