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On Technology, Games, and Opportunity
by John Krajewski on 03/23/12 01:54:00 pm   Expert Blogs   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.


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 technological 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.

Follow the blog at 

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Jonathan Jennings
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interesting question and I fill like one of those discussions where to unveil the magnitude of potential a dialogue must be had . I feel like the question has far less to do with what our technology allows us to do and far more with what our imaginations allow us to grasp . I look forward to your future Blog Posts!

John Krajewski
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Thanks Jonathon, I agree it's actually a good feeling to know that we're not limited by our current technology, only our current imaginations. There are so many amazing things we can do right now in games.

Darren Tomlyn
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All we've done so far, is define and describe some (most?) basic types of gameplay (in relation to computer games).

The problem is, that unlike art, this is merely another stage for games, rather than the end - blocks to build with, rather than a framework to build within.

Unfortunately, we do not currently fully understand what it is we're trying to build in the first place - (games, in relation to puzzles and competitions especially) - and so understanding how to use such building blocks to their full potential has yet to be realised.

Of course, computers allow us to make and design games (and puzzles and competitions) that wouldn't be possible with any other medium, but relating that to games, especially, is currently a problem.

Bryan Ferris
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The reason those ideas came from an indie developer and a student is because they could afford to try to push the envelope, and probably had to in order to achieve success. Braid didn't risk tens of millions of dollars, and all that the original conception of Portal risked was a bad grade. While it's true that the industry isn't innovating as much as it can, that's because it doesn't know how to innovate when so much money is on the line.

Which reminds me of the Extra Credits episode out "Our Oscars"...

John Krajewski
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Small developer agility is a real asset, but I've always found it strange that larger developers didn't just split into multiple teams and try out a range of things, with individual-driven creativity. And of course, Double Fine did just that with Amnesia Fortnight.

William Volk
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Understanding why "Draw Something" eclipsed 'Charadium' is the key to understanding the iOS/Casual Game markets.

John Krajewski
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I'd read that blog post...

William Volk
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I'd do a blog on this, spent quite a bit of time digging, but first I need to apply the info to a title and PROVE my hypothesis.

Joshua Darlington
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New game platform?

John Krajewski
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Yes! Could be a really great games platform if it takes off.

Jamie Roberts
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"Better graphics" is always the easiest, most obvious answer to increased processing power. Look at OnLive. They're trying to harness their cloud service to create never-before-seen games. But the video they made to announce this was a cringe-worthy "sexy virtual girl" clip talking about improved graphics. Simultaneously pandering to the easiest audience (pun intended) while going after the easiest answer of what to do with more processing power. Forget graphics, you could create an MMO with realtime physics. By running the game on a centralized server with dumb terminals, you enable multiplayer gameplay that is impossible with the traditional network model.

I can't exactly fault them for going with the easiest answer, and that's part of the problem. They need revenue and a larger user base. They don't exactly have the time to fiddle with ideas that might fail completely. If the business climate doesn't encourage R&D, then something needs to change to enable it.

John Krajewski
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It always seemed strange to me that not much R&D is invested in finding other interesting uses of gameplay. I think developers worry about having to convince players about a new form of game when going with an existing one can be explained a lot easier, and while that's a valid concern I'm not sure it's accurate.