Evolving technologies and technical advancements provide developers with tools that can be used to experiment with new concepts. Among other ideas, groups of developers are aiming at bringing their games to new realities with the use of innovative controllers, the introduction of virtual reality, and by developing titles that make use of real, rather than virtual, human interactions in order to tell a story. But besides being an interesting innovation, these products often run into problems and tend to remain niche items rather than becoming popular. Transforming gaming from a static activity, traditionally performed on a couch or chair, to one that fully exploits the environments surrounding the gamer is what this year’s Game Happens was all about.
A day-long convention held in Genova, Italy, Game Happens saw multiple speakers, both from the gaming industry and from various universities around the world, discussing how gaming is evolving to include not only the player’s hands and eyes but also their full body, as more games, especially for mobile devices, ask players to perform certain moves, run around, interact with the environment they are surrounded by, or simply stand up and use their muscles in order to progress.
Wearables and gadgets play a fundamental role in the evolution of gaming
“Wearables have become sophisticated machines that can now be actively considered while developing games,” said Adrian Hon, CEO and Founder at Six to Start, the company behind Zombies! Run. “A standard mobile phone can not only detect its owner’s position, but also give back information about the speed and direction they are moving to, turning into a valuable device to be used while training.” Adding game mechanics to everyday activities such as working out or travelling could improve people’s quality of life and push some to conduct a more active lifestyle. Technology has done a lot to provide developers with functional wearables, but games that rely on concepts such as GPS to track positions have their limits. “It would be great if we could create a game that dynamically reacts to the environment a player is in or that changes according to the items that surround the players in real life, but technology isn’t quite there yet. Perhaps in the future that will be possible,” said Hon, when asked how he thinks these games will evolve.
The talks at Game Happens also focused on how players react to the environment they are playing in and how they interact with their teammates. “It is important for all gamers to reconnect with the environment, to reclaim those spaces we used to express our imagination when we were kids and social conventions allowed us to do so. If we were still young we wouldn’t have problems lying on the curb and drawing our dreams in chalk and this is the way adults should think about games,” said and ecstatic Lena Mech, one of the minds behind the Copenhagen Games Collective and one of the creators of Magnetize Me. Based on the concept of well known board games like Twister, Magnetize Me uses PS Move controllers and magnets to create a frantic dancing game. Players wear their controller, which lights up in different colors and have to match the colors by touching their teammate’s controller. This transforms the whole room in a dynamic level where obstacles, players’ agility and the crowd act together, resulting in an experience that no traditional video game could offer. Interaction also becomes important in titles like “We will Meet Again. A two-players puzzle game developed by We Are Muesli, We will Meet again provides players with riddles that can’t be solved without constantly speaking to each other. Playing on two computers placed one in front of the other, one player will receive audio hints while the other will only see a series of pictures. Players then have to compare their hints and exchange ideas in order to complete each level and get to the ending. The title highly empathizes co-operation and communication, highlighting how games can move from the standards and embrace innovative ideas that allow social skills to be built.
Gaming is a powerful ally for researchers
Gaming doesn’t only provide entertainment, but is also a solid way to expand our horizons, and this is what Michelle Westerlaken brought to the table at GameHappens. Studying Interaction Design at Malmö University, Michelle focuses on creating games, such as Felino, that allow humans to interact with their pets and to study their behaviors. “It is important, when designing a game for animals, to keep in mind that they react differently from humans. Each interaction has to be spontaneous on the pet side and we have to remember that processes like quality control and feedback analysis won’t yield the same results they would for a traditional game”, said Michelle. “Nevertheless, this could open up new ways to interact with our animals and facilitate the study of their relationships with humans”. Creating new gadgets specifically designed for pets allows researchers to interact with the subject of their studies in specific ways, improving the quality of their work. Other emerging technologies play an important role in the evolution of gaming: gadgets such as the Oculus Rift and mind controllers such as the NeuroSky provide developers with new platforms to test their abilities and to develop games that can be accessible to those who have difficulties using traditional controllers.
Technology isn’t quite there yet
While the ideas and concepts behind these projects are often solid and gaming could easily branch out, there usually are invisible barriers that prevent this evolution from actually happening. Talking to some of the developers behind the games that were presented at GameHappens, it is clear that while having leaped forward in the past five years, the technology required for these projects to become reality just isn’t available yet. Expensive development both in terms of money and time and the lack of compatibility with standard platforms, which requires extensive work to be performed in order for these devices to be properly functional, result in a tedious development process which is ultimately unprofitable for both developers and publishers. While the future might hold surprises in the field of interactive gaming and virtual reality, for now these titles are destined to remain travelling works of art, perfect for a convention but with no value on the global market. Further research and the work of passionate developers could turn the tides of this particular battle and allow for this type of games to be easily accessible to players, but that won’t happen in the close future.