The future of gaming…

Ask yourself this question; where does gaming go from here? An intriguing thought don’t you think?  Undoubtedly we’re catching glimpses of the future with the latest innovations being sold to the gamer as ‘the next big thing’. Consider the latest batch of hardware being waved under our noses…

Kinect – A very clever piece of technology, it maps a players entire body and integrates these movements with onscreen action.  This represents a genuine advancement in the user interface and it’s going to be really interesting to see how this piece of kit develops.  So far we’ve seen the predictable Wii-type games, sports, dancing, fitness and the usual shallow mini-games.  However, what I will watch with interest is how this technology can be integrated into the hardcore games – the very bread and butter of Microsoft’s Xbox.  What cunning methods will the developers find to use Kinect with a first person shooter, for instance?  The first title that fits the ‘one to watch’ category would have to be the forthcoming mech sim, Steel Battalion: Heavy Metal.  The first title on the old Xbox required a very expensive and very large controller; apparently Kinect will replace this and do more besides.  The very prospect of controlling vast mechanised machines of war with body movements really does appeal.

3DTV – Probably most have ventured to the cinema in the last two years and seen the latest 3D technology making the films literally jump out of the screen at you.  This technology, as is only to be expected, is now making its way into our living rooms.  Glasses are still required, but they now use polarised lenses rather than the eye-straining, one red, one green method.  The 3D effect is very good and believable for the most part, however all viewers still have to wear glasses, which may be considered an inconvenience.  There’s one thing losing your remote control, but if you lose your glasses, then your latest film or game will be about as much use as a chocolate teapot.  Nintendo seem to have found an interesting solution with their forthcoming handheld console, the 3DS, it does 3D very effectively without the need for glasses.  The only perceived drawback is a narrow viewing angle, which whilst not being much of an issue for a handheld console, is not much good for a television set.  But this is certainly a technology to keep an eye on and one that is ideally suited for the gaming industry.  Sony has already started supporting 3DTV with some games and 3rd party developers on the Xbox 360 are now starting to explore this option.

Haptic feedback – Pretty much anyone with a touchscreen phone or ipod will be familiar with this technology, it’s what makes it feel like you’re pressing a physical button on a totally flat screen.  Engineers are making significant advances in this technology and now have the ability to make a completely flat surface feel like it’s multi-textured.  Touch is very sensitive and haptic technology is advancing in ways that can give very accurate feedback, how long will it be before our joypads feel like they are literally changing form whilst in the palms of our hands?  Imagine playing say Gears of War 5 and swapping your smooth finished Lancer assault rifle for a rough and spiky Locust gun, but you literally feel the differences in the surface of the gun as your character wields it.

Processing power – The raw grunt behind your console, ultimately this is the engine of the games you play, the more processing power, the faster and prettier your games will be.  Moore’s Law states that processing power doubles every two years, and whilst not a law of physics it has yet to be disproved.  So, if we consider our humble Xbox 360, which is now getting on a bit at 5 years old; theoretically if the Xbox 720 came out tomorrow it would be about 5 times more powerful.  All of this increased power would result in far more detailed graphics, moving faster with much more happening and glorious textures to boot.  But panic not; you’re not going to have to splash out on a new console anytime soon.  All indications are that the next generation is still a few years away, it seems that all the console manufacturers have learnt a lesson from Sony’s enduring PS2 console.  Expect Nintendo to blink first as their Wii console is significantly lacking when compared to the PS3 and Xbox 360.

The advances I’ve mentioned literally skim the surface of these technologies and the work that’s going on behind the scenes.  However, it can be clearly identified that all these new and existing avenues of opportunity are striving to achieve one thing – to get us more involved in our gaming, to further immerse us into the game worlds and make what we’re experiencing all the more believable and authentic.  This beggars the question: where will it all end?  It’s already been hinted at many times in science fiction films and books; virtual reality, holodecks, whatever you want to call them.  I wouldn’t be surprised if true 3D images will one day be beamed directly onto our retinas and external cameras with millions of megapixel clarity will be able to map every limb, finger and facial gesture to a minute resolution.  Beyond that who knows?  Maybe we’ll even be plugging our brains directly into an A.I. gaming hub where we can completely exist outside of the real world.  Scary eh?

Bringing us back to present day with an unceremonious bump and we look forward to what Microsoft’s Kinect can deliver.  We’re at the newborn stage at the moment, but Microsoft’s willingness to leave Kinect ‘open’ to home coders will no doubt yield some interesting results.  Hopefully the best of these home-grown developments will work their way into mainstream games and getting us playing in ways not yet considered.

One thing is for sure, as long as our industry keeps growing, the developers will be looking for new and innovative ways to entice gamers to play their games.  The Wii, Kinect and Move have certainly drawn in new gamers from a previously untapped source.  As the installed customer base grows, so will the demand for new and inspiring ways to play our games.  2011 seems to have a glut of sequels heading our way, but who knows what’s just over the horizon?  I’m going to see if I can pre-order one of those A.I. gaming hubs, the only trouble is I suspect by the time it’s released my USB port will be obsolete.

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