The hype surrounding the Nintendo 3DS, Microsoft’s Kinect, and Sony’s Move are currently the driving forces behind the video game industry. Many industry critics point to these technologies as the future of video games, but very few people have taken notice of the upcoming tech that is sure to take our consoles by surprise.
The typical lifespan of a video game console is around 5 years. About a year before that time is up, we begin to hear some news about the next wave of consoles set to flood the market. This generation is currently facing that time limit, but in a much different way. Where we normally would have seen some sort of announcement this year at E3 about a new system launching, instead we saw a forceful push of motion controls and 3D. This is a replacement of the typical console launch and a way for console developers to extend the life of their current products. We could call this Xbox 360 1/2, or PlayStation 3.5. Companies such as Microsoft and Sony are tapping into this market in hopes of reaching a wider audience, and attempting to change the way video games are played. But are motion controls and 3D really the vehicles that will carry video games into the next generation? Honestly, I don’t think so. While motion controls and 3D are great avenues to explore, I don’t believe that they will transform the gaming world like many developers would like us to believe they will.
“What’s wrong with motion controls and 3D?”
Nothing. The only gripe I have are with the attitudes that so many people have about how they will change gaming. First of all, Kinect and Move will do nothing more to change the industry than what has already been done by Nintendo, and 3D is nothing more than a false sense of depth. Second of all, the only thing motion controls and 3D are actually affecting are the groups of people who are willing to buy their products and give them a chance.
As I said before, both of these are great things to explore, and I am interested in giving each of them a shot. The Nintendo 3DS blew everyone away at E3 because it gave a solid demonstration of how 3D will actually work without glasses. This is exciting and a good move for the industry, but it is not changing games in a way that significantly pushes it into the next generation.
“So Michael, what do you think is the future of video games?”
I’m glad you asked, it’s called MotionScan. Some of you may recognize this as the technology being used to develop Rockstar’s and Team Bondi’s new video game L.A. Noire. The basic function of this technology is to provide gamers with an exceptionally realistic visual representation of the characters in-game. This is accomplished with 32 high definition cameras that capture an actor’s performance at 30 frames per second from multiple angles. In turn, it renders an accurate 3D model on screen that picks up every little detail.
“So what makes this so special?”
Well, when compared to the games you play, like Mass Effect 2 and Dragon Age Origins, MotionScan provides dialogue capabilities that greatly surpass even the best conversations in these games. When dialogue is recorded in a game like Mass Effect 2, voice actors are occasionally separated, and 3D character models are animated individually, which makes for a weak performance. MotionScan on the other hand, can record a live action scene and produce final footage without the extra work to clean up animations. This means that a conversation between two on-screen characters is likely an actual recording of a face-to-face interaction. One feature in particular that will be showcased in L.A. Noire is the precision of facial features. L.A. Noire is, in essence, a detective game, and relying on visual cues from a suspect you are interviewing is imperative to the design of the game. The use of MotionScan will allow players to see enhanced features on a character’s face during an investigation in order to tell if they are telling the truth. Avoiding eye contact, or facial muscle contractions are just a couple of examples of the types of intricacies that MotionScan will be able to portray. When a development studio can spend less time syncing dialogue and more time providing quality scripts with excellent animations, then we could be looking at a completely new era of video gaming.
“So what’s this “new era” you speak of?”
This new era is a point in time in which video games will make a change due to the current implementation of MotionScan. If all goes according to plan then we can expect to notice a drastic difference in quality between developers who invoke the use of this technology and those who don’t. As development of scripts and character models is made easier by MotionScan, teams will be able to shift manpower over to the more immature areas of the game. Perhaps we will see a total evolution of typical RPG elements, or perhaps designers will find a way to extend gameplay without the use of more enemies and fetch quests.
“Who’s to say it will work?”
While MotionScan sounds perfect in theory, it has yet to prove itself as a beneficial tool for developers. Test runs and preview sessions show off its power and capabilities, but wedging these new features into an existing design could prove to be detrimental. With L.A. Noire testing the flight of MotionScan, we will be able to tell exactly how much gameplay and dialogue are improved in the near future. Even if it did work its way into our industry, it would be quite some time before developers were able to master the tools and give us these killer games that we are dying to play.
Despite the possible failure, I feel that MotionScan will prove to be more beneficial for video games than either 3D or motion controls. Even though 3D may give us another perspective, and motion controls may give us additional ways to interact with our software, MotionScan will provide us with opportunities for better game design and new gameplay concepts. Let’s just hope that L.A. Noire is everything Rockstar promises it will be once it’s released.