PS4 Developer On What It Means To Be Next-Gen

Illustration for article titled PS4 Developer On What It Means To Be Next-Gen

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.

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Illustration for article titled PS4 Developer On What It Means To Be Next-Gen

"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?

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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.

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Illustration for article titled PS4 Developer On What It Means To Be Next-Gen

"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.

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"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.

To contact the author of this post, write to tina@kotaku.com or find her on Twitter at @tinaamini.

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DISCUSSION

Hmm. Well, I have nothing against Story/Character driven games. I really did enjoy the Last of Us and Uncharted was an enjoyable experience here and there.

But if I'm to be completely honest here. I feel like games are following a set checklist more and more these days to create a "Story Driven Immersive Cinematic Experience" and that it's been slowly tearing apart the industry in general.

All these AAA games feel like they follow some analysts projection of what will sell. They're hardly games anymore. Quite often it feels like they'd just do better as movies. Why are we so concerned about the characters looking more life-like and being taken seriously as art? Whatever happened to interesting gameplay and enjoyment? Apart from the HUD and some art direction a lot of these games just feel interchangeable and the same, like it's "shooter of the month". You almost cannot tell the difference in a lot of cases.

I was so disappointed when I saw how this game played in the video the other day. I was hoping we'd move away from repeating this again this gen but if feels like it's on track harder than ever. Same walking through a few set pieces, shooting a few enemies, and then playing in a small cover based shoot out with the same old gunplay and same old control scheme.

I really hope this bubble bursts because I want to go back to a time when games played differently and took more risks. When people tried to come up with creative ways for their game to be experienced. The 90's were crammed full of crazy experiences like Chrono Trigger, Turok, Vagrant Story, Tactics Ogre, Silent Hill, Metal Gear Solid, Mario 64, Blast Corps, Resident Evil, Illusion of Gaia, Donkey Kong Country, Deus Ex, System Shock, Diablo, etc, etc, etc.

Hell practically every Final Fantasy back then was completely different than the entry in the series before it for characters, mechanics, etc. Watching System Shock turn into Bioshock was different but even that was pretty great, but then came Bioshock: Infinite which is hardly even a game compared to it's predecessors and not nearly as enjoyable and heads towards the pitfalls of all these movie games.

I know these games still exist, but they're scarce and are more of a foot note. Millions of advertising dollars gets these cloned shooters crammed in front of us screaming at us that this is what we should like and be enjoying. I miss the days when a game was in the forefront based on it's own merits and not how much of it's development budget could be lopped off to tell us what we like.

Sorry for the long rant if anyone suffered through this. I appreciate that we keep pushing technology forward. But I hate that this is what the focus of the industry has become. Not making fun games that gamers will like. But making interactive movies that they can market to gamers as something they're not but test well with people who aren't interested in games to try and pander to an audience they don't have because a market analyst who's never played a damn game in his life told a company executive how to make a "good game".