Gaming, in Ten Years Time

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By Charles Wesley Weichselbaum

John F. Kennedy famously said that “change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future.” And while yes, change is inevitable – can its precursor really not be seen by looking at the trends of yesteryear, and today? For the video game industry, the answer is a resounding no. Because some games available at this very moment can paint a vivid picture the games we’ll play in ten years’ time – games that will seamlessly blur the lines between multiplayer and singleplayer experiences, and consequently, the players and AI that inhabit them.

Between 2007 and 2009, ThatGameCompany released two titles for the PlayStation Network, begging the question why their third would require a three year stint. But their unique development philosophy and the end result of this third endeavor would explain the additional 365+ days. “ThatGameCompany designs and develops artistically crafted, broadly accessible video games that push the boundaries of interactive entertainment,” affirms TGC’s mission clause. “We respect our players and want to contribute meaningful, enriching experiences that touch and inspire them. We seek talent that values integrity and personal growth within an environment of intense collaboration and experimentation.” And it was this very desire for experimentation that led to their first multiplayer game: Journey.

But Journey disregards the popular formula of having two separate game components: singleplayer and multiplayer. Instead, Journey blurred the lines that are too often drawn on the menu screen of our games, allowing for random encounters with other players whilst exploring its vast environs. And without load times, or even the ID of the player at your side, it offers a seamless experience, wrapped in a layer of anonymity. But Journey was an evolution of games from the past, games that excelled in the amalgamation of singleplayer and multiplayer already – games like Demon’s Souls.

“Demon’s Souls is one for the history books,” writes Chris Carter of Gamer Limit. “It simply improves the recently stale action genre, and is way ahead of its time with its vision of online play.” GameZone claimed the online integration was “innovative” and “perfectly blended into the game” while Game Revolution felt the game “turns a solitary experience into a surprisingly communal one.” These sentiments were shared by eastern critics following its release exclusively for Japan in early 2009, causing Demon’s Souls to become one of the most imported PS3 games of all time.

Much like its conceptual successor-apparent Journey, Demon’s Souls offered a multiplayer within the confines of the singleplayer experience. Now, Demon’s Souls didn’t provide the seamless transition between the two like Journey did, but what it lacked in that singleplayer to multiplayer metamorphosis, it more than made up for in sheer gameplay ingenuity. For example:

• Messages – Demon’s Souls allowed players to place short, pre-programmed prompts throughout the world, perhaps warning others of imminent danger ahead – or for much more sinister reasons.

• Bloodstains – Players might occasionally encounter bloodstains on the ground. These show a replay (in the form of an apparition) of how a player recently died in that area.

• PvP – Players can invade another’s world in an attempt to hunt them down and kill them for bonuses.

Multiplayer integration found in games like Journey and Demon’s Souls is redefining the very foundation of what online interactivity means for gamers. But why will it take ten years for the industry in its entirety to adopt this synthesized approach? Because it will take ten years to develop player-equivalent artificial intelligence. And if multiplayer and singleplayer are to become one in the same, so too must AI and player behavior.

Take 2011’s Brink, for example – another unique take on multiplayer in that one can play through the entire storyline either offline, in a traditional singleplayer style, or online, as either a co-op game or competitive match. And it was in this seldom found niche of variety amongst games that Brink called home. But standing alone is a dangerous play in this industry, and while it may garner immeasurable excitement at first, it can just as soon wane.A quick google search regarding Brink’s AI will net 4,670,000 results – most of which are far from positive. “For reasons I can’t fathom, the AI in this game is horrendously bad,” claims SenatorSmash of the GameFAQs forums. And on a Neoseeker thread, TheBrapman raises a valid point: “for a game that’s implemented around teamwork, when playing solo – the AI just make things much harder than they actually need to be. They always run headfirst into fire, never prioritize giving you a revive needle over shooting an enemy (which ultimately leads to death), [and] very rarely make any attempt at completing a main objective.” Before Brink launched, it was lauded for its integrated approach to singleplayer and multiplayer. But upon release, many critics and consumers alike deemed it to be a disappointment – and horrendous AI was at the epicenter of their criticism. Fortunately, there are those developing games today with the goal of making human and AI interaction virtually indistinguishable.

“Science fiction writers, filmmakers – they haven’t imagined what we’re able to do today,” declared Peter Molyneux of Microsoft’s Lionhead Studios. “We’ve been experimenting with something here. I’d like you to meet a boy called Milo. He’s a character that can recognize us, he can recognize our faces, he can recognize our voices, he can recognize emotions in us.” This was from a short video that Molyneux debuted at Microsoft’s E3 press conference in 2009 to a crowd stricken with disbelief, but words pale in comparison to the demonstration that followed. A woman approaches a Project Natal equipped television, displaying a boy atop a swing set. “Hiya Milo, how are you doing?” she asks. “Hi Clair, you ok?” Milo retorts as he jumps from the swing set and approaches Clair. “Actually, I’m a bit nervous.” “You? Nervous? I don’t believe it” “This is the first time that thousands of people are going to see this!” “…Thousands of people?” Peter Molyneux interjects, “Here we’re seeing Clair being recognized, and the emotion in Claire’s voice being recognized, and that emotion reflecting in Milo’s face.”

A lot’s happened since 2009 – Project Natal released in all major markets as Kinect, Project Milo was shelved, possibly even cancelled, and Peter Molyneux left his post at Microsoft’s Lionhead Studios to establish a new development house, 22 Cans. And while Molyneux’s future endeavors might appear to be unknown at the moment, a simple equation illuminates inevitability:Player to AI

AI interaction equates to human – human interaction
+
Multiplayer and Singleplayer are a single entity
=
The Future

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