At dinner in Las Vegas last week I was lucky enough to witness my hack buddy Rory Reid having a vicious argument with Nick Sharples from Sony. Rory jabbed a wine glass in the air and told Sharples that the PlayStation 3 would "kill the games industry" because developers would focus too much on graphics instead of gameplay.
Admittedly Rory was hopelessly untethered from reality by American spirit measures and jetlag, but lurking beneath the nonsense spewing from his chapped lips there was a decent point. The only real selling point of the PlayStation 3 is its improved graphics.
Improved processing power, after a point, won't make a game play any better, it can only really make it look better. So will game developers neglect gameplay and invest heavily in the amazing graphics the next generation of consoles are capable of?
The PlayStation 3 is an incredibly powerful machine -- so powerful in fact that Sony's most optimistic PR says "no one will ever use the full power of the console". Sharples gleefully told Rory that any one of the PS3's several processors could be dedicated to "making a character's hair move in a realistic manner", or "rendering the contours of a cape". Believing that he had just witnessed the end of an era for games, Reid let out an ungodly groan and looked about for somewhere to smash his beer bottle.
Holding Reid in a gentle death-grip against the bar, I whispered into his ear, "It's this kind of talk that worries you and I, but don't judge Sony rashly. Perhaps the games industry will become like the movie industry -- a two-tiered structure where ugly blockbusters sit at the top for the consumption of the masses, while indie flicks still find enough of an audience to finance themselves." He seemed subdued and staggered away.
Although this whole nasty episode is well behind us now, I am still haunted by the possibility that modern videogames might be rubbish. What do you think? Will small developers still find a market for their quirky ideas, or does the outrageous processing power of the PlayStation 3 mean that games designers will feel irresistably compelled to pour all their efforts into making everything look pretty rather than play well?