During the last generation of consoles, there were a few really key moments where it was clear that the games coming out we’re no longer geared towards the limited processing power of the original Xbox or the PS2 but rather built to take advantage of the much more powerful new generation. That first play through of Gears of War, or the first time you stalked through a massive crowd in Assassin’s Creed. So what will that moment be this generation? What will be the new Gears of War.
I’ve thought a lot about this; what that moment could be, what that moment will almost certainly not be. To start off, I can tell you that I’m almost certain that the latest generation of games won’t wow us in a graphical sense the way Gears did. It’s not that the graphics won’t be better, but rather that graphics seem to matter a little bit less each day. The term graphics is being replaced by the term aesthetics, meaning that games can be beautiful without necessarily having ridiculously high polygon counts.
That leaves the new generation of games in place where gameplay innovation, not raw graphical power, will be what we remember (at least I sure hope that’s the case). If things go right, I believe that this generation will be defined by unscripted gameplay. Right now, most games send you on missions, with rigid objectives and defined fail states. I believe that the moment we’ll point to in this generation is one where we discovered something we didn’t realize was possible.
Whether it comes in the form of more realistic AI, better physics, destructible environments, or just really excellent design, I believe that this generation will truly find it’s sea legs when it embraces players’ ability to truly problem solve. To me, a game like No Man’s Sky most closely resembles what that might mean. Given the freedom to explore, fight, cooperate, destroy (or whatever else they might want to do), the design of a game like that begins to move gaming away from the traditional idea of a game and more towards a playground. I believe that this will ultimately be what this generation is known for.
When we look back at it, the current generation of consoles may very well be defined by No Man’s Sky. If it’s not, I believe that it will be something along the same lines; a game that feel less like a set of missions, and more like a set of rules. If the massive success of Minecraft proved anything, it’s that gamers don’t need their hand’s held to have fun.