The newest generation of consoles has been making grand promises since early 2013, and – to the relief of early adopters everywhere – has largely kept to its word. Does PlayStation 4 have its heavily vaunted stop-resume feature? No, but as DualShockersreports, Sony Worldwide boss Shuhei Yoshida says it will come to the system soon enough. Has Microsoft fully fleshed out the Xbox One’s relationship with Twitch? No, but streaming and sharing content is constantly becoming easier thanks to frequent firmware updates.
They don’t have every last bell and whistle nor will they make you breakfast in the morning, but PS4 and XOne are shaping up to be the biggest and best consoles have ever offered. From a platform perspective, things have never been better. From a game perspective? Well, that’s more debatable.
New titles like Infamous: Second Son and Wolfenstein: The New Order have done justice to their respective franchises, to be sure, but the new generation has yet to deliver the fistfuls of earth-shattering innovation players pinned their hopes and money on. At the very least, E3 2014 showed signs that innovation will come. Demon’s Souls successor Bloodborne undoubtedly landed more than a few PS4 pre-orders, and everyone and their dog is talking Bungie’s Destiny into Half-Life 3 levels of hype. This is to say nothing of unlikely standouts like No Man’s Sky, which has stolen countless hearts since its debut. However, all that goodness is due out much later this year, or in many cases, well into the next.
Those hefty lineups in mind, now seems like an excellent time to iron out what we don’twant to see from the next generation, and exactly what it can learn from the previous.
9. Let Players Save When They Want
What is it about the interactive entertainment industry that makes it keep guessing even after it’s correctly answered the question? It’s as though developers are forced to pass the good idea ball around, reverting to archaic and unquestionably worse alternatives with every toss. Sometimes they just throw the ball out the window altogether.
“How should we build our save system?” they ask, ignoring the mountain of player feedback directing them to a single answer.
“Why not let players save wherever and whenever they want, thereby eliminating needless tedium from the experience?” a lone voice cries out from the back.
“What? Player freedom? Ease of access? Saving time? That’s… that’s horrible! Someone get him out of here!” the group shouts back.
Ball, meet window.
It is never a good idea to glue the player to their chair until they find the next save point. It’s limiting at best and downright infuriating at worst to be unable to put a game down, to have your hand smacked when you reach for a necessary and basic feature. This isn’t an issue of balancing difficulty via checkpoint placement; it’s much simpler.
Whatever care-free world save-hating developers reside in clearly doesn’t extend to the gaming population. Things happen when you’re gaming: you get a call from a friend, you have to check on dinner—whatever it is, you have to get up right now and you won’t be back for a time. You therefore want nothing more than to save your game and get back to it later. Pretty please, developers, can all games let us do that?
8. Ditch Mandatory Cut Scenes
Familiar dialogue assaults your ears, every word now a haunting reminder of your growing reluctance. Your thumb instinctively spams the same button, ready to play, and crucially not watch, the game, but then finally, your eyes forcibly glaze over in submission, accepting the two minutes of impending torture.
Much like the previous save topic, mandatory cut scenes are a development no-no, plain and simple. Be it due to a reloaded save or sudden death, there will come a time that players encounter cut scenes again. Very few want to sit through scenes a second, third or umpteenth consecutive time, and seeing “Press to Skip” along the bottom of the screen is too easy a solution.
7. Tame That Budget
Put a leash on it, bonk its nose whenever it sniffs inefficient rendering, spray lemon juice on superfluous motion capture, just do something to keep that budget in check. It’s tearing up all the nice furniture.
This has been a growing problem for the industry for years and could easily undermine many an otherwise successful game in the new generation. The power of PS4 and Xbox One and their friendly x86 architecture give developers more ways than ever to bring their vision to life, but if left unchecked that very potential will smother a project.
This has never been demonstrated more clearly than with Square Enix’s 2013 Tomb Raider reboot. As Kotaku reports, Lara Croft’s modern reincarnation caught fire in the retail scene after bathing in industry-wide acclaim and sold a stunning 3.4 million units in its first month. The real surprise? Square Enix was banking on six million and therefore had no choice but to declare the game a financial flop. This points only to reckless, bloated development expenses for which there is no excuse.
Tomb Raider fell back in 2013. Who knows how scary the numbers will be for its new-gen sequel if Square Enix can’t fix their development philosophy? This is also true for Destiny, Dragon Age: Inquisition, the next Mass Effect and every other game not drawn with an Etch-A-Sketch.
6. Tear Down This Paywall
It came as sobering news that PlayStation Network, the last remnant of the era of free online systems (Steam notwithstanding), would be going to pay-to-play with the advent of PlayStation 4. Indeed, a PlayStation Plus subscription is required for the lion’s share of PS4 multiplayer functionality, making the service required in all but name.
Sony’s decision heralds the dawning of a new age, one unsustainable without extra padding, perhaps in the form of $5 monthly. Thankfully, a few bucks a month is, for most, easy to swallow. It’s hardly a change from the previous console generation, and both Xbox Live and PlayStation Plus throw enough rewards at subscribers to keep most happy.
However, this is a pill easily made bitters by extra fees: look at Elder Scrolls Online, currently available for PC and, eventually, for new consoles. It’s no grand secret that it follows the MMO gold standard of a $15 monthly subscription. On one hand, If anything, this invites a sigh from PC players familiar with the business model. On the other, the console consumer’s general reaction to a second monthly subscription can be expected to be nothing short of abhorrence.
With so many games—The Division, Destiny, and even a potential console version of Guild Wars 2—pushing the jump to online-centric play, there’s concerning room for multiplicative subscriptions. PlayStation Plus and Xbox Live would buckle under the weight of one or, dare I say it, two game fees, in turn losing players. So, looking forward, the option not requiring the erection of a second paywall should be at the top of the pile.
5. Build An Experience, Not Visuals
Game reveals are typically spearheaded by the same marketing spiel, with publishers relying on resolution, frame rate and copious superlatives to grab attention. The truly finicky will even delve into polygon counts and processor clock speeds, rarely bothering to flesh out the significance of their allegedly high numbers.
Is eye candy all the next generation of console gaming has to offer? Improved visual fidelity is a welcomed improvement, but should it be the only improvement? What about the nuts and bolts of gaming, the equally important but less obvious aspects of the experience? Load times, queue speeds, data management, installation rates, connection reliability and more seem equally deserving of a touch-up.
Updated visuals will never be a bad thing—unless of course they lead to the sort ofbudgeting discussed earlier—but they should not take priority in development. Make them the lovely ribbon on top of a collectively revamped package, and we’ll be in business.
4. Show It When It’s Ready
Publishers can’t wait to flaunt their new project as early as possible to get the pre-orders rolling in keep fans in the loop. However, dropping the name a full year before a sample is in consumer hands is only detrimental to a game’s future. It’s happened countless times: promises build expectations, an absence of referential content can only fail those expectations, and suddenly a game’s on its way to vaporware status in the public eye.
This can all be avoided by keeping a project in the nest until it’s truly ready to fly. Don’t just force an announcement of an announcement of an announcement out the door in a desperate attempt to reserve a seat at the cool kids’ table. Hang onto the juicy details and screenshots a bit longer to save up for one fireball of a reveal, and back it up with in-game details.
3. Show Players Why It’s Next-Gen
PS4 and Xbox One are the most socially connected consoles the games industry has ever seen. Players are capturing, sharing and spectating games like never before, and it’s high time the development side got in on the action.
Insomniac Games, best known for the Ratchet & Clank franchise and upcoming Xbox One exclusive Sunset Overdrive, is setting the example on this one. Their next project, Slow Down, Bull, will be streamed live throughout its development process (not all the time, mind you, but weekly), putting the progress of the game directly in front of consumer eyes. This nails what countless marketing campaigns struggle to do: allow player feedback to play a live role in the creative process and remind players that the game they’re interested in is a very real, growing project, not just a name.
There’s no reason for total silence in such an interconnected age. A few minutes of footage here, a picture there, even a biweekly Q&A—any interaction can go a long way in holding player interest and, more importantly, allowing fans to interact with devs, both sides working to make their new game the best it can be.
Well, maybe some fans will do nothing but shout from their soapbox. Trade-offs.
2. Don’t Force Online Down Our Throats
Microsoft ran headlong into a storm of consumer backlash after announcing DRM and mandatory check-in for Xbox One—so harshly, in fact, that they rescinded those policies practically overnight. The jury is out: gamers hate mandatory online anything.
This same principle extends to shoehorning mandatory multiplayer into otherwise solo experiences. Case and point: Borderlands 2. All of the four DLC expansions available for Gearbox’s latest Pandora outing contain end-game bosses so difficult that they are next to impossible to defeat without a full party of players. This wouldn’t be a problem were it not for the fact that the core game and indeed the meat of the expansions are single player affairs.
Borderlands 2 is a minor case, but the principle is sound: games should not force players to stay online or play with others. Dark Souls 2 handles this expertly, letting players aid or impede one another but also allowing both to be eliminated entirely without compromising the core experience.
Sometimes you can’t finagle a party of friends due to scheduling difficulties, sometimes you just want to play by yourself. Maybe you just aren’t up for multiplayer. Destiny, The Division, Assassin’s Creed Unity and others need to respect that and allow players to play their way.
1. Don’t Sell The Core Game As DLC
Day-zero DLC and the like have been a thorn in the industry’s side for years. From severe cases like EA’s Dungeon Keeper remake to smaller blights like Alien Isolation’s filmic add-on (which brings the original cast back to the ship and initially required a pre-order for access) games are clipped in order to market central material as DLC. It’s irritating, underhanded, more often than not glaringly obvious, and has no place in any game.
The same can be said for the increasingly raucous bickering between Sony and Microsoft, charitably described as timed- and console-exclusive content. Watch Dogs, for example, was absolutely loaded with throw-ins unique to specific retailers and platforms, the most damaging being a batch of missions unique to PS4.
Multiplatform releases have no business favoring one platform or the other; leave that to the exclusives. Even the most insignificant of cosmetic add-ons are better off in everyone’s copy of the game. Superfluous pre-order incentives and console-exclusive content can only enflame the already sore wound that is the console wars, detract from the game they claim to embellish by ripping its content away, and lengthen lists such as these.