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Cyberspace in the 21st Century: Part One, Mapping the Future of Multiplayer Games
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Cyberspace in the 21st Century: Part One, Mapping the Future of Multiplayer Games

January 20, 2000 Article Start Previous Page 2 of 5 Next

Questions to Ponder

There are a load of questions we need answered if we're going to get much of a handle on the future of gaming. I doubt I'm asking all the most important ones, and I won't even attempt to answer some of the ones I do ask, but here's some I've come up with so far:

  • Just where is the 'game' going? Is interactive entertainment really the primary entertainment form of the next millennium? Are games just going to get better, or is something radical going to happen?

  • And the essence of the game - What is it? Why do we play it? What makes a game fun?

  • Where are the players going? Are they always going to be happy buying "better than ever" World Cup Soccer 2010 and the "now you can smell the rubber" Formula I Racer!?

  • What do players look for in terms of an opponent? Are they into artificial or real opponents- and how will they tell anyway?

  • The number of players - is this a social thing? How does it work?

  • Where's the technology going? Maybe games will be technology led, perhaps they always have been? The trends are certainly ever upwards: computer power, network capacity, leisure time - is there no end to them?

  • Who's going to make the games of the future? Perhaps it'll be like web sites and everyone will create their own game worlds?

  • What about the environment and social conditions - these affect the games we play - don't they? Perhaps games are hedonism in another form, and a sign that modern civilization is on the brink of collapse. Or are we just going to turn into a civilization that spends all its time creating games for each other?

Cyberspace in the 21st Century

Which questions will I address? Well, this article, though it may just be a taster, is the first in a series of articles describing the way I see interactive entertainment developing over the next century. I will be placing particular emphasis on scalable, networked interactive entertainment, which is where an unlimited number of simultaneous participants are supported, as this is where I see the future going. In other words: massive multiplayer games for everyone with Internet access - at the same time. There! My cards are on the table.

You want more of my cards? OK, having been in software engineering since the seventies, I've seen games technology progress from text-based Adventure and other MUDs through the whole gauntlet of arcades games, to Quake. It didn't take a lot of imagination to combine multiplayer games with graphics - even a few decades ago. I'm sure there are many of you who, like myself, considered doing so way back then. It's rare though, that one gets any opportunity to work on such technology. However, there have been and will be enough lucky people working on this problem around the planet, that the massive multiplayer game will eventually surface. And by 'massive', I'm talking about games with the same number of simultaneous players as there are people cruising the web while you read this. Not that all the players will be crammed into the same subterranean arena, or dispersed across a multitude of isolated mini-arenas. No, something in between, just like real life. Sparse rural communities to crowded cities - anyone can potentially bump into anyone else.

Fellow Cybermen

Have you noticed something about graphics and games technology? They progress together, don't they? Yet you try telling your publisher that software rendering engines are passé, or that perhaps we don't need another Doom clone, or racing car simulator. Some companies push the envelope, bleeding on the edge, while others follow with their picnic tables and admire the view, patting themselves on the back at their courage for living so dangerously. Yup, it's the way it's been and will always be - can't do anything about it, but at least we can point it out to those prepared to recognize it.

The 3D rendering engines are being subsumed into hardware. Geometry is going the same way, and collision detection can't be far behind. Physical realism or 'Physics' is being tackled by at least one company. Scene management technology is being addressed by products such as Motivate and NeMo. Even AI gets pretty good treatment in such games as Creatures. One last piece of the technological jigsaw is required to complete the foundations of cyberspace. That is the networking.

Yes, there is DirectPlay, along with other 3rd party systems designed to make multiplayer games straightforward, but I'd say we are now at the same stage in terms of networking technology as we were thirty years ago in rendering engines. We know a lot of the theory, but not much of it has been incorporated into actual systems. Bits of it have been implemented in various university research projects and high budget military simulators (US DoD spent about $10 billion per annum over the last decade or two - don't quote me or they'll be after me). Some of this has filtered down into off-the-shelf components, but there is no single system that has been engineered from the ground up to incorporate all the latest principles. Of course, once this missing piece of the networked games engine has been completed, one still has to build the jigsaw, but that's a job big enough for the entire industry.

So, if you're interested in this new 'undiscovered country' of interactive entertainment technology, then read on. Those who aren't games technologists or those that don't want games with more than thirty-two players need not continue. I'm not going to waste anyone's time talking about the next two years, or those multiplayer games currently in development. I'm talking about virtual worlds on the Gibsonesque scale and the engines needed to run them.

Article Start Previous Page 2 of 5 Next

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