How far can we go?: Evolution and realism in games

September 13, 2009

Something I had a recent discussion with a friend of mine about got me thinking…how far can graphics and gaming technology truly evolve? With each generation, we think to ourselves “Man, I don’t think games can ever look better than this,” but we are consistently proven wrong with both new games on those systems and newer generations of consoles. But how far can we go? When does the industry stop evolving to a point where games are just…more of the same? Both technologically and in how they play. There’s no doubt that this industry may never run out of great ideas for original games, but based on a lot of our own standards now, when will “great ideas” just not be enough for us?

I think, in a lot of respects, Nintendo is taking both a good and bad approach to games. I think the Wii is a system that only wants to try new things in terms of gameplay, and on a technical level, stays in the past. A good number of people complain about this, but it’s almost as if Nintendo is going to the past with the launch of their NES as a way to reinvigorate and restart this “dying” (or, in terms of the NES, pretty much dead) industry. When the next Nintendo system begins to move forward in graphics technology that will be old to us then, but is new to us now.

Let me try to explain this further, and keep in mind this is all hypothetical. Say that, in two more generations from now, Sony and Microsoft stop making money from their game and console sales, and all third party support goes directly to Nintendo. The fact that they innovated and added something incredibly new to the industry to bring in both a new audience and grab the interest of the old audience once again is like reviving the industry. And at that point, things only restart, and the graphical and other technological capabilities of the Wii and future Nintendo systems evolve until new competition comes in and things start all over again. And then, will it be Nintendo who creates yet another new way to play games? Or will there be a new company to take their place?

It all goes back to the main point: how far can we go? How far until games just simply cannot look better than they do now? Do people change their standards? Or will the standards at that point be so high that no game is regarded as excellent; they all become simply “good” or just another game to throw in the pile. In this industry, our standards for games have changed so much, and a majority of developers try to innovate in the look of a game as much as how it actually plays. So when that well runs dry, do games all start playing the same too?

Think about it. What would it take at that point to revive the industry, or at least get them on the right track? Is the hypothetical strategy stated here for Nintendo really something that would prevail? This definitely isn’t what happened during the time before Nintendo brought the industry back to life, but it’s something that may happen. You can’t deny that high standards in games rest with not just the gameplay, but a lot of the times with how the game looks as well. And when the looks become old news, the game isn’t nearly as respected by many as it would have been. Some may be saying “graphics don’t mean a thing” but you can’t deny that no matter how important they are to you, they are important to the industry, and I think there really is no changing it at this point. 

One can only hope that all of this is just gibberish, and things will continue to go relatively smoothly for the gaming industry for many console generations to come. But it’s something I’ve been wondering for a long time, and something I think should definitely be discussed.