Console manufacturers throwing out hardware improvements mid-generation isn’t a new concept. Slightly upgraded versions of systems within the span of what is considered the same console generation have been around pretty much since consoles are a thing. Often times manufacturer’s find themselves short on time – or maybe funds – so they put out a device on the market with the upgrade almost ready. At other times, the moment a console goes on sale, work on a hardware update significant enough to warrant a new name but not large enough to warrant a new gen begins.
The most frequent upgrades are “slim” versions of otherwise bulky launch-consoles, as well as hardware upgrades to the CPUs and GPUs. This trend was most obvious in the previous console gen, with both the Xbox 360 and PS3 going through multiple versions and both getting yet another new one with the release of the current-gen systems.
Considering the current generation has been available for several years, a hardware upgrade seems to be in order. There have been plenty of rumors floating around for several months now about both Sony and Microsoft working on upgrades to their respective consoles. However, these were only rumors until recently – both upgrades were tentatively confirmed one way or another at this year’s E3, but no images of the hardware were shown and not even specs were announced.
What we do know is that the PS4 “Neo” and Xbox One “Project Scorpio” will carry significant hardware upgrades when they do finally launch. These announcements were a tad overshadowed by the announcements of other console upgrades, namely the slim version of the Xbox One and the slightly upgraded PS4 with the same case.
As intriguing as all of this is, obviously the main question here is “how does this affect the games?”. More so than ever before, console manufacturers are in close contact with the biggest AAA publishers, sharing technological advancements and info on classified projects so that the software can keep up with the hardware and vice-versa. Why bother releasing upgraded consoles if it will take devs at least 3 years to make games that actually benefit from the hardware?
As such, publishers such as Take-Two Interactive were probably “in the know” about these new systems for a good long while now, allowing them to prepare. However, some industry professionals don’t attribute too much importance to these upgrades, as in the end, graphics are just one aspect and you’ve got to make a good game no matter what GPU it will run on.
Strauss Zelnick, CEO and Chairman of Take-Two Interactive, parent company of Rockstar Games, happens to be of the same opinion. It seems that Neo and Project Scorpio didn’t cause much of an alteration in the future plans of GTA’s publisher.
To have a landscape…where you put a game out and you don’t worry about it. The same way that when you make a television show you don’t ask yourself ‘what monitor is this going to play on?’. It could play on a 1964 color television or it could play on a brand-new 4K television, but you’re still going to make a good television show.
While Take-Two isn’t exactly running head over heels to restructure in light of the console upgrades, Zelnick sees much potential in this direction for console gaming. He suspects that the hardware upgrade curve might start to resemble that of smartphones more and more (hopefully not…), which in turn will make things very interesting and lucrative for the developers.
Whatever direction the console industry decides to take however, Zelnick is determined to uphold Take-Two’s penchant for quality in the products it delivers to consumer. Even if the console cycle speeds up, don’t expect the GTA franchise to turn into an annual release.
That doesn’t change any of our activities. We still have to make the very best products in the market and we have to push technology to its absolute limit to do so.
When it comes to mid-gen hardware upgrades, the biggest limiting factor is compatibility – if PS4 Neo games will be too taxing to run on standard PS4’s, then how is this not a whole new gen? It also means that developers are reined in from going too crazy with their visual upgrades. Further, it adds time to development cycles as two sets of assets much be made. Games will detect the hardware of the console at hand and set their visuals to the appropriate level.
This means that at one point GTA 5 is likely to get a massive update on consoles to make use of the new hardware, allowing the visuals to get a bit closer to what they are like on PC when running on a Neo or Project Scorpio console.
Even if that doesn’t happen, Rockstar’s next project is guaranteed to have this feature, as by the time that game releases, the new consoles will also be on the market. There are only rumored projected release dates for both console upgrades, but many suspect that they will go on sale somewhere around 2018/19.
Incidentally, many fans hope that Rockstar’s next project will also have a similar release date, with 2020 being the latest estimate. Of course, this is game development we’re speaking about, so delays are not only possible but outright likely.
The best guess as to what said project may be is Red Dead 3 – there has been significant leaked material over the past few months leading up to E3. Rockstar was hyped up by Take-Two representatives to show off something big at E3 and a new Red Dead game would definitely fit the profile.
However, Rockstar ended up being a no-show at E3 and no announcement as to why was made. Speculation run rampant ranging from them not being ready last minute to the hype being false for the sake of publicity. In the end we never officially found out why Rockstar wasn’t at E3, however this tragic theory seemed to gather the most momentum.
While Red Dead 3 has yet to get an official announcement, one can almost guarantee at this point that it is the next game on Rockstar’s production line. Based on Zelnick’s comments, its development will not be affected (read: prolonged) by the impending release of the new line of consoles. However, it will definitely make use of the upgraded hardware.
This stands in contrast with some of Zelnick’s views on other advances in gaming hardware – especially VR. He is highly skeptical that it will catch on with the mainstream crowd anytime soon, seeing as not only is it still pretty expensive, but it also requires a lot of room, which is a commodity many consumers do not possess.
Despite his views, he holds to the mentality that should VR catch on, Take-Two will happily provide its customers with high quality VR games. Maybe even a VR enabled GTA installment down the line. However, the medium still has a long way to go before the level of popularity is achieved to convince Zelnick.
While it is known that the PS4 Neo won’t include integrated Sony VR functionality (the headset and console-expansion box is sold separately), both Sony and Microsoft are opening up to the world of VR. The headset of the latter is still a long, long way off from release though.
So who’s excited about the Neo and Project Scorpio, and what do you think it means for GTA V, if anything?