The field of video games is one of the most exciting because it is constantly developing and advancing so quickly. Unlike a lot of areas of ICT which have reached a level of stability, all parts of games, gaming and games development are still growing and will continue to grow. This means there is the potential for individuals to have completely new ideas and be the first to create something in the field.
The popularity of games is growing exponentially, with more and more people discovering an interest and passion for games all the time. A game now will reach a much larger, international audience and games developers can bring enjoyment to a vast array of people.
Console manufacturers, games developers and other involved in the game industry and notoriously secretive about new projects being developed until they are almost ready for announcement and release – and even then sometimes games and products can be cancelled at the last minute. All employees working in the industry have to sign a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) most of the time which forbids them legally from revealing any of their company’s secrets. Releasing any information about a product could potentially jeopardise its sales.
Technology evolves in amazingly rapid speeds. If you need any real observable proof of the speedy advancement of digital technology over the years, take a look at the gaming industry. From the very early years of black-and-white 2D games like Pong (1972) to the first 3D game, 3D Monster Maze in 1981, and from primitive first-person shooters like Wolfenstein 3D (1992) to complex, life-like shooters like Battlefield 3 (2011), there’s no doubt that the gaming industry has seen its fair share of technological evolution.
Each new generation of console hardware made use of the rapid development of processing technology. Newer machines could output a greater range of colours, more sprites, and introduced graphical technologies such as scaling, and vector graphics. One way console makers marketed these advances to consumers was through the measurement of “bits”. The TurboGrafx-16, Sega Genesis, and SNES were among the first consoles to advertise the fact that they contained 16-bit processors. This fourth generation of console hardware was often referred to as the 16-bit era, and the previous generation as the 8-bit.
The bit-value of a console referred to the word length of a console’s processor (although the value was sometimes misused, for example the TurboGrafx 16 had only an 8-bit CPU, and the Genesis/Mega Drive had the 16/32-bit Motorola 68000, but both had a 16-bit dedicated graphics processor). As the graphical performance of console hardware is dependent on many factors, using bits was a crude way to gauge a console’s overall ability. For example the NES, Commodore 64, Apple II, and Atari 2600 all used a very similar 8-bit cpu. The difference in their processing power is due to other causes. For example the Commodore 64 contains 64 kilobytes of RAM and the Atari has much less at 128 bytes of RAM.
The jump from 8 bit machines to 16 bit machines to 32 bit machines made a noticeable difference in performance, so consoles from certain generations are frequently referred to as 8 bit or 16 bit consoles. However, the “bits” in a console are no longer a major factor in their performance. The Nintendo 64, for example has been outpaced by several 32 bit machines.
It’s only inevitable that gaming hardware is going to constantly be improved, with more processing power, graphics capabilities, sound quality and memory capacity.
The input method using a controller has drastically developed over the years beginning with a clunky controller and simple joystick on arcade games, the video game controller has evolved to be ergonomically designed to feel comfortable to avoid injuries such as the ones in the repetitive strain injury group or carpal tunnel syndrome. Most modern controllers are designed with the relaxed position of the hands in mind, resulting in the “pronged” design that reduces soreness and cramps after extended use, compared to older pads such as the NES or the Sega Master System. There are still a vast array of input methods to create an even more immersive experience, these include: steering wheel, pedals, light guns, dance pads, balance board, fishing rod, microphone and rhythm game controllers (drums and guitars). Many of these have been specifically designed to be used for a certain game or gaming series, such as guitar hero for example. The evolution of the controller to include more buttons proves that video games themselves are advancing as more buttons are required to complete different tasks within the game.
New input methods are being developed to make the gaming experience more enjoyable and interactive, such as being able to control the character by body movement with sensor pads or clothing such as gloves. This type of input method can be seen back in the EyeToy for Playstation 2 which used a video camera. Most recently this market had been taken by storm with the introduction of the Wii and its totally unique controls. Many console manufactures have adopted this technique can be seen in the Playstation Move and the Xbox Kinect which both involve the player as a means of controlling the game instead of pressing buttons. This means of input is being pushed forward by many of the console manufacturers as it removes the stigma of video games being only for people who sit down all day and are lazy, and they are also seen as an alternative to exercising.
The gaming industry has helped develop graphics and sound technology that can be incorporated as VR (Virtual Reality). An early 1990s attempt at a headset for console gaming and for hobbyists, was made by Future Vision Technologies. A modern example would be the Wii where the controller tracks and sends motion input accurately. There is also a new VR headset system in development designed specifically for gaming called the Oculus Rift. The headset provides approximately a 110 degree field of view, absolute head orientation tracking, USB interface and a 1200×800 resolution with the final consumer version aimed at 1920×1080. Some of the future games that will support the Oculus Rift includes Doom 4, Strike Suit Zero, Team Fortress 2, Miner Wars 2081, Minecraft and many more. Virtual reality has always been something that was portrayed in movies and television shows as something that will be ‘the future of gaming’. Attempts at creating it in the past have not shown popular results. However, it is something which is becoming more of a reality as technology advances, although whether we will ever reach the point of it becoming the standard of gaming is yet to be seen.
The aim of software development is usually to reach a new level of realism or immersion. As processing power and memory increase, enhanced art and animation are able to be created. This allows images and movement to be more realistic.
In the early days of first-person shooters, non-player characters (NPCs) had the intelligence of nicely rounded rocks. But they’ve been getting much better lately — look no further than Half-Life’s storytelling NPCs and Unreal Tournament’s excellent bot AI. The market success of titles such as these has prompted developers to put more effort into AI, so it looks as if smarter NPCs will continue to show up in games.
AI researchers rarely use computer games for their research, outside of classic board and card games such as chess, checkers, and bridge. Possibly they see most game AI problems as simple “engineering” problems. This view has not been completely unjustified because often the goal of game AI is not to create intelligence, but to improve gameplay through the illusion of intelligent behaviour. Many of the techniques used to improve the illusion of intelligence have nothing to do with intelligence, but involve “cheats,” such as giving game AIs extra production capability or the ability to see through walls, or “faking it” by creating bots that “talk” to each other but completely ignore what is said. There also has been a drift in AI research toward problems and approaches where precise empirical evaluation is possible. Needless to say, gameplay isn’t something that today’s AI researchers feel comfortable evaluating.
Although there is currently a significant gap between game developers and AI researchers, that gap is starting to close. The inevitable march of Moore’s law is starting to free up significant processing power for AI, especially with the advent of graphics cards that move the graphics processing off the CPU. The added CPU power will make more complex game AI possible. Still, game developers should still be wary of AI researchers who say, “My algorithm doesn’t run in real time right now, but just wait. In a few more years, I’m sure the processing power will be there.”
A second, equally powerful force that is closing the gap is sociological. Students who grew up loving computer games are getting advanced degrees in AI. This has the dual effect of bringing game research to universities and university research to game companies — already there are at least five AI Ph.D.s at game companies. AI researchers are discovering that building interesting synthetic characters in computer games is much more than just an engineering problem. Moreover, games provide cheap, robust, immersive environments for pursuing many of the core AI issues. They could be the catalyst for a rebirth in research on human-level AI
The final force is the game-playing public, who are starting to demand better AI. With the saturation in the quality of computer graphics, better physics and AI are the two technologies that have the most potential to improve gameplay. Players are looking for more realistic AIs to populate their worlds with interesting non-player characters (as in The Sims) and humanlike opponents who must be out-thought and not just out-shot (and who don’t cheat). AI can also provide dynamic game control, adjusting the gameplay based on how the game is played. Imagine playing a first-person shooter where the AI not only reacts to your behaviour, but also anticipates your actions by using an internal model of the way you play the game to make its plan.
It also adjusts its skill at the tactical level to match yours, so that the game is never a blowout for either side. What can computer game developers do to hasten the collaboration of developers and AI researchers? The most important thing is to make commercial computer game interfaces available to AI researchers. Developers of games such as Unreal, Quake, and Half-Life publish DLLs, making it possible for not only hobbyists but also AI researchers to build bots that play games. If developers from other genres such as real-time strategy games follow suit, you would see an explosion of research on AI for these games. Game developers can also join AI researchers in discussing AI problems and solutions in open forums. There is now a yearly symposium sponsored by the American Association for Artificial Intelligence (AAAI) on AI and interactive entertainment that brings together game developers and AI researchers. Building good AIs is hard and difficult work.
Automated learning approaches such as neural nets and genetic algorithms can tune a well-defined set of behavioural parameters, but they are grossly inadequate when it comes to creating synthetic characters with complex behaviours automatically from scratch. There is no magic in AI, except for the magic that emerges when a great programmer works very hard. With the development of artificial intelligence, NPC characters are becoming cleverer. It is predicted that this AI will continue to offer more and more realistic opponents who can think almost like a human. New Technologies
It is becoming more popular to connect the Xbox 360 to a Windows PC, which is easily possible as both are Microsoft products. XNA is a set of tolls which allowed games to be built for Xbox and tested through this connectivity. Where hobbyists had been frowned upon by consol manufacturers in the past, Microsoft are positively encouraging homebrew gaming. They run competitions to find newly developed XNA games and release them on Xbox Live Arcade. This is not only evidence of the future of homebrew games and hobbyist being accepted, but it also signals the integration of console with other media equipment with the seventh generation being best known for major consoles branching out into other types of media rather than solely focusing on games. All three consoles offer basic abilities such as photo-viewing, listening to music and browsing the web, as well as the ability to connect to external memory such as USB flash drives and SD cards.
The Xbox 360’s DVD player was plagued by quality issues but other media options became available later such as an external HD-DVD drive (now a dead standard), Zune downloadable content, Netflix streaming and Last.fm internet radio. PlayStation 3, on the other hand, offered HD movie playback out of the box via Blu-ray in addition to later services like Netflix streaming, and Qriocity music.
This new generation for the first time has all of the major consoles focusing on online integration. All three have their own connection services: Wii’s Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection, Xbox Live, and PlayStation Network. Competition has branched now from simply offering the best games to the best online content; smaller games can now be purchased and downloaded from online stores within the consoles, and extra applications such as Netflix streaming and Facebook connectivity are heavily supported. Almost all games sold in retail have online support, including online multiplayer and downloadable content for bug patches and new features, potentially increasing replay value in certain games for even years.
Another notable feature in current-gen gaming is the use of avatar characters. Nintendo first introduced Miis with the Wii console, caricatures of players that could be created and used in flagship titles such as Wii Sports; however they lack the ability to customize that Xbox’s avatars have, as clothes and accessories can be purchased online or unlocked in games played. PlayStation 3, instead of an in-game character, offers PlayStation Home, a social simulator where avatars can talk and explore, and customize their homes with elements from games played. This basic idea allows the person playing the games to have a more personalised feel to their console and that they have become truly integrated with it.
The console is becoming a central element that is integrated into a whole media system. People may become to get rid of their stereos and DVD players as this one central piece of equipment makes many other defunct. It may even be that in the future the console is the integral part for controlling a house, including the lighting, temperature and other devices.
With more reliable and faster internet connections, the technology of cloud computing has begun to gain some momentum. The Sims creator Will Wright embraces the idea of cloud gaming as a crucial part of the future of the industry. For one thing, the gaming industry sees it as an opportunity to make games as easy to access as music and movies.