This Week on Channel Massive: Future Game Tech

Epic Games' Unreal Engine Tech Demo 2011 GDC

The days of gee-whiz graphics upgrades are fading fast. Yes, Epic and id continue to make ever-more-powerful iterations of their graphics engines, and in-game worlds are approaching photo realism in ever-smaller steps. But that’s just it: the next “wow” leap in visuals likely won’t come from how realistic they look, but how they’re displayed: unless 3D or holographic, consumers are less and less likely to be wowed by technical graphics prowess. Gamers how need to have their mind not tricked by subtle details like the way a character’s skin absorbs and reflects light, but how a game world truly feels like it’s just shy of our fingertips. Short of that, being able to impact the worlds we play in, and bring our friends, too, well be just fine.

That’s what this week’s Future Game Tech issue is all about: looking beyond pixels and polygons and into aspects of gaming even more likely to trigger new and deeper emotional reactions within gamers. My personal soapbox under this umbrella is augmented reality games. They may be a pit stop along the way to true holographic– or holodeck, if you like– gaming, but they can truly impact you in a way you might not have thought of or expected before.

At the starter level are games (and applications) available on your smart phone, should you have one. iPhone has a  nifty apps that allow you to create a tabletop-sized basketball hoop on your desk by just putting a piece of paper on the desk, and then pointing your iPhone’s camera at the paper.  A basketball hoop arises from the paper you placed, and you then get to shoot virtual basketballs in.  Over on Android-powered phones, there’s good reason to check out Zombies, Run! which gives you a target destination to run to in the real world before you alert or get caught by any zombies shown mapped out on your phone.

Nintendo’s just-launched 3DS comes bundled with six augmented reality cards, allowing you to interact with a fluffy puppy or shoot at fabricated archery targets and dragons appearing on your dining room table. Yet the run-away game that’s mentioned most for 3DS isn’t Super Street Fighter IV 3D (which is indeed great), but included AR game Face Raiders, which has you photograph your friends’ (and enemies’) faces. You then you hold your 3DS in place, swiveling it around like a viewport and shooting at the photographed faces as they move in to attack and animate with goofy expressions. During these back and forth attacks, you actually can tear holes in reality– at least the reality shown in your 3DS– and see the real world start to slip away. With all these experiences in glasses-free 3D, the promise and potential of augmenting your reality seems ever more tangible and immersing.

Kinect presents the flipside of this experience. Finally, you don’t have to hold anything at all, but you can physically move around to earn points, meet objectives and win a game. The physical reality of the environment around you is no longer what you truly see; instead there are computer generated elements in your immediate physical space that you can manipulate. The catch is those manipulations only occur on a screen. Yet if Kinect’s speech recognition software were savvier, I could see a full fledged simulation of a Star Trek bridge, with voice-activated computer interactions, being feasible.

They have it so good in the future…

For me, this is the next big thing. The only thing getting in the way of things is the hardware. You have to hold something in your hands (a phone or game machine), or the reality that you can impact is housed within a physical television, tangible yet intangible. Bringing these two experiences together into genuine glasses-free, unconstrained by physical hardware boundaries gaming will be the future. I have no idea how that will come to be, but until it does, I have plenty to enjoy in the technologies that bridge to this future.

Later this week, you’ll hear from Mark and Jason as they discuss modern game design developments that excite them. Mark will talk user-generated content and how that’s redefining the games we play, and whether its promise is being met. Jason will get into gaming on Android phones and how they are shaping the games of tomorrow. Last, we’ll get into the most popular of modern game design trends, co-op play, in this week’s podcast.

Do any of these game design trends excite you more than others, or is there something else that appeals to you? Let us know in the comments.

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