2001: A Gaming Odyssey
By Jon "G-Man" Mars
Current console king Sony’s next generation system, of which very little is known is tentatively referred to as the Playstation 2000 (P2K). According to the January 1999 issue of Next-Generation, the P2K is capable of rendering 4.5 million polygons per second. However it has been rumored that Sony will be de-emphasizing polygons which could mean NURBS (Non Uniform Rationalized B-Splines), or something entirely different. Though NURBS would offer developers the ability to include greater complexity and features like curved surfaces in their games, it would also significantly increase their development time, something Sony might be hesitant to do. Sony has reportedly been talking to developers about their feelings towards DVD, making it the expected format for the system. Although other reports have suggested that it may include a write-able system, suggesting either a DVD-Ram, or a mini-disk drive (a platform Sony has always wanted to push into the mainstream).
Also of note, Sony has shown their commitment to at least amateur developers and to current owners of the increasing outdated PlayStation, with the launch of Net-Yaroze, a slightly more expensive programmable PlayStation which allows anyone with knowledge of the programming language C to easily produce their own games. Bold initiatives like Net-Yaroze could be Sony’s key to staying on top in the billion-dollar race ahead. The P2K is expected to have a March 2000 launch in Japan, with a September 2000 launch in the US, which may just make it the last of the next generation consoles to hit the market.
In the final analysis, despite the large user base and possible technical advantages that NUON enjoys, it will have to face some very stiff competition in the form of P2K and Dreamcast, Sega’s much hyped flagship console. And only time and developer support will determine which console will gain the upper hand. Right now Dreamcast appears to be the darling of the game makers, but for how long?
And finally Microsoft and SGI's joint venture Fahrenheit, designed to replace D3D and OpenGL as the 3D acceleration standard of the future will have long been released and stabilized providing a single flexible API for game developers and hardware manufacturers to adopt.
Ah bandwidth…the lifeblood of a true gamer. In order for the Internet to reach true adulthood as a mass media the average user's bandwidth will have to increase significantly. Cable modems, ADSL, and satellite uplink services will reach saturation by 2001 with every major community achieving coverage at relatively low cost to the consumer. This combined with the current growth rate of the Internet means we can expect a virtual rebirth of the online community.
By 2001 a number of new industries will flourish online, from full screen television style programming, two way video phone services, interactive Internet agents capable of delivering easily customizable content, and gaming like the world has never seen before. Because of the bandwidth available to their consumer base game developers will be compelled to include duplex voice communication for their online games as a bare minimum. And naturally with the increased bandwidth and processing power the games we play will have much greater polygon counts, animation frames, and generally more of everything.
Imagine killing a multi-player enemy, the result being not only do the battered corpse and individual shells and cartridges ejected by your weapons remain on the ground forever, but so do the items he was carrying scatter across the floor as his mangled body slumps to the ground. Complex physical and acoustic models like those found in Trespasser, and borderline obsessive interactivity found in Sin will have become the norm in the gamer’s quest for realism.
Okay so we've got all this cool technology available to us, now what about the games? Well there is no real Moore's law for computer games, and those brave enough to attempt to predict the future trends of gaming have at the least looked foolish (anyone remember the VR craze?) and at worst found themselves out of a job (Do interactive movies ring a bell?). But hey I haven't got a job in the industry so what do I care?
Currently one of the most controversial debates regarding gaming is whether the upcoming crop of online only titles (Quake 3: Arena, Unreal Tournament, EverQuest et al.) will succeed in the marketplace. If these titles are as successful as their developers are hoping then it is reasonable to assume that it will mark the emergence of a new trend in gaming. However as Mike Wilson, CEO of G.O.D (Gathering of Developers) was kind enough to point out that, "people said all books would be online (like no paper involved) by 1988."
Nevertheless I foresee virtually all the major releases of 2001 to be online only, and when I say online I mean massively online. If the off-line component of these online games does exist it will likely only be in the form of training missions designed to teach the player how to succeed online. Ultima Online, EverQuest, and Asheron's Call are just the beginning of the new trend that will flood the industry. This does not mean the outright death of all other genres. Rather we will see them incorporated into these massive virtual worlds. It must be understood however, that while many offline games will still be produced, none will reach the level of success and popularity enjoyed by the massively online games. The phenomenon will be similar to the near total dominance that Quake and Diablo (both primarily online only titles) enjoyed over their competition. Certainly other titles existed and sold relatively well but they had little impact on the future of the industry and never gained the attention of the hardcore gamers.
Additionally we may see a number of publishers and developers scrambling to salvage their existing properties, by making the transition to an online game. According to ION Storm designer Tom Hall "being online will be beyond important for most games and companies." Consider the case of EA/Maxis whose sole intellectual property (and thus source of income) is their widely popular Sim family of games (SimCity, SimLife, SimFarm, SimAnt, SimTower, etc.) all of which have little or no multiplayer component. How long will it be until we see a SimCity where players manage their cities all the while competing and perhaps even warring with fellow virtual mayors? Maybe players will even be able to cooperate and sign treaties to form legislative houses and elect an executive officer to rule over the group. Is the game I just described a simulation, a real-time strategy game, or a virtual chatroom?
The merging of genres has been occurring at a relatively steady pace for the last few years mostly due to the overwhelming lure for developers to incorporate 3D engines into their classic games. We've seen adventure games merging with action games (King's Quest VIII, Quest for Glory V), Simulations merging with racing games (Streets of Simcity), turn-based strategy games merging with shooters (Rainbow 6, and the upcoming X-COM 4), real-time strategy games merging with shooters (Urban Assault, and arguably Myth), role playing games merging with action games (Zelda 64, EverQuest). Got the point yet?
The clear progression here is to eventually have the über game as its own genre. The über game can be best described as a massively online experience akin to EverQuest that would then encompass many different forms of gameplay. Imagine walking through bad section of a futuristic city, only to be confronted by an unsavory gang of nogoodniks. You look around and spot a motorcycle parked beside a building just a bit ahead of you. So you race for it, quickly hot-wire it and after a few minutes of pursuit you make your getaway. Safe from harm you decide to spend some time at a local CyberArena deathmatching with some like-minded individuals. Unfortunately a quick check of your inventory confirms that you haven’t got quite enough credits for admission. Undaunted by this you instead decide to head to the park to see if you can interest some of the resident old-timers in a classic sim game. Maybe if you let them win a few you can hustle them out of some good money before the night is over. A gaming experience like this is not as far off into the future as you may think. In fact it's just around the corner.
In all the future looks promising for both gamers and developers. The new crop of hardware will make even the most unimpressed geek drool on his keyboard, widespread high bandwidth internet access promises the death of lag as we know it, and new business models mean more games for less money. We are poised on the brink of a gaming revolution: finally multiplayer gaming will emerge from the dank basements and crowded dorm rooms where they currently reside and into living rooms throughout the world. But the road towards that shining future will be very bumpy indeed so take heart when the lag is greatest and the bugs intolerable, in the knowledge that you are all pioneers. As for me, I’m looking forward to the games of 2005 and boy are they looking good.
- This is Jon "G-Man" Mars' first contribution to loonygames. Hopefully the first of many.
|Credits: Illustration © 1998 Mike Sanzone. 2001: A Gaming Odyssey is © 1998 Jon Mars. All other content is © 1998 loonyboi productions. Unauthorized reproduction is strictly prohibited, Dave.|