What is a "next-gen" game?
October 11, 2007
Long before the current crop of consoles arrived, game pundits began tossing around the term "next-gen" to describe hardware and software that would elevate gaming to the next level. When Nintendo announced the Wii, debate centered on whether or not the system specs were sufficient to be considered truly "next-gen." Spore developer Chris Hecker infamously described the Wii as "two Gamecubes stuck together with duct tape." Game designer American McGee responded with: "The only truly next-gen console out there is the Wii. Everything else is just a video card and processor upgrade."
This week David Braben--co-creator of the seminal computer game Elite--told Eurogamer that while he enjoyed Bioshock's atmosphere and visual style, "the gameplay itself was not next-gen." He promised that his own game-in-progress, The Outsider, "will be one of the first next-gen games."
So what, exactly, is a "next-gen game" and should we even care? Matt Peckham over at PCWorld thinks we ought to drop the "next-gen" terminology altogether:
Aside from the way "next-gen" as a descriptor is a horribly abused and lazy stand-in adjective, the whole philosophy behind it seems backwards when you think about it. It implies that games like chess are poor or wanting because they never "evolve" or become anything more than nudging pieces around a checkered board. It suggests that scanning abstract marks on paper or illuminated in liquid crystal behind a thin plastic screen (i.e. "words") are somehow passé because we've been reading more or less the same way since Gilgamesh (and popularly since Gutenberg). As such, the whole sordid history of film is a creeping mess of barely notable upticks...On such a scale, compared to video games, art and entertainment in general look decidedly old-gen.
I think Peckham has a point. I started playing The Orange Box today, beginning with Half-Life 2. Am I playing a last-gen game or a next-gen game? Is it a next-gen game because of the hardware or a last-gen game because it's 3 years old? Maybe I'm not officially playing a next-gen game until I get to the brand new Episode 2. UGH! Who cares?
Unrelated, but related. This weekend I'm going to the Orpheum Theatre in Madison WI to see Godard's Pierrot le Fou starring Jean-Paul Belmondo. This film was released in 1965--very last-gen--but in my book, any film with Belmondo can only be considered next-gen. Will I think about these things? No. I plan to enjoy the film. Just like I'm enjoying Half-Life 2...whatever generation it is.