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The great thing about gaming is that many of its most memorable moments have been defined by an amazing advance in graphical technology. The bad thing about gaming is that many of its most memorable moments have been defined by an amazing advance in graphical technology.

In other words, programmed to demand bigger, better and more beautiful, our expectations have become slaves to each new set of machines.

Everyone who's been playing games for more than a few years will have a supply of 'wow' moments filed away they can readily recall, where a game has suddenly appeared of such utter gorgeousness it makes everything else look uglier than a Jeremy Kyle audience.

Off the top of my head: the first time I clapped eyes on Sonic The Hedgehog; the Super FX chip-powered Star Fox; the 13 layers of parallax scrolling in Shadow of the Beast; the awe-inspiring vistas of Uncharted 2; my first time planetside in the original Halo.

It wasn't that these titles - and plenty more besides – simply looked incredible. Specifically, they were only achievable on – and were defined by – the technology of the time. Technology that, with each new console cycle, brought with it an obvious leap in 'phwoar factor'.

Think about it. The difference between simplistic 8-bit and 16-bit was obvious enough (Mario only has a moustache because NES couldn't handle a mouth). As was the leap from Mega Drive and SNES-era gaming to the PlayStation generation. The biggest leap of all, arguably, happened the first time Nintendo showed Mario running around in three dimensions. Everything changed. Including his mouth.

In the age of Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 the difference was HD, bringing razor sharp clarity (although we've all had to fork out for expensive new TVs as a result). And now, six-and-a-half years on, we have spectacles such as Uncharted 3, God of War 3, Gears of War 3, Journey, Limbo, Rayman Legends, and sports games that look like Sky Sports.

But where next? Possibly for the first time in the history of consoles, there's no obvious, eye-popping reason why PlayStation 4 or Xbox 720 will fundamentally change the way we look at games other than being, well, a fair bit shinier and prettier.

Don't take my word for it. How about Nintendo uber-boss Satoru Iwata? "If [Sony and Microsoft] decide to increase the spec numbers, will the consumers be able to realise the difference enough so that they can understand it's much superior to today's machine?" he said to the Telegraph. Good point, big man. But okay, he's a bit biased since Wii U will be the weakling of the new console litter.

So how about John Carmack? Here's what the dizzying technical genius behind Doom and Quake had to say during E3: "Sony and Microsoft are going to fight over gigaflops and teraflops and GPUs and all this. In the end, it won't make that much difference." Well, he'd know.

But you can forget everyone's words, if you like, and just let the games do the talking. Because one of the best-looking surprises of E3 was likely running not on current-gen tech, but on a PC spec'd up to what the next gen is expected to be capable of.

Star Wars 1313 was the game in question. Looks lovely, doesn't it? But the fact that LucasArts didn't say out loud which platform it was running on, and that most of us thought at first it was just a super-pretty PS3 game, speaks volumes.

Based on this evidence – and the more explicitly 'next-gen' visuals of Epic's Samaritan demo - it looks like what we can expect is stuff like greater detail, better lighting, more realistic facial animation etc. etc.

All of these improvements in themselves will be welcome and will undoubtedly mean sexier games than we've seen before. But it seems that, 40 years after Pong, we may finally have reached the stage where that's no longer enough.

The reason I shrugged at Star Wars 1313 wasn't because it doesn't look beautiful. It's because it looks like Uncharted set in the Star Wars universe. Boring. And that, I think, is the problem here.

We look to the big budget blockbuster games to push the graphical capabilities of consoles harder than any other type of game. But too many are just samey sequels or me-too copycats of successful rivals.

In the last ten years of gaming, no-one's come up with a better idea than "bloke stomping around with a gun". When we have games that already look as good as Mass Effect 3, it's hard to imagine a slightly more realistic looking man, with his slightly more realistic looking weapon, is going to excite in the same way.

But don't be downcast. In actual fact, all of this is fantastic news for us. It means we've reached the point where creators can make pretty much whatever they like, no longer restricted by the harsh limits of technology.

Don't get me wrong, I'll be the first to slobber if we end up playing games that look like Pixar movies in a couple of years. But I want them to be as clever and inventive, too.

And that's the really good news. If developers can no longer rely on technology in itself to impress us, we might actually see more bigger and better ideas, rather than just bigger and better explosions.

More mouths and fewer moustaches, if you like.


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