I’m a huge fanboy of video games. I play them and I think a lot about them. In fact I’m always thinking about games from the past. I’m always thinking about games in the present. And I’m especially thinking about what gaming will be like 20, 30, or 50 years from now.
I speculate that, ultimately, video game creation will reach the peak of its craft before the end of my lifetime. Let me elaborate. Games nowadays for example have reached a point of graphical fidelity that is getting very close to photo realism. We are probably a couple of console generations from reaching complete photo realism on a TV screen. Sure we can keep adding more detail, more resolution, more frames per second, but ultimately we are limited by our own eyesight, what our eyes are capable of seeing. Also, from a game revenue standpoint, diminishing graphical gains will seem unreasonable to the increasing price of manpower when you get to a certain level of graphics. The same could be said of sound, but we are already there for digital sound and have been for some time. All that’s left is innovations in user interface, and there are a lot of opportunities and potential to improve there.
I’m going to organize this article this way. The first half will be a brief history of video games showing all notable game innovations starting in 1958 to present. Please excuse me if I leave out some history, as I’m going to try and make this as brief as possible. The second half will consist of my fictitious game history from 2012 to 2050. It is definitely open to debate, but I’m doing this more as a fun exercise rather than anything else, political or otherwise. A lot of what I say in the latter portion may well be in the realm of science fiction. Based on science fiction of the past, we can say that many of those past ideas have actually become realities today. It’ll be interesting to look back on this article 50 years from now and see how much I have predicted comes true. So here we go:
1958: The Very First Video Game[youtube.com/watch?v=6PG2mdU_i8k&feature=related]
Tennis for Two is regarded as the first video game ever designed. It was designed by William Higginbotham in 1958, using an oscilloscope and analog computer.[youtube.com/watch?NR=1&v=MeZq6d9OHTU]
1961: Spacewar! is the First Influential Computer Game
Spacewar! was created by a group of MIT students and ran on university mainframe computers. It was a 2 player versus game, where 2 spaceships attempt to destroy each other with missiles, all the while a star at the center could pull the ships in with its gravity and destroy them.
1966: Pioneers Ralph Baer/Bill Harrison Invent the Light Gun
Besides creating the light gun, the duo also were the first to display games on a television set.
1971: The First Arcade Games Appear
In the same year, both Galaxy Game, and Computer Space (by the founders of Atari) came out. Both games were based off of the earlier Spacewar! game. In 1972, Atari released Pong, which is considered the first arcade game with widespread success.
1972: The First Home Video Game Console
Inventor Ralph Baer started development on a home video game console in 1966, and it was released in 1972 by Magnavox, called the Magnavox Odyssey. What was interesting was there was a removable cartridge that consisted of only jumpers with no components. By changing the jumper settings, you could set up different game types to play on the same system, which was a novel idea for the time.
1971-1980: A Number of Noteworthy Mainframe Computer Games
I’ll be brief here.
1972, Hunt the Wumpus, the first text adventure video game.
1974, Airfight, the first flight simulator game.
1975, Dungeon, and dnd are the first computer role playing games.
1978, Multi-User Dungeon, the first MUD, is the ancestor of today’s MMORPG.
1980, Rogue is released, inspiring many roguelike games to follow.
1976: The First Console to Play Multiple Cartridges is Released
The Fairchild Video Entertainment System (VES) was the first video game console that you could amass a gaming library. Prior to this, no additional games could be added to a game system.
1976: LED Handheld Games[youtube.com/watch?v=isejBX1Tyjk]
Mattel Released Mattel Auto Race in 1976. It could be considered the very first handheld video game.
1979: The First Handheld Game Console to use Interchangeable Cartridges[youtube.com/watch?v=GBsIgukJJuQ]
What’s interesting is that most people think that the Nintendo Gameboy of 1989 was the first cartridge-based handheld gaming system. Well, the Microvision from Milton Bradley Company accomplished this a full decade before it. Obviously it was not the success the Gameboy was.
1980: LCD Handheld Games
Ball was released in 1980, the first game in a successful series of Nintendo LCD handheld games, the Game & Watch series.
1980: The First Graphic Adventure Game on Home Computers[youtube.com/watch?v=urJsqU8sLVw]
Mystery House came out for the Apple II and was the first graphic adventure game. It was the natural evolution of text adventure games.
1982: Dpad Ushers in New Control Standard[youtube.com/watch?v=HfKoEWN65Qo]
Gunpei Yokoi of Nintendo introduces a cross-shaped directional pad for the Game & Watch Series. This feature eventually becomes standard on all modern game controllers to come. Also noteworthy, Nintendo was the first game company to introduce dual screen gameplay with its Game & Watch multi screen games. In the future, we would see this come up multiple times, with Nintendo Game Boy Advance /Game Cube connectivity, Nintendo DS, Sony PSP / PS3 connectivity, Apple’s iPhone / iPad connectivity, and the Wii U.
1982: The First Real-Time Strategy (RTS) Game[youtube.com/watch?v=LQKYG9lMlYE]
Intellivision’s Utopia, by Don Daglow, is considered the first RTS game, sim game, and god game, ever made.
1984: Rotoscoped Animation in Games[youtube.com/watch?v=GHNT7mR-8d0&feature=related]
Karateka is a computer game created by Jordan Merchner. The game is renowned at the time for its realistic animations. Going forward, we would see very similar animation techniques on games like Prince of Persia, Flashback, Out of this World, Hotel Dusk and Ghost Trick.
1985: The First Class-Based Multiplayer Game[youtube.com/watch?v=yl0lKa-47DU] [youtube.com/watch?v=FhVb54ha6Po&feature=results_main&playnext=1&list=PLB58D251217CBA804]
Gauntlet is a fantasy themed hack and slash arcade game by Atari. It is released during the days when Dungeons & Dragons, the role-playing game, was popular, and in turn was quite popular in its own right. It had 4 player local coop, with classes like elf, warrior, valkyrie, and wizard.
1986: Battery Backup Saving is Introduced
The NES game, Legend of Zelda is the first game to provide this innovative save feature. Prior to this, many games used a password system to continue a previously played game. It also was an early example of open world and non-linear gameplay.
1989: The First Color Handheld Console Comes Out[youtube.com/watch?v=xlDWA2QLTxs]
Besides being the first color handheld console, it also touted a couple of other innovative features. It had an ambidextrous layout, in that you could turn it upside down if you were a lefty. This was a completely novel idea at the time. It also had the ability to network up to 17 units (impressive for a handheld) through connected cables. It initially was designed to run a networked game over infrared links as opposed to wire, but the idea was scrapped before release.
1989: SimCity Inspires a New Genre of Games[youtube.com/watch?v=IzHVcvZw_7Q]
Released in 1989, SimCity, by Will Wright, took the gaming world by storm. It is a city-building simulation game, and spawns a series of sim games that are very influential in the gaming industry; the most notable being The Sims.
1989: The First Console to Use CD-ROM’s
Up to this point in time, video games came in cartridges. The first game hardware to take advantage of this new storage medium, was a new CD-ROM peripheral for the TurboGrafx-16. Now with the extra storage capacity, we finally were able to store plentiful animated cutscenes in our games.
1990: Shoulder Buttons Are Introduced
Courtesy of their SNES console, Nintendo contributes another control innovation to the gaming industry, the right and left shoulder buttons .
1991: The World’s First Holographic Video Game
1993: Nintendo’s First 3D Polygon Game, Star Fox (SNES)
1995: The First Game Console Displaying “True 3D Graphics”, the Nintendo Virtual Boy
1996: The First Affordable 3D Accelerator Cards for PC’s Come Out
In 1996, 3dfx Interactive releases the Voodoo chipset. First person shooter, Quake, is one of the first games to take advantage of this new tech.
1996: Nintendo Does It Again
Released in 1996, the Nintendo N64 introduces a number of new video game innovations. Most notable, was the reintroduction of the analog stick to the gaming world for 3D gameplay. Nintendo was not the first one to have an analog stick on a console, but they popularized the idea. The controller had a unique ‘M’ shape with 3 grips. The 2 outer grips allowed the use of the dpad and right side buttons (traditional style). It could also be held by the center and right grip, allowing the use of the analog stick, Z trigger underneath the center grip, and the right side buttons. The last setup involved having two controllers, one in each hand on the center grips for dual analog control and access to two triggers. This setup was good for FPS’ like Perfect Dark. One last innovation of the N64 was the rumble pak accessory. This was one truly innovative controller.
1998: The Emergence of Mobile Gaming
In 1998, Nokia started preloading the game, Snake, on all their phones, the first game on cell phones. This would pave the way for mobile gaming, the Apple App Store, and iPhone.
2003: Gaming Without a Controller
The EyeToy is a digital camera accessory for the PlayStation 2. It uses gesture recognition to process images taken by the camera. It would pave the way for future devices like the Microsoft Kinect.
2004: Nintendo Handheld Innovation
2004 is the year the Nintendo DS arrives on the scene, and it touts a couple of new innovative features. Most notable is it comes with a second screen, which is a touch screen that takes stylus input. This PDA-like game control was first seen in games played on old PDA’s, but never before in a dedicated game console. Also notable is it comes with a built-in microphone that is integrated into gameplay for the first time in video games.
One of the most innovative video game consoles ever created, the console named Wii took the video game industry by storm when released in 2006. Wii trailblazed a number of new paths in the gaming industry. Its most distinguishing feature is its innovative controller. In a time when the traditional 2-handed game controller had been the standard control method for a number of years, the Wii remote broke from tradition and was a one-handed controller, shaped like a tv remote. The controller popularized modern motion controls. For the first time, gamers could move their arms to control games. The gesture sensing was accomplished by the built-in accelerometers. An accessory to the Wii remote, the Nunchuk, was another one-handed controller for the other hand, that had buttons, an analog stick, and motions controls. Each hand motion could be tracked independently. The Wii remote had an IR pointer. For the first time, a video game console had mouse-like controls like on a PC. It also had a speaker which provided audio feedback (another first) in the game, and more immersion.
2015: Enter 4D Gaming[youtube.com/watch?v=8m6cXXFNHDE]
An inventor creates a prototype 4D gaming machine. It’s based off the popular 4D attraction rides (see the video above) that have gotten more popular over the years, except it now has an added interactive element. The prototype game is a flight simulator, where the player provides an input (by moving a flight stick) and has direct control over the mechanical motion of the vehicle he/she sits in. The video screen in the ride can be seen in stereoscopic 3D simultaneously as the ride mechanically moves. An investor sees the potential of this and buys the technology. He also invests in a new chain of state of the art video arcades across the US. The 4D gaming machines become very popular. There’s car racing genres, space flights, boat and submarine games. However, the genres that work well with 4D gaming are limited. The investor then looks to top video game makers of the time to start making new video arcade games for his chain. He gets some support, and the surging popularity creates a renaissance for the once dead US arcade scene.
Some high income consumers begin to buy these 4D arcade machines for use in their own home. Some furniture manufacturers in later years, would add similar electro-mechanical parts to their products that were in the 4D game machines, but on a lesser scale. The movements were not as profound, but the tech was cheaper and more affordable. These futuristic seats would have the ability to connect wirelessly to future home game consoles.
2020: Next Gen Console Is a 3D Visor With a Real 3D Analog Stick
Everyone remembers the failure that was the Sony HMZ-T1 3D VR Visor. Released in 2011, at a whopping $799, the tech was too expensive for its time. Also, it was released as a peripheral and failed badly in sales. Another negative was the weight of the unit on a players ears and nose. Playing long periods of time gave players discomfort. Well in 2020, enter its spiritual successor. The design of the new console is extremely slick and unbelievably light weight. It goes without saying the surround sound and graphics are extremely high end tech, and can provide high quality stereoscopic 3D if desired.
The new visor displays extremely realistic images. The designers extended out the displays for each eye such that the naked eye is not able to perceive the boundary of the display. The display literally wraps around each eye 360 degrees. For example, on a TV set one can see the rectangular boundary of it’s display, but in this visor you cannot see any boundary. As a result, the actions and movements seen on screen are more realistic and immersive than ever before. The display creates the sense of illusion that you are moving as things move on the screen. In combination with stereoscopic 3D effect, the realism can be frightening for some users. For example in a helicopter game, as it moves, and you look down in the game, you literally feel like you’re going to fall into the screen. Some users complain about motion sickness and dizziness after using the device.
This new visor peripheral is well received in the gaming community. A big reason for its reputation is due to the built-in motion controls. By tilting and facing your head in different directions, you have complete camera controls, eliminating the need for the second analog stick like in more traditional game controllers.
Another noteworthy feature of this new console, is the introduction of the Real 3D Analog Stick on the new gamepad. In the past, analog sticks provided analog control strictly on a 2D plane in a fully rendered 3D world. This new invention provides analog control in the z-axis, by allowing the player to pull the stick up, or push it down, while simultaneously allowing the player to move in the x and y directions. On top of the nub of the stick is an adjustable thumb strap that provides the player the control needed to pull the stick up (prototype shown below doesn’t have the thumb strap). The engineers had solved the mechanical problem involved with creating an analog stick that moves in all 3 dimensions simultaneously.
This new input opens up new types of gameplay when used with stereoscopic 3D. Prior to this invention, stereoscopic 3D had been considered a gimmick for many years. Now, besides just being a slight improvement in aesthetics, the new control method provides a functional use for stereoscopic 3D. What stereoscopic 3D needed all this time to be successful was a true 3D input to match, and this new Real 3D Analog Stick now provides that.
For example, one application that became popular with this new stick was using it as a true 3-dimensional mouse. The stereoscopic 3D helped tremendously with judging distances when navigating in 3 dimensions with the 3D mouse, especially when navigating into and out of the screen. In the newest SimCity sequel, you can easily select the height of trees, and buildings you want to place in your city, by lifting up and pushing down on the stick. You can also swiftly choose which floor of a building to manage (giving this game gameplay aspects from SimTower). All this is made conveniently easy by the ability of the new stick.
2021: The Advanced Voice Command System (AVCS)
A rival console maker releases their next gen console. One of the main features of the console being touted is the new AVCS. The console has the ability to auto-detect and understand multiple languages, interpret words from different pitched voices, separate out multiple voices speaking simultaneously, understand regional accents, and be used as a translator for online multiplayer chatting. The system also has a highly advanced noise filtering system, and has an overall average interpretation accuracy of 98%. The system has a listening range of about 15 feet at normal speaking volume. Completely new game genres are made for this type of input. There are whole games that can be controlled completely by voice without any need for other inputs. One game genre that gets extremely popular, are the interactive books from years past, such as Choose Your Own Adventure and Fighting Fantasy. These were interactive books that now had a graphical interface as new video games. During a decision point in the story, players could tell the console computer verbally what their next action would be. Developers added more decision possibilities for players to choose to increase the complexity of these games.
Besides being an asset on a video game console, there is huge potential for this tech on tablet computers, as it obsoletes on-screen keyboards. In upcoming years, we begin to see similar tech implemented on tablets. Also, computer AI is getting more advanced, and people begin to be able to have simple conversations with their tablets and consoles.
2025: Ultra HD TV is Finally Ready for Primetime
2031: The Holographic Projector[youtube.com/watch?v=lBiKHqeFPws]
The first mass market holographic projector is introduced to consumers. This new tech polarizes the tech consumer community. Many that adopted the Ultra HD TV just a few years before are now enraged they have to now upgrade to a holographic projector. Many claim the tech to be a gimmick that won’t catch on. In just 2 short years on the market, holographic projectors have an adoption rate in the US at about 24%, while Ultra HD TV levels off at about 42%. In later years, the holographic projector defeats Ultra HD TV, and renders it and stereoscopic 3D obsolete.
The amount of processing power needed to output holograms is immense, having to produce an image that can be seen at all 360 degrees of viewing. The first models introduced are of the tabletop variety, with the image being projected upwards. Models in later years would be the type you would install directly on the floor, and have larger projection surface areas. Eventually over 95% of US households will own a holographic projector within 15 years time, as the price goes down. The modern TV quickly goes the way of the VHS. Many of the top game console manufacturers of the time look into adding the holographic projector tech to their business and become completely self-sufficient.
2033: Return of the Power Glove
A next gen console is introduced, with its main component, a next generation motion controller. The motion controller is designed to work with any holographic projector. Literally, this is the Wii Motion Controller Plus multiplied by 16. This new glove controller has the ability to track 16 different parts of your arm independently. Your forearm, and palm are 2. Each finger has 3; so with 4 fingers, that’s 12. Your thumb has 2. There is an IR pointer on the index finger tip for mouse like controls when needed. The controller is able to track complex hand movements. The sheer amount of data sent wirelessly from this controller in real time, and then quickly processed without a hiccup is incredible. The controls are very smooth, and any minute details in movement are recorded. With today’s technology, handling this massive amount of data is easily done.
The system ships with 2 Power Gloves and a new 3D puzzle game in which you use both of your hands to manipulate blocks. The pack in game is extremely successful, and shows what the system can do ala Wii Sports. A sequel to Trauma Center is one of the third party launch games, and becomes a huge hit. The game is so good, that some medical schools start to use the game in introductory surgery courses. In conjunction with slightly improved tech from the past AVCS, this system provides the ultimate user interface. Keyboards and mouse are now a thing of the distant past, as all controls can be done more efficiently and easily with minute hand movements and voice.[youtube.com/watch?v=NwVBzx0LMNQ]
At this point in time, this type of man-machine- interface becomes the standard control method, for gaming, and general computing for the next 15 years. Game consoles do not exist anymore as we use to know it. Console makers of years past are now in the hologram projector business, and deliver full entertainment systems with integrated game hardware. All entertainment medium is downloaded wirelessly, and exclusive software are a thing of the past. One could now call these complex home systems as the universal entertainment system, or the universal console. Many of the companies in the past that made TV’s, set-top boxes, Blu-ray players, stereos, game consoles, computers, that were not able to get into the holographic projector business become extinct.
2035: Introducing Smellivision
A holographic projector manufacturer introduces a new model that has an interesting new feature. The new feature is called Smellivision. The new model now has a slot for a custom cartridge that contains elements from 85% of the periodic table. New programming, movies and games must have new software that tells the projector what type of chemical to release, when and how much during a show, movie, or game. Old software gets software patches to use this new feature. It gets tons of support from the software side of things. This company makes a fortune selling the smell cartridges. It works as advertised. The first demo shows of a beautiful outdoor field with flowers. The flowers smell wonderful. Going forward, all software for the holographic projectors have the Smellivision option. However the only downside are that the smell cartridges are expensive, and need to be replaced often, leading some low income users to use Smellivision sparingly.
2037: Magnetic Force Feedback
The arcade scene is repeating history. At this point, it is almost dead again. The decline has been happening the past decade. Game companies are no longer making new arcade games. 4D gaming at the arcades is obsolete. Furniture sets at home now can do almost the same thing when connected to the new consoles. Stereoscopic 3D is a relic of the past. The games are old and have seen better days. With Smellivision now the big fad, and voice and motion controls being all the rage, no one wants to go back to the arcades. Enter magnetic force feedback. The old arcade chain bought this new technology seeing the huge potential. They test a new prototype at their very first arcade (the most famous one), and it is huge hit. While motion control tech is seemingly at its peak, the one knock on it for decades is that there is no feedback whatsoever except for rumble. No one was able to solve this problem elegantly. That all changes now.
This new one of a kind prototype system is a sword fighting game. You enter a large room, and put on a VR helmet, and are given a very blunt metal sword. There are magnets and controls in the walls of the room. When you strike something, you feel the feedback due to the controlled magnetic field. If an enemy strikes you, you feel it on the sword too. As a safety precaution, all customers are advised not to bring any metal into the room, and no customers with pacemakers are allowed. A slight injury occurs one day, and the game is shut down. The game is revised with more added safety features, and 10 more are made for the other chains. The arcade game is a huge hit across the country, and sparks new arcade games made with this feature, saving the arcade scene. This new tech is difficult to implement at home.
2048: The Holy Grail of Gaming is Achieved
A holodeck type game room is being introduced to video game fans by the world’s most famous arcade chain. The idea of the holodeck, comes from the Star Trek universe, specifically from the show, Star Trek: The Next Generation. Tech is now advanced enough to finally create this new brand of interactive entertainment. Dr. Michio Kaku, theoretical physicist, is credited with providing the inspiration for a team of designers to complete this 30+ year project. He receives a prestigious inventor’s award for what he has achieved. I won’t spoil it for you.[youtube.com/watch?v=bxaQ-0vuPfI]
See Season 2, Episode 11 of Sci-Fi Science for how Dr. Michio Kaku came up with his design, and what a holodeck really is if you do not already know. In the upcoming years, as cost comes down, some consumers begin building a holodeck type game room in their own homes for their recreation.
2XXX? The Future of Virtual Reality?[youtube.com/watch?v=EmEPXXJ4sKw]
I had real trouble trying to decide if I wanted to include this in my article. What is done in the Matrix seems to me more in the realm of fantasy than science fiction. To be able to access a virtual world directly with the brain just doesn’t seem possible in the near future. Doing so would require a direct electrical connection to the human brain. I doubt, any heat or electrical impulses detected and put out to the surface of the skull would suffice for I/O to the brain. That rules out any non-invasive way to connect directly to the brain. Would anyone risk exposing their brains just for some entertainment? I doubt it. But in any case, I’m leaving this possibility out there for the distant future. Obviously if this can be accomplished, then it would render any type of holodeck obsolete. However, seeing as this may not ever be possible, I still believe the holodeck model is the holy grail of gaming.