Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Controllers and Control

So, according to the twitters, there is some kind of conference going on this week. Something about the mainstream video game industry and selling stuff into “the channel” or some kind of archaic 20th century leftover bullshit.  Only now everyone is trying to be all “21st  century”, whatever that means. Apparently, it is supposed to mean using touchscreens and motion control and voice commands for everything.

I get that innovation is a naturally occurring thing (see this post), but this is getting a little bit ridiculous. The technology being invented supposedly for games does not seem to have been developed in close partnership with someone who actually has a background in making things fun, like, oh, say this.

Where are the first party games that were developed alongside these technologies? There aren't any. These were cooked up in research labs and shoved over to product teams to make a “return on investment” to keep the shareholders happy. And now they're being shoved over in consumers' general direction to “consume”.

To put a finer point on it – the technology of buttons and joysticks came long before Pong or Computer Space ever saw the light of day. The games played off the familiarity of the players as users of those input devices, effectively making them more playable.

When presented with an unfamiliar input device with no other practical use, the tendency is to think of it as a novelty. A one-trick pony, if you will (a term Steve Ballmer has used more than once to describe Google). At least Nintendo had the good smarts to make the WiiMote usable as a wireless gamepad that could be used to play people's favorite NES classics. Can you imagine the Wii doing nearly as well as it did if they hadn't?

Earlier, I was thinking of making this a “crystal ball” type post about what I project the future of such-and-such game technology will be like in 2, 4, and 10 years down the road, so, for the sake of scratching that itch:

2 years: Smart TVs coupled with ubiquitous handheld touchscreen devices –  whether they be phones or simple wifi-connected touch devices –  start to obsolete the traditional remote control, at least the gigantic ones with lots of buttons for this, that, and the other. It stands to reason that the computing capabilities of these smart TVs might also allow for some amount of gaming to be done directly from the TV itself, or via the Internet. The big difference here is that someone has figured out a way to do this all without any extra boxes. You just plug the TV into the wall, and maybe a cable hookup, and that's it –  you've got internet, TV, movies, games, everything. As I've said before, my guess is that Apple is working on something like this as the next atom bomb they'll drop on the tech industry.

4 years: Around this time is when the 10/10 rule will start to kick in with the touch-screen-centric smart phones. By this I mean they will be so ubiquitous and cheap that even the low-end budget phones that carriers practically give away in exchange for a service contract will be a touchscreen-enabled phone-enabled device with capabilities rivaling a netbook or a laptop of today. So, given this, I'm hoping the touchscreen latency problem will have been at least mitigated somewhat, to the point where it is actually possible to play Contra using a virtual gamepad on a touchscreen. Haptic feedback through a touchscreen will also become more of a norm, mitigating most of the physicality issues that people have with touchscreen-based virtual button interfaces. It may be possible at this point for a console game platform to actually obsolete the use of physical button gamepads.

10 years: Brain-Computer Interface – I remember seeing some of the earlier commercial attempts in this area in the 90s, with this doohicky you'd slip around your finger and it would sense the nerve impulses, or something. I never tried it, but I don't think it worked very well, because apparently it never really caught on. But we keep seeing this idea pop up again and again –  most popularly in The Matrix. Full-on virtual reality mindjacking is probably still another decade or few off, but not entirely out of the question for this century. What I'm talking about here is a solid first step toward that - enough to drive a video game or a UI on a screen a few feet away from the user.


No comments:

Post a Comment