Back in August of 2012, numerous voices within the video game industry spoke out against the unusually long time span between the current systems and next generation consoles. The Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 were long overdue for successors, they argued, and the fact that they hadn't been replaced was killing developer creativity.
"What we missed was a new console every five years," said Yves Guillemot, CEO of Ubisoft. "We have been penalized by the lack of new consoles on the market... it's important for the entire industry to have new consoles because it helps creativity."
Another individual, Square Enix's Julien Merceron, went even further when he said, "It's the biggest mistake they've ever made."
On Feb. 20, Sony officially revealed (some of) the PlayStation 4, and its event was filled with developers and executives proudly declaring the end of creative restrictions for game makers. Gone were the days of technological limitations: The PS4 would usher in an unparalleled era of unique content and innovation.
Then the games actually showed up. I'm hard-pressed to come up with another time in which a company's lofty and inspiring corporate speak crumbled so swiftly and with such pronouncement. All those calls for new hardware suddenly seemed unnecessary.
Two of the first three titles Sony announced were sequels. Killzone: Shadow Fall and Infamous: Second Son. Why, with unprecedented power and zero restrictions, these developers decided they wanted to make sequels to moderately successful and mediocre titles was a question that went unasked during Sony's two hour presentation, but it's something that needs serious reflection.
The third title, by the way, was introduced promisingly enough by Evolution Studios, who gushed that with the power of the PS4 they could finally make the game they've waited nine years to make. Then they presented DriveClub, a racing game with social media integration and an obsessively intense focus on rendering vehicles as realistically as possible.
The most popular racing title in the world is Mario Kart. People throw bananas at each other in it. The time for ogling carbon fibers in car games passed a long time ago.
There were more projects revealed (The Witness, which we already knew about, was the stand out), but nothing ever truly seemed to click. Both Watch Dogs and Agnis Philisophy were games shown last year. If anything, the PS4 seems more like a continuation of industry trends initiated by the Xbox 360 and PS3 at a time when continuity is boring consumers.
The promise of video games for a long time now has been that great technological breakthroughs would naturally give rise to a plethora of ground-breaking new experiences. For some reason, the industry has valued the inevitable growth in processing power over the imaginations of its creators, while the constant release of new peripherals and different controller interfaces has kept us from debating that premise's underlying wisdom.
With the PS4, finally, that premise has been thrust into the light long enough to be debated. Smartphones and tablets have changed the gaming landscape irrevocably, and their continuing growth in popularity means there's no going back. These devices don't have nearly the power or capability of a dedicated video game system, and yet, gaming is thriving on them. John Teti already explained the benefits of restriction with great insight over at the Gameological Society, but it's worth repeating: New technology alone isn't going to take the industry out of its current slump. Just ask Nintendo.
Heavy Rain director and PS4 presenter David Cage is a great example because he's the video game industry's struggle personified. In 2011, he gave a speech at the Game Developer's Conference claiming that, "We need to forget about video game rules ... Everything you can do with [old game] words has already been said. We need to create a new language to create new things."
Can you imagine someone suggesting the same thing to musicians or writers? There's nothing left to say with English words; they need to be discarded? This collective is so eager, so excited by the prospect of destroying limitations that they can't realize there's nothing to replace them with. The answer to the question of how to create art is as old as art itself, and next-generation machines aren't going to change that.
Cage's presentation perfectly summed up the entire evening. He passionately preached the invention of innovative content only possible because of technology. Then he showed a polygon-loaded image of an old man.
The wrinkles have never been more clear.