With the current console generation coming to a close, we look ahead at the next-generation of Playstation 4/Xbox One and discuss how their impressive technology as well other tech can be used to create more immersive games. OnlySP Editor-in-Chief Lachlan Williams and writer Nathan Hughes give their opinions below.
Nathan: With next-gen tech, there’s a lot of potential to improve on some of the lacking features of games we have today. Things like animation and HUD(Heads Up Display) can be improved substantially with next-gen. In Fallout 3, seeing Mayor Lucas Simms “ice skate” towards you with a precarious walking animation did not help create a believable environment. Just like that, the game breaks the realism of the universe with bad animation. Bethesda has a history of bug filled gameplay and poor animation and with next-gen, I feel they can really turn this around.
As I said before, the HUD of games can be improved also. Nothing feels more “gamey” than a HUD. Some games,however, can effectively convey the information you need without forcing you out from the immersion of the game. Dead Space is one of my favourite games because of how thick the atmosphere is as well as how well the game immerses you into the world and never lets up. The game has a fantastic feature where the main character’s health and oxygen level is shown on the back of the character’s suit and the menu is projected in front of the character in real time. All of this is shown without pausing the game or breaking the immersion. Could next-gen help replicate this type of HUD? Absolutely.
Lachlan: I definitely agree that those two features would improve immersion. Better graphics as a whole will be more immersive. Although there are games like Journey, The Walking Dead, and Proteus that stray from the realistic yet manage strong immersion. HUD design is always a difficult thing – how do we separate the game from the player. I think next gen features – especially the Kinect, strangely enough – could improve HUDs.
My most anticipated “next gen” tech that will improve immersion, however, is not on the consoles. I got my hands on the 1080p Oculus Rift earlier this year at PAX and I think it will be the most significant step forward for immersion that we have. There are still problems, and the features are still being developed – like full motion head tracking – but when the Oculus (or another viable VR technology) comes to the market, we’ll see true immersion.
Nathan: I agree with your point about the Oculus Rift(OR). I’ve seen a lot of people play it on YouTube and the reaction is always positive. I’ve watched a video with Half-Life 2 played with OR support and say that they were surprised at the way it made the game more immersive. They actually had reactions to Alyx hugging Gordon Freeman as if she was a real person hugging the player. To me, that speaks volumes in terms of immersion. The players care for the characters more thanks to the OR and the story matters more because the characters feel real, not just in writing but how you actually play the game.
How do you feel about the whole new found interest on “gaming treadmills” that has crept up on Reddit? Many people think that the combination of that and an Oculus Rift is the way to go for 100% immersion?
Lachlan: Oh, I’ve seen those! Not in person, but yeah. Omnidirectional treadmills seem interesting in combination with the Oculus. I think there’s promise there, with force feedback, but I’m not sure it’s currently good enough to be a viable technology. I do like the pairing of the Oculus and the Razer Hydra, though. That seems interesting so far. From my conversation with the Oculus devs at PAX, they’re planning on adding head position tracking to the Oculus, but currently it works well with the Hydra.
Talking of force feedback, there was that new Microsoft(?) thing that used jets of pressurised air to do very specific force feedback functions. Real resistance for the hands. I mean, it’ll be used for porn first, but I think that more interactive and accurate force feedback technologies are very exciting for games.
Still, the extra power of next-gen consoles will be handy to have. It might allow cross-platform developers to finally utilise all of the PC’s power in multi-plat games. Because damn you consoles for hamstringing PC games.
Nathan: I’m excited for next-gen thanks to the current gen. Looking at games like The Last Of Us, Bioshock: Infinite and GTA V that push consoles to the absolute limit, there is a lot of gorgeous visuals produced from this generation’s hardware. Next-gen is just going to be all of this but better. Sure it may take a while to maximise the use of the hardware like the previous consoles but I’m excited to see what next-gen can do with its tech.
One thing I know next-gen will utilise more and more is the use of motion mapping like in Uncharted and The Last Of Us. It’s becoming more popular to use in gaming now more than ever! Watch Dogs is set to use it a step further for clothing. Do you think that next-gen tech can produce quality animation like previous current-gen titles or will there be a shift away from motion-mapping in favour of something new?
Lachlan: I think motion-mapping will be the way most AAA developers go. I know that Battlefield 4 is using actors performing on sets similar to in-game situations. For example, the upturned Jeep scene in the Battlefield 4 trailer was captured from actors in a rig that simulated the closed in confines of the upturned wreck. Facial animation and voice capture followed, using the same actors. I think that will be the way of big budget games. Look at MGS 5 – recasting Snake as Kiefer Sutherland so they could couple mocap with voice capture. Whether smaller developers with smaller budgets will follow depends on cost, I guess. But the technical capabilities of the new consoles – like PhysX for cloth and fluid simulation, as well as destruction – has potential. It already looks great on PC, and with console support too the tech may flourish. Graphics aren’t everything, though. I think experience with consoles and developing – basically devs getting older and more experienced – will be the most important factor in generating quality content.
Nathan: I agree. Graphics aren’t what a make game great but these days, there’s a lot of emphasis on it. It’s hard not to put an importance on graphics as many gamers directly gain interest from the look of a game and it is what sells a game. And at the end of the day, making video games is a business so games tend to look jaw-droppingly astounding thanks to trailers.
Let’s talk about immersion in gaming. My two cents is that the atmosphere makes a game immersive. In case you didn’t know, I absolutely adore Fallout 3. The reason? The atmosphere. I can melt away precious hours playing Fallout 3 without a HUD and just soak in the desolate atmosphere of the game. Some things in the atmosphere are obvious to see (skeleton in the bathtub with a toaster) but some things are hidden away and you must look for it. (Skeleton had its head stuck in the roof of a subway after a failed motorcycle jump.) It’s the atmosphere that makes a game immersive. You step into another world and you’re hooked. You want to uncover more about the game world. Whenever you venture into the Vaults in the game, there is a horrific story to be told. You just have to find it. That is what draws me into a game especially RPGs. Bethesda (although having some buggy animation) know how to create atmosphere.
Lachlan: Oh, I definitely agree about atmosphere. I love S.T.A.L.K.E.R. and Metro, both of which have atmospheres you positively drown in. Miasmata is fantastic. Any game where you feel smothered by the world is fantastic. I think small details go a long way to help that. A discarded can, a torn piece of fabric, an overflowing bin. Small touches that give the game texture. Hopefully next gen power will be able to render more interactive objects on screen at a time. And tessellation is one of my favourite graphical technologies at the moment. Just like I loved parallax mapping when it first became common. Small details that make worlds physical are best.
Nathan: So there you have it. Lachlan and I both agree that the Oculus Rift and an improved HUD/animation mechanic can play a key part in making a game more immersive. As well as this, the use of motion-mapping to help convey character’s emotions can also be utilised fully with next-gen and thus, making the game’s immersion next to none. However, we both agree that while graphics aren’t everything, it is the atmosphere in a game that helps you become invested with the world. Next-gen can do a lot with small details like “discarded can, a torn piece of fabric, an overflowing bin” that help tell a story about the game’s world and we’re certain that the technology to make simple objects like these can be used in ways to help make a game’s immersion and story telling engrossing.
So that’s what some of the writers here at OnlySP think, but what’s your opinion on the matter? Let us know in the comments below, or on the forums, and check back next week for another Discussion Point.