Published: Jul 31, 2013 12:00:00 PM

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The Nintendo Wii U is out. Has been since last November. It's the newest game system to hit the market, and so it shall remain until the PlayStation 4 and the Xbox One launch. The Wii U is a trim piece of kit. Check it out, you can have some fun with it, especially if you don't have any other modern gaming system. The extra screen is kinda funky. Hardly intrustive, though.

Babies can use the Wii U. Non-babies can also use it, too. I promise you that your genitals will not *SHLORP* back up into your body if you touch it. The choice is yours.

Reports came out today that the Wii U sales are tanking. Does that mean the next generation of videogames has not begun? Is the Wii U really just a PS3 controlled by an iPad... thing? That's a big question, Jimmy. Let's examine it.

 

Wii U Sales Are Terrible: So What Is A "Next-Gen" Videogame?

Lots of people that have had their egos stained by countless lost arguments are on public record in declaring the Wii U a non-next generation system. To them, I want to ask them questions like, "Why are you crying so much? Is it because you're a stupid baby?" And I want to tell them things like, "Stop being a jerk. You're being influenced by a well-planned marketing campaign, and it's turning you into a jerk. You shouldn't want that."

I was in college a while ago. I owned all three main gaming systems. I owned a GameCube, a PlayStation 2, and Xbox. It was fun, I played all of them. I didn't even drop out from school or nothin'. I played Super Smash Bros. Melee, and Killzone, and Halo 2.

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Fast forward almost 10 years. Nintendo has announced Super Smash Bros. For Wii U (urgh, that title is like used bathwater), Sony has announced Killzone: Shadow Fall, and Microsoft has announced, another, currently unnamed Halo title (not pictured). This title is being developed by 343 Industries, and not by the original Halo developer, Bungie.

Bungie is instead developing a new sci-fi shooter, Destiny. If you want an idea of what Destiny will be like, imagine Star Wars through a foggier, more jagged lens, as a Borderlands-style shooter (cited as an influence, naturally). Even as a Sony / Nintendo fan first, I've always loved Halo's honed texture when you play it. It has a speeding mag-lev train feel of metallic grip and control.

But that doesn't make Destiny a next-gen videogame, does it? Simply being the new game by Bungie, an incredibly popular and influential developer? A shooter? On next-gen consoles (with a current-gen release, too, nobody would pass up that install-base). Does it?

Is Connection The Foundation Of The Next Generation Of Videogames?

Yes, but not in the way you'd think. That's like saying the extra resolution that arrived with the Xbox 360 is what REALLY brought us the jump to the current generation. A lot of the worlds and levels in current shooters, for example, are narrower than those found in Halo on the original Xbox. A level in modern Call of Duty is a stunted thing, by comparison, it just has higher-resolution textures. So it was one step forward and one step to the left -- maybe off a cliff, or if your Activision, into a standing ivory bathtub full of Pharaoh Ramses II's lost sapphires.

Last generation, it was a graphical-fidelity thing, bringing us closer to that "cinema" -style gaming. The generation before that, it was the storage capacity on DVD-based discs for, uh, everything. Three-dimensional size!

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No, Bungie's Destiny seems to have an expansiveness that should be touted as next-gen. Not in the dimensions of its levels, but in its virtual / physical / personal scope. The way "your" "world" that you play in is meshed with "other" "worlds" and how players connect, thus creating a landscape formerly impossible, is damn impressive. But we already had that integration, that mystery, that connectiveness in Dark Souls, years ago. Or Demon's Souls before that.

We're onto something though. These next-gen games, maybe it's about size and vision? Developers like Ubisoft are being transparent about how they're pursuing massive, connected environments for games moving forward into next-gen, as well as an emphasis on franchise-building. I'll cite their E3 games like The Division, The Crew, and Watch Dogs as obvious examples. You can Google them if you want to know more, or you can trust me. Those games are promoting a "one foot-in virtual space" / "one foot-out in real space" experience, encouraging a player to become attached to their avatar, letting it double as a portal into an extra, gigantic car-crash and gunfight-filled world. It's not just a videogame. It's your link to something greater. Your link to danger, to risk, to grit, to what you imagine would be your true self, without all of life's limitations and fears.

By that logic, the next-generation is just the best Halloween costume you've ever worn. And games are the party you can drop in on whenever you please. We're aren't far off. But, and there's always a but...

...Are We Ready To Define Next-Gen Videogames?

Some of us are. The scared people, the ones with skin in the game, the ones with mandatory, boilerplate PR points they need to hit. They're ready. Their followers are ready. You know the type. Kids that post links on Facebook to something written on Huffington Post. They add a comment, "OMG, can you believe Republicans?!" They go no further though. These are people that will never invent slang, embody a style, or define good taste.

I mean, for fuck's sake, people, have some patience. In videogames, buying early, either into a generation, or into an idea -- because that's all that can be bought as of now, July 2013 -- gets you bragging rights. Know who brags about things? Everybody you hate. Everybody that annoys you. Everybody that teases you from better seats at the ballpark or waves an iPhone 5 in your face. You don't want to be that. You want to be smart, and savvy, and tasteful.

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Take Killzone: Shadow Fall, for example. It'll launch with the PS4. I laid into Killzone 3 on PS3 years ago for being a lumbering, rowboat of a game. However, I'm interested to see how this new one shakes out. A lot of work has gone into it, I mean, just look at the fucking engine over there! It looks like a real-live nature-walk on a Ray Harryhausen set... recreated as a tech demo for Industrial Light & Magic. That won't win it the day, though. I've recently played through Call of Duty: Black Ops II (on Wii U! (quick review of Blops 2: "Neat and tidy, but the game could probably stand to eat a sandwich!")), and I know there's a huge difference between the way FPSs can play.

I've seen Shadow Fall in motion. It still looks like an FPS. I've played the whole Killzone trilogy, and this still looks like Killzone. So, next-systems, show me more.

Next-Gen Videogames Will Be Defined By Their User Interface And Their Structure.

Dark Souls was a next-gen game years ago. You can summon help with difficult sequences, but it is nebulous assistance, and your co-op partner that you bring in is not at full strength, like a passing comment gleaned from a conversation. There are dark spirits out there, controlled by other players, out to get you, and as you ride the elevator up your office building, you think about the sword that invading black phantom used to slay you in 2 hits.

StarCraft II is a next-gen game. It is forward-compatible. It will be expanded upon, patched, studied, and talked about for the next ten years.

You can play Angry Birds with the remote on a Roku box. You can play it with a stylus, with a Wii remote, with your finger on a touch-screen, with a directional pad, and with a Kinect sensor.

It isn't the fact that you can interface with the same game in so many different ways, its enjoyment mostly unfettered.

It's the fact that you CAN interface with the SAME GAME in so many different ways, its enjoyment mostly unfettered.

My brother and I have played more hours of Mario Kart 64 than you have. Sorry, it's just a fact. He owns a Nintendo Wii. He doesn't play it. It's not that he suddenly got old and doesn't like games anymore. It's that he has a different delivery-system for his games now -- he uses an iPad. Moms and dads in the 80's and 90's were right to colloquialize videogames as "playing the nintendo" because that's all there was. If a parent looks at a kid nowadays, and the child has his or her nose buried in a phone or tablet, they could be:

  1. Using a chat client to talk with friends
  2. Playing TNNS
  3. Checking Facebook
  4. Playing XCOM: Enemy Unknown, a whole PS3 / Xbox 360 game ported to iPad
  5. Tweeting about how they can't wait to get home and boot up Titanfall on their Xbox One (this one would be happening in maybe April, 2014)

Who could have anticipated that the next generation of videogames has already arrived? Shooters will always be shooters. Nintendo will always make Smash Bros. games. Xbox Live will always be a nesting ground for sexless, confused dick-shits. The thing that will change though is the SPREAD of games. The way they blanket our lives.

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A next-gen game is simply one that you think about and want to share, and if it is truly next-gen, that urge to share and discuss will be ferried, and even incorporated into the design, by the creator. This is what a lot of people struggle with when they ask, "are videogames art?" They are only art insomuch as they are something that foster truly poignant discussion. Sports can be artful. Football can be artful. Titanfall will be discussed, endlessly, it already has, but will Titanfall be artful? It doesn't matter what that poignant discussion is about. Call of Duty: Black Ops II isn't art. The entire Call of Duty series is art, though. Journey is art, not because it almost made my cry, but because if you go investigate the creative process its director Jenova Chen went through, you'll see that he has a painterly approach to its design. Some videogames will become topical pop-art in the next-gen. I can see an eSport like League of Legends becoming a real next-gen, artistic fixture when it, or something like it, reaches a Seinfeld-level of cultural penetration (although I find the game to be boring to watch). That omnipresence, that study, that casualness, that iceberg-level of depth, and the way it can be touched on your home console, on your phone, on a touch-screen, and on a good old-fashioned controller, that's when we're touching the next generation.

-- Alex Crumb (originally published 7/31/13)
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