Back to the future
We live in hectic times. Our lives are stuck on fast-forward, so much so that we merely fly by turbulent political events and whip past staggering developments in technology; we are being drowned in new discoveries and an unprecedented information overload. The computer game industry is no exception and is in fact often at the forefront of a continuous evolution in technology. We live in a time where games like Left 4 Dead, Mass Effect, Rome: Total War, World of Warcraft, The Sims, Portal, Fallout, Half Life, Crysis and many others surprise players time and again with their quality and uniqueness that give us so many hours of solid entertainment. Gaming platforms are also following this phenomenal development and becoming more suited to players and their needs. They now supply everything from ‘more beautiful than reality’ graphics to peripherals that allow players to enter the game’s world and actively participate with it to make changes as they see fit.
As a kid in the nineties I played games with a joystick, which I managed to break along with my keyboard because it simply did not function as I expected or even in the way I wanted. So much for saving Princess Peach. As for graphics, my game heroes looked like a cardboard Rubik’s cube experiment performed by Picasso. Nevertheless, I loved them all and it was truly a thrilling time that put me through a wide range of emotions: anger towards my friends because they preferred the buff barbarian and athletic Amazonian to the dwarf in Golden Axe; happiness as I managed to save my beloved Sonic from Doctor Robotnik; freaked out after playing Alone in the Dark as well as Myst; and determination to solve Monkey Island puzzles without looking at walkthroughs. What will the future bring in terms of computer games? Whether we are optimistic or pessimistic, as vague as it may be, the answer could already be with us.
Choose the red pill: explore and experience
As computer game technology advances, the most obvious change is the graphics. As game engines develop, the ‘living, breathing world’ of the game becomes increasingly realistic by allowing players a sense of space and consequently exploration that goes towards enhancing player immersion. In previous years, games always had to limit player exploration with invisible barriers that were usually marked by a stubborn bush, or fence. Today’s players are able to explore vast spaces without the fear of bumping into those frustrating barriers so much, thus allowing a more involving and pleasant experience.
This apparent freedom is definitely a trait of RPGs and MMORPGs, in which players themselves influence and cooperate on the creation of a virtual environment. There can be no doubt that future developments will see this space increase in size and complexity with numerous objects, buildings, rooms and cities perfectly emulating reality (Minecraft for example). This interplay between reality and virtual life can be seen with recent developments in augmented reality that enables users to view their real surroundings as a modified virtual reality created by a computer. The technology has been used to provide virtual tours of cities, exhibitions and museums, and it can also help with navigation, music, military excursions and different intellectual tasks and operations. We can see the impact of new technology on gaming right now with the successful integration of 3D televisions. The Nintendo 3DS stretches this even further by compacting this technology into a handheld device so that 3D gaming can be experienced on the move.
Gaming controllers are also going through their own rapid evolution; Microsoft’s Kinect and PlayStation Move are just two examples of a new trend that works without any form of plastic controller whatsoever. The aim of these advancements is to increase physical player participation in the game and in doing so, has attracted much wider audiences. Microsoft’s Kinect for the Xbox 360 allows players to use their own body to input commands through voice recognition technology, motion sensors that track your body, and facial recognition so that the device even ‘remembers’ who you are. While you play, the Kinect creates your very own digital skeleton so that when you move, to fight your enemy or drive a car, your avatar in the game mimics your precise movements.
The PlayStation Move operates on similar motion sensing principles, albeit the device relies on the PlayStation Eye camera to track a handheld wand that also uses its inertial sensors to help determine the position and nature of your movements. While not without their faults, these products received positive reviews and definitely helped to revolutionize the gaming industry. Alongside this, the game-playing population saw a great increase with even the least likely members having a go; your grandma became a Sonic Free Rider enthusiast while gramps was suddenly a light-saber expert. This is undoubtedly a huge leap from those ancient joysticks and/or keyboards that failed to even work in far too many crucial moments than I care to remember.