Welcome to the digital future.
So, the next generation of PlayStation and Xbox consoles have now gone on sale in many different parts of the world, and what have we got to show for it? Well, I don't know about you, but after spending many months writing this sort of thing, I now have this expression on whenever I run into anyone from Microsoft...
Oh, and I have a pair of new game consoles in my house, both of which I bought. A few months ago I said I planned to buy a PS4 initially and an Xbox One eventually. However, in all my rational analysis I had forgotten one very important detail: my overwhelmingly childish compulsion to purchase every new console as soon as I possibly can. I didn't pre-order an Xbox One, but when my friends began touting theirs over the weekend I started breaking, and by Tuesday I'd bought up a spare Day One Edition that Digital Foundry pre-ordered and ended up not needing.
Judge me, if you like. I certainly judge me.
Another thing I seem to have, though, which I didn't entirely expect, is a rapidly diminishing amount of next-gen hard disk space. My Xbox One will soon be home to borrowed copies of Ryse (34.94GB) and Forza 5 (31.76GB), and I enjoyed reviewing Dead Rising 3 (19.9GB), so I might pick up a copy of that at some point and play it at a more leisurely pace. The Xbox is circumspect about how much hard disk space you have left though. Oh that? You don't need to worry about thaaaat. At least until you buy something one day, rush home to play it and realise you have to delete something else first.
My PlayStation 4, meanwhile, is already home to Killzone (38.5GB), FIFA 14 (9GB), Battlefield 4 (33.9GB) and Assassin's Creed 4 (21.2GB). That's over 100GB gone for four games. Need for Speed Rivals is sitting there winking at me through shrink-wrap - 17GB of beautiful street racing waiting to take me a third of the way from zero to 60 (gigabytes). I guess it's a good thing Sony is embracing smaller indie titles, really, because at this rate there isn't going to be much room for anything else.
PS4 supports external storage devices, although not for installing games, as well as hard disk upgrades, while it's also possible to reinstall stuff from discs or the internet on both consoles, but with such bloated games and patchy broadband, we might actually spend more of this generation staring at progress bars than we did last time. Fine, they've done a better job of hiding the progress bars, but I would have settled for a few terabytes instead.
I'm being glib, obviously (although not that glib - Knack's 35.6GB Blu-ray really is proof that certain gases will expand to fill a vacuum), but there is a semi-serious point here. Console game development is often exciting because you get to observe incredibly talented people squeezing untold possibilities out of precise arrangements of hardware. The Last of Us may not look as good as Crysis 3 on its highest settings on a top-spec PC, for example, but even the most jaded and cynical gamer must have been able to appreciate the accomplishment of doing that on PS3. (If not, load up Knack.)
So the point is: these early games are being sloppy now that the limitations have been changed. Not in every respect - you only have to read Digital Foundry's look behind the scenes at the making of Killzone to appreciate the quality of the engineering being undertaken in some places. But these games do feel sloppy and bloated when you look at them on a storage management screen, and for some reason - despite the fabled GDDR5 memory pool and a camera that can see in the dark - the consoles have shipped with hard disks that will be heaving before they're a year old.
If only PS4 and Xbox One game makers could take a leaf out of Nintendo's book. I may have Sony and Microsoft's next-gen consoles in my house this weekend, but the game I'm playing the most is on neither of them: it's the frankly stupendous Super Mario 3D World. Nintendo's best Mario game in many years is huge and beautiful, pumping out 60 frames every second, and if you were to buy the digital version it would take up just 1.5GB of space. It's as though Tokyo EAD lives by that Bill Gates quote about how 640K ought to be enough for anybody.
Then again, it's just as well that they do, because the basic Wii U only has 8GB of space and the premium version is 32GB. Ugh.
Oh well. Perhaps the thing to acknowledge, then, is that despite the most frenzied, exciting and controversial launch of a new generation of consoles since the heady days of the original PlayStation, something was always going to go a little wrong. At least it's the hard disk size this time, rather than five months between US and European launches, or 68 per cent of all the consoles exploding. I look forward to the inevitable PS4 and Xbox One refreshes in 2014 or 2015 that increase the storage capacity at least twofold. I certainly look forward to my local broadband provider telling me fibre is finally available.
In the meantime, welcome to the digital future! Good luck finding somewhere to put it.