Work hard, play hard! It used to be that gaming was reserved for button bashing, teenage, pubescent boys. Not so anymore. More and more people are picking up controllers to blow off some steam. Men, women, and children of all ages are jumping in for a little fun.
So what has changed? Truth be told, a lot!
Better games, improved hardware, immersive experiences are a few of the many ingredients that make gaming palatable to even the staunchest holdouts. However, it would be an extreme oversight if we didn’t recognize just how important Microsoft’s Kinect has been. This device alone has gotten granny grey hair, our arm-flailing septuagenarian, out from behind her walker and in front of the TV to dance for achievement unlocks. (Though I’m pretty sure she cares little for achievements)
According to this article, it looks like Microsoft is back to the drawing board in hopes to deliver the next generation console just in time for the 2012 holiday season. If this is true, then I’m sure that all gamers will want to weigh in on what technologies should present in the next console.
That said, here are a few ideas that I’ve been thinking of.
1. Support for Quad-head display:
There’s no reason why the next generation console couldn’t support multi-monitors. Modern GPUs have been pumping enough pixels for a while now. Forza 2 supported a multi-display setup as seen below.
The only caveat was that, on top of purchasing three displays, you also needed to purchase three Xbox 360 consoles and 3 copies of the game. Back then, the console retailed near $300 and the game was $60. That’s over $1000.00 to play a, let’s face it, a vroom-vroom game, assuming you already had a couple extra displays kicking around. Add a fourth display for your rear-view mirror and you’re set for the big leagues. Now for the wealthy hardcore (or bat-shit crazy people), you just might convince your sweetheart that it’s worth it. For the rest of us, we’ll just have settle with a little less immersion and realism.
Secondly, one of the most difficult aspects of co-op play is split-screen. Sharing limited real-estate with a buddy is no pleasant experience. Some games split horizontally, some vertically. Few games allow you to choose. This can be a huge pain in the backside when a scene requires decent field of vision. Multi-display support can hugely alleviate this problem.
Come on Microsoft, this one is a no brainer.
2. Intranet game sharing:
PC LAN parties. Yeah baby, remember those. When men and women swapped houses so that we could do our thing and they could do… well, whatever it is they do. Why should this be exclusive to the PC community?
How about allowing one console to be configured as master, and others to be set up as slave. A relationship that could be defined on a per game basis. Install your copy of the game on your hard drive and allow slaves to pull a copy of the game down to their consoles. They could play the game only if they were located on the same local subnet and if the master had the original game disc in the master console. This would champion console based LAN parties, and perhaps allow multi-console dwellings to participate advanced co-op play.
Some opponents may say that game sharing would reduce overall game sale revenues. I respectfully disagree. There’s simply no better way to promote a game than to experience it with friends. Good times is something we want to carry with us all the time. I bet a bucktooth billy goat that if you have a blast at a buddy’s house, then you’ll probably be running to your favorite game shop to buy that game title that you were on the fence with.
3. Kinect V2.0
Don’t get me wrong, I think the Kinect is the best thing since sliced bread and a market share monster. The kind that has haunted Sony and Nintendo for the last year. However, there is room for improvement. I would love to see a reduction in the noticeable lag experienced when playing action games. It might not bug you, but it sure does bother me.
Secondly, I think that it’s time that we support head tracking. Ever since I saw that clip of Johnny Lee demonstrating head tracking, I’ve always wanted this to be a toggle feature in the dashboard and games. In fact, how about doubling down on the head tracking part. Imagine two co-op players, each with their own display, getting a fully immersed 3D gaming experience on their own display.
Now the tricky part is to get Tomonobu Itagaki to design us a full immersion based game along the lines of DOA: Xtreme Beach Volleyball 2… call it Barbie for Boys or whatever.
4. Thunderbolt (formerly light peak)
If you haven’t heard yet, Thunderbolt is a new interface specification that will allow users to connect a variety of devices on a single cable operating at 10Gbps, full-duplex, capable of multi-protocol IO transfers. This technology is scalable to 100Gbps and beyond. Needless to say, this would be an enabling, forward thinking technology.
High speed data devices like your hard drive and optical disc drive could be externalized. These parts either fail or require upgrading and allowing consumers the ability to easily upgrade or replace would be mint. Besides that, Future Shop in Canada sells the 250GB drive for a whopping $169.99. It’s highway robbery and for that kind of money, you could buy storage between 2TB and 3TB and hook it up on a Thunderbolt interface.
Furthermore, there’s a plethora of display units that support the Thunderbolt interface. With its scalability, we could start supporting 2160p and 4320p displays as seen below.
5. 1Gbps Ethernet
ISPs in North America have begun delivering high-speed internet at speeds beyond 100Mbps. It only makes sense to add a 1Gbps network interface to the console. This wouldn’t be revolutionary but rather be an evolutionary step in the right direction.
Also, it would facilitate the streaming high definition content. Despite Netflix’ recent drop in client base, you can bet that many folks will be willing to try out the service as an alternative to high cost cable service and satellite service providers.
One last note on networking, please support IPv6! I know that adoption of IPv6 is slow, but without getting into technical details, IPv6 is vastly superior to IPv4 (…and I’m not just referring to addressable space). There are huge improvements in routing, packet processing, directed data flows, auto-configuration, security, and QoS. Finally, the added ability to deliver true end-to-end connections could allow us to eliminate NAT. This would facilitate service connections as NAT traversal would no longer be an impediment.
6. Tablet input support
Some games allow players to create their own art so that they can skin their weapons, cars, and characters. The process is painstakingly complex and can consume hundreds of hours to get the details right. If you have ever played any of the Forza Motosport games, you know exactly how laborious of a task it is to produce art as seen in the images below.
Adding tablet support, encouraging game developers to build professional quality skinning tools, and enabling community participation in the creation and sale of their art can only improve the experience, enrich the beauty, and add depth to the games. I wouldn’t mind spending numerous hours building up my artistic portfolio if I could generate some income from it.
There’s a whole community of artistically inclined, non-gamer type people that would jump on board if they could reap in the benefits of their art. Perhaps they wouldn’t purchase the game to play it, however, attracting a new demographic couldn’t hurt. Look what the Kinect did for Microsoft.
7. Improved Marketplace Experience:
Navigating the Marketplace is extremely daunting. Avatar goodies, video clips, DLC, and demos are all mashed in with each other. When we look at a particular list of downloadable content, it seems like nothing is sorted or categorized. It would be nice to see items categorized by type of content like avatar related, or video clips, or expansion packs, new skins, weapons pack, etc. Then sort it by release date.
Also missing is a decent preview system. It would be a huge benefit to know what a new map, armor, weapon skin, vehicle will look like. Players shouldn’t have to leave their console to look this stuff up on the web. Don’t forget, all purchases are final!
Lastly, it would also be nice to have the ability to hide/unhide content from the Marketplace. It just feels cluttered with junk and let’s face it, there’s no doubt that we probably needs a woman’s touch to clean things up.
Perhaps this last point has very little to do with hardware, but seeing as how we are getting revved up for a new console, wouldn’t it be nice to have a fresh start with a new experience?
Ultimately, we are getting a new toy. Understanding the pain-points of the old system will greatly help Microsoft set direction for the next generation console. I don’t believe that backwards compatibility should be difficult to achieve. Especially now that virtualization is ubiquitous. However, I would hate to see a handful of compromises made for the sake of compatibility.
I haven’t mentioned anything about processing power, memory configurations, or GPU details. To be honest, as most consumers, all we care about is the end result. Give us 120 frames per second of jaw dropping graphics and we’ll be happy. Besides that, as history points out, Nintendo was a fly weight when it entered the ring with their Wii system and yet through innovation, they went toe-to-toe with the big boys. If Microsoft can focus on game changing innovation, build to strengthen a community based participation, and provide a path for future-proofing their console, then we will surely have a winner.