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Thursday
Dec042008

Game Parlor of the Future (1982)


This two-page spread from a 1982 issue of Electronic Games magazine is pretty spot on with many of its predictions. However, being "chained to the family TV set" isn't such a big deal when Little Johnny Future now plays on a 72-inch monster TV. Thanks to Paul H. for sending this article my way.

The world of electronic gaming moves fast. The manufacturers regard any year that does not boast at least five major technological breakthroughs as a fallow twelve months. This time-lapse perspective makes foreseeing the future a particularly chancy business - predicting events weeks ahead can be perilous, crystal-balling the hobby as it will exist in the next century is like walking, unarmed into a dragon's lair. You might sneak out with the treasure, after all, but chances are you'll be incinerated.

 

Keeping all this firmly in mind, the fact is that the calendar on the wall reads "1982." We sit a little more than a year away from the day when George Orwell envisioned gigantic TV monitors in every home and on every street corner. Big Brother, he feared, would be watching us very closely.

Actually, Orwell's vision was somewhat clouded. What he though were images of fascistic governmental overlords were, in fact, great big videogames! Those big-screen TV's arrived ahead of schedule, you see, so instead of using them to supress [sic] freedom, people decided to play games on them.

Still, even 1984 is a good distance from 2001. Yet in researching the future of electronic gaming, certain fascinating bits of information and conjecture keep turning up again and again. Sitting down to put the puzzle together, at least a small portion of the future became clear. The smoke in the crystal ball began to dissipate and here's what we saw:

Obviously computers will play a major role in the arcader's future. Some of them will be so specialized that they will realistically draw the player right into the contest. The computers will provide total sensory output: audio, visual, olfactory (smell), and tactile (touch). Systems can already be manipulated by voice commands, and even some home videogames are chatting happily back at us as well. Interactive fiction should continue to do well, as will role-playing games that involve the arcader in ever more personal ways (such as Prisoner and Network). Players will be able to assume the role of a detective, questioning the suspects in a murder case with full audio/visual accompaniment.

Graphics are the fastest growing area of game design in less than a decade. Technology has jumped from Pong to Zaxxon, with Atari and other coin-op companies reportedly testing three-dimensional games in Europe.

Look for arcades to be constructed along the lines of big-budget science fiction movie sets, with special effects a major attraction of the games. For example, there might be chairs that rock back and forth, swing from side to side or swivel a full 360 degrees.

"Gaming and interacting with machines is an appetite the public has only recently discovered," points out Tom Lopez of Activision. "With our fast-progressing technology, one constantly updating and improving upon itself, the boundaries that confine most games will become limitless. The computer will soon become a daily tool used by everyone. As microprocessors and transistors become more refined and are, in turn, mass-produced, prices will drop. Computers continue to offer more capacity for less money. It will be cheaper - and more stimulating - to play computer games than to pay to be entertained at clubs or concerts, or in packed sports arenas."

Since arcade games have the distinction of being designed for the purpose of executing one, specific program, they should be able to maintain an edge over home computers. The pay-for-play devices also utilize special monitors, that incorporate groundbreaking scanning technology, while home games remain chained to the family TV set.

The arcade games of the next century may not only be activated by voice command, but conceivably even by thought - at least in a sense. Something akin to galvanic skin-monitoring devices attached to the gamer's arm, perhaps in the form of a bracelet, could measure emotional response and even act as a triggering device.

In terms of futuristic audio, tomorrow's coin-ops - that is, if there still are such prehistoric items as coins still in use - will have miniature synthesizers to produce more highly defined sounds. There might even be devices to release pertinent smells at appropriate moments - the smell of gunfire for example. Such a machine could even blast the gamer with sound via headphones. Think about that for a second. Can you imagine the ambiance of a silent arcade? Now that would take some getting used to.

Visually, an expanded screen could project pictures all around the player. Special effect would be attained, with shutter lenses that use a liquid crystal diffusion process, in which a cathode ray delivers one picture after another in synchronized fashion, so fast and so frequently that it generates a convincing illusion of movement.

Picture this scenario: You are absorbed in a game of the future, seated within a totally enclosed environment. Images of shattering explosions, comets and asteroids whirl by as your seat shudders from the concussion. An asteroid passes so close you could almost etch your initials in its craggy surface. Over your headphones, meanwhile, your squad leader is passing on commands from headquarters. You have only split seconds to react, the results of an intergalactic battle hangs in the balance.

"When the games become transparent to the viewer, it will be so realistic, you'll feel you were there. Then the form of the game itself will disappear - as if it melted - and you will forget you're playing a game," predicts Lopez.

"We're rapidly reaching the point," concedes one computer expert, "where technology is outstripping our ability to use it." The ability of the computers man has constructed begin to awe us with their blinding growth. The ultimate solution to this problem may be the development of team-designing as a way of life in the arcade industry of tomorrow.

In the early days of videogames, a single individual created each program from conception to execution - everything but painting the title on the cabinet in some cases. As the sophistication of the industry grows, companies like Midway are setting up design teams, composed of people who specialize in each area of game invention. Some 16 creative artists and programmers combined talents to produce the marvelous Tron coin-op, with graphic concepts, audio effects and cabinet design handled by separate individuals under the supervision of a single manager.

George Gomez, head of the Midway in-house research and development group agrees that teamwork is the key to future game design. "It's too hard to find any one, or any two or three people with sufficient expertise in all the areas necessary to create a modern arcade game. We feel that areas such as cabinet and joystick design are vital elements in a game's success or failure."

Whether or not we'll see these innovations in the next century, the next decade or, perhaps, never, depends on the direction in which this wildly unpredictable business moves in the time ahead. But one thing does seem certain - electronic gaming will never die.

"People need sensory interface," as Tom Lopez puts it, "and electronic gaming gives that to people. More to the point, it's fun! Gaming is entertainment and it's here to stay!"

Even in the year 2001.


Read more:
Future Arcade Games (1985)
Connections: AT&T's Vision of the Future (Part 3, 1993)
Computer Games of the Future (1981)
Virtual Reality (1980s-today)
Home Entertainment of the Future (1981)

 

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Reader Comments (5)

The writer misunderstood the purpose of LCD shutter glasses, which was to create stereoscopic images from a single CRT by toggling between left- and right-eye views. Also, he apparently had no inkling that home computers or video game systems would be able to communicate with one another over a network, making multiplayer gaming ubiquitous.

December 4, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterAaron T.

And now, over 20 years later, arcades are dead as well. Turns out, "home computers" were the way to go after all.

December 15, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterrobotriot

The claims that some people are experimenting with 3D graphics and that there will be miniature synthesizers in games, well, um, they had a gift for understating things. The projected images / CAVE thing sounds doable, but I'm not sure if it will take hold. Thought input and smell output are pretty much pipe dreams (theoretically doable but nobody bloody wants them), but others are in. No voice commands - but voice chat exists.

While RPGs are thriving, interactive fiction (text adventures) are dead as a commercial game medium. Actually, the whole traditional adventure game genre is shrinking fast, fast, fast to complete oblivion (or the limbo of the lost =) because people just can't take the moon logic any more. There's just some popular bright falling stars every now and then, like the Phoenix Wright series. ...oh wait, they were right about detective mysteries. Never mind.

The graphics predictions and the production team predictions are interesting - especially in that game production costs have skyrocketed and they can rival the Hollywood budgets (and already surpass the profits!)

Arcades are dead though, and the special gimmicks are more of the sort that you can afford to buy for home use (weird controllers, etc). The comment that the arcade machines were designed for one game was actually rubbish, too - not soon after, generic system board pinouts and generic cabinet wiring standards arrived, making arcade cabinets effectively oversized game consoles. The only reason they had edge over consoles was that they had better hardware, at least until, say, mid-1990s.

It's very interesting that they say the technology will be too complex for us to utilise. To me, it's starting to get to that point now; I'm quietly starting to wonder what the heck else they're going to invent for the next generation of consoles when the current offerings are already pretty damn sweet as is.

I'm a bit surprised that they don't speak too much of game genres here.

January 3, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterwwwwolf

Actually Tom Clancy's End War, which came out last November, uses a voice command system to control combat units.

January 12, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAnonymous

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