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Useful Notes / The Eighth Generation of Console Video Games

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The Console Wars resumed quietly with the newest handhelds, the Nintendo 3DS and Sony's Play Station Vita. 3DS brought glasses-free 3D to life, while PS Vita chose the media-free online gaming route with built-in Wi-Fi and 3G cellular networking.

It began in earnest when Nintendo released the Wii U console just before Thanksgiving 2012. It was a much bigger hardware upgrade than the Wii, with hardware indeed better than other consoles of The Seventh Generation of Console Video Games. Its "revolutionary" feature was a controller with a built-in 6.2" LCD screen. It is also backwards-compatible with most Wii games, but not with Nintendo GameCube games. Where the Wii had been a breakthrough hit, especially because of its rather straight-forward concept, the gaming public had a harder time taking to the Wii U, due at least in part to ineffective marketing on Nintendo's behalf. Matters were made worse when quite a few third party developers, chiefly among them Electronic Arts, decided to attach lesser importance to their support for the console led or in some cases even flat out skipped developing games for it entirely. As a result the Wii U languished in sales, eventually leading Nintendo to cut their losses and quietly discontinue the console.


In February 2013, Sony would then unveil their entry, the PlayStation 4. Learning from their mistakes with the PS3's notoriously difficult architecture, they made the console much easier to develop for. Its controller also added in a touchpad to match Nintendo's GamePad touchscreen, along with several other features.

On May 21st 2013, Microsoft unveiled their entry, the Xbox One, thus setting off the flag that officially signals the start of the eighth generation console wars.

Late 2016 eventually saw the start of an "Eight-and-a-halfth" Generation. November 2016 saw the release of the PlayStation 4 Pro, an updated version of the Playstation 4 with enhanced performance and 4K resolution support. November 2017 later saw the release of the Xbox One X, with similar upgrades as the PS4 Pro. Most radically, in March 2017, Nintendo released the Nintendo Switch, a convertible game system that can function as both a hand-held AND console. The Switch benefited by being much less ugly, heavy, and awkward than the Wii U but retaining the innovative elements that made the Wii U unique, like its motion sensitive controller, touch screen, and portability. It also abandoned the name "Wii", which helped it market as a new console, and not simply an add-on to the Seventh Generation console, the Wii, as many assumed the Wii U was. Unusually, the console came out before any of the big hitters were quite ready to be released, with only The Legend of Zelda's latest entry as its major exclusive. Super Mario Odyssey came out several months afterwards, and the massive success of these two seem to have won over developers that were previously hesitant to develop for this bizarre console with its unique hardware.


This generation has also seen the rise of "microconsoles," starting in earnest with the Ouya, which was a Kickstarter-backed, Android-based, game console. Despite it being one of the biggest projects ever backed, it never found an sizable niche and closed down operations in June 2015 when it was purchased by Razer. In its wake, however, more and more streaming boxes, like the the Amazon FireTV, for example, can play some Android games, and newer Android-based boxes more geared for gaming like Razer's ForgeTV and the nVidia Shield can not only play games installed locally, but can also stream games hosted on a networked PC or play games stored in an online cloud. (Apple's current generation of AppleTV now uses an operating system, TVOS, that is a cousin to the iPad and iPhone's iOS, so games can played on it, as well.) While the hardware specs of these microconsoles and streaming boxes obviously pale to the high-end PC-like specs of the PS4 and Xbox One, within a capable ecosystem, and adequate bandwidth, they have the possibility of providing an on-par experience as those consoles at a lesser cost (to say nothing of the ease with which they can be used for emulating classic game consoles).


For those environmentally conscious, this generation showcases just how much the hardware engineers have put thought into energy efficiency. The PlayStation 4 and Xbox One both use just a little more energy than PlayStation 3 Slim or Xbox 360 S does while offering 4-6 times more performance. Even though the Wii U consumes twice as much energy as the Wii, it offers performance similar to if not better than the Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3 while using five times less energy. Previous generations all had the consoles consume at least twice as much energy compared to previous generation's initial release consoles.

From a developer perspective, the PS4 and the Xbox One simplified development and made development of multi-platform titles more viable. Both consoles use a unified pool of memory instead of separating system memory and video memory in hardware, eliminating the need to juggle data between different memory types and giving developers greater choice in what they want to use the machine's memory for. The consoles' architectural similarity to consumer-grade PC hardware and to each other has also made cross-platform development and porting a less painful process.

The eighth generation is also the first where console manufacturers have strongly embraced the indie video game development scene. Sony's stated intention to foster indie development with less expensive development kits for studios of a certain size was matched by Microsoft's intention to do the same, while both manufacturers lowered the costs and barriers to put a game on their respective marketplaces. The response to these moves has been significant, with many indie studios porting their games to consoles or planning to do so. Nintendo mirrored the move with the Nintendo e-Shop for the 3DS and, to some extent, the Wii U, before fully embracing the indie scene with the Switch by marketing specific games through its Nindies Showcase videos and gaining a larger presence in indie gaming events like Bit Summit and PAX.

Interestingly, though the generation has already begun, its biggest controversy may be ahead - the advent of more common-place virtual reality technology. How the eighth and subsequent ninth generation adapt to VR tech from the likes of Oculus Rift, Google, and Microsoft will undoubtedly prove to be one of the biggest controversies and innovations during the generation. However, the fall of motion controls from the previous generation have caused some to doubt that virtual reality will permanently catch on and to believe that it will be just a fad like motion controls before it.

One thing's for sure - this generation will be remembered as the one where the line between consoles and computers blur, with both sharing more architecture and hardware with each other than ever before.

Consoles of this generation

Handhelds of this generation

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    New IPs of this era 

    Games of older IPs 


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