Starting February 20, all bets suggest we're finally going to get a look at some next-generation games. But why wait? Let's ruin the surprise by outlining what we know of the 2013-2014 line-up.
Current industry rumour has it that most games over the next few years will release on both current- and next-generation systems, so don’t let the fact that a game has been announced for PS3 or Xbox 360 convince you it won’t also turn up on PS4 and whatever Microsoft eventually decides to call Durango.
Just a few months ago we knew almost nothing about the release slate ahead of the first quarter; the industry has been in lockdown over new hardware.
Now suddenly dates and names are rushing in. If everybody's right and both the PlayStation 4 (Orbis) and "Xbox 720" (Durango) make out before the end of the year, new games have a short PR cycle to work with. Now that Sony seems likely to kick things off at the PlayStation Meeting on February 20, it's safe for companies to start talking again.
Current industry rumour has it that most games over the next few years will release on both current- and next-generation systems, so don't let the fact that a game has been announced for PS3 or Xbox 360 convince you it won't also turn up on PS4 and whatever Microsoft eventually decides to call Durango.
During a recent financial report, EA openly admitted that it is working with next-gen hardware, and said that Battlefield and FIFA, two of its strongest franchises, are definitely on the way to new platforms. EA also said it's giving Medal of Honor a break from its biennial release dance with Battlefield; Respawn's new shooter seems an ideal place filler. Dragon Age 3 seems a good bet for new hardware, too.
Rival Activision Blizzard is much more close-mouthed, but hat said, if Call of Duty isn't onboard next-gen at or near launch I'll eat a whole houseful of hats. Bungie's Destiny has suddenly broken cover, with a full reveal expected as early as Sunday. A potentially outdated contract between Bungie and Activision said the first of four planned entires in the Destiny franchise would be exclusive "to Xbox consoles", which likely means it will launch on the Xbox 360 and its successor. That Bungie is ready to reveal adds weight to theories that Durango will be upon us before year's end.
Just Cause developer Avalanche Studios has been quiet for years - suspiciously so. The Swedish company opened a second office in New York, of all places, but hasn't made a release or an announcement since 2011's downloadable Renegade Ops. So what is it actually working on? Either Just Cause 3 or a Mad Max game - probably both - with a reveal expected very soon. The Mad Max game is or was apparently funded by Kennedy Miller Mitchell, and the Australian production company is also behind Brendan McNamara's Whore of the Orient, which is definitely on the way to next-gen.
Warner Bros. recently confirmed a new Batman: Arkham game is in the works, likely for 2013 release. We've been told that Rocksteady isn't behind this one; rumours suggest Warner Montreal is behind the next-gen effort, which makes sense given how recently Arkham City wrapped.
We may already have started to see next-gen games, but developers such as CD Projekt are sensible being coy in saying games like The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt are headed to PC and all high-end consoles, refusing to be drawn further on the matter. Cyberpunk is still so far out that it's practically guaranteed for new hardware.
On the tentative side, the old Beyond Good & Evil 2 chestnut has rolled over and split again, and there's a tasty rumour that Final Fantasy Versus 13 may be going next-gen after years of hanging around as vapourware. Indie superhero sandbox Awakened is ambitious enough to require next-gen hardware, and so many years in, is likely going to go head whether a Kickstarter campaign succeeds or not. Word is Sega has a new Sonic on the go, too.
Grand Theft Auto 5 has been thrown around for a next-gen and curent-gen simship thanks to a recent deal and some recruiting notices, but Take Two's not having any of it at this stage. It's also refusing to comment on persistant, repeat rumours that Mafia 3 is in the works at 2K Czech - which hired next-gen staff. I'll tell you what Take Two does have, though - Turtle Rock's Evolve. Thanks, THQ.
It's possible that whatever THQ Montreal was working on is next-gen, too; Ubisoft is never shy about console launches so we can expect a batch of release window titles from the French publisher, which is likely to include a new Assassin's Creed and Far Cry. You can probably expect the prolific Ubisoft to publish on both generations for at least two years, and Watch Dogs seems a prime candidate for this treatment, especially given how console cycles flatter new IP. A leap to next-gen helps explain why Rainbow Six: Patriots vanished from the radar, too. Ubisoft Montreal seems to have some sort of next-gen RPG on the go, too.
Rumours suggest we may see Star Wars 1313 on current-gen tech, but even if that were confirmed, that doesn't rule out a next-generation sim-ship - especially as LucasArts very carefully avoided mentioning any platform besides PC. Word is nothing has changed since Disney took over, so.
Thief 4 has never been confirmed as a next-gen title but the rumour mill is sure it will be, especially as the project went completely dark, despite the fact that everyone knows that's what Eidos Montreal moved onto after Deus Ex: Human Revolution. Elsewhere in the Square Enix stables, is Crystal Dynamics isn't working on a Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver reboot it's doing an excellent job of laying a false trail; and Square Enix Montreal's new Hitman game has been in the works for so little time that if it isn't next-gen by the time it turns up, Yoichi Wada will have a lot of explaining to do. Square Enix is investing heavily in next-gen tech, especially the Luminous engine, and is prepared to take a financial hit for the next few years.
In Japan, Yakuza creator Toshihiro Nagoshi has said more games in the gangster series are on the way, but not for PlayStation 3. The platform-exclusive is very unlikely to have parted ways with Sony, so there's short odds on a PS4 release for Yakuza 6. Quantic Dream already has a new game in the works ahead of Beyond: Two Souls' launch on PlayStation 3; we may not see it for a while yet but it's almost certainly a PS4 exclusive.
At the PlayStation Meeting, we can probably expect to see Killzone 4, too; Sony's flagship shooter seems a shoe-in for a system launch, and what else has Guerrilla been up to since the last one came out?
Motorstorm developer Evolution Studios seems almost certain to make a reveal at the PlayStation Meeting; racers traditionally perform most strongly at console launches, and the team has been dropping hints. Gran Turismo 6 has been in the works for ages, and Sony has promised a reveal soon; the platform and arguably industry's premier racer seems like an excellent choice for a launch title.
Project Gotham 5 seems a likely bet for Microsoft's hardware launch, for the same reasons. Also on Microsoft's side is Crytek's Ryse. Unlike many core-focused Kinect projects, this one hasn't died a natural death, but Crytek admits it's not going to make 2013. Could the camera-controlled adventure be headed to the new, improved version of Kinect which Durango is rumoured to require?
Rare and Lionhead are almost certainly working on Kinect and Fable titles respectively, and we know Halo 5 will eventually make an appearance - it's just a matter of when, and Gears of War seems a better bet for Microsoft's big launch shooter.
There hasn’t been a lot of chatter about GDC this year, even though it’s normally one of the most interesting events in the run up to E3. That’s because until Sony or Microsoft officially admit they have new boxes in the works, studios sitting on exciting new developments can’t say anything
On that note, Epic Games is almost certain to make an appearance at GDC, where it has often shown off new Unreal Engine tech both in public and behind closed doors. Debuting Unreal Engine 4 with the amazing Samaritan demo, Epic said it was looking to set a benchmark for next-gen hardware, and seems quite well-informed about it - maybe its time to see what the team can actually do with it. Epic handed off Gears of War to People Can Fly for this year's under-marketed offering, Judgment, so don't be too surprised if we have to wait for Microsoft's official announcement to see what is almost bound to be a next-gen Gears of War for Durango.
There hasn't been a lot of chatter about GDC this year, even though it's normally one of the most interesting events in the run up to E3. That's because until Sony or Microsoft officially admit they have new boxes in the works, studios sitting on exciting new developments can't say anything. One of Activision's senior developers is giving a lecture on next-generation rendering techniques, while of course carefully not mentioning hardware or games at all.
But now that the cat's halfway out the bag and virtually guaranteed to turn up before GDC in March, the locks are starting to be slipped one by one. Metal Gear Solid: Ground Zeroes is set for reveal at GDC. The new Kojipro title is expected to release on PS3 and Xbox 360, but Hideo Kojima has confirmed he's working with next-gen hardware. What we've seen of Ground Zeroes so far has all been running on high-end PCs.
You're tired of reading by now, and yet this really is just the suspiciously still pool of water marking in iceberg of ship-sinking proportions. Although it will probably be another year before these projects bear reveal fruit, in the last two years multiple developers have been openly recruiting for or teasing next-generation development: Arkane Studios, Bethesda, Gearbox Software, iD Software,Remedy, Sledgehammer, Spark Unlimited, United Front Games.
The industry may be coalescing around smaller numbers of bigger hits, but the injection of fresh hardware will bring with it an explosion of new takes on old formulas, new IP, and new ideas. Don't blink: 2013 is going to be one of the biggest years in gaming since Nolan Bushnell wondered if tennis could be less sweaty.