Just found this in my Drafts folder. I wrote it a while ago: obviously the news item this was inspired by has long been superseded by the next-gen revelations at E3. But my point is, I hope, still valid.
At the recent Credit-Suisse First Boston Technology Conference, Electronic Arts, further pushing its status as the games industry’s leading protagonist, showed some images it claimed are representative of what next-generation home consoles will be capable of.That's the whole article at SPOnG.com - all that's missing are the screenshots, which are pretty pre-rendered screens. This is only newsworthy because it's EA saying it, and because it's happening now (I refuse to take this seriously).
EA spokesman and CFO Warren Jensen presented two images, one of Madden and one representing future Need for Speed software, both renders of projected graphical output.
"Imagine that the characters in a football [game] will be capable of showing real emotion," said Jensen. "That's what's going to be possible with the next generation of technology."
Any major developer must be doing more or less the same thing: think of what is probably going to be possible, let artists do mock-ups showing how cool that would look, keep it pinned to everyone's walls. It's a good way of setting a stretch goal. (See also what I wrote about the Killzone 2 video recently.)
At least, for visual quality. This is going to be the first generation shift where the diminishing returns should become pretty obvious to everyone (see here for another opinion). As was pointed out by Jason Rubin a while ago, an Xbox game looks better than a PS1 game to a degree that it impacts the experience, but apart from that games haven't changed that much. We're used to 3D now, we know what works, we can crank stuff out pretty quickly. It's mature. We have new gadgets, such as the Eye Toy. We have online if we want. What will be the USP for next-gen? HDTV? Whoop-dee-doo.