Xbox Next: Do the Graphics Matter?

Xbox Next: Do the Graphics Matter?

No matter how old you are, and no matter what level of professionalism you operate at in the game industry, there is still a little kid inside of you who reacts to new system announcements with: “Well, can it do cool graphics?”

Indeed, the Internet has been wondering the very same about Microsoft’s next Xbox (or “Xbox Next,” or “NextBox,” or “Xbox 720,” if you like). Chip manufacturer AMD is not “officially” working on the next Xbox–Microsoft hasn’t announced the system in any capacity, either–but Neal Robison, the director of independent software vendor (ISV) relationships at AMD reportedly stated in the August issue of OXM Magazine that the next Xbox will be capable of pulling off some fancy visuals. Specifically, graphics on par with James Cameron’s blockbuster movie, Avatar.

Robison also said that the next Xbox will be capable of vastly improved artificial intelligence–in other words, if you run over handful of pedestrians in Grand Theft Auto, they will presumably react with different displays of agony.

Even speculation and hearsay about a phantom game system’s potential is exciting. Not that long ago, we were playing Super Mario Bros. 3 on the NES and wondering, “Wow! Who could ever top this?” Console engineers have done it over and over, and clearly they’re not ready to stop yet.

That said, it’s a good idea to rein in childlike fantasies before they lead to disappointment. No doubt that the next Xbox will be capable of some impressive visuals and AI. The console may well be capable of giving us something on the lines of Avatar, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it will. It’s a bit of hype we’ve been falling for for years, and this isn’t even the first time a game company has utilized special effects comparisons to boost anticipation for a new system. When Donkey Kong Country hit the SNES and when the Ultra 64 first whispered across magazine pages in the ’90s (eventually becoming the Nintendo 64), Nintendo made repeated mention of its partnership with Silicon Graphics. In the same breath, Nintendo would belt out Silicon Graphics’ Resume–specifically, the dinosaurs from Jurassic Park. Even though there was never a direct claim that the N64 and Donkey Kong Country were on a visual level with Jurassic Park‘s virtual reptilian cast, the suggestion was certainly there.

The reality was a tiny bit of a letdown. Super Mario 64 and Donkey Kong Country are great games and extremely important, but the graphics didn’t match up to anything from Jurassic Park, nor did the environments from the average N64 game look anything like the “Project Reality” tech demo that was shown off at CES in 1993. Not a surprise, given the N64’s limitations. But even though we’ve overcome many of the issues that held back N64 game developers, every console offers its own set of challenges for developers who need to split processing power between graphics, sound, and gameplay.

In other words, though it’s fun to dream about what the next Xbox might be capable of, it’s best to hold off on fevered declarations about how playing a game on the system will be like entering a fantasy world dreamed up by James Cameron. Tech demos and promises are fine, but only a fully fleshed-out game can tell the truth behind a game console’s abilities.

About Nadia Oxford
Nadia is a freelance writer living in Toronto. She played her first game at four, decided games were awesome, and has maintained her position since. She writes for 1UP.com, Slide to Play, GamePro and other publications, and is About.com’s Guide to the Nintendo DS.

2 Comments

  1. Ah, I’ve never seen that N64 demo in motion, but I remember the photographs…

    Yeah, I remember Nintendo’s hype getting me extremely excited for the Nintendo Ultra 64 and graphics which looked like the renders for DK Country and Killer Instinct… and being aghast when the first screens for Super Mario 64 and the Zelda demo surfaced.

    Frankly, I’m quite happy with where graphics are now.

  2. Nadia – in the OXM article interview, I was speaking about “general” next-gen console technology, not specifically a future Xbox product. I love Game Theory, but If you’re going to include the reference to the article, you should probably read it ; )

    Neal

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