Tag Archives: motion controls

Pop-Gaming – We Asked For It

It’s high time I discussed the phenomenon that is sweeping the video game realm. I’ve avoided it so far – mostly because I want to pretend like it’s not there – but I can’t help but see it creeping into my daily life. What started out as mere curiosity has become a huge part of my gaming life, and I can’t imagine it subsiding anytime soon. My will may be strong, but as more people are embracing this paradigm shift I find it hard to avoid. The phenomenon I’m referring to is “Pop-Gaming”.

At first glance, you might decide to bash the Pop-Gaming market, and complain about how Farmville has given many people a false idea of gaming; or how Prince of Persia should have never been a movie. A closer look will reveal that this is what we’ve been demanding all along, but we never expected it to come to this.

As many people spent the 90s sitting at home, playing hardcore games alone in their basements, they experienced the judging glares and condescending comments of pretentious detractors. These gamers quickly began to demand respect and understanding of their hobby while politicians accused their beloved Mortal Kombat, and other “violent” video games as the core reason for high school shootings and the like. As time has progressed, people have slowly dropped the misconceptions and are taking an interest in our hobby. What started out as a misunderstanding and a “waste of time”, has shifted to curiosity and respect for this thing we call video gaming.

When I think about this shift, thoughts drift into visions of game-related novels, movie adaptations, Farmville junkies, and masochistic little birds with a hankering for pork. These images are enough to make a JRPG fan go nuts and begin slandering these wannabes. My initial reaction was very similar, but as I see these mediums begin to permeate the world outside of hot, sweaty dungeon-crawling warlords, I started to realize that hardcore gamers have very little reason to complain.

Take World of Warcraft, it contains what appears to be a niche market; but how niche can 12 million players be? You may have started out on the ground floor of this MMO movement, but you’ve opened the gates and happily welcomed your friends. You showed them around, got them a glass of wine, and displayed grade A hospitality; but by the time you turned around, the entire room was filled with people. Now you are upset all because you forgot to close the door.

There has been a large movement into the realm of MMOs recently. Leaders of free-to-play games such as Nexon, have paved the road and found ways to convince normal people to pour hundreds of hours and dollars into an endless grind. That market is getting bigger, and as more companies jump on board we will see more people losing their time to the micro-transaction model.

How about first person shooters? How many of you spent countless hours in front of a computer screen with Unreal Tournament, fragging your friends and scoffing at those who just couldn’t understand why you thought that could be fun. Now the tables have turned. You complain because some of the same people who laughed at you then, have all but sold their soul to Call of Duty. It’s a fight that you’ve fought for so many years, but you never thought it would come to this.

We were the ones who wrote blog and forum posts demanding respect from unreasonable parents and conservative politicians, who said that shooting and fighting games were the leading cause of juvenile violence. We fought, and continue to fight, in fear of losing our precious games, and the battle is slowly being won. We proudly wore our Legend of Zelda t-shirts and honorably display our allegiance to the Horde and the Alliance. The floodgates have burst open and we now stare in disbelief at the wave of support we’ve ushered in.

Every movie, book, cellphone or Facebook game that comes out is not bad, but I can understand the frustration when you watch your favorite genres or series get watered down with under-par content. What was once a labor of love has slowly been loosed from the grip of the video game forefathers, altered, and injected into the mainstream of America. Now corporations have seen ways to make additional profit off of our favorite games and have all but forced us to support them.

We can’t blame anyone but ourselves. No matter how much we think that motion controls are ruining the core experience, or cell phones and Facebook have inaccurately inducted business men and stay-at-home moms into the gamer category, we supported the development of our current predicament. If you feel like the issue has gotten out of hand, but you aren’t quite sure what to do about it, then I have one thing to say…VOTE.

“How,” you might ask. With your money. You may be able to get your comrades to support your antics by posting on forums about how much pop-gaming should die, but you aren’t going to affect the decision makers unless you refuse to buy their product. If Angry Birds is ruining your gaming feng shui, then don’t “accidentally” download it and get caught up in the addicting gameplay. If you have to choose between Prince of Persia and Bride’s Maids, then go with the latter…though, at that point, you may have a completely different problem on your hands.

You could, of course, choose to support this change. It’s not all bad. In fact, I find the new shift to be quite the stimulator for the industry. As revenue continues to pour in from the pop-gaming market, we will see funds shift to develop higher powered consoles that can hit the market at more affordable prices. Expect to see the Wii U announced with a fairly low price point, due to the astronomical financial success of the Wii. There’s a lot of good that social, mobile and motion-control gaming can do to support hardcore gamers. Plus, Angry Birds is just plain fun.

At the least, don’t forget the role you’ve played in making pop-gaming a reality; even you have made some bad judgment calls. So, dismount your self-constructed throne of conceit, uncover your hidden stash of Resident Evil and Mortal Kombat films, and face the facts…you’re a Pop-Gamer.

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Why MotionScan will change video games, and 3D and motion controls will not.

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.

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