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Koster: 'The Sandbox Is Exploding'
Koster: 'The Sandbox Is Exploding' Exclusive
August 13, 2008 | By Stephen Jacobs, Leigh Alexander

August 13, 2008 | By Stephen Jacobs, Leigh Alexander
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Ultima lead designer, author and Metaplace founder Raph Koster seems fond of looking back on media's "predictions" for our future to see how they, in his words, "got it wrong" when it comes to the modern day's relationship with games. In his keynote at SIGGRAPH's Sandbox Symposium, Koster looked at how the future always defies the futurists, and at what we need to do to be ahead of the curve now.

"If you’re still reading 'Snow Crash,' you’re going in the wrong direction, because it's not 1992 anymore," he said. The quintessential "flying cars" image used to be our idea of "retro-futurism" -- Koster now checks out a screencap of Ratchet and Clank and says it "looks awfully retro futurist to me."

"We're building a lot of our worlds looking backward instead of looking at the world now," he says. "We tend to be insular and self referential -- which is okay, because we're all social outcasts and we all need each other, but it keeps us from making things for anyone else."

Koster says that seeing the McDonald's television ads featuring LineRider -- "I did some quick calculations and figured that LineRider has had more penetration than 'Gossip Girl' -- made him reflect on how much the industry has changed in the past few years.

"The hot market right now is the Internet, not the console," says Koster. "The hot market is PC and multiplayer, and the hottest games on the market you can be done with in five minutes."

"Since 1982, spending on a triple AAA game has increased 125 percent -- we’ve gotten 6 times better at making content, but it's not where the audience is."

Koster says that "Web 3D" and and games are now in the same business -- "We can’t split the pie into tiny pieces anymore," he says. "My best bet for the console of the future is Flash, because they just signed a deal to put an open standard on all these TV and consumer electronics systems and that could mean we’re writing for one platform."

Though speaking at the Sandbox Symposium, Koster doesn't like the au curant genre name -- "It means you can go past the wood and play with the toys in there... but leave them there, and don't get any sand out in the real world."

"The sandbox has exploded," Koster says. "Augmented reality holographic lenses, foldable screens on your t-shirt, are on their way to commercialization and adoption right now."

Conference discussion now revolves not around the pixel fill rate and polygons of yesteryear's futurism, but around "personalities and meeting needs," he says.

"We have to change our definition of 'need' to 'getting to the end of the boss,'" says Koster. "Why did none of us think of Wii Fit? Why does it take us that crazy Japanese genius to kick us in the ass over and over again?"


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