We're one step into the next generation of game consoles. Microsoft has coined the term "HD Generation," attempting to sell high definition televisions, surround sound, and the 360 as a package experience. The PS3 is supposed to be the center of a home media center, a true digital entertainment hub (and also a video game console.) The central aim seems to be making the games we're used to playing look like the pre-rendered cutscenes we're used to watching.

It's not really that interesting to me. I think it comes down to a question of familiarity, and scale.

Every 360 game I've seen has been a nicer-looking version of a game I've already played. 360 basketball is hi-res PS2 basketball. Call of Duty 2 just looks like Call of Duty: Source. There's dynamic sweat, everything's normal mapped, and so forth, but there is essentially nothing 'new' on the Xbox360, nor have I heard anything interesting about the PS3 launch lineup (aside from Metal Gear Solid 4, which is exciting for reasons other than the graphics.) The visual limitations of current-gen systems have never bothered me. The limitations of scale have.

What if a next-gen game were to maintain essentially the same graphical fidelity of a PS2 game, but scale up the experience in ways that the memory and storage limitations of a PS2 would never allow? They already managed to create a GTA: San Andreas with no load times; what if cars and pedestrians never spawned or disappeared when you stopped looking at them? What if all the bodies and burned-out cars never disappeared, until the clean-up crews came and whisked them away? What if all the buildings could be entered, and offices were filled with dozens of workers, and the streets of downtown Portland in Liberty City were packed at midday with pedestrians shoulder-to-shoulder? And you could stand at the top of a skyscraper and look down and see every single one of them, ant-sized, spreading out in all directions, going about their business? What if a zombie game didn't pit you against 5 enemies at a time, but 200, each of which could be dismembered and all their bodies and pieces didn't fade away after 20 seconds? Terrain and buildings that were less visually detailed, but all dynamically deformable? True clockwork cities where each inhabitant was persistent and constantly tracked? Enough clothing and appearance variables that you never saw the exact same NPC twice, across an entire city or world? Infinite draw distances?*

I imagine that games with visuals that looked like 2001, but were created for hardware from 2006, could pull off incredibly convincing scenarios that the current focus on graphics over situational believability precludes. I understand that the art departments of major game studios are expanding exponentially, simply due to the manhours required to create the intensely detailed textures and models and effects and environments required by the HD Generation. If those same manhours were put into expanding the volume of content, as opposed to its visual fidelity, I think I could find a lot more to be interested in with this coming generation of games.

*What about persistent volumetric clouds that dynamically changed shape and color based on realistically-modeled ingame weather patterns, based off of actual meteorological principles? That may be outside the scope of this rant.

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