Back when new-gen was known as next-gen, gamers and critics alike pondered and daydreamed about the kinds of experiences we'd get with new hardware and promises of impressive power. And a lot of that anticipation has been squarely on the topic of shiny visuals. But there's more to the look of a game than just pretty cars and pretty skies.
I asked Dana Jan, game director and PS4 developer on the The Order: 1886, what "next-gen" meant to him.
"For us, character work is something that I feel like people are just starting to scratch the surface on games that are really, really character driven," he told me. "Certainly Naughty Dog has been doing an amazing job with things like The Last Of Us—that game is awesome. For us [a character-driven game] is really what we're passionate about. We want to tell a great story.
"Even when we worked on the PSP games, on the God of War games, we were more interested in what can we tell you about Kratos. What can we show you about his character that you don't know [rather] than what you already know about, like, can we make bigger monsters? We visited the family. We picked topics that, for us, were compelling just as storytellers and people.
"Next-gen is kind of letting us go and do humans in a way we feel is like...I don't look at them and just go, 'Oh, that looks like an old Final Fantasy plastic mannequin face.' It's like, 'Sure, he's not perfect,' but I listen to them talk and I see everything go on nuanced in the face and I go, 'Oh, that's a good performance.' I'm even starting to see the actors that we cast come through in the faces and stuff because we actually get their personality. I think that's going to be something that next-gen lets us really tap into."
Jan: "Next-gen is kind of letting us go and do humans in a way we feel is like...we actually get their personality. I think that's going to be something that next-gen lets us really tap into."
So next-gen, at least for Ready at Dawn, is about bringing more personality into the stories we play and into the characters we're supposed to connect with. Sounds nice. Is that really a next-gen exclusive quality, though?
I asked Jan what exactly about the PS4 made this possible for them.
"Memory is a huge concern," he said. "If you want to do high fidelity, like movie-quality, Avatar-esque faces in real time, the amount of data for one character with the facial joints we have, blend shapes and stuff going on to get fine wrinkles and things like that...For one character to talk for several minutes is a huge amount of data.
"And then processing power-wise, the PS4 has a lot of graphical CPU power so we're able to do a lot of complex stuff. If you look at the meshes of these faces, it's millions and millions and millions and millions of triangles on screen all the time. That's something where you need that to get to the level of realism that we're pushing for and it was never quite possible on PS3. Or if you were going to do it you would have to completely cater your experience around just that one character, high fidelity talking.
"We looked at the LA Noire guys—they had a real breakthrough with the projection stuff that they were doing on the faces—but you can only carry one or two people on screen at one time because it was being streamed off the disc. For this, the data would be exponentially larger, so I think the PS4 will let us see what else we can do with that."
And there you have it: next-gen.