In the last forty or so years, playing video games has developed from blocky, pixelated arcade machines with basic games into photorealistic open-world environments where players can immerse themselves into a completely new world while they are completing missions.
You can play games on consoles, on your PC, and even on your smartphone that are graphically supreme – whether you want to save the world from alien invasions, live like a cowboy, or win big in a blackjack game.
So much has changed in the landscape of online gaming that it is hard to see where it could possibly go in the future – so how could technology and innovation make gaming better?
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While there are several developers that have released virtual reality capable devices for online gaming, there are limitations. Virtual reality is a computer-generated environment that a player can explore and interact with, and it is rendered in 3D through a headset.
The Oculus Rift was one of the earliest versions of fully immersive Virtual Reality (VR), but it needs a powerful enough PC to run both lenses in a headset at the right resolution. Users must strap on a heavy headset, use gauntlets or handheld controllers, and they are limited by a wired connection to the GPU that is running the game. The HTC Vive is similar, although it does have the capability to track a user’s movements around a small room – but that isn’t good enough for the fully immersive 3D experience that users want from VR.
In the future, we can expect VR to take more from the work that games like Pokémon Go have laid down. Blending real world environments and virtual elements, Pokémon Go players view their world through their smartphone, seeing their normal surroundings overlaid with cute Pokémon characters. The AR would mean that real world assets would become environmental assets in the game; doorways into new worlds built into different rooms in a house for example.
The other thing that needs to improve when it comes to VR is the feedback that you get when you interact with something in the game. Using more streamlined gauntlets or gloves, you should be able to tell if you have picked up a gun or a hand of cards, you should be able to feel the steering wheel in a driving game. You should also have physical feedback when something happens to you – so you can feel when you have been winged by a bullet or had a crash.
Technology and innovation have meant that players have become used to movie-like graphics in their games – to the point that almost every top-rated console game must be environmentally stunning, with breath-taking panoramas and extremely detailed character design.
High fidelity graphic design is a costly feature in game design, but it is one of the reasons that gamers keep coming back to their favourite immersive games – and that is true whether they are playing open-world games like Red Dead Redemption or an exciting slots game at an online casino.
As tech develops, the future of gaming suggests that even handheld devices like smartphones will have the capability to run games that are built with high fidelity graphics. This will help with the immersive AR environments that could come with true virtual reality gaming.
Non-playable characters (NPCs) have been a feature of video games since the days of Pacman ghosts, but they are one of the areas where AI has already made a difference in the way people play.
The dealers in a video poker game are managed by simple AI, as are the innocent bystanders when you are shooting up the street in GTA. They are obviously more developed than the ghosts previously mentioned, but they aren’t truly capable of learning and responding to their environments through AI – and that is probably a good thing.
NPCs are programmed to respond in a limited number of ways through their interactions with the human player, and while true AI might make the interactions more realistic, it could risk ruining the game or making it evolve in a way completely outside the point of the game. Imagine an NPC that is meant to provide specific directions to a playable character, but decides not to, or even to give the wrong information. It could completely ruin the playability of the game.
Of course, AI is already used in game development, specifically in creating the environments and other game assets in a system known as ‘procedural content generation’. This is also used to create new levels, sometimes randomly, for exciting and unique gameplay.
AI and algorithms are already a part of some of the games you will play, but the development could come from games ‘learning’ about the preferences of the players, choosing the boss level depending on the skill of the gamer, or providing enemies that can work together to be more challenging.
Much of our computing power comes from the cloud, from our photo galleries backed up online to document storage and even the creation of mobile phone apps.
Cloud gaming involves streaming a game directly from the servers of the developers, moving away from ownership of physical media and relying on subscription services to get stream big titles.
What this will mean to the gamer is that if your device has the power and potential to run the game, then you can stream it – you do not need to have an Xbox or a gaming PC to get involved. Subscription services of this type are already available from the big names in console and PC gaming including Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo – and could tie in with creating immersive AR/VR environments.
For casual gamers who just want to play a few hands of blackjack to serious gamers who want to fully (and physically) immerse themselves in the games that they are playing, innovation is moving fast to give a breath-taking experience that we can expect in just a few short years.