LOS ANGELES — The coming generation of video games has the looks, and the brains.
Many upcoming releases previewed at this week’s Electronic Entertainment Expo delivered eye candy in spades. But new games also benefit from the added computational abilities of the latest console systems.
In Little Big Planet 3 (due in November for PlayStation 4), that means series star Sackboy can have friends on screen at the same time. New characters included the size-changing Toggle, puppy-ish OddSock, who can run and jump up walls, and Swoop, who can fly.
The PS4’s added power lets game designers have more freedom directing Sackboy’s path into 3-D space beyond the traditional left-to-right. “You can build a more realistic world,” says Jonathan Christian, lead designer of the game for studio Sumo Digital.
The PS4 is 10 times more powerful than its predecessor, Sony has said. Microsoft hasn’t quantified the gap between the Xbox One and Xbox 360. But it’s safe to say the console, along with Microsoft’s Azure cloud service, which powers online games, delivers an exponential improvement.
These improvements — and subsequent games that take advantage of them — are expected to help drive sales of disc-based video games 16% globally to $25 billion this year, research firm Strategy Analytics projects.
In games such as Destiny (Sept. 9 for PS4, Xbox One, PS3 and Xbox 360) and Sunset Overdrive (Oct. 28, Xbox One), more horsepower and memory allow players to easily enter online multiplayer matches without navigating multiple menus.
“The size of the city is a good example of one of the things we simply couldn’t do on the previous generation” says Ted Price, CEO and founder of Insomniac Games, which is developing Sunset Overdrive.
These environments are made to teem with life, too. In Assassin’s Creed Unity (Oct. 28, PS4, Xbox One, PCs), the Ubisoft Montreal designers are populating the streets of 18th-century Paris during the French revolution with mobs.
“What you have seen so far in demos is about 3,000 non-playable characters,” says creative director Alexandre Amancio. “We think we can crank that up to 5,000. Just doing that has been a technical feat.”
Game director Hidetaka Miyazaki (Dark Souls) aims to use the technical advances to make his new project, Bloodborne (coming to PS4 in early 2015), into his scariest game yet. The exquisitely rendered fictitious gothic setting “has a very gothic feel and design to it. It’s laid out so you will be impressed,” he says.
In a preview scene straight out of the classic film Frankenstein, a torch-carrying mob gathers around a bonfire — they’ve captured and killed a beast — and are preparing to hunt for more. A plague has been transforming some of the inhabitants into ferocious, and sometimes gigantic, creatures.
Fast-moving battles against those beasts await players. “We really want to emphasize fear,” Miyazaki says. “We are really going to pay attention to details; that is only one thing that will give you that sense of fear.”
Another period piece, The Order: 1886 (Feb. 20, for PS4), uses technical prowess to incorporate various types of game styles and situations. The game has creepy solo missions and other scenes in which you have three compatriots at your side.
“The change of pace is something that we wanted to bring to this new generation,” says Ru Weerasuriya, creative director of the studio Ready At Dawn. “The PS4 allowed us to bring our vision to reality.”
A long-awaited version of a next-gen Legend of Zelda game for the Wii U is nearing reality. A brief scene from the game, due next year, recalls the bucolic setting of the Shire from the Lord of the Rings films — until a speedy, multi-tentacled creature attacks hero Link. “It’s a beautiful game and one of those I’m eagerly looking forward to,” says Nintendo of America President Reggie Fils-Aime.
Microsoft’s 343 Industries is using the power of the Xbox One to bring new life to its Halo catalog. For Halo: The Master Chief Collection (Nov. 11), each of the previous Halo games — some made more than 10 years ago for older Xbox systems — is being remastered in high definition.
Players can switch back and forth between the original look and the new 60 frames-per-second, 1080p high-def look. “That is such a great feature,” says Dan Ayoub executive producer at 343 Industries. “It’s like seeing 10 years of gaming evolution at the touch of a button.”