We live in a world where a vast number of people walk around with what would previously have been considered supercomputers in their pocket. Each of these enormously powerful machines remains in high-bandwidth connection with every other connected machine in the world. Clearly we have arrived in the future. What are we doing with all this amazing technology surrounding us? Not nearly as much as what we could be doing, this blog will argue.
In the field of video games we have been ever advancing towards photorealism for decades, and with each new technologocial advancement we see an almost immediate improvement in graphics. The vistas thats developers and artists are able to create with this power is undeniably beautiful, and this progress should (and will) continue. However, there is another direction that is in comparison almost wholly ignored. It’s easiest to apply improvements to technology in an incremental fashion, continuing trends where improvement is obvious (higher poly count, more shader detail), but what about the less obvious consequences? What about those pockets of experience that, previously impossible, can now suddenly be discovered? What about gameplay, AI, physics, connectivity, what new possibilities are created with our latest technology?
It is an extremely relevant and lucrative question. In a market crowded with me-too games and ostensibly ‘safe’ bets, there is enormous potential for games that do something different, that push the envelope, and consumers are ready and fast to notice. It is a market incredibly ripe for these kind of advancements. While game makers scramble to recreate the latest hit title, there lies an ocean of unexplored possibilities laid before them. As an example ‘Draw Something’, a game only 6 weeks old, has already garnered 37 million downloads and was today purchased by Zynga for $180 million. How did this happen, and why now? The technology to create a title like this has existed for a few years at least, and the connectivity it requires through social media has been available as well. What can account for that delay? A game where you draw with friends seems like the most obvious idea in the world and the perfect use of this technology, and yet it took this long for it to hit. The fact that a game can go from nothing to 37 million downloads in less than 2 months points to a woefully underserved audience, and I believe games like these have barely scratched the surface of new experiences that technology now allows and that consumers will readily embrace.
Looking at the length of time between when a truly new game is created and when the concept would have been possible on current tech is an interesting excersie, and almost always the game trails the tech that makes it possible by 5 years or more. When did the technology exist to create the space-warping gameplay of Portal, or the time-bending puzzles of Braid? Years before the games arrived, and yet no one explored these gameplay possibilities until much later. Notably, in both these cases the leap was created by game industry outsiders. Braid was created by an independent developer and Portal’s original concept by a student. The fact that hundreds of companies and thousands of employees in the mainstream games industry were unable or unwilling to create either of these styles of gameplay (both very high rated, industry-defining games) despite the technology being available for years indicates a focus that is critically missing in the games industry. However, rather than see this as a fault and a reason to lament, it should be seen as an enormous opportunity. The tech to make these types of games is here, and the audience is here. It’s simply a matter of taking the ‘risky’ bets and building these kinds of games, and in the current climate of the games industry I would easily swap the conventional ideas of what is safe and what is risky.
So in the field of games, what can be done with technology that currently is not? It is a question whose answer has the power to transform the games industry, push games as an artform, and form the basis of a solid business.
Through the Loop is a new blog meant to explore that question. Each article will focus on the strange new worlds and expereiences that are just becoming possible with available computing power and connectivity, examining existing instances created by today’s innovators, following where they lead, and looking at ideas on the horizon as they approach. It is written by myself, John Krajewski, a programmer and designer at Strange Loop Games where our primary focus as a studio is creating games that push the envelope of gameplay using technology. At first glance a blog that discusses the very ideas that we hope to develop would seem to give away the cow, but I subscribe to the notion that ideas themselves are cheap, and that sharing them will multiply their value, gaining you both insight and support from the community at large. I hope you’ll join the discussion.