Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Game Systems - 8th Generation Current Status

Game systems are a very tricky business to read into.  While your favorite system may have all the games that you like, that doesn't mean that it is selling well.  At the same time, high sales for one console at the start might not mean that it will be the best selling in the end.  There are quite a few ups and downs specifically to the current 8th generation of game systems, each complete with coming challenges as well.

Please note that this was written prior to E3 2014, and so this is just my personal opinions and thoughts on the current generation of consoles before then.  I will be writing up a post E3 version soon.


The Competitors


Sony - PlayStation 4

The PlayStation 4 is an interesting beast of a console.  Out of all the 8th generation game systems, it is by far the most powerful of the them all.  There really is no comparison, even with Microsoft's "Cloud Computing" propaganda (more on that later though).  The PS4 boasts an incredible amount of RAM for a game system (8 gigabytes, 32 times as much as the PS3), with the RAM being DDR5, which is much much faster than what the other systems have.  While the PS4 has a slightly slower CPU (1.6 GHz compared to the Xbox One's 1.75GHz), it boasts better performance on its GPU (1.84 teraflops versus the Xbox One's 1.31 teraflops; flops are how many floating point operations a processor can do per second).  Yes, this does technically give it a rather distinct graphical advantage over the Xbox One.

For its controller, called the DualShock 4, quite a few new changes have been made.  Specifically the new touch panel, share button, and "light bar".  The touch panel is a capacitive touch input, meaning that it can *technically* register more than one point of contact at once.  It also has a button that can be used by pushing the panel downward.  The share button is a new tiny little button that can be used to share screenshots and such to social media sites like Facebook and Twitter.  The "light bar" is a strip on the front of the controller that can change colors depending on what a game decides.

For motion controls, the PS4 still uses most of the same old hardware from the PS3 via PlayStation Move, though the new camera does feature some nice upgrades.  It runs in 720p at 60 fps, though you can get a higher frame-rate with a lower resolution on it still.  That being said, very few games support it, and it's not included with the system, which is an important point to remember for later on.

Microsoft - Xbox One

The Xbox One sports very similar hardware to the PlayStation 4 (in a kind of spooky way too).  The CPU is almost exactly the same, though as mentioned before, slightly faster at 1.75GHz.  The GPU is also an AMD GPU like the PS4, but is slower at 1.31 teraflops.  Overall, the system is almost identical to the PlayStation 4, except for one major issue: the ESRAM bottleneck.  Long story short, the Xbox One has a very big issue, where a critical part of the GPU cannot receive data quick enough for things such as textures.  This is why many Xbox One games have suffered huge graphical quality hits compared to the PS4, and is also why the PS4 substantially beats out the Xbox One in power.  While the removal of the Microsoft Kinect will help, I do not believe it will help as much as people think, though maybe I am wrong on that.

Now one feature that was mentioned was "Cloud Computing", which in theory could fix the ESRAM problem too.  Microsoft really advertised this as an awesome feature for computing all of the intense graphics for a game on more powerful servers, and then relaying it back to the consoles online.  There's just one more problem: Yet another bottleneck.  The problem is you'd need to have a fast enough internet connection to prevent lag from such a system, and considering how Internet service providers' are fighting to throttle speeds even more-so than they already do thanks to the FCC's incompetence with net neutrality, there's really no way that this would be feasible with today's technology.

That being said, the Xbox One did have the potential to still beat the PS4 and make its way to the top.  When it was released, every console was sold with a Microsoft Kinect.  This wasn't just any ordinary Kinect though, this was the new upgraded one, which actually had some great features.  From the 1080p resolution to the incredibly accurate sound locating abilities to the infrared camera, the new Kinect is able to do some incredible things for gaming.  Imagine playing a horror game where the game can create scarier creatures depending on whether your heart rate is already going faster (indicating you may be scared) or slower.  Yet again though there is just one more problem with this: Microsoft started selling bundles without the Kinect, meaning that this would be an optional feature, which would be shoved in as more of a gimmick by most developers unfortunately if the original Kinect is any indication.  The reason I say this is because developers can no longer guarantee that everyone will have the new Kinect.


The Battle - Which One is Better?

In the end, the PlayStation 4 currently takes the cake for winning the war thus far.  While the official numbers aren't quite out there, the PlayStation 4 seems to have outsold the Xbox One almost double, making it not only a more powerful system, but a bigger financial success too.  Without the "Cloud Computing" magic or a bigger interest in the new Kinect, Microsoft seems to just be dragging its feet with the Xbox One.  Even it's first flagship title Titanfall was lackluster, with the Xbox One version suffering quite a few problems.

The Xbox One could have kept itself in the lead with the Kinect, as the PlayStation Camera has not done well at all, and unique experiences tend to be what sells consoles.  Unfortunately, since Microsoft has segmented the Xbox One users who have Kinects, this makes the incentive for developers to use the Kinect much lower, since not all users would have one now.  While there is a chance that this might not affect it too much, it seems highly unlikely given how poorly the original Kinect did, as well as the fact that Microsoft has already taken a huge publicity hit prior to this, thanks to incredibly bad public relations.  The good side to this though is that the Xbox One does have quite a few games that use the new Kinect, unlike the PS4.  This at least is more of an incentive for people to buy the Xbox One, and could potentially help to increase its sales further.

Though there is one new technology that could change all of this: Virtual reality headsets.  If the rumors are true, Microsoft is working on a virtual reality headset to compete with the Oculus Rift and Project Morpheus, and if they can manage to make their hardware better, and more enticing to developers, they could find a way to put themselves ahead again.  Whether that will happen though has yet to be seen, and is unlikely to happen given Microsoft's recent record.


What about the Wii U?

The Wii U is in a very interesting predicament as of right now.  While it is significantly cheaper than the other two consoles, it has sold the fewest by far of the three.  At the same time, it has more potential than both systems due to its unique hardware.  While the gamepad has been largely underused, it presents a unique gameplay experience for gamers.  An example of this could be a real-time strategy game that could be controlled with the gamepad, with a larger view of the game on your TV.  The problem the lack of developers who have tried to use it in unique ways.

Unlike the Wii, the new controller for the Wii U does not seem to be providing developers with new game ideas to try out.  The result is absolutely no games on the system, which has resulted in abysmal sales.  That being said, all it takes is some good games to fix it, meaning that if Nintendo can push out more games than Microsoft or Sony in the coming months, they could catch up.

Will Nintendo be on top again in the end?  Probably not at this point, but they aren't out of the game yet.  Nintendo has a slew of great games coming out over the next few months, starting with Mario Kart 8, and ending with at least a new Super Smash Brothers game.  Both of these are "system sellers" for Nintendo, and if done right, could be just what they need to bring up Wii U sales.  The big question is what will be shown at E3 this year, as it could further determine the fate of the Wii U.


Conclusions

As the numbers show, the PlayStation 4 is currently well ahead of the other systems for the 8th generation of consoles, and the Wii U is definitely in last place.  Yet even after all of this, there is a lot of potential for things to be shaken up by any of them.  With the Wii U's library growing slowly but surely, it poses a threat to the PS4 and Xbox One's lackluster library of games.  That being said, Nintendo will need to work hard to catch up properly, especially given how under-powered the system is compared to the other two.  Microsoft on the other hand needs to figure out how to fix this issue of segmented features and hardware interference in order to bring itself into first place finally.  Sony in the meantime needs to continue to find games for its system, in order to secure its place ahead, or risk being passed by one of the other two, and also find new and enticing ways to bring other on-board with the PS4.  The 8th generation of game consoles is officially starting up!

Have an opinion on the 8th generation of consoles?  Leave a comment below!