Wednesday, October 19, 2005

The Future Beyond the Future of Gaming

I wrote this in April:
Here’s the future, and I’ve talked about this before: games will be projected in high-resolution 3-D and will scale to fill whatever size room we can open up for gaming.

I wrote an entire column about that at some point and can’t find it in the archives, but that’s enough to get us started.

What I couldn’t figure out then was: what’s after that? There had to be something beyond high-resolution, scaling 3-D—I just had no idea what it could be.

This weekend, for no known reason, I think I got it. If 3-D gaming is five to ten years away, this is probably twenty, but I do think it’s a reasonable idea.

Here’s what will happen. Imagine a large area—say, sixty yards by forty yards. It’s covered with artificial turf and appropriate field markings. A 3-D image of a football game will be scaled to fill the field. The player (you) will be given a vest that will transmit its location back to the console (and when I say “console,” I mean extremely expensive commercial hardware, not a consumer console). So the player will see the game in front of him in 3-D, scaled to a realistic size, and he can actually be in the game.

There will have to be some kind of feedback (possibly through the vest) to alert him to tackles, the end of plays, etc. And there would be an actual football with sensors inside to transmit the location of the ball.

That means if you wanted to play quarterback, you could step to the line of scrimmage, survey the defense, call an audible (with voice recognition active), fade back, read your progression, and throw to the open receiver. And with sensors in the ball, your virtual receiver could “catch” the ball (which would show up as a virtual ball as soon as he touched it). So you’d have an in-depth intersection of reality and 3-D.

Or maybe this: the player sees his own character (whose movements he completely controls with his own) a few feet in front of him (the distance would be user selectable). That character could be tackled, fumble the ball, etc., and you would see it happen, so no vest feedback would be necessary. You’d become a human gamepad, essentially, and your legs would become the equivalent of an analog stick..

It would work especially well on defense: run to space and make tackles.

It wouldn’t just be for sports games, though. It could be used in other first and third-person games as well. There would be times where you’d need to “reset” the physical space by returning to the front of the area, but otherwise there’s no reason you couldn’t have an FPS game use the same technology. It would be impossible to duplicate all the weapons, at least physically, but the idea of having the character a few feet in front of you would allow you to select weapons via the vest or a handhold controller, and your 3-D character could then use them.

I know what you’re thinking: damn, that’s expensive. And it would be. But how much would somebody pay to play in the Super Bowl, or the World Series? Or play Mafia?

When I propose this as the future, I don’t mean with the same cheesy feedback level that we currently have in feedback-based games, or some crappy plastic football or bat. There would be high-tech, sophisticated devices (like a real baseball bat with inlaid sensors that could be polled to detect motion/velocity) to provide realistic tactile feedback to the player.

I know that sounds like a long way off, and it is. But it’s not impossible, and it will be less impossible every year. And it will be exponentially more immersive than anything anyone has ever experienced before.

Yes, there are gaps in the idea—I know it’s not a fully fleshed out concept. But I think the gaps are more from my lack of having a comprehensive vision than they are real problems.

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