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NEW YORK — The Xbox One and PlayStation 4 may dominate the conversation about the next generation of gaming, but thanks to some innovative ideas that go beyond the concept of a traditional console, they are not the only choices available.
For nongamers or players looking for something outside the traditional PC and console paradigm, a number of developers are hard at work creating novel experiences. On June 26 at CE Week New York, a panel of experts presented "Polygon Super Session: Video Gaming's Other Next Gen."
Chris Grant, editor-in-chief of gaming website Polygon, moderated a conversation between Rush Frushtick, senior editor at Polygon; Charles Huang, CEO of Green Throttle Games; and Douglas Wilson, creator of an experimental game entitled "Johann Sebastian Joust."
"Platforms are becoming abstracted," said Grant, citing his panelists as proof. Huang's Green Throttle is developing a controller, very reminiscent of the Xbox 360's, to facilitate Android games on a big screen. "Johann Sebastian Joust" lets players swordfight with PlayStation Move motion controllers, but has no graphics or single-player component.
Huang, who was one of the minds behind "Guitar Hero" on the PS2, was intimately familiar with creating a video game experience well outside the norm. Nonetheless, the game still relied on a traditional console. "In order to play 'Guitar Hero,' you still had to own a 360, a PS3, a PS2 or a Wii," Huang said.
Even so, the experience was novel enough to draw in a whole contingent of casual players and nongamers. Huang cited statistics from Best Buy, which revealed that 8 percent of people who bought the original "Guitar Hero" bought a PS2 to go along with it.
"People don’t want to buy hardware or software," Huang said. "They want to buy fun."
Wilson's game is also something quite unusual. To create "Johann Sebastian Joust," he hacked a number of PS Move controllers and made them run a simple Bluetooth program from a laptop. (Thanks to a successful Kickstarter campaign, the game will also be available for PS3.) The Move resembles a remote control with a sphere on top that can light up in a variety of colors. [See also: 5 Hit Games Made on a Shoestring]
"It's like a really simple one-pixel screen," Wilson explained. His game eschews graphical interfaces entirely, instead pitting two to seven players against one another, wielding Moves like swords. The laptop blares classical music that would sound right at home on a Super Nintendo and keeps track of score. As players dodge and strike each other, the Move lights up in different colors.
Combining motion controls with the indie scene is one way to evolve the next generation of gaming past the traditional, big-budget, narrative-based experience, Wilson said, adding that developers will have to "unlearn a lot of traditional video game design lessons."
Innovative games and unusual controllers are only part of the picture. Apple and Google rule the mobile space right now, but they also want to be a crucial part of your living room, just as Microsoft and Sony do, the panelists said.
Frushtick pointed out that Apple and Google, through their iOS and Android mobile operating systems, effectively pressured Microsoft and Sony into making room for indie developers. Cheap mobile games are thriving, and if the big console manufacturers were to neglect that scene, they would effectively sacrifice their chances of scoring the next big hit.
Whether Apple and Google will vie for living-room headspace with Kickstarted consoles like the Ouya, HDMI connections to HDTVs, or smart-TV apps remains to be seen, but Huang seemed confident that they would make the shift eventually. The everyday consumer may not want to drop $400 on a brand-new console, but if he or she already owns a smartphone or tablet, a few games at less than $5 a pop and a $40 controller might not seem so bad.
Microsoft, Sony and PC manufacturers have the traditional gaming market fairly cornered, but as "Guitar Hero" and the Nintendo Wii demonstrated, core gamers are not the only ones who like video games. The next killer app might come from a very unlikely source.