Exploring the tech behind the games industry.

For over 30 years now, gamers – and others – have been defining eras by the games that they generated. From the very early, monochrome, days of Pong (1972), to the first 3D games in the early eighties and the primitive first-person shooters ten years later, it is frequently possible to guess the age of a gamer simply from the name of the game they hold most dear. Perhaps more than any other industry, video games reflect the huge impact and exponential growth of technology in the modern age.

However, gaming has not simply been shaped by technological change: rather, it has often prompted that change. Driven by the constant demand from gamers for bigger, better, more realistic and immersive experiences, time and again the games industry has heard the call and met or exceeded expectations – and it continues to do so.

So what technological advances are driving the games industry today? Read on, and find out.

Immersive

The key demand from modern gamers is for immersive gaming experience. An immersive game is one that generates credible experiences, i.e. experiences and contexts that a player can empathize with and become psychologically involved in. Therefore an immersive game need not have an entirely realistic setting, but it absolutely must allow the player to become enmeshed in that setting, in much the same way that great works of literature and drama cause the audience members to suspend their disbelief and become involved in the story unfolding before them.

Technology has allowed games to become increasingly immersive, through a range of elements, and is continuing to do so.

Graphics

The application of credible and realistic graphics is one of the key means by which game designers create immersive experiences. Over the past 30 years the video game has come a very long way from the basic 2D graphics of Pong. However, in the last few years in particular, the huge advances made in technology have been reflected in exponential improvements in graphics, to the point that many animated games are now almost videographic in quality.

Probably the most important technological contribution to this achievement has been motion capture. Broadly speaking, motion capture is a video process that tracks the movements of real actors in order to replicate those movements within the game. This makes for highly credible and immersive impressions of human action.

Motion capture is not new, and until recently, was almost exclusively carried out by placing high-tech markers on human actors and tracking those markers as the actors moved. This, and the other equipment required, often made it an expensive process. However, technology has now moved on to the extent that open stage animation software is available, that simplifies the process for animators and has rendered it much more affordable. As a result, many more animated games can, and will, benefit from the application of motion capture in play.

Virtual reality

Another key means of creating immersive experiences, that looks set to dominate the gaming world in coming years, is virtual reality (VR), and in particular the use of wearable technology to create VR experiences. The Oculus Rift, a groundbreaking VR headset, is due for commercial release in late 2014/early 2015, and is widely expected to change the face of gaming.

The value of VR in creating immersive games is clear, but until recently technology was unable to combat the problems caused by lag when players moved or acted. Very often, the time that elapsed between a player’s action in real time, and those actions being replicated in game, led to confusion, frustration and even physical symptoms such as nausea and dizziness in players who tried out prototype VR headsets. The team behind the Oculus Rift, however, seem to have pushed that technology forward and produced a headset that replicates real-time action within the game setting so quickly, that the player experiences the two virtually simultaneously. No wonder so many gamers are waiting eagerly for the Rift’s release.

Looking forward

This is, of course, far from an exhaustive list of current technological advances in the games industry. Cloud gaming, cross-play and smart glass are all on the horizon, and likely to be coming to a games console near everybody, pretty soon.

From all of this, one clear pattern emerges, and that is of the video games industry being in the forefront of those who see the benefits of, develop and respond to, the possibilities of modern technology. The world of video games already seems light years away from the world of Pong and even from the early 3D games – who knows where the next three decades will take it?

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