The NPD-group released sales numbers of video consoles for November and fans or not-fans of the Wii are in an uproar. Meanwhile, i took the time to take a look at the software-charts. Except for old Nintendo-games and Guitar Hero, there are shooter, shooter and…shooter. That´s actually hardly related to what i am going to talk about in this blog-posting, just wanted to say that.
Games have hit a ceiling. Not yet a visual one, but a conceptual ceiling. What that means? Well, we get more or less quality, new versions of gameplay concepts that have been there since the Nintendo64. Just more beautiful. Oh, don´t get me wrong, the presentation has greatly improved and the gameplay profited from smoother framerates as well. But the core is the very same. So take first-person-shooters for example and compare Halo 3 to Turok 2: Seeds of Evil. I´m not gonna list all the technical improvements of the former, but the feeling from playing. And hell, the gun-play in Turok 2 was, back then, just as fun is Halo 3´s is today. Or more explicitely: Remake Turok 2 in HD, give it the smoothness of modern games et voilá, it´s a first-person-shooter, as good as the ten years newer Halo 3. This is not a rant about Halo 3. This is to show how games remained the same.
Same is true for most games, though.
When i play certain nowaday´s games, i always find myself thinking “man, would that be awsome if i could do THAT“. For example, control a space ship in Mass Effect. Jump from roof to roof in Hyrule in Twilight Princess. Or, more out-of-blue, blast a Kamehameha in GTA4, causing a skyscraper to collapse and whitnessing all the in-game reactions. Now if i leave popular examples, how about a game idea i had for a long time:
You start off in free space. You´re an astronaut, within a little, damaged space ship. All that rather realistic designed, so maybe it could be a smaller version of the ISS. Anyway, this is where you start…and you can do whatever you want. You could try to repair the space ship. Or you could wait and see what happens. If you wait, maybe aliens come to take you…or you get killed by an asteroid crashing into you. If you managed to repair the ship, you could start flying through space. You could land on a bigger asteroid and explore that. Or you fly further and find a whole planet. You land on it and there´s a war going on, between two factions of an alien race. Now it gets important: You could take part, and an epic adventure on just that planet begins. Imagine an adventure of the scale of a JRPG, like Skies of Arcadia. BUT: You could just leave the planet with your space ship/ never landed on it, and explore space further. There you could find other planets like the first one, with completely other conditions. Or you find space stations, be it of humankind or aliens.
That is not possible today.
Why? Because it´s not feasible, be it at all, or, because noone wants to create so much content, that has so much effort put into it, that many players are never going to see, as they fly further or not far enough.
So, do i have to dream on, or is there a solution? In my mind, at least, there is. And that is: A whole new concept of a videogame system. If you look at the 360, it´s a game machine where you put in a disc that has all the content and you play that. And that´s it. You´ll never play more than what is programmed onto that disc. Several games use downloadable content now, but new complex content like Take 2 brings with the GTA DLC or Bioware did with Mass Effect, takes too much time and is expensive. What do we have to change so that the limits are gone?
The concept of games themselves.
If you´re too conservative, stop reading here. I don´t know just how far away we are from that concept, so, the farther that might be, the more ridiculous it may sound.
Developers aren´t developing games anymore. They´re offering “ingredients”, parts of a game, like new objects, new forms of interactions, new effects, and so on. And they´re developing scenarios. So, who creates the actual game, then? That is the key factor of this concept:
An A.I. is.
This is where i myself don´t know how far science has progressed, but imagine it like that: You buy your new videogame system. It looks like a Wii, unobtrusive, maybe not white but matt black, so it fits into a stylised living room. Besides your typical hardware components, the key features of the system are a massive HDD and the A.I.. If we assume that we bought a new Nintendo-console, a Mario64-like game might already be installed on that system. You can play it just like you always have. Collect 120 stars, beat Bowser, impregnate Peach, just what you always did. Now, you´re buying the new GTA5. You install it onto the HDD, and again, play it like you always have. The fun and awsomeness starts now: If you select the right mode in the console´s menu, you´ll get the option of creating a new game. This is done by the A.I.. The A.I. is so important, because, how you might be able to imagine, it´s so damn hard to get a CPU create a seemingly random level structure by itself. If something like that is done nowadays, gamers are likely to conclude their gaming experince with attributes like “soulless“, “has no heart“, “looks too random” and the likes. This is why you shouldn´t think of the A.I. i´m speaking of as only one of those randomizing procedures.
The A.I. is capable of getting an understanding of the content you´re offering it, and thus can create a smooth gaming experience, that´s just as good as a game developed by a highly praised game designer.
There would be many more options, though. Mixing Mario and GTA could result into a Mario-game that takes place in a realistic environment. Or Nico Bellic has to get 120 stars so he becomes the number one in Mushroom Kingdom. But you could also make more detailed settings, telling the A.I. what you want. That could be, firing fire balls in GTA, and nothing more. Or a machine gun for Mario, and that remains the only change. Now we´re only at two games. So buy more, and the more games you buy, the more options the A.I. gets to create original games. If we take the whole concept even further, you´re not even buying games, anymore. You just buy content packages. The rest is done by the A.I.. The advantages of all that are clear: Any gaming experience will become a personal experience that only you get to see and play. And even more important: There is no more limit to a game. You already beat the final boss, but got to like the characters and world? No problem, just tell the A.I. you want more, and new adventures are created. Multiplayer-experiences also wouldn´t die. Just send your friends your personal adjustment settings and you can play the same game-creation together.
Game Designers wouldn´t lose their jobs, though. Instead of creating static game experiences, they´d have access to a very detailed adjustment menu, where they could enter speficic stories, characters, gameplay elements and so on, whatever they want. You could play one A.I.-developed game forever. But if you want to know how MGS5 turns out, you´ll need Hideo Kojima to enter his ideas into that adjustment menu. And he can charge you money for that.
This would be it, the perfect gaming system, that takes away all limits. Though even if the concept, mostly the A.I., would be possible to realize, it may be the economic structure of our human society that prohibits such a thing from happening. After all, a few concept packages were enough and you could play all life long without ever buying something again. Until human kind is ready for a world like that, let´s read the sci-fi novels of Isaac Asimov.