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SXSW 2012: The Future Of Gaming

This morning I was able to attend a thought-provoking keynote panel titled, “Journalists Discuss the Future of Games.” The panel featured Jamin Warren (KillScreen), Ross Miller (The Verge), Morgan Webb (X-Play), Matt Buchanan (BuzzFeed), N’Gai Croal (Hit Detection). Topics included the future of the conventional game controllers and keyboards, the possibilities that could emerge from games that react accordingly to each user in the same way that google’s search engine does, along with some future methods of applying video games to education. From a gamer’s perspective, I found these discussions to be very interesting, and thought I would share some of the ideas with you here in a brief summary.

The Future of Motion Controls:

One of the major topics being discussed during the panel was the issue of motion controls versus conventional gamepads and ‘press a button and something happens’ style of play. To get things out-of-the-way, each of the panelists recognized the fact that most attempts at motion controls have been far from perfect. Awkward waving of arms, or the mindless waggling of a controller seems to be what most titles seem to offer when you get right down tot heart of it. Motion controls lack precision, they can be frustrating and annoying to use, and perhaps worst of all (for gamers and couch enthusiasts anyway), they force you to stand up and move around. However, panelists such as Jamin Warren claim that motion controls, although rarely done well in today’s games, are the future of gaming. He even went as far as to say that traditional game pads, such as the Xbox 360 controller, will eventually be seen as quaint and antiquated.

Sony’s PlayStation Vita system, with its front camera, dual analog sticks, rear and front touch pads, and other features, was brought up, jokingly, as a sort of melting pot standing between the traditional gamepad and the growing market for motion and interactive controls. ‘Smart’ controllers, equipped with sensors or cameras have the potential of bringing players deeper into their gaming experiences than ever before, but they still need a lot of work. Mass Effect 3′s use of the Xbox Kinect voice feature (with some 300 different commands) is another example of game developer’s attempt to involve players in a new, and more natural way. What would you say if the Playstation 4 or next Xbox system didn’t feature a analog gamepad at all? Personally, I would scream “stupid, stupid, stupid!” But, that might just be me. Regardless, many developers are looking for ways to go beyond game pads, in search of the next best thing. Yet, sadly, the Matrix hasn’t been invented yet. For now, gamers will have to settle for concepts such as the rectangular bowel movement that is Nintendo’s Wii U controller.

Sensors and cameras seem to be getting cheaper and cheaper these days, but do gamers really want to move past button mashing and mouse clicks? It is hard to truly judge the potential of motion controls with what developers have done so far, but the possibility is there. Imagine a Kinect device that was two, or even ten times as precise, or something completely different that is yet to be discovered. Call me old fashioned, but I still like my gamepad…

The Future of Adaptive Environments & Game Mechanics:

In case you weren’t already aware, your internet browser likely knows more about you than some of your best friends. Google search engines, social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, and others, are constantly collecting data on your web surfing habits. They know what sort of things you like, what you find funny, what you like spending your money on, what kind of activities you enjoy, as well as what you don’t. A question that was raised by the panelists this morning, was what if these types of personal information was applied to the games we play. What if you could walk through a city scape in the next hot first person shooter and see billboards for your favorite movies or advertisements? What if the face of a game’s NPC’s and AI used the face tagging seen on your Facebook friends list to make up the cast? What if the latest horror survival game was able to know what sort of things scared you the most?

Steam explored this concept with their adaptive AI system in the Left 4 Dead games. The game would analyze how many bullets you were using, how much you were moving around, how good of a shot you were, and a number of other factors to determine what it should throw at you. Zombies never come at a constant and predictable rate in the movies, so why should it be so in video games?

For most people, the thought of Big Brother stepping anywhere in their personal lives makes their skin crawl. We like to think that our personal secrets are kept strictly personal. But in this cyber age of seemingly limitless information, that simply isn’t the case. Why shouldn’t developers begin to explore these possibilities in their games? Personally, I would be all for it. Perhaps games could have you fill out a quick survey before beginning its campaign mode. These sorts of personalized experiences have already been explored with titles in the past, but there is so much more that could be done. would most certainly bring new meaning to the term ‘dynamic gaming experience.’ Plus, who knows what people might be able to come up with?

 The Future of Video Games in Education

An interesting point that was brought up during the panel was that although a kid can half way learn something and school and still get by with a low C, video games force audiences to learn everything before they are allowed to advance to the next section of the game. Never learned how to make dodge in God of War? Guess you won’t be getting to the last boss fight. Didn’t pick up that extra health potion before heading into the dungeon? Well my friend, you are shit of of luck. Believe it or not, video games have the potential to teach people. Not to mention, they are fun!

As was also mentioned during the keynote, the biggest thing holding video games and interactive technology back from education seems to be with cultural misconceptions and false understanding. Many parents and adults still see video games as nothing more than blinking screens that go “bee-bee-bee-beep!” and entertain little kids. Just as games are rarely seen as true art forms, which you might see on display at a museum, people don’t tend to view games as having any real merit beyond mindless entertainment. Oh how wrong they are… Or are they?

 

What do you think the future of gaming is? Leave a comment bellow and let us know what you think. Don’t be shy! Remember to stay tuned to Platform Nation for more news and updates from South by Southwest 2012.

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