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The future of gaming

Microsoft, Nintendo and Sony are already gearing up for the next generation of consoles. The next stage of gaming hardware is well into development. We don’t know much yet – well, that’s an understatement – we know only the smallest details.

The PlayStation 2’s successor will presumably be called PlayStation 3. Sony are working with IBM and Tosiba to construct the processor for the machine which is something called the ‘cell’. Nintendo have only confirmed that they will make another console. No other information has been released. Microsoft’s next console will be (as reports have recently confirmed) the Xbox Next. It is the only console which has had specifications released, although these are merely for guidance, not fact. Rumours mentioned a processor speed of around 3 GHz and about 512MB RAM or higher.

It is highly likely that Sony and Nintendo will follow Microsoft and have hard drives and network adapters built into their consoles. It is almost certain that all of these next-gen consoles will be online-compatible from launch. Hopefully, Sony and Nintendo will also follow Microsoft and have an integrated, centrally managed online network similar to Xbox LIVE. All three are likely to use Blue Ray discs which can hold up to 27GB on a single DVD-sized disc. As far as release dates go, PS3 is set for 2005, Xbox Next will pre-empt that, while Nintendo has not commented on the matter.

I think the next line of hardware will be designed in the same way as we’ve seen before. Microsoft will stick with a similar design to the Xbox, probably slightly smaller than the current version. GameCube’s successor will presumably be something compact and funky but please don’t mess up the format this time! Sony will probably be something stylish, maybe a bit on the wacky side. I think we’re going to see design take a higher priority this time around. We see consoles become like Apple’s computers, very modern and elegant with smooth lines, but hopefully not as expensive!

Recently, a couple of games, a few peripherals have given us a glimpse of what’s to come, what the future holds for gaming. The Getaway showed us a whole section of a city re-created. Xbox LIVE proved that an integrated broadband gaming network would be successful. Nintendo’s Wavebird controller, while cumbersome, demonstrated the potential of wireless technology.

Let’s step a bit further into the future. It’s not hard to envisage playing games online, via your fibre-optic 8.5Gbps connection, in realistic worlds or cities on a console where the only wire leads to the power socket in the wall. You’ll be able to talk to other gamers using a headset (like Xbox LIVE) and clan matches could be organised with a simple conference call to your teammates. Maybe games technology will be integrated with other wireless products. How about getting a message to your mobile phone telling you that DarkMaster has challenged you to a game of Halo 5.

Other technology may also creep into the games industry. Virtual Reality could appear somewhere but its reputation for being cumbersome and costly may keep it from being widely used. Consoles might also have some sort of TV recording ability, as industry rumours and predictions have indicated.

But what about the games? What will we be playing in 2008 or 2017? Well, history shows us that as technology advances new gameplay experiences have become possible. Maybe the Virtual Cinematography, (used in The Matrix: Reloaded and The Matrix: Revolutions) which allows computers to create photo-realistic objects will be used to create games with ground-breaking graphics. A quick bit of background info: in The Matrix sequels, Virtual Cinematography is being used to create effects such as 100 Agent Smiths in one shot where you won’t know which one is the real actor; it’s also being used because it is very hard to copy this technique (they were fed up with people stealing The Matrix’s camera techniques).

I suspect that some developers and publishers will stay with what they’re good at or what they’re used to. Tony Hawk has been signed by Activision for the next 14 years or so. Yes, Tony Hawk’s 17 is probable. You never know, though, games companies might change. EA could put blood and gore in their games and 3DO (Army Men and the seven spin-offs) might just make a decent game.

In the future there are going to be some games that we’d never thought were possible to make. Hardware will be more and more advanced, integrated with other devices and with the Internet. The possibilities for the games industry look endless and as far as graphics goes, the sky’s the limit.

The author of this fine article

is the Editor at Thunderbolt, having joined in November 2000. Get in touch on Twitter @PhilipMorton.

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