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Beyond Graphics: Future of Gaming

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BlazingDragon
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Beyond Graphics: Future of Gaming 2013-03-21 04:15:25 Reply

When discussing the console wars, we've all surely been exposed to the viewpoint that gameplay trumps graphics. After all, computer technology can only progress so much before gamescapes look photo realistic, right? And what happens when that visual wall has been reached?

This post isn't written to argue about graphical development at the expense of gameplay, or even about video games as they exist today. However, the aforementioned questions point to the future and bring up a very interesting issue: How does gaming advance in a "post-graphics" era?

While thinking about this question, an idea struck me. What if video games became radically more interactive? Once developers blur the line between fantasy and reality through graphics, perhaps they can do likewise through immersion, or more specifically, speech recognition and artificial intelligence (AI).

Imagine this. You begin playing the latest hit RPG, and a few minutes in, a menacing knight gruffly demands, "Tell me your name, knave!" At this point, you literally speak your character name into the microphone on your headset, and the game memorizes it. No input screen, no menu, and nothing else to add another layer of disconnect from this fantasy world.

Take this idea a step further and imagine literally conversing with NPCs through that same mic. They will actually give intelligent responses to what you say, and they will do so through the lens of distinct personalities. Every conversation will be unique depending on the player, and NPCs will seemingly come to life. Your character will cease to be a mere avatar; rather, your character will be you. Games will be worlds with truly interesting people and stories that you can speak with and not just sets of goals and achievements. The more you talk to NPCs and ask questions, the more perspective you gain on the game's universe and mythos.

These ideas may seem like impossibilities now, but the foundational technology already exists. Programs like Dragon Naturally Speaking can accurately dictate what you are saying, and smart phones can conduct Google searches via microphone input. Software such as Siri, albeit in its infancy, can interpret basic phrases and give intelligible responses with what some people call an apparent degree of 'personality.' Amazingly, these are free or inexpensive pieces of software. Surely more advanced projects are being developed in a research and development department somewhere. Fast forward fifteen to twenty years from now and the above ideas about gaming do not seem so 'holodeck.' (Though they could be significant intermediate steps to holodeck type technology. ;) That will be the day...)

Questions for discussion:

-How do you think gaming will advance when graphics can't get any more realistic?
-Would you want to play games with NPCs that you literally converse with, or would that take too much effort? Do you think gaming will advance this way in the foreseeable future?

Cheers!

sharpnova
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Response to Beyond Graphics: Future of Gaming 2013-03-21 05:00:11 Reply

I'm glad I'm not the only one thinking along these lines.

I realized a few years ago that graphics weren't what I wanted improved in games. It was the AI.

I think it won't be long before we can have NN-driven artificial intelligences with pretty hefty knowledge bases and image processing + speech recognition advances that will add a layer of immersion to games that people will not understand at first and then come to take for granted.

It will be like things like.. per-pixel lighting which was simply mind blowing and changed the whole landscape. And real-time ray tracing which is in the immediate future and is going to start making game graphics look a whole lot more like cinematics in terms of quality.

I spend a lot of time thinking about proper ways to implement true artificial intelligence into game worlds and I generally come to the conclusion that though people may not be able to appreciate the impact initially, it will eventually become something they take for granted. Something that will cause such a huge shift in the way games are experienced and played that it will be like anything before it was bland, static, and pointless.

Imagine being able to develop real relationships with NPC's. Getting to predict their responses the way you predict a human's responses. Getting attached to or forming revulsion against an NPC because of subtleties to their behavior that are based not only on hard scripted dialogue but the actual dynamics of how they respond to the world and yourself.

AI is inherently parallel (neural networks operate with lots of simultaneity) and therefore lend themselves well to GPU-style computation. By my estimates, something with roughly 8 times the computational force of a GTX Titan will be able to simulate a neural network that can draw on a knowledge base + vision processing + audio processing in a manner sufficient to make a difference to player's instinctive perception of the NPC.

I'm not talking about human-level intelligence. But enough dynamics that things change in a way that people will no longer feel like they're talking to a text file read by a voice actor. But by some kind of simulacrum of smart behavior.


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Cyberdevil
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Response to Beyond Graphics: Future of Gaming 2013-03-21 05:08:07 Reply

It's not all graphics, like this one, a game completely without visuals. Maybe that's the next step? ;)

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But yeah, side-stepping that sidestep in point, that sounds awesome. I've been thinking for a long time how voice acting is a developed art for animated series, but not at all for real movies. Completely irrelevant. The idea of being able to speak directly into the game, with the ingame characters rather than other people in multiplayer mode sounds intriguing, though at the same time it feels like it adds a layer of complexity to the plot. Speaking with NPCs is ultimately done with some goal in mind, and currently, your options and goals are clearly stated. In a conversation, would the character be led the right way or would the conversation act more like a barricade against getting what you want? The same way I don't like online multiplayer worlds, I think AI might further complicate the gaming experience unnecessarily.

Looking at graphics, over the past couple of decades there have always been points when people think the gaming experience is surreal, that it won't possibly get better, that it's just too good. I think we're reaching a point in trying to achieve realism when game developers will realize that realism isn't really what the gamers want, they want an otherworldly experience, and then they'll start moving back towards innovation in graphics rather than imitation of the real world. I think games like Doom or Unreal provide a more wholesome experience than games like COD, where everything looks as it does IRL. There are plenty of 8-bit style games still being developed, where gameplay precedes graphics. Regardless of games looking real or not, other elements will always decide what's fun to play or not. It's more about usability than visuality... is what I think.

GrizzlyOne
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Response to Beyond Graphics: Future of Gaming 2013-03-21 05:25:01 Reply

if that's so then why do people praise hl2 so much? the main reason people praised it and still praise today was for it's graphics.

also, I agree with you that gameplay is better than graphics killing floor >>>>>> left 4 dead 2


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Ragnarokia
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Response to Beyond Graphics: Future of Gaming 2013-03-21 11:04:45 Reply

You want a game where you can see what you are doing and can make out what everything is to understand and control the game. That is what graphics are for.

Seriously some people are so ignorant when it comes to basics...


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TheMaster
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Response to Beyond Graphics: Future of Gaming 2013-03-21 12:15:04 Reply

Voice acting limits the potential of conversations of the type you're imagining. It doesn't matter how good the speech recognition is if you're still only able to pull responses from a prerecorded pool.

That limits you to either speaking to someone responding in text, or having a chat with Microsoft Sam.

Shit, voice acting even limits conversations when you're only having characters respond to dialogue options provided for the player. Look at conversations in modern Bioware or Bethesda games and compare them to any given non-voiced RPG. They're infinitely more limited, and it's a real issue. You have to decide what gives better immersion, fully voiced characters with less choice offered to the player, or more freedom to the expense of having to deal with walls of text.

What we're more likely to see as hardware advances without any serious graphical upgrades is just bigger games. Bigger levels, more stuff happening at once, better physics. Stuff like that.


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BlazingDragon
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Response to Beyond Graphics: Future of Gaming 2013-03-21 15:51:44 Reply

At 3/21/13 12:15 PM, TheMaster wrote: Voice acting limits the potential of conversations of the type you're imagining. It doesn't matter how good the speech recognition is if you're still only able to pull responses from a prerecorded pool.

This is a valid point. It would seem that for such conversations to work, AI would need to be advanced enough to synthesize natural sounding dialogue, and from what I understand, nothing close to that has been developed. But again, I'm thinking in terms of decades from now.

According to Moore's Law, the number of transistors on integrated circuits doubles every two years, and while not sustainable forever, that trend has more or less held true for the last several decades. Computer processing is improving on a near exponential curve, and the software and hardware of today would seem like magic to someone from fifty years ago.

The main point here is that technology development is happening on a curve, and I personally will not be surprised if the kind of conversations mentioned above become possible a few decades from now. That may just be baseless musing on my part admittedly. I'm a composer and not a scientist. Still though, it's cool stuff to think about!

What we're more likely to see as hardware advances without any serious graphical upgrades is just bigger games. Bigger levels, more stuff happening at once, better physics. Stuff like that.

I think we'll definitely see this as hardware advances. Heck, we do see it with each new console generation. But we also see a lot of interesting innovation (motion controls like the wiimote, motion detection like the kinect, tablet controllers, etc). Even within the genre design we are seeing changes. Just check out articles on Bungie's upcoming game, Destiny.

Bigger, stronger, and faster is a definite, but I think some developers will also need to incorporate innovation to stay viable. I'm interested in seeing what such innovations will be.

At 3/21/13 05:08 AM, Cyberdevil wrote: Speaking with NPCs is ultimately done with some goal in mind, and currently, your options and goals are clearly stated. In a conversation, would the character be led the right way or would the conversation act more like a barricade against getting what you want? The same way I don't like online multiplayer worlds, I think AI might further complicate the gaming experience unnecessarily.

While it's possible that things could become more complicated, I believe the pros of such a conversation system heavily outweigh the cons. There could always be goal/hint systems within the game, much like in Zelda: Skyward Sword and many other titles. In an RPG for example, you could optionally pull up a prompt that would remind you of the latest objective, such as, "Ask the blacksmith what materials you'll need to craft that dragon slaying sword." I think game developers would find ways to keep a conversation system from getting too out of hand.

I think we're reaching a point in trying to achieve realism when game developers will realize that realism isn't really what the gamers want, they want an otherworldly experience, and then they'll start moving back towards innovation in graphics rather than imitation of the real world.

Wouldn't a blend of realism and fantasy be interesting? A game could be otherworldly through its beautiful landscapes that are far more colorful and painterly than real life. At the same time, the game could be realistic in the way that players interact with AI and NPCs. This way, players feel like they are really connected to that otherworldly experience. Developers could imitate the real world in the humanity of games and yet totally defy the physics and look or real life.

At 3/21/13 05:00 AM, sharpnova wrote: I'm glad I'm not the only one thinking along these lines. . . . Something that will cause such a huge shift in the way games are experienced and played that it will be like anything before it was bland, static, and pointless.

Awesome response that takes what I was thinking to a further level. I knew next to nothing about real-time ray tracing, per-pixel lighting, or NN before your post, but I'm really excited about the possibilities after looking those up. Thanks for the great input!

Cyberdevil
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Response to Beyond Graphics: Future of Gaming 2013-03-21 16:19:10 Reply

At 3/21/13 03:51 PM, BlazingDragon wrote: Wouldn't a blend of realism and fantasy be interesting? A game could be otherworldly through its beautiful landscapes that are far more colorful and painterly than real life. At the same time, the game could be realistic in the way that players interact with AI and NPCs. This way, players feel like they are really connected to that otherworldly experience. Developers could imitate the real world in the humanity of games and yet totally defy the physics and look or real life.

Yeah, that would definitely be awesome. Maybe the next step is more of a shift in the limitations of each genre rather than an evolution of ingame sensual perception. All the things that characterize realism in a FPS moved over to an RPG would be awesome. Something as simple as realism with a dragon in it. Intriguing...

Btw, there are ways to store and generate smells now. Imagine if that was integrated into the gaming experience as well, it would be quite a new experience. The smell of blood on the battlefield, the smell of gunpowder, the smell of freshly cut grass when you rake it away with a broadsword. The smell of food when you replenish your health. Hmm...

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Response to Beyond Graphics: Future of Gaming 2013-03-21 16:33:22 Reply

At 3/21/13 04:19 PM, Cyberdevil wrote: Maybe the next step is more of a shift in the limitations of each genre rather than an evolution of ingame sensual perception.

This seems to be the case with Bungie's upcoming game, Destiny. It's a shooter but almost seem to play out like a cooperative MMOFPS from what little I know.

Something as simple as realism with a dragon in it. Intriguing...

This tech demo demonstrates just that. Realistic graphics in a fantasy setting (magic, dragons, and all).

Btw, there are ways to store and generate smells now.

That would be pretty exciting, actually. I'd love to experience a game like that.

Cyberdevil
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Response to Beyond Graphics: Future of Gaming 2013-03-21 16:43:59 Reply

At 3/21/13 04:33 PM, BlazingDragon wrote: This tech demo demonstrates just that. Realistic graphics in a fantasy setting (magic, dragons, and all).

I wouldn't really consider that realism, looking at the structure of buildings; world as a whole, but it does look awesome. They definitely have a different approach of view than the genre-typical.

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Response to Beyond Graphics: Future of Gaming 2013-03-22 02:51:04 Reply

Even once graphics hit a peak there will still be production values to improve upon. I have no doubt that graphics in games will hit their maximum a good while before intelligence has. Notice our graphics now are pretty amazing, but in half of all new games the enemies are dumber than shit.


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