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Michel Ancel isn't in the race for photorealism. As is obvious from his games - the Rayman series, Beyond Good and Evil - that particular promised land is for developers like Crytek and Epic, salivating at the next-gen tech's ability to make things look more 'realistic'. While others are getting excited about making space marines look shinier, guns look gun-ier, and dogs look, well, like dogs, Ancel and his team are more bothered about the social aspect of next-generation.

"I think the big thing is the social [element]. We have seen on Miiverse on Wii U, it's crazy how many people are sharing what they're doing in the games." Ancel told me at a recent Rayman Legends event. "We must have something like 48,000 people in the community, which is one of the five biggest communities on Wii U, but it's just a small part of the game, and people are sharing everything: what they're doing, the funny things they see."

In fairness, Ancel has no need for photorealism. His games are more about interesting art direction than straight-up realism. It's the reason why his previous efforts still look OK, or even good, and other titles - those with an eye on replicating real-life - from past generations look like six squares taped together.

So simply making everything more shiny isn't his priority. And, for me, the next round of consoles also isn't about playing better-looking versions of what we've already got. Despite the fact that I'm looking forward to playing Call of Duty 16, and Battlefield 12 , I'm hoping that the next generation of gaming will enable players to look beyond the typical man-shoot, space marine vibe that's dominated the most popular games of this generation.

Now, I know asking for that seems as likely as me landing on the sun in my homemade spacecraft made out of Fairy Liquid bottles, but still. The photorealism arms race is nowhere near being won, and although we need people to push the boundaries of what's possible from a technical point of view, we also need developers to try different art styles and directions.

The phrase 'good graphics' has generally always been used to mean a game looks realistic. There are notable exceptions - Okami, Rayman itself - but for an industry so tied to technological advance, it's natural that players will be drawn to games that attempt to replicate what we see all around us.

Which is fine - when I saw the reveal trailer for The Division, I was impressed by how well-realised the world was. But it's not enough to just look good anymore, and developers seem to be realising that. Social infrastructures are the key to the next-gen, for Ancel and many others. Rayman is already built on them (four player co-op, plus Wii U GamePad support) but it's the broader possibilities of the next generation's connected infrastructure that excite Ancel and co: not least because it enables players to find things in the game they might not otherwise.

"The new consoles, like the PS4, really allow you to share things, and especially in [Rayman] there is a lot of special moves we've been hiding, and it's really funny to see people [discovering them]. So people are going to share a lot of tricks and a lot of things they've found. We've left a lot of unexplained things in the game."

That Ancel (and his lead game designer on Legends, Emile Morel) like the look of PS4 isn't really surprising. The ability for Sony's new box to let players jump into each others games or offer tips seems to be an extension of what the Wii U is offering at the moment. What could come as a surprise is his attitude to the Xbox One's online policies.

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"I think Microsoft maybe tried to move a bit too fast. They are going in the right direction but a bit too fast. You need to bring people with your ideas, to make them understand" Ancel told me. "They can't understand everything if you don't let them experience things themselves. The [best way] is to say, 'You want something and I allow you to have that thing. 'Here it was more like, 'I know what you want and I'm going to force you to like that thing.'

"People are not going to like that way, especially the gamers...I'm not sure [Microsoft] were making people want to see those things. But maybe they are right with the fact that this is the future and this is going to be very good."

Which is a pretty political way of saying that people absolutely hated the way that Microsoft seemed to be going about its business. Which is fair - MS wasn't exactly clear in its marketing, and made a hash out of the whole thing.

Could it have been a disaster? Maybe. Would it definitely have been? No. But Ancel's comments about Microsoft's approach potentially being the correct way makes me wish that the firm had gone ahead with it: if only so that the two boxes we had in the next-generation were different from one another. Again, it's essentially about the fact that I want different experiences next generation, not just fancier graphics.

We're entering a generation where access to a whole wealth of different titles, from big-budget to indie, is easily available to players. What's going to differentiate the two consoles we'll have from one another? Kinect etc.? Probably not. As ever it'll be the games, and I don't think shiny man-shooter is going to be enough to keep people interested. It may well be, as Ancel states, the social connections that excite, as well as titles that move away from the 'triple-A' norm. I hope so.

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mcnasty72's Avatar

mcnasty72

McNasty72 @ Endless

Simply put consoles are more popular because they used by a less demanding less informed consumer. Consoles maximize profitability for companies, they offer shorter development cycles (the hardware is the same), no demo or preview, a subscribed install base, which adds to the bottom line. PC gaming required developers to "work" to make their code efficient. But the ones the do the work are rewarded, take Quake, Wow, StarCraft, etc. The sad fact is that console offer an easier path recycled, get rich quick possibilities (exclusives from 3rd parties are paydays for that 3rd party), eight month development cycles with reduced costs. The sad fact is that the amount of cash being thrown around by MS & Sony is ruining gaming like it does everything else. But as a PC gamer, I will sit by and wait for your wall gardens to 'crash' again. We will still be here, I don't need MS or Sony to release hardware in order to play games.
Posted 18:33 on 18 July 2013
Endless's Avatar

Endless@ mcnasty72

That's all fine and dandy for people like us that are comfortable having the freedom. But as Apple has been proving for years now: People can't be trusted with freedom on their devices. And more to the point the masses don't like the freedom, it gives them too many options, options they'd rather have someone just decide for them so they dont have to worry about it.

The biggest benefit of closed systems IS the lack of freedom. The knowledge that when you turn your device on you dont have to worry about driver updates, anti-virus, system updates, licence renewals, file and user management. All your peripherals are decided for you and custom built for the hardware. Even the community tools like friends, matchmaking, leaderboards etc are all decided for you and pretty much guaranteed to work no matter what game you play. All under one umbrella, all linked across all games regardless of developer. A consistent environment is a developers dream.

Games announced for PS4 and Xbox One have been possible on PC for ages, but no-body made them. Why do you think that is? Surely if PC environment was so much better and free from the shackles you so proclaim are present on consoles, everything would start there and be ported to consoles, not the other way round? Likely because there's more of a market for closed system consoles than open source PCs. You ask why a developer would 'limit' the number of people their title goes out to? Answer: They aren't. They release them for the platforms with the most users. And that just isnt PCs.

Social integration also has it's place where your target market uses it. Again, PC gaming isnt that market.
Posted 18:13 on 18 July 2013
DancingRhino's Avatar

DancingRhino

Me like shiny bang bang!
Posted 17:33 on 18 July 2013
mcnasty72's Avatar

mcnasty72

Stop falling for these old "Jedi mind tricks". As a PC gamer I have NEVER heard any player state "Man, ARMA II would be really good if it could connect with Facebook". Or "LFD2 is lacking Google+ Hangout integration, that's why I didn't buy it." These are marketing suggestions to get you to purchase $500 dollars worth of old hardware that will be out of date next year by PC terms. No real gamer cares about social integration, it's a ploy that no one cares about. What we really care about is freedom, not locking out the mod community, and not having these "walled gardens" that you console fools relish so much. So I'm going to buy 500 dollars worth of hardware so I can play Halo for 40 hours total?
Think about it for a minute why would a 3RD party developer want to limit the number of people that could buy his title? That would be like Coke Cola deciding only to sell their products at Koger. Those titles developed in house are cool but for my money I need solid titles from a plethora of developers not just MS pimping out Halo year after year, (yeah you can change the name MS, but it's still Halo fellas!).
Posted 15:53 on 18 July 2013
IronMit's Avatar

IronMit

Whilst the next gen does need more then just good graphics....it will still give us improved graphics and we will demand it ;
Claiming graphics are not the most important next step doesn't mean much. Because when it comes to sales, reviews, marketing and what consumers buy it is quite important. The market is competitive and no publisher wants their competitors game to look better then theirs. First impressions count and having to explain that your game is better in other area's because you didn't focus on unnecessary graphics means you are already playing catch-up.

I keep seeing Xbox's epic marketing failure being simplified to 'the failure stems from a you must like it' mentality.
This digital blitzkrieg from xbox partly failed because xbox were not willing to let the retailers go, so they decided to integrate some sort of weird physical copies are now licences nonsense. A natural transition from physical to digital is pretty easy to do; just make digital more attractive. Just like netflix, steam, love film, kindle. But then the highstreet retailers will flop and the consoles aren't ready for that.
Xbone's little digital revolution is really on stand by because MS wanted the best of both worlds. They were trying to transfer the cost of all those problems during the physical-digital transitional period onto the consumer whilst bleeding them of every penny. You would think when changing the system you may consider forgoing short-term profits for the long term benefits of getting ahead of your competition.
I conclude MS's plan A failed because Xbox themselves aren't really ready for digital.
Posted 12:13 on 18 July 2013
Weasel_Pants's Avatar

Weasel_Pants

what will drive people to buy different consoles will be a mixture of exclusives and what your mates have. i went for xbox this gen since it had halo, but all my mates went with ps3 because one person had fifa or cod on ps3, and they all wanted to play together.

on topic, ive never hugely understood the importance of photorealism. yes its impressive, but we have real life for that. there are so many resources being pumped into replicating instead of innovating (hate that word), and that goes for the entire industry at the moment.
Posted 18:09 on 17 July 2013

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Release Date: 01/11/2013
Developer: D.I.C.E
Publisher: EA
Genre: First Person Shooter
Rating: PEGI 18+
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