Gaming like it's 2099

Gaming like it's 2099


Gaming technology is about to take a leap. Both Microsoft and Sony are looking to push motion technology further, but that is only a tip of the iceberg. We take a look at some of the technologies that will be available to games in the near future.

Gaming like it's 2099
The technologies I have discussed so far all aim to bring the player closer to the game. They make the experience more lifelike, and do so quite successfully. But nothing they do in that area can overcome one glaring inadequacy; they are all still being played on a flat screen. And oddly enough, my first experience with "the future of gaming" was not with input devices, but with a display device. Back in 1999, I was given some cool-looking glasses that had some not so cool wires attached to it. These wires allowed you to connect the glasses to your PC and interface with games. They came with a Quake-engine based game, the name of which I do not recall. It had been modified to work in conjunction with the glasses, and together they changed the 2D game into a real holographic experience. Donning the glasses, it took only a moment for my eyes to adjust to the slightly distorted image, but after that, weapons and other objects really did stick out at me. Unfortunately it took all of about 30 seconds for me to give in to the rapidly increasing nausea and dismiss these awkward accessories as 'interesting but rubbish', but the technology did work. Wearing special glasses to see holographic images still seems a bit unnatural to me, but I do believe that real holographic gaming holds the future.

Gaming like it's 2099
A lot has changed since I first tried on those 3D glasses. In fact, it was a holo TV created by Philips that prompted me to write this piece. Back in December, I was in the market for a new set of speakers for my sound system at home. I walked into a shop and almost immediately stopped dead in my tracks. Looming in front of me was a large flower with a bee on it, smack in the middle of the path. It was somewhat see through and when I walked around it, I realized that the TV itself was producing holographic movie, visible even from a 45 degree angle. Before that moment, I had no idea how far this technology had progressed. I knew it existed, of course, but in a 'production' TV? Unfortunately the technology used in Philips' WOWvx doesn't transfer well to 2D video, otherwise I'd have a movie up here for you to watch, but if you have a chance, go and find one on display, you will be amazed.

But Philips is not the only company about creating true holographic experiences. One particularly well-made example of combining holographs with input from the user originates in Korea and is on display at the Seoul Animation Museum (note that here too, it is hard to convey the true experience on a 2D screen). Okay, I know, the above two examples aren't really about applying holograph technology to hardcore games. Let me give you something a little more tangible to chew on. Have a look at this holographic adaptation of some of the characters in Sin Episodes. It looks a bit spooky, but it surely shows the power of the technology itself.

It will come as no surprise that the winds of change are not only blowing in the area of input and display devices; I am sure you will all agree that the odds that we will still be buying our games in physical shops 10 years from now are slim to none. By then, platforms such as Steam and Gamersgate will undoubtedly be distributing the vast majority of games. Most, if not all, publishers are already experimenting with this distribution model today. But those distribution systems will have to evolve as well. A couple of weeks ago I ended up on the Blog of Shiny founder and industry celeb Dave Perry. He had an article about a new distribution system called Gaikai that he and his team are currently developing. Dave has a vision that software will no longer be downloaded to PC's. Before I continue, you may want to watch the demonstration video. If you have some idea of the technology involved, you will be picking up your jaw from the floor.

With Gaikai, software does not have to be transferred to your PC. In fact, your PC does not even run the software, everything is handled by servers on the other side of your internet connection. A plug-in for your browser is used to connect with the server and any software that you have bought or... rented perhaps?

So... if your PC does not run the software, then all you really need is a PC capable of running a browser and the necessary plug-ins. The implications are immense, especially when this technology goes beyond software and gaming. I can easily see this technology being used with audio and video as well. It is truly convenient: you won't need any CPU or video card upgrades to play the latest games. In fact, your PC can be downgraded to a simple client based on technology that already existed in 1998 (which can be made incredibly energy efficient with today's technology).

Gaming like it's 2099
For the industry, the advantages of such a distribution system are plentiful. Hardware requirements would be a thing of the past. Crashes due to faulty drivers or incompatible hardware? Gone forever. Piracy? No longer an issue. Second hand video game trading? No longer possible. I would even take it one step further: PCs will rule gaming once more, consoles no longer have a sustainable business model. I dare say this, because one of the games in the demo is Nintendo's Mario Kart. It plays great without any other hardware than the PC he already owns. Realistically speaking, it is more likely that we will see specialized set-top boxes that will handle this, rather than normal PCs. After seeing this technology in action, it seems to me that consoles will no longer have a place in the living room of the future. Microsoft, Nintendo and Sony may still be game makers, but if they will be console makers... I doubt it.

I hope that my article gave you a 'thought provocative' peek into the future of gaming. While we may not have anything like a Star Trek Holodeck just yet, we're not that far off. In the last decade we have seen the gaming industry taking such a flight that it is now bigger than the movie industry, and technology such as I have discussed here today will only propel it further. I truly believe that the next decade will prove to be even more intriguing and that big changes are just around the corner. For some technologies, the only thing holding them back are widespread support from the industry. Others are an almost defacto choice, showing up in a game near you in a matter of years, or in some cases, even months.

The ancient Chinese saying is, for me, not so much a curse but a gift for gamers of today. May you live in interesting times.