The Next Gen Countdown

It’s safe to say that with the reveal of the PlayStation 4, the “next generation” is over the half-way mark to being the current generation.

The Wii U is out, and the PS4 has been debuted with a tentative release date for the holidays (mind you this can change, and has in the past, as with the delayed PS3 launch) so the only big question mark left is the Microsoft’s latest console. Rumour mongering however, pegs that particular reveal at some time this April.

So with the next generation now 2/3 of the way to beginning, how are things looking? It’s already obvious from Sony and Nintendo that the two Japanese manufacturers are taking very different approaches to handling this generation, and you can see that in the audiences they are trying to appeal to.

Change is in the air, and that makes it an exciting time for everyone.Sony’s opening salvo with its February 20

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reveal has a laser-like focus on one thing; the hardcore. The technology is geared towards the developers and the selection of games is both commercial—with the likes of Killzone: Shadowfall and on the other extreme, for elite aficionados with the surprise appearance of Indie Darling Jonathan Blow and his game The Witness. The new DualShock 4 puts the attention squarely on the TV, demanding people to focus on the game. Nintendo has gone for a more muddled audience. They’re still catering to their loyal fanbase with promises of Mario, Link and Samus, but the casual crowd that instantly “got” the use of the Wii-mote has been pushed to the side in favour of the Apple/Google crowd that’s more used to swiping and pinching their way to victory. It’s a hybrid approach, with an interface that’s half traditional controller and half iPad. As you might expect, this has also resulted in some interesting—if fragmented—experiments, with some games using the new tablet controller as an auxiliary screen for secondary functions, while other titles create new mini-games to be played out on screen. Sony teased that this might also be the case for those that own a Vita in tandem with a PS4, but there’s no concrete evidence of this usage aside from some remote play demonstrations, a function that’s existed on Sony portables anyway since the PSP.

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That leaves the upcoming Microsoft console. If Sony is throwing the gauntlet down and trying to get the gamers, while Nintendo does a clever bit of marketing, going after the hipsters with a lethal Nintendo/tablet combo, what does that leave Microsoft with?

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The big boys at Redmond obviously have a stake in the hardcore market. Master Chief is just as iconic as Mario, and probably moreso than Kratos, while the racing in Forza proved to be a legitimate contender for Gran Turismo’s crown. On the other hand, Kinect went for the casuals in a more aggressive way than Nintendo’s “Let Oprah speak for us,” marketing ever could.

If the rumours of the new console are anything to go by, it seems like Microsoft is taking the most ambitious route of trying to be everything to everyone.

Microsoft is taking the most ambitious route of trying to be everything to everyone. With whispered features like a controller with a touchscreen, increased motion tracking accuracy right down to finger movements and a system architecture geared more towards running multiple programs/applications simultaneously rather than being a gaming powerhouse, Microsoft seems to be nailing the vision that former CEO Bill Gates once dreamed of. If rumours are true, the upcoming console is going to finally take the PC out of the office and put it firmly in the living room. Unlike past generations, Microsoft now has its own hardware ecosystem to support, so it’s quite likely that there’s going to be more integration between Windows 8 PCs, laptops, phones and tablets, notably Microsoft’s own Surface. The built in controller’s touchscreen—depending on the size—is likely to mimic the Wii U controller with auxiliary screen and possibly even the streaming functions to take gaming away from the TV. The increased Kinect functionality means people will doubtless be talking and flailing at their consoles even more frequently. And the rumoured emphasis on multiple applications running simultaneously is a likely indicator that Microsoft wants people to do much, much more than turn on, tune in, and drop out.

We are on the cusp of a very interesting next generation as all three console manufacturers seek to establish new identities for themselves and subsequently new possible markets. It’s impossible to say at this point that current trends in console domination are going to carry over to the next generation. Change is in the air, and that makes it an exciting time for everyone.