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Top developers ponder the future of video games
Top developers ponder the future of video games
November 15, 2012 | By Mathew Kumar

November 15, 2012 | By Mathew Kumar
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    27 comments
More: Console/PC, Programming, Design, Production, Business/Marketing



What does the future hold for video games, and what steps do game makers need to take to get there?

During the Montreal International Game Summit's closing session (the annual "Brain Dump"), a variety of developers tried to answer that question, as new business and creative opportunities continue to emerge.

Aesthetic rehab

Jonathan Jacques-Belletete, art director at Eidos Montreal for Deus Ex: Human Revolution, argued that to survive in the future, video games "must go to aesthetic rehab."

"We live in a kind of sealed environment; our visual culture is completely outdated," he said. "We need to start looking for new sources of inspiration."

"We need to start working with people outside of the video game industry: fashion designers and architects, because we are going to be left behind," he continued. "It's Picasso who said, 'you get nothing original from an echo.' It's very true."

He said finding inspiration aside from typical sources like Star Wars and Lord of the Rings is not merely a good design decision, but a good business decision.

"Design distinction creates desire... if your design is different enough, you will automatically create design in your audience."


Tim Sweeney's future of "everything"

Taking the stage, Epic's Tim Sweeney re-approached some of the thoughts he had presented to the audience at the start of the summit.

"For seven years the industry has been embroiled in a platform war that began when the PC market began to decline, and the PC really lost the central place in gamer's hearts," he said. "Microsoft and Sony came along and created systems with much more stable platforms and greater performance and really shook things up."

However, this new stability didn't last.

"Over subsequent years things have really changed even more dramatically," Sweeney said, noting the rise of the App store, smartphones, tablets and web games. He revealed his pick for the new winner of the next generation: "everything."

"All the different gaming platforms that have emerged are coming together into a common specification," he said. "We can build one game that potentially targets all the different platforms; this is a really positive change after seven years of divisive change.

"I imagine a future," he continued, "where cloud-centric gaming means you can have one game and play it across all your devices. Graphics and controls will scale, but to be capable of playing a game anywhere is a very friendly way to work with players."

"This is also interesting from a business point of view," Sweeney added. "We can amortize the cost across different platforms, reaching a much larger audience without dramatically increasing the development cost."

However, he warned, "this also means we need to change the way we think about game design -- we can't just think about aiming for one device, one type of input, one graphical level."


What makes us human

THQ's Stephanie Bouchard approached the future from the position that "photorealism and surround sound is not going to help us any more," arguing that current games feel "hollow" because of their failure to offer similar improvements in social technologies.

"Every game has a button for kill," she said, lamenting that more games didn't offer different interactions with players. She particularly noted her disappointment in EA's licensed "The Godfather" series.

"EA, fuck you," she said. "You messed up my fantasy. I wanted to put cotton balls in my mouth and make an offer that couldn't refuse. Instead I was just another hood beating people up."

"What makes us human," she said, "is the ways we can interact with each other. But in games we do it very poorly. I played all of Assassin's Creed III and the only NPC that I feel that truly acknowledged my existence was a dog!"

"We must customize the game experience to enable social manipulation on other characters."

The mind of the developer

Ubisoft Montreal's Jonathan Morin -- creative director on the upcoming Watch Dogs --closed out the session with a talk that furthered some of the thoughts in Bouchard's commentary.

"I was convinced that our future was fascinating, that technology would bring us forward and the questions about technology were interesting. But they are beside the point," he said. "Technology isn't what's going to shape our future; it's up to us to push our medium beyond that."

"When we create games," he continued, "it should excite your sense of wonder."

"I think the future is in the rise of NPCs to show us what really surrounds us, to suggest more about our universe. We need to stop creating trees of dialogue and binary choices, replace that with a real way of communicating. It could be simple but it should be felt. Doing stuff like that would be empowering to us; suggest complex stuff -- and complex stuff doesn't have to be a complex solution.

"What's the future? I think it's the mind of everyone here, in the mind of every developer."


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Comments


Matt Robb
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@Tim Sweeney: Yes please.

Bob Johnson
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Great he envisions making games for an iPhone that are then ported to the consoles that are then ported to the pc.

Patrick Roeder
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I don't know if this is just my personal opinion, but I think there are two major dangers in the industry. The first being sloppy, cash-grab shovel ware on a certain console and mobile. The second being publishers only having faith in bloated budget AAA games that offer only slight improvements and no innovation from one game to the next.

Bob Johnson
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Yep. Although the latter is cured by always having new kids in the pipeline to whom the lack of innovation is relatively meaningless.

Look at board games. Try telling a 10 yr old that Monopoly lacks innovation.

That is what your up against.






Reza Nezami
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Absolutely true Bob. The only question is what happens to the "old" guys in the pipeline?? oh, they were too expensive or just didn't fit in the picture any more!

Patrick Roeder
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Good point Bob. But how true does that remain when we get the same game every 6 months to a year packaged with different box art? Its not about generational cycles so much anymore.

Cordero W
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I already know "my" future of video games. And I'm going to ride that train to the end. No matter if big companies lose business or not, video games will still be video games, and someone is going to have to provide them one way or another. Being a video game designer is about giving the people what they cannot get from other media. And I'm ready to do that, no matter the audience or genre. I'm an entertainer first and foremost.

TC Weidner
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the big money in this industry brought in too many people ( suits) who bring nothing to the art and creativity side of gaming and its beginning to show. The "business' side is crushing the creative side, thankfully tool sets and tech are beginning to allow indies to fill the creative void.

Michael Joseph
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Nice. The big money has focussed so much on serving the audience (which is more selfish than it sounds) they've stopped serving the medium. We see this in a lot of places outside of gaming too.

Simon Ludgate
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While I agree with the need for original aesthetics, I don't think the industry is entirely stuck. For example, I've thoroughly enjoyed Trion's art direction in Rift, which has been quite original for what is, at its core, a fairly typical fantasy setting. It's a little bit familiar and a little bit strange. A little bit western and a little bit eastern. It's just the right balance of old and new.

Games can't expect to be totally novel in appearance, theme, and setting. Players have to retain some degree of connection to the world. I think the reliance on IP-reuse is more of a problem than original aesthetics though.

But for all the calls players and companies alike make for original IP, how viable is it? How many more people embrace an original IP like Rift over a familiar one like Warcraft? And how much of a difference does IP make versus quality gameplay?

Matt Robb
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What's funny about that is that the Warcraft IP has only been used in 4 computer games over 2 decades (granted, the last one is enduring quite a long time).

I was actually rather interested in the IP for Rift, but the encounter design was bland and the class trees, while interesting in theory, had little flexibility in practice.

If anyone remembers Shadowbane, its IP was really cool, but the game didn't live up to it. So yeah, in the end, you have to hit the gameplay quality benchmark before your IP even matters.

William Johnson
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I don't know if I agree with Jonathan Jacques-Belletete about video games needing to look outside of video games for aesthetics.

I agree in principle, because I don't like games all looking the same.

But all mediums suffer from this problem, from comic books, films, internet memes, to high art. The all visual mediums become very incestual and base works off of other works in their respective mediums. You can see people combine different mediums, but people seem to hate it. Like Pop Art, sure it was popular when it was new, but Roy Lichtenstein's work isn't held to the same regard as Pablo Picasso.

This idea has been bothering me a great deal lately. Modern and Postmodern art was cool when they were new, but they're really old now and the art world seems to be stuck in these old mind sets. There are people trying to move past postmodernism, but they're doing it backwards by going back to modernism. But that's a terrible idea, because its just going to end up bringing back all the postmodern questions of what is art, why is art art, what is originality, etc etc. And I am very tired of these questions, especially because the answers keep changing every 5 minutes or there were never any good answers in the first place.

Anyway, so yeah...video games. I'd like to see more variety in art styles, but I don't actually expect that to happen.

Thom Q
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As with the movie and music industry, the gaming industry has "evolved" into a corporate mainstream moneymaker. Just like with movies and music, AAA games feel, look and play pretty much the same. Taking risks is risky...

As the consoles started ruling the market over PC's, so did the closed infrastructure surrounding them, resulting in a string of the same sort of games. The effects of which are now more then visibile; the declining sales is not just a product of the economical crisis, but also because of Saturation.

Its on PC where the innovation and the future lies, especially because of how open that infrastructure is.

Minecraft is the current prime example of a game that Never would have had a chance to get released on a console. Can you imagine?? A game that doesnt looke like any other in the slightest, and equally doesn't play like them?

DayZ is another, although smaller example of a new kind of gameplay. Although its still a mod, its been hugely popular. Im curious to see what the figures will be, once released as a standalone game.


Basicly, the consoles are not the place to search for innovation. The few console games that do innovate and stand out are just the exception that prove the rule.

Michael Joseph
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Remember how back in the mid 90s there was this attempt at marketing game designers as rock stars? Maybe they kinda are too much like rock stars. You know, they start out all passionate and all they want to do is rock to the beat of their own drums and people love them and all their concerts sell out, but then one day they are old, they've lost their idealism, their new albums are tired rehashes of stuff they've already done and they sign marketing deals so their music can be played during Cocoa Cola commercials, and they start to complain about the fans ripping off their music on napster, Obi-Wan laments that they're more machine than men now, and Samuel L Jackson is wondering what happened to them because they used to be beautiful..

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3e7wbs_xfas

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ONdLEqzhXOI

tony oakden
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Maybe I'm being a bit pedantic but I'm going to take issue with Tim Sweeney's use of the word Amortize in this sentence: "We can amortize the cost across different platforms, reaching a much larger audience without dramatically increasing the development cost." Amortize is usually taken to mean the spreading of payments or cost evenly over something (e.g a mortgage). It's difficult to see how the cost of developing a game can be evenly spread over all the target devices when the requirements of those devices are so radically different. Maybe in the future there might be hand held devices which can render scenes as well as the latest console but that seems unlikely to me in the short to mid term. It seems unreasonable to expect phone and tablet consumers to subsidise high end graphics on consoles so prices can be similar. Maybe that is what he thinks is going to happen though? It seems unlikely but something obviously has to change for the industry to survive in anything like it's current form.

Brandon Van Every
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Tim was positing that the requirements of those devices won't be so radically different. For instance, clouds could stream display frames to them, turning them into mostly dumb terminals.

Bob Johnson
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His vision is a business one. Not a gamers vision. I don't think having a game work across many different platforms is going to pan out well. Bad enough playing a pc game originally made for consoles. Imagine playing a pc game that came from a console that came from a smartphone. No thank you.

Sweeney has got engines to sell and needs to reassure suits that it is viable to make next gen games. Btw, it just occured to me that Sweeney must hate Minecraft. ;)

Freek Hoekstra
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on the topic of different visual design, I'd love to see more games take the route of pixar like graphics, FortNite is a great example of this, and I hope more people will follow similar (or better said unique) graphical styles.

on the budget side I believe that the ever increasing costs can be contained using procedural techniques that streamline production. note that I am very much against random, and there is a significant difference between procedural and random.

I have some examples of what procedural tech can do ICM UDK:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NZfqAJSBm2I

and my 20 minute Siggraph talk on what impact procedural tech can have including creating a completely controllable city in 3 minutes that exports into Unity:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PDrALvAqsaI

in my opinion with decent application of procedural tech we should be able to keep costs consistent while upping the quality significantly and be able to iterate for longer.


Brandon Van Every
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Didn't watch all of those, sorry, but a question immediately springs to mind. If placing 20,000 street lamps is a complete waste of an *artist's* time, why isn't it also a complete waste of a *player's* time? Is the assumption that games must always provide sprawling, bigger environments, in order to be liked? This would seem to have some issues in common with suburban sprawl.

Freek Hoekstra
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good question, the point is that most games have been featuring bigger open worlds, GTA V for example features the biggest world rockstar has made to date, also games like the elder scrolls will be hard to make with next gen expected quality level within budget. whether this is a good thing might be an entirely different discussion.

but it is not nescesarily about streetlights, it is efficient building construction based on simple input models (primitives doesn;t do it enough justice but creatable in minutes not hours) one can also deliver a similar environemtn at higher level of detail, or at lower cost, or with more iteration in less time.

these are simply tools to make work easier and quicker and more enjoyable.
imagine creating an MMO the biggest issue for any mmo is feeding the players insatiable appatite for more content, with procedural tools that appetite can be met with much more ease.

imagine being more like an overseer or an architect and have your employees worry about the tiny little details, but where you really want you can still do it yourself, but you don't need to do so all the time. it is just about streamlining and taking all the repetitive (and thus often boring/frustrating) work out of the equation.

wes bogdan
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Why not simply stop the my system,my games where you're forced to rush out and get a wii u for metroid,mario and zelda or playstation for god of war,lbp and killzone or xbox for halo / gears.

The future gaming should strive for is same power under the hood but nintendo would be the cheap bare bones platform while sony/ms would be for the hardcore with better tricked out systems .

The great thing would be ALL EXCLUSIVES would play on ALL 3 boxes with different ui and look /feel so playstation would still have trophies,free online and ms would still have live and achievements while nintendo took the path less traveled.

In dire financhial times only needing 1 box would mean gamers could re-invest wasted money from 2 systems in new games.

Of course i'd expect FULL CUSTOMIZATION so everyone could file n forget their preferred scheme getting back to gaming.

If the broadband infistructure were better and no obserd data caps or high prices were around and throtling were illeagel then a cheap netflix service @ $8 a month or 25% off for a full year could stream games into homes and it would be nice to use my psn or xbl saved cloud data to pick up where i left off and not need to deal with broken hand holding for 2+ hours in games i know how to play.

Bob Johnson
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Yes you'd think that companies could get together and create a next-gen hardware standard much like they get together to create next-gen wireless or storage standards like BluRay or DVD etc.

But one big obstacle would be who is going to subsidize the hardware or what consumer is going to buy unsubsidized hardware?

And what about the input methods? It would surely hurt innovation to have a controller designed by committee. A software company could release a controller for their games, but we all know that what isn't in the box is a hard sell.

I would like to see this attempted. But the grass isn't always greener.

Throck Morton
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"We need to start working with people outside of the video game industry: fashion designers and architects.."

What BS. Then why don't you HIRE those people? You won't of course, because they don't already have 'game industry experience.' What a joke.

Throckmorton

Randy Angle
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You can either talk about the future, or 'Get'R Done'. I prefer to be in the 'making the future' side of this business. I kind of assume these kind of articles are intended to create discussion and garner opinions from knowledgable people in our industry. However I wonder if they aren't a way for people to pose possible futures and see if they can get some momentum in favor of it. I tend to look for 'opportunies' in more basic news announcements. Articles about new tools, emerging business models, methodologies for lean or distributed development. I look over the last 30 some years and think that just like other businesses the game industry has to evolve to remain relevant in a changing world. Big teams and big budgets with long development cycles are becoming a much smaller part of what the games industry is about. Discovery, new business and development models are as important as design innovation, UX and social connectivity. When we expand our audience we create new opportunities and new challenges and that is always what makes this such an exciting industry to be involved in.

Ricardo Barnhill
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Seems to me, from this article, that the future of gaming is dependent on better A.I. i.e. NPCs. Obviously you can't really tell a good gaming story by replacing all of the NPCs with players, so the next best thing would be intelligent NPCs that allow you to interact with them--perhaps like Siri--and ending "binary choices". This would add a newer level of interactive immersion, which of course is the concept behind video games. In a role playing game, for example, where you had to tell a lie, in the ideal future you would communicate through a mic and cam to an NPC that may use your voice or facial recognition to see if you are believable and act accordingly. Its all about giving greater agency to the pivotal pieces in the construct. When greater technology was available, rag-doll physics allowed the manipulation of objects, perhaps greater A.I. will allow the manipulation of experience.

wes bogdan
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As for innovation in controller design if all systems were using the same hardware under the hood it would strongly be influnced by nintendo's willingness to charge where others haven't dreamnt of going.

Sure playstation would have the ds with a screen neseled between l1,l2,r1 and r2 and l2/r2 would become 360 styled gun triggers while xbox would retain the bow tie shape pad and gun triggers if you put a screen @ the bumpers you'd be better off droping the left stick into a ps style dual analog moving the d-pad also into a dual analog position .

Also the d-pad's must become 3x larger than the 360/ps3 size more like the size of the outline on a ds 3...why because a smaller d-pad makes for terrible buttons and if you were able to design your own scheme you'd be pressing a +b or x+y trust me i buy almost everything on ps3 because of thrustmaster's 3-1 dual trigger which does have a 3x larger d-pad and 360 style gun triggers + is fully customizable OUT OF THE BOX so while i play halo,gears etc using a rewired 360 pad it has the crappy d-pad and not the raised d-pad which would've been better but still not as good as a gilmount thrustmaster pad.

As for hardware you'd have amd,intel etc as possible partners but everyone would use the same cpu,gpu and memory though like today's worthless wii with only 8gb inside for dlc vs 32gb on the board and a free game steps like this could be taken so you could choose the right amount of system for you.

Somehow as i was typing on my nook it jumped up and wouldn't let me reach where i was so i might have to start mid thought.

Then it's just down to what each box does and as always sony

wes bogdan
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And ms would be offering much more than nintendo in terms of functionality and the player would simply choose asthetics trophies vs achievements ,psn vs live but whenever you started up a game a splash screen saying ps,xb or wii then the company that made the game would pop up as it would today except imagine turning on a wii and seeing "xbox" then 343 and finally HALO 5. This would also allow cross battling between playstation ,wii and true xbox teams of course you could also see killzone displayed on both xbox and wii in the same manner "playstation then gurilla and finally killzone.

How about zelda on a playstation and more game would be sold as all that mattered was that you have a box and get out there and buy the greatest stuff around finally only needing 1 product to play ALL games ps,xb and wii.


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