With such a title comes expectations from the reader, but the oncoming paragraphs will shatter pretty much all of them. The major reason being, the way of thinking, and the lesser reason, Terminology Misconception.
The notion of ultimate form of video games as Alternate Reality is an extremely far fetched one, and one without constraints as illustrated by
Ready Player One. In the contemporary age, it is still a pipe dream, but developments are surely happening that will one day make it a reality.
But if it was, a true Alternate Reality, then it is not a video game at all, in fact it’s a Simulation.
Let me illustrate this Simulation:
The general player’s mind would think they’d be able to feel and touch the tundra plants of Skyrim 4. With current technology, you cannot model that plant or tree, because a polygonal model does not have any information on how it feels when touched, haptic feedback based on displacement map is so advanced we simply do not have it now and we cannot create truly solid virtual objects either. So the sheer amount of work that goes into making a single tree (or the bark material) rough on touch, and god forbid your hand does not slip into it, requires a new paradigm of asset creation. Now do the rules of the game matter more for the developers or look & feel realism? Current games market tell the latter surpasses the former, by leagues.
Does this consumer want to feel the pain of a sword strike then, probably a fraction of 1% would want to. But that number would grow as this technology grows until a big group is accustomed to such death defying blows inside the simulation and earn Blue-Whale subscriber money.
When assets, rules and feedback are simulated rather than hard-coded,
it firstly, blurs the line between a Game and Simulation,
and secondly, anything is possible in chess — the queen can ride the horse.
It is not chess anymore.
And that is why I do not venture into this future of Alternate Reality.
Now onto some other perceived future technologies.
MOVEMENT EQUALS ENTERTAINMENT?
Virtual Reality is a poster child of the notion of ‘better entertainment means physical movement.’ You move your head around to see, move your hands around to touch, and whatnot. But remember, you are moving, and that’s the marketability term to sell these ‘more immersive’ entertainment.
Immersive is an extremely subjective topic, I will not go into that but look at VR from the current technological perspective.
“Once gamers experience this, they don’t want to go back” — Every VR developer
Virtual Reality has more constraints and limitations due to the human body, than it is meant for entertainment.
John Carmack (CTO of Oculus) assures that ways to mitigate motion sickness are well under development. In the video game Mirror’s Edge, a game with no HUD, the devs reduced motion sickness by almost half by introducing a reticle (little white dot) at the center of the screen. Without a constant on the screen, motion sickness is 200% guaranteed but addition of immovable parts like the dot, braces the mind for motion and impact.
Motion Sickness and disorientation happens at varying degree with individuals, but simply solving slow refresh rate issues and higher resolution is not going to solve that, sure it might alleviate up to an extent but never fully. People who have this, cannot get rid of it, by a long run.
This is why the traditional sit-back-watch-a-screen and being in control of what’s happening with the motion picture is never going to die out, but instead will always be the most comfortable means to play (whatever be the input device’s form). After a long day at the office, what means is least taxing but maximizes entertainment?
Netflix and chill?
or turning your head around the battlefield inside Avengers Endgame?
Several technologies enable people to use their other senses as well,
Tobii eye tracking in 2016 was predicted to bring about a new paradigm where the player can aim with the eye. In 2021, the number of gaming notebooks that are equipped with eye tracking, can be counted.
The PlayStation 5 joystick— DualSense’s haptic feedback system too is one such example. In the real world scenario, apart from a select few single player games, an overwhelming majority of player turn this feature off, especially in Multiplayer games, what matters is they play the game and win, with minimal friction, they simply don’t want to feel rumble below their fingers for every bullet fired.
So these technologies are at best are only complimentary to ways of playing, additions, but not paradigms of perspective.
Virtual Reality games still have novelty of their own but now, after the next section they will be excluded from what video games are. By definition.
WHAT DO THE WORDS MEAN?
‘Video’ means ‘To see’ in Latin.
‘Video Game’ means a game that is played on a screen — the screen relays the game information and shows the player the play-space as they interact with an input device. While the term was coined by Nolan Bushnell, it was best explained by Ralph Baer, the ‘Father of Video Games’ when he meant:
‘ It’s like watching motion picture on television but you are in control of that, and video is what a TV outputs ‘
Video Game is only a subset of Digital Entertainment that has children and siblings as well:
‘Traditional video game’ that I’m referring to is one that was the major way of playing digital games for the longest amount of time now. Namely,
PC games, console games and handheld devices.
This already excludes Augmented and any kind of Mixed Reality games. Whose main hook is the technology that goes beyond-the-screen and involves aspects like GPS location based etc.
Hence, Traditional video game covers all that is heavily screen based and that information is relayed only by the screen, without movement reference (movement in small scale can still be considered like Wii U).
Now take the following with a……bulldozer scoop of salt.
THE WINDOW TO A NEW WORLD
We have seen contemporary advancements in TV and monitor industries like 4k, HDR, Dolby vision, ELMB, VRR (Variable refresh rate) etc, that claim to enhance image quality, improve response times like never before.
And they execute them beautifully.
But there has not been a major jump in the perspective, the way a 3-Dimensional projection on 2-Dimensions is viewed.
Fortunately there was one and it was already witnessed by the world.
First in its full glory.
Then at the consumer level.
Finally, sparingly in its current state.
We have all seen blockbusters, and continue to do so, in theater. Where this ‘immersive’ tech was first introduced was the big screen. Then for the homes.
3D TVs were a trend once, but not anymore.
Although a trend, it was a child of a far more advanced technology.
As Nicholas Negroponte describes in Being Digital:
Most technologies that seem advanced now were developed way back in 70s and 80s but consumer demands drove the advancement of cheap, affordable and efficient gadgets and tech — ultimately mass adoption.
In making Holograms possible, the child that was stereoscopic 3D was born.
It duped depth with only a fraction of cost and computing power.
Popular science fiction of the 80s has set an unrealistic expectation of holograms. A one sided projection that stops mid-air. How is this possible without the entire room having projectors or even having at least 2 ends with the projection in between is beyond belief. But science fiction is saved for the future. Now, there are interesting developments in bringing this back into the world and doing it well, that it may succeed.
THROUGH LOOKING GLASS
Currently, Looking Glass Factory is a pioneer in trying to bring this technology to the consumer market. Although not budget friendly, it is still acceptable considering their advancements in slimming down this display from a near CRT TV size to Plasma TV thickness. Conventional CRT displays were superior to LCD in more ways yet their death was primarily due to the slim form factor of the latter appealing more to consumers and occupying less desk space, so it is understood why dimensional change is required if anyone were to buy it as a potential content creation/entertainment tool.
Given enough time and R&D it wont be long before we get something that is remotely affordable for playing games on by the time it gets even bigger.
Each year, the average TV size grows and the cost reduces.
75 inches in 2021 costs as much as 40 inches in 2013.
And with Samsung’s The Wall and the likes, in the next 10 years super premium TVs might be full wall sized, or at least 100 inch TVs would be affordable. PlayStation 6 or 7 could be built to take advantage of such large screen sizes. But they wont be holographic.
Not at all, but this would mean holographic displays would also advance in parallel such that they too would considerably be big, enough to feel like its a window into a new world altogether. The immersion of viewing 3D cinema is great in theater but its an effect of monstrous screen dimensions.
BUT CAN IT RUN GAMES?
Now this is considering these holographic displays can run games at good frame rates. A bigger concern than even slimming down light-field displays is how demanding the hardware required is. Looking Glass’ spec sheet for their 8k flagship display is a 2080Ti, it would still struggle. But, as we saw with VR, hardware is quickly catching up to make visuals believable enough with medium spec hardware and fast enough refresh rates that only content matters more than the driving force, sooner than later.
How can games use and benefit from this?
Most games of 21st century natively support this! at least in technical sense, because they all have something called Depth buffer information. This is a
per-pixel information of how far anything on screen is from the camera.
A game could be remastered or updated officially by devs to support Holographic displays or using third party tools like sweet fx that already accomplish many feats like custom Ambient Occlusion and other advanced effects due to their ability to universally read not only depth info but several others as well.
Just like how games or hardware in 2020 mention on spec sheets how much quantitative ray tracing, (through number of rays) is doable. Holographs have something called Light Field level that counts how many degrees it can be viewed from, I wont go deeper into this now but in a crude form, its the amount of smoothness while changing viewing angles. Lesser the degrees, more smooth the moving object appears (this is hardware heavy mind you).
You could play a game facing the screen from the front but your partner sitting beside you on the couch sees the game from slightly different angle, perhaps they can warn you of an attack coming from what might be beyond your periphery but is directly in view for them. Yes, players will take all advantage of screen settings like wide FOV (Field of View), not like they don't already, but what all such emergent ways of gameplay will see is yet to be seen. What matters is looking at from different angles can give a variety of impressions. The camera is the window.
We finally would’ve got the 3D experience right at home, on the couch, without the glasses, and immersion without heavy headgear and impending nausea all because one paradigm that was sidelined in the 80s grew strong enough to stand for itself and present new ways of entertaining us.
IS THIS REALLY THE FUTURE?
Whether this happens, is difficult to predict. In 2006, there were two trajectories the CPU industry could take —higher clock speeds or higher core counts. Crytek bet heavily (so heavily that their flagship game was developed with this paradigm in mind) that 5Ghz CPUs would soon be at every gaming PCs heart.
Alas, history took a different course, and they could not run Crysis.
Intel had the big say in this, just like Sony, Microsoft and other manufacturers of mass consumer electronics. Holographic screens may once again be sidelined as the world awaits Apple and Facebook to launch their touted mass consumer AR/VR devices by the middle of this decade. Whoever creates the most convenient to use device will win the billions-of-consumer market. Few would then actively develop holograms for the masses. And Microsoft and Sony would still battle each other making themselves more obsolete over time (why buy a PlayStation or Xbox if one can play those same games on PC then, if not a year later). Money is king.
But it is my belief that there is so much that a screen can give us that we haven’t tapped into its full potential. Nevertheless it will always be a window into a different world —like a painting, a painted world.
And sometimes, more than often, staring out of the window is much more entertaining than jumping out.
All images were taken from various sources in the internet, none belong to me.