Archive for the 'Monday Night Live' Category
Wednesday, February 21st, 2007
Monday Night Live is the indie game dev scene’s foremost weekly opinion column, and you better believe it.
Cliff “Cliffski” “Cliffy” (our nickname) Harris has released a bunch of absolutely blazing indie titles that have eaten you and your family. Democracy? He did that. Kudos? You know you want it. Major coverage and heavyweight sales mean you should listen to this man’s wisdom. Here it is. He runs Positech Games, and he is a legend – this is a link.
“Game design is easy right? You just need to decide on the name of your main character, who he is fighting, why he is doing it, what different types of bad guy he will be up against, any special key combinations for attacks, and what the layout of the inventory screen will be like right?
That’s the attitude to take to design another ‘me-too’ game, in this case an RPG or FPS game. I’m not having a go at indie devs there, I can name plenty of huge budget me-too FPS games, and most RTS games are so interchangeable a tutorial or manual has become practically obsolete. Real game design is a different kettle of fish. Real game design is the metaphorical equivalent of sky-diving, where you are literally flying through the air (remind you of any sword fighting games?) without a set plan. Rather than decide to do a new FPS, or RTS or any three-letter-acronym, I’ve found the key to good game design is to pick your theme, or maybe your game mechanic, and then decide how to represent that on a PC from scratch. My first game that people have heard of was a turn-based political strategy game. The game basically put you in charge of the decision making process in government. What will it look like? I have *no* idea. I can’t fire up any other government-simulators and take a look, because there aren’t any (except a text based one). I literally had to invent a new GUI concept from scratch, and went through a lot of very bizarre ideas before I settled on a winner. Next game, and I still didn’t make it easy for myself! Kudos was a strategy game about managing life-decisions over a ten year period. In some ways, conceptually like the Sims, but done at a strategic level, and with no 3D world. Oops, that totally rules out the sims interface as a model then. This game went through some major GUI and gameplay revisions before I ended up with what I like, and I’m very pleased with the end result.
I’ve worked on games (for me, and for big companies) that sat within an established genre, and I’ve worked on those two (soon to be three) games, where I am totally making up the whole style as I go along. I can assure you it is about a billion times harder to do the latter, but also a billion times more rewarding both personally, and in terms of critical success. At some point, someone sat down and thought how you could make a game where you played the role of god. It had not been done before, it was probably a bitch to design, probably everyone thought it was a silly idea, but hey, it sure paid off for Peter Molyneux. Maybe some of that attitude rubbed off on me when I worked at Lionhead, who knows? but one thing is certain, We need more people to design games like this. How many futuristic cyberpunk FPS games does the world really need?” (More good ones, but yeah, we know what you’re saying. – Ed.)
Wednesday, February 21st, 2007
That’s right – MNL this week was delayed due to us…
1.) Releasing the damn game.
2.) Being “dunk”.
This week we have Cliff “Cliffy” Harris (nickname mine) a legendary UK indie game developer venting his spleen about what he knows. You should know it too. You will.
Monday, February 5th, 2007
Monday Night Live is the indie game dev scene’s foremost weekly opinion column, and you better believe it.
Dan Marshall is the sole developer of barking retro action title Gibbage. By “retro”, we don’t mean “shit”…unusually.
“There are many things I’ve learned from writing my own game. Thing one is how to make the perfect cup of coffee for those 3am coding sessions; the trick being, of course, to make sure the granules-to-water radio is heavily slanted towards the former. It’s not real coffee unless you’re eating it with a spoon.
The most important thing I’ve learned, though, is that no matter what your game is, if it’s lacking the simple element of ‘fun’, it’s not worth doing. It’s fair to say that fun’s an elusive subject to say the least, nowhere more so than in the world of Video Games. What one man finds inexorably fun, will have another man jabbing at the off switch with a pointy stick in the hopes of stopping the nightmarish torment. It’s called subjectivity, and it’s a beautiful thing. It’s what stops us all being clones of each other, like Hitler wanted.
‘Fun’ is equally disparate on the Indie scene, the very worst perpetrators I’ve been somewhat openly critical of over at Gibbage.co.uk, and have taken a great deal of flak for it.
Where but a matter of years ago, the attention the Indie scene garnered was “HEY! Look what those guys over there are doing! It’s funky and fresh and different and interesting!”, we now have a situation where, if you want to make money, you need to churn out women-targeted, safe, bland, clones of clones and the attention we get is very different. As an out-and-out result, the wider public now simply expects Indie games to be shit from the off.
Fair enough, your game needs to appeal to as wide a range of people as possible, but that doesn’t mean you can’t be interesting with it. Fair enough, you need to sell games in order to stay afloat, but does that mean you have to do something safe and uninspired? Of course not.
Let me make one thing quite clear – I’ve got nothing against Casual Games. They fulfil a very important place in the market. I often find myself in the situation where I don’t want the pressure of keeping tabs on a real-time battlefield with a hundred soldiers and a platoon of tanks to take care of. I don’t want the responsibility for that; I can barely tie my own shoelaces. I want some fun.
Sometimes, even I crave the simplicity only a casual title can offer; one of my all-time favourite games ever being Lumines, which is still as mind-bogglingly refreshing a year and a half on than it was when I first booted it up. How the hell did they do that?
The answer is in its simplicity. For a game to be a success, it has to be fun. It truly is as pure and simple as that. There’s no great mystery behind all this, you know. If it’s fun, people will buy it.
If people buy it, you can afford to eat.
Making sure your game is fun, however, is the tricky part. If I knew a guaranteed way of doing that, I’d be a bazillionaire a gazillion times over. The only steadfast rule I can impart is that it should be easy to explain how to play the game, preferably in a single –line sum up.
My personal Game of the Year last year was Armadillo Run. Get the ball into the blue sphere using physics. It’s so outrageously simple it’s ludicrous. But it works oh-so-well, and is the most cruelly addictive casual game I’ve ever has the misfortune to play. Misfortune, because I’ve spent so long dabbling away at it, productivity on my own games took a sever slump.
Gibbage is a nice simple concept, too. Keep your power levels up, kill the other guy.
What’s more, Gibbage’s maps are all unique to some degree. During design of these levels, we spent many an hour in the pub concocting new weird and wonderful ways each Arena could affect gameplay. My rule of thumb was, if it can’t be summed up in a single line, I’m not doing it.
I tried and tested many bizarre suggestions, each more bewilderingly complex than the last. In the end, the ideas that won out were always ‘There are some zombies walking about; they eat you”, or “There are monkeys jumping about; they steal your power cubes.”
These ideas worked the best, because they’re just so intrinsically simple they’re a joy to implement and play with. Noone fires up a video game to be confused and disorientated; they do so to be entertained, thrilled and have their soul set alight in that way only gamers have experienced.
So that’s my advice to making sure a game is fun: if you can’t sum it up in a single line, it’s too complex.
Obviously there are caveats a-plenty to go with that, namely that making a game about a pixel in the centre of the screen that disappears when you press a button on the keyboard isn’t fun either. I mean, don’t go silly with it or anything…”
Tuesday, January 30th, 2007
Alex “Malakian” Hayes is a Mode 7 Games associate and one of Determinance’s lead testers. This is a picture of Uwe Boll, who is not him.
“It’s quite apparent nowadays that video games are in a different world from the prison of the 1983 Nintendo microchips, but apparently more and more of that world is being poked by the big screen. I’m not talking about the dimensions of the PSP nor Ian’s dear Uwe Boll here, but the fact that nowadays I seem to feel like I’m playing the latest Hollywood production before it’s a Hollywood production. I guess I should start by saying the two games I’ve completed most recently are Resident Evil 4 and Gears of War. At least one of these is new enough for me to be considered vaguely up to date.
Anyway, I enjoyed both of these games. They were both quite good. But they got me thinking about how these and many other modern games really are cinematic to a fault. In Gears of War you play an ex-soldier let off a prison sentence for desertion, as the planet’s impeding doom is quite plausible due to the masses of insectoid baddies climbing out of every gap every which way. Yeah, it could easily be a B movie premise. It plays and looks like one too, with every detail down to the sequel-inducing ending tailored to look like you’re making a considered effort to navigate the plot of Starship Troopers. This wasn’t cool by me. It had some darn fun multiplayer tactical elements, but moving from one side of the room to another didn’t have to look like one of Stallone’s final lunges when it’s completely empty. Resident evil 4 probably boasts the most pathetic little challenge: hit the right buttons when they flash during a cut scene. As you probably know or can guess, it’s going one of two ways anyway, and isn’t very satisfying when you know you’ve just let the cut scene carry on how it’s already planned out to be. It’s like making you pick yes or no to your character dying mid-cut scene, but making you do it very attentively.
A huge issue for me is that as the cinematic flavour has increased in video games, the change this seems to have brought hits their soundtracks as well. The eerie non-diegetic swells of horror movies, the electric guitar techno of right about when Vin Diesel starts to get really pissed off about something or other, chaotic horn arpeggios, or the wailing strings accompanying the loss of a great comrade – they are all here a lot, and they never seem to have any panache. One of the great things about Determinance’s soundtrack, in my right opinion, is that it manages to pull off an odd mix of quirky innovation (trance) with traditional gamey tunes and memorable loops. GoW and RE4 are both toting scores that could well be backing a film. Now there’s nothing wrong with this as such, but I personally think a games identity can be formed by the tunes. Creating atmosphere is one thing, I know, but Castlevania II on my fossilised NES had up-tempo tunes that were not only memorable, but perfectly captured my mood, which was readiness for killing some vampires (NB: especially ‘malkavian’ vampires.) and chewing some bubble gum. The lack of anything musically memorable really added the quality of dull. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney could teach a thing or two on that front.
The monotony of your enemies colour was also annoying practically, especially in Gears, as my good comrade and I were struggling to discern members of our squad from the alien scum from Hades. This was quite obviously an over-emphasis on the cinematic look of it. In a video game, I want to know who I’m ploughing down instantly by them being quite clearly part of a menacing green skinned horde. Instead, they are mostly looking like mercenary Goths. Commander keen never had to put up with this shit. Basically, I think often lately filmic conventions seem to be poking their heads up in video games quite a lot. I’m not sure I want to say this is a terrible thing, but I know that I would have liked these two games more had they not tried to make me think I was playing a movie. Can’t say I’d object to a convergence of the price tag, though.”
Tuesday, January 23rd, 2007
We have another guest MNL this week – a big Mode 7 hello to Shawn from Starwraith 3D Games. Check out his post below.
Tuesday, January 23rd, 2007
Shawn Bower is the Lead Developer at Starwraith 3D Games, a company dedicated to the indie development of distinctive space-combat sims. In his own words, it is “primarily the effort of one person who enjoys the space combat genre and wants to help keep the game theme alive by creating unique and enjoyable first person perspective 3D space games.”
I’m often asked about what independent development means and why I make my games with the design philosophy I do. My games don’t really fall into the casual category common to independent developers. They also don’t really fall into the mainstream category given the market I design for and features I include. By most accounts, my games generally fall somewhere in the middle where both casual players and more mainstream gamers can find some common ground if they share an interest in space games. This result is largely due to the design approach I use, which provides elements both types of gamers can appreciate and enjoy, while avoiding the drawbacks that risk alienating one or the other. In this article, I’ll cover some of the basics of my approach to game design to elaborate on why I use such a system and how it’s implemented.
First, I only release games that I intend to continue working on for a long time. The design and features of my games are dynamic, constantly adapting and changing to accommodate the requests I receive from players. Most games in the mainstream are released, then at best receive a few patches to fix problems. My games generally receive major updates for years after their release, which add new features, graphics, and gameplay. This is a quality not a lot of mainstream gamers are accustomed to and many seem surprised to discover that a game of mine might receive a complete graphics overall just a year after it’s released (with the update being free to players who bought the original version). Because of such updates, my games are set apart from the mainstream, yet provide a benefit mainstream gamers can appreciate. And they can enjoy this benefit without having to pay a monthly subscription fee or running a persistent background update application. It’s one of the advantages an independent developer can provide that the benefits of digital delivery can help facilitate.
I also provide a user-friendly delivery and copy protection system that gives the customer control over how the game they paid for is backed up. It also lets them enjoy the game without having to perform constant disc/key checks. If they lose their copy of the game, they can simply download it again (free) from a number of locations. Using extensive compression methods, the download size is kept to a minimum, providing some of the fastest delivery times available. No download insurance charges, no time-limited download links, no dependence on discs that can be lost or damaged, no monthly fees to maintain a membership for re-downloading. My games can also be backed up to CD or DVD for additional backup protection. Getting the best of both options is what I prefer and it lets the player control how their copy is backed up. I believe independent developers can further distinguish themselves from the mainstream by providing better content management options for gamers. When gamers are in control of how their software is backed up, stored, and played, they receive a unique quality that’s not available from either the mainstream download or ‘paper box and disc’ markets.
One of my design objectives is to provide broad compatibility balanced with graphics and effects. As a developer, you have to ask yourself, how many people do you NOT want to sell your game to? That is, how much of your market do you want to cut out? High system requirements will reduce your market potential and the effects will vary depending on which market you are going for. On the other hand, you also have to ask yourself just how many more sales are high end graphics/effects going to get you. Are they worth it in relation to the sales you’ll lose over the high system requirements necessary to include them. If you are trying to encourage players to buy your game before they pay (using a free demo), then you will need your game to run on the largest group of systems possible. And keep in mind, you are not your customer. Just because you would install system updates to play a game doesn’t mean your customers will. It’s usually best to try to avoid a situation where most people downloading your game just uninstall it because it didn’t work the first time they tried it (research suggests this is a very common occurrence). Every time that happens, that’s a potential lost sale. So if you plan to have fairly high requirements, make sure they don’t hurt potential sales for your market and the effects offset the reduction in your target market to justify their use. Otherwise, don’t be surprised at your results. I continually monitor the average system configuration used to play my games, then improve graphics and special effects based on the results. A large portion of my user base is ignored by big budget retail companies. Many have a system that might be 2 or 3 years old that doesn’t have a cutting edge $400+ video card and high speed CPU. Many are also laptop users with little or no upgrade path, and they don’t want to buy an entirely new laptop just to play a game.
With a combination of flexible content control, fast and easy digital delivery, direct developer support, broad compatibility, and continuous game development, independent developers can provide a unique set of benefits not often found with other gaming markets. You could even say that providing such benefits might be one way gaming can grow and thrive on the one platform that provides freely open development.
Tuesday, January 16th, 2007
This week’s Monday Night Live guestblogger is Peter Stock, developer of the wonderful physics-based indie puzzle game Armadillo Run.
Indie developers are pretty much all small fry in the big picture, but they can play this position to their advantage rather than let it be a shortcoming. By small fry, I mean that they typically have small teams and budgets. There’s the possibility that work is done in people’s spare time and it’s unlikely that they have access to console development kits. In contrast, mainstream development is comparatively flushed with money. So how can this situation be played to the best advantage for the indie? By avoiding going up against the big fish on equal terms.
People complain all the time about how games are all the same and publishers shun risk to fund games that conform to established genres. I didn’t pay much attention in Business Studies, but I do remember the bit about niche markets – even if a market’s small, if you’re the only one satisfying it then you’re in a good position. So the astute indie developer should consider the potential competition for their next game idea and choose something else if the market’s already well catered for. It’s particularly bad if there are games that already offer everything yours will (or more, and better), effectively making your game redundant before it’s released.
In addition, games that require a lot of time and/or money to develop are best avoided by the first-time indie developer. So an FPS, RPG or MMOG might not be the best place to start.
So where are the best places to explore the market? Although I’ve said that a game needs to have something unique to set it apart, it doesn’t have to be totally new – indeed, some familiar elements are desirable, since it gives players an immediate point of reference. So a novel twist on an existing idea might be all that’s needed – Determinance introduces a novel control scheme to the well-established fighting genre and Armadillo Run (my first game) has been described as a combination of Bridge Builder and The Incredible Machine.
The main advantages an independent developer has are scale and control. Being small allows them to exist by appealing to markets too small to interest the larger operations (10,000 sales would be great for many indies, but wouldn’t be enough to cover the costs of a mainstream title) and having total control over their work gives a lot of freedom to indie developers. The IGF competition, the Indie Game Jam and the Experimental Gameplay Workshop have shown some amazing ideas that would be unlikely to be made by mainstream developers. I accept that they might not all make commercially successful games, but they show how much can be done outside the boundaries of cookie-cutter game design.
So all I’m suggesting is a bit of common sense. I love Gran Turismo, but I’d be mad if I tried to make a game like that and expected it to sell – there’s too much competition, and the existing games are just too good, apart from the fact that it would be far too much work.
We can get away with less as long as it’s different. And to be honest, we have to settle for making ‘less’ in comparison to mainstream game budgets. So we have to be different.
Tuesday, January 2nd, 2007
This week’s guest poster is David Rosen of Wolfire Software, the man behind the incredible Lugaru.
“I am always confused by the trend in big-name PC titles to have load
times lasting several minutes and system requirements that exclude all
but the latest and most expensive computers. Good graphics and high
system requirements do not necessarily go hand in hand. For example,
there are several games on the PS2 such as Final Fantasy 12, Okami,
and Resident Evil 4 that arguably look better than any currently
available next-gen titles. If we design games to run on high-end
computers, then most people will have to turn down the detail to be
able to play the game. A game with detailed graphics looks very bad
when the resolution is turned down, much worse than a game that is
designed from the start to run at lower resolution. Therefore,
targeting the high-end can actually make the game look *worse* for
most players than targeting the middle.
When we spend less time on surface details, we can devote more time to interactivity and interesting behavior. For example, in The Elder
Scrolls: Oblivion, rooms are cluttered with detailed objects simulated
with the Havok physics engine. They react to physical forces, but they
are only interactive in a very superficial sense. That is, if you find
a pile of apples then you can knock it over, but you cannot eat the
apples, squash them, use them as projectiles, or really do anything
interesting with them. This kind of superficiality is becoming more
and more common in next-gen games; it is not unusual to see
hyper-realistic environments that the player cannot affect in any way.
As the number of objects in the environment increases, so does the
amount of work needed to make them behave in an interesting way, so
often interactivity is sacrificed entirely, or just offloaded
indiscriminately onto the physics engine.
In my last game, Lugaru, I had to take the exact opposite approach. I
created most of the artwork myself in my spare time from school, so I
had to make do with very little artistic content. There are really
only nine important models: two character models (rabbit and wolf),
three weapons (sword, staff and knife) and four environmental models
(rock, cube, tree and bush). Because there are so few objects, I could
focus on each of them and add a lot of detail that would otherwise
have been impossible. For example, the environment is not just there
for decoration; you can perform acrobatic tricks off of walls to
confuse opponents, kick an enemy’s head into a rock for an instant
kill, or use snow to clean blood off your knife so the wolves won’t
smell you as easily. There are also many unusual cosmetic details I
could add because of this sharper focus: you can kick an enemy’s tooth
out and blood will run down his mouth, or throw him at a wall so hard
that cracks appear in the rock.
Now that I am working with a team (and have some idea of what I am
doing), I hope to be able to harness the best of both worlds in future
projects. In Lugaru 2 we will have a wider range of environments
including towns and cities, but we will only add objects that are
interactive and interesting. If there is a bucket on the ground then
the player must be able to use it as a container; otherwise it should
not be there at all. This kind of interactivity is not especially
difficult to implement, makes the game world more interesting, and has
negligible effect on system requirements, so I hope that it becomes
more common as the novelty of hyper-realistic superficial detail starts to wear thin.”
Monday, December 18th, 2006
It might only be a slight overstatement to say that Oblivion is widely regarded as one of the most atmospheric games ever made. It’s been cropping up again recently as people start to talk about the best releases of the year, and it’s a title that raises some significant points about what gamers actually want.
When you’re gallivanting around Cyrodiil looking for amusingly-named objects and admiring the fronds of grass, you experience a much more significant sense of exploration than can be found in many similar swords-and-sorcery titles. The richness and gentle originality of the environment give you a paradoxical sensation: a feeling of purpose, and the knowledge that you could quite willingly go anywhere or do anything you want.
The words “sandbox” and “freeform” are now largely just nonsensical buzzwords whose meaning has been warped by over-use: we had to drop “freeform” from our descriptions of Determinance because people believed it meant that the game was like GTA. I wish I was joking.
Truly freeform gameplay allows the player a certain adaptability, and should be derived entirely from the environment. Thus, the great sweeping landscape of Cyrodiil and the odd social politics of its towns make for a great setting: lots to see and do. But Oblivion doesn’t want to be freeform.
It’s when you come across an Oblivion Gate for the first time that it all starts to go wrong, because the game then reverts to the eternally dull paradigm of a hero out to save the world from certain destruction. All sense of being a wily cog in a gigantic and beautiful machine is lost, because it becomes clear that you are the centre of the universe.
There’s always the get-out clause that you don’t have to close the Oblivion Gates, but they’re not going to go away on their own, and so they sit there, marring the landscape and damaging the atmosphere. Every time the sky darkens, you’re being reminded that you’re not playing “properly”.
I would be significantly more interested in playing a game set in a similar sized game-world which had a lot more randomly-generated events, and a lot more immersion. Perhaps every city could have a ruler with their own motivations, and the ability to direct their army to do certain things – that would be the only component of the “over-arching narrative”, and the rest could be a complex rabbit-warren of scripted quests and entertaining random behaviour. In short, it’d be nice not to be the protagonist.
A brief foray into the world of Oblivion mods hasn’t provided what I’m looking for, and since I’m not into rideable dogs or being able to cast a spell which imbues the victim with an insatiable desire to find the nearest pair of callipers (both genuine mods), I’m slightly at a loss. If I could make an Oblivion mod with no effort, I would create one where an NPC takes up the missions of the main quest for you, and you can chose whether to aid him at any point or not.
A lot of gamers, and I include myself in this, play a single-player game to experience its universe and the personality of its designer rather than to feel powerful in some way. I don’t read Ulysses because I want to be Leopold Bloom. Surely it’s time, as the industry grows up, to try some other forms of involvement rather than simply wish-fulfilment? Isn’t that why gaming attracts and creates geeks?
Part of the problem is the old “violence” debate: “How come the only thing you can do in this game is kill people?” With player characters who are inherently active, go-getting, monster-slaying types, there’s never going to be any room for any other kind of interaction, and that makes them more likely to be a generic hero. I was interested to read that a lot of effort has gone into Mass Effect’s dialogue system, making me anticipate that game perhaps more than anything else which has been announced for the somewhat beleaguered 360: maybe that will offer some kind of alternative.
I’m fascinated by games which allow for manipulation, or playing the system in some way, as I think that relies much more on being inconspicuous than on leading from the front. You have the obvious things like EVE, where players quite happily dupe each other out of actual money, and the alliance system in Defcon, but I think something interesting could be done in this area with AI: the satisfaction of being utterly duplicitous to your allies in Civilisation still hasn’t been matched.
When games start letting you play sidekicks, advisors, scheming adversaries or passers by, then things might start getting a little bit more interesting.
Monday, December 11th, 2006
Trends cycle. Everyone knows that: we’ve seen it with the rise and fall and rise of the humble video games arcade; we’re seeing it right now with the ridiculous preponderance of RTS’s on the PC release schedule.
Genres and modes of gaming tend to follow a slight boom and bust pattern; given the commercially-charged nature of the industry, this is generally caused by a forward-thinking innovation followed by a rapid rush of frantic cloning once a market has been demonstrated. When Atari sold 150,000 Home Pong machines during a single season in 1976, no less than 75 electronics companies announced the launch of their own home television games in the same year. With the market saturated with samey tank games and the aforementioned slew of Pong, Mattel were able to leap in with the first handheld products, and capture the attention of bored gamers. After that particular avenue closed, 1978 and the release of Space Invaders in the arcades swung the emphasis in an entirely different direction.
We all know what happened in the portable, console, arcade and emergent PC markets since then, but reading some stuff from the mid-90s put me in mind of a now-forgotten trend which has never quite broken through and will eventually come back to take gaming completely into the mainstream.
Virtual reality. The words make you think: stupid hats; funny gloves; Neal Stevenson; Johnny Mnemonic; Lawnmower Man; that absolutely terrible BBC2 show with Craig Charles (sorry Americans). Basically, 1993 to 1996.
A great many things went wrong at that time in the games industry, not least the 3DO, but perhaps a salient failure was the fact that virtual reality never lived up to its own hype in any way. Basically, the games were weak, the interfaces were poor, nobody went to the arcades to play them, companies (*cough* Sega) suddenly realised that they’d wasted a great deal of invaluable development budget on stupid theme parks and pulled out leaving the whole area to crash horribly.
With the Wii, Nintendo have just realised an early-stage commercial success with the technological concept from the early-mid-90′s. During the development of the N64, they experimented with a fully-working wristwatch motion controller. They got to the stage of focus-testing with it, but gamers found it ungainly and irritating so they abandoned the idea in favour of the single analogue-stick design. Now, the technology has arrived to make motion sensing seamless and commercially viable.
Look at the evolution of internet-connectivity and consoles: remember the Japan-only SNES-downloading legends, and the crazy hypotheses about Megadrive downloading. Old ideas, from the 90’s, resurrected with a good business model and proper technology.
You see, what Nintendo have done is to make a quirky and cheap product with a very old technological idea just as soon as that idea is practicable. The “business class” Xbox 360 and PS3 may well not succeed against this upset: only time will tell. However, there is always a possibility to enter the market with an expensive product, should it prove to be sufficiently revolutionary.
So here’s a hypothesis: in about five years time we will see a new round of “virtual reality” products. By that I mean new forms of 3-D display coupled with new interfaces intended to immerse the player more. Such a product is highly likely to occur in an arcade format first, and to be expensive. We’re in Crazy Land now, but one strong possibility is the creation of interactive 3-D projections – this technology exists right now, but is not in a viable state for gaming both financially and in terms of usability.
Why will the return of virtual reality signal a return to the arcades? Several reasons: firstly such games will be highly visual; secondly they will be expensive to build and maintain; thirdly they will potentially take up an area larger than your living room.
I’ve waited until now to perform a necessary disambiguation for a reason. Virtual reality is often taken to mean “cyberspace”; “the matrix”; “the Grid”: essentially a society with a 3-D virtual topography. We seen the society aspect fissure off and fuse with existing gaming technology: manifesting as Second Life and MMO’s.
But social virtual reality will only come after that arcade revolution: the technology will start with action games and move into the social sphere when you can take it home; essentially, when someone figures out how to do the arcade thing cheaper and put it in a small box. It takes more time to develop a social network than it does to play virtual table tennis.
We might laugh at the failed business ideas of the 90’s now, but when we look at the games industry it’s actually being run by those very ideas in a more intelligent form. My fleshing out of the resurgence of virtual reality isn’t very fully formed, as I’m waiting for commenters to tell me, but to my mind the progression is there to be seen.