The Stinger Report pointed us to a very interesting article about the future of computers and how we will interact with them via the Immersive Cocoon – think a possible prototype to Star Trek’s Holodeck that uses motion sensors to track your movement and how you interact with the presentation. Of course I feel obliged to point out how arcades have been the incubators of such an idea, first with the cockpit cabinets, then simulator machines and most recently with two games that use dome screens in combination with a mech game for the ultimate mech game simulators (such as the BattleTech Arcade title and Namco’s GUNDAM Pod game); and of course there has been plenty of motion capturing from games that detect your movements (Police Trainer 911 or Para Para Paradise) to entire chambers that do the same thing for a fighter. Obviously the arcade industry has been a part of the frontlines in innovating this technology so we know that eventually these technologies will find their way into other industries as well.
Of course this Cocoon chamber is being aimed at home use at one point in time but naturally costs will probably prohibit such a thing for a long time and I could see arcades using this technology at one point in time (again, once it hits a certain price point – it has to be affordable for operators too). And cost is probably the primary road block when it comes to introducing new technologies to any field, especially to the public. Here are some of my thoughts about other technologies that could be used in arcades, from motion tracking to holograms to ray-tracing:
1. Improved motion tracking – Since arcades have already seen a few games using this technology, it’s only natural that we could see more ideas used with it and we have already – Konami is continuing that trend with games like Action Deka and CastleVania: The Arcade title but of course it can go beyond just improving upon the ‘waggle’ controller concept thanks to move immersive sensors the arcade can use. I really think that the possibilities are endless when it comes to what we could do in arcades. We could see moCap fighters, puzzle games, shooters, maybe even crazy stuff like a Dragonball Z simulator and an adventure game, maybe like an advanced version of old Sierra games but instead of typing in text or or pointing you use motions. Just throwing ideas out there.
2. Holograms – I think that people have been thinking of the gaming applications that we could do with holograms since the idea was first conceived. The ultimate appeal always comes back to Star Trek’s holodeck and while it is going to be a long time before we hit that point, the technology as it exists is starting to reach a level of usability although it is still rather expensive. Still, once it comes down far enough arcades would be the perfect place to introduce the gaming applications of holograms to the public. Of course let’s not forget that Sega already experimented with the idea with their Holosseum game back in 1992. I think that in addition to some simple games that would benefit with holographic technology such as chess which would be a good way to start, medical related games could fit into this as well.
3. Virtual Reality headsets – while this was already tried once in arcades, the technology was too far ahead of it’s time and as such it still needed a lot of work to become fully viable. The headsets were too bulky, the tracking limited, they failed too often and they were way too expensive for most arcades. The graphics of the games were also quite rudimentary by today’s standards to fulfill that expectation of ‘reality’ but today most of those issues could be resolved with vastly improved headsets and graphics. GlobalVR did attempt to bring VR back a few years ago with their Vortek system and I wouldn’t be surprised that it won’t be long before we see it come back again, perhaps combined with motion tracking of the body (which of course would be circumvented by this immersive cocoon thing but it’s always a step in that direction).
4. Mind controlled devices or games – Yes this is serious – this is actually a technology that exists and is not just a fantasy. Look here for more. Atari had worked on a precursor to this technology for the Atari 2600 known as the MindLink. It was never released and wasn’t true mind control but the idea was there early on and now that the technology is coming to fruition I believe that it is something that arcades could capitalize on.
5. Voice interaction/recognition – this is another technology that has been around for a while but has taken it’s time to reach a point where it is viable. It still needs work but as we saw recently with Namco’s AFREC! game, the idea is there for using voice in your games. Naturally arcades present a unique challenge since they are rarely found in a serene environment and the game would need to block out the background noise but once that is overcome I think that a lot of cool ideas in gaming could come to fruition because of it.
6. RayTracing and other ‘different’ graphics techniques– OK, this isn’t a new way to interact with your game but I think that with increasing attention coming back to this interesting way to render graphics (which also isn’t new BTW – older computers from the 80’s could draw one raytraced frame but it could take hours to do it, later some consoles were capable of real-time raytracing, I’ve seen an example of it being done in the game BattleSphere on the Atari Jaguar and I have a raytracing demo on the ill-fated NUON) I think that arcade developers should consider it. Of course to properly do it some specialized hardware is probably necessary but if arcades could begin pulling off games fully rendered with real-time raytracing in high definition then I guarantee that it would cause some heads to turn and help put arcades ahead of the graphics curve once again. There are other techniques out there beyond raytracing such as NURBS (long with examples of models created with NURBS), SMURFS, voxels and many things based on procedural generation.