Personal Pets and Unified Ingame-Avatars

March 17, 2010

Videogaming and technology in general are still far away from creating a true Artificial Intelligence, short A.I. For many of those interested in the subject of A.I., it´s so damn fascinating because it would allow for so many option in whatever technological way. Using an A.I. for making navigating your MP3-player easier, exploring philosophical matters, and, of course, using them in video games. Imagining that every single NPC in a game would be “alive” is one incredible thought. So that´s what could be awesome somewhere down the future. But there´s stuff we can do even now.

I recently played Wii Sports Resort, the frisbee-game. For those that haven´t played the game yet, you have to throw a frisbee that then is caught by a virtual dog. That dog is beyond cute. Really adorable how it shakes its tail and brings the frisbee back to you. That got me thinking: Why can´t we have such a pet for the menu of a video game console?  Or forget the dog, it could be whatever virtual being, ranging from a dog, to hot girl, to a dinosaur. Basically, integrate a fake-A.I. that interacts with you. Using voice-recognition to navigate through the menu. In the end, it wouldn´t be anymore than a cosmetic change, but being a scifi-fan myself, it´d be so much more awesome. Starting your system, being greeted  by name by your fake-A.I., which then would ask how you are. Game publishers could integrate advertisements, like “Hey, Max, there´s some interesting news about XYZ. Do you want to know more?” and you answer yes or no. And back to navigating the menu, say you´re starting your 360. Instead of clicking through all the menus, you simply say “Start Mass Effect 2” and it´s being done for you. Depending on what´s offered, you could enhance your fake-A.I. by adding new behaviors and teaching it when a certain reaction is expected. That´d really make the whole experience more lively and, for scifi-fans like myself, more fascinating.

Another topic are main characters in video games. We´ve reached a time where either customization plays a bigger role, or games feature more unusual human variations, i.e. characters that differ from your typical white, male, 30-year old Rambo. I´m of the opinion that said variation should be taken to the next step. By taking away pre-made main characters from games and instead let your create your very own main character in the console´s main menu. Think of it like creating your Mii or Avatar, and using it in every game you buy. Of course, depending on the art style, your self-made avatar would change to fit in the game. But you´d also play as exactly the person you want to play as. The only kind of games that would have a problem with this concept would be cinematic games with lots of voice acting and pre-rendered cutscenes. But who cares, these games are taking the wrong direction anyways.

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The Future is 3D (again)

December 25, 2009

Last week I saw Avatar, James Cameron´s latest movie. After all the overhyped movies a bunch of fanatics hyped up (The Dark Knight, Inglorious Basterds, etc.) I was pleasantly surprised of how this one film actually held up to all the expectations. Of course, the story presented in Avatar is run-of-the-mill, evil human corporations attack peaceful aliens to make more money and so on, but not only was that story well presented, the imagery of the whole film was great. So great that I constantly thought of how my favorite videogame-franchise should borrow parts of this film. A small, or big, I cannot decided, role played the fact that I saw the film in 3D, using rather cheap 3D-glasses. The resulting effect complemented the movie very well, though it didn´t stand out too much. Where the 3D-effect really shone was in a trailer for some upcoming Disney-animation movie (that I am SO going to to watch). Long story short, I think 3D images is the next big thing in video gaming.

The future I imagine consists of three major pillars: Controls, A.I and Interactive Visuals.

I talked about A.I. in an earlier blog-post, so let me go on about the other two. In terms of controls, we´re getting “there“, thanks to Nintendo starting the whole thing with its Wiimote. MotionPlus was another big step forwards, and I think, sooner or later, though hopefully sooner, we´ll get some kind of data gloves, or combination of MotionPlus and Microsoft´s natal (see Minority Report). The controls are there. A.I. will be there as well, or can, at least, be presented well enough so that people will think it is “there”. That leaves Interactive Visuals. No matter how expensive your TV is, it is always limited to a flat picture. Current HDTVs aren´t capable of any 3D-output, and though Sony is working on 3DTVs, they´ll have a hard time to catch on, considering how most of userbase just upgraded to “mere” HDTVs. 3DTVs aren´t the future in terms of gaming. I don´t know of any efforts coming from Microsoft, so maybe they have something or have not. But there is another console manufacturer that might work just on what I envision. Here´s a quote from Shigeru Miyamoto, from November 2005:

It’s convenient to make games that are played on TVs. But I always wanted to have a custom-sized screen that wasn’t the typical four-cornered cathode ray tube TV. I always thought that games would eventually break free of the confines of a TV screen to fill an entire room. But I would rather not say anything more about that.

For those saying that maybe Miyamoto just talked out of his ***, in an interview in one of the last issues of German magazine “VideoGames“, he said that in his vision thanks to lower costs of discs (instead of cartridges), they (Nintendo) would be able to include special hardware with games. Guess what we saw happening with Mario Kart Wii, Link´s Crossbow Training or Grand Slam Tennis!

It is also reason I believe Nintendo to give the deciding push towards 3D-gaming, because they´ll follow a different approach in terms of setting the whole thing up. With Sony, they clearly want you to buy a 3DTV. They´re a hifi-entertainment company, selling not only videogame systems, but also TVs and a lot of other stuff. It is in Sony´s interest to bet on these new TVs. Not so Nintendo. Prior to the Wiimote´s unveiling at Tokyo Game Show 2005, there were a lot of rumors about a built-in projector. As in, a projector being within the videogame system. No need for a TV, AT ALL. That would certainly fit in line with Nintendo´s philosophy, as head of Nintendo, Satoru Iwata, told in a recent interview that there won´t be mobile phone-functionality included in a Nintendo handheld as long as it´s not free to use. So what would be more fitting than the independence of the gamer´s personal budget and build a home console where everyone experiences the same? No more “I have more money, I can have a better experience from the same game.” And that´s only speaking of costs and equality.

A 3D-effect works best with a big, a really big picture. When I turned my head while watching and saw the borders of the big cinema-screen, the effect lost a lot of its strong impression. So I believe that it is necessary to have an as big as possible screen. Something certainly not possible for most people. Not even the biggest HDTVs would work for that. But imagine the whole wall of your room being a screen! Whoah! Together with Motion Controls, virtual reality would finally come true. If these controls and the 3D-image were tightly woven one into the other, a real sense of touching virtual object could be the result. Incredible.

(An old picture I created in full hype beforehand Nintendo´s Wiimote-unveiling in 2005)

Now, projectors, even if not that expensive to buy, are expensive to keep running. The bulb of such a projector is expensive. It could work as an overall business, with Nintendo offering new bulbs at a reasonable price point, but there´s an even more advanced, more awesome solution for Shigeru Miyamoto´s vision: 3D-video-glasses, or shorter, visors. These visors were also heavily rumored within the whole “Nintendo Revolution”-turmoil, but they could resurface. Visors would make TVs obsolete as well, yet wouldn´t have running costs for the consumer. The old saying “visors make your eyes hurt” is long overdue, technology made several steps forward since then. Best part, though, is that these visors wouldn´t be exclusive to videogames. It could mark Nintendo´s step into a bigger business, being the one company that pushes that technology, instead of keeping on relying on TVs.

Whatever it is, I believe that 3D will make its way into video gaming. And if Nintendo doesn´t stop to innovate, it´ll be their next big thing as well as gamers´. After having experienced Avatar, it´s all I can hope for.