Game Changers in Video Gaming – SmartBrief

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AI, AR and cloud gaming

My partner handmade a coffee table that can run 30 1970s and 1980s arcade games. While I generally think of this as evidence that the guy’s awesome – he also beat “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” text adventure without a hint book – it’s also evidence of how far video game technology has come since the days when people would make a special trip to the arcade to play Asteroids, or even since the Console Wars of my youth. (16 whole bits!) 

Games these days often feature cinematic visuals, music that can fill an entire album, interactive environments and scripted non-player characters (NPCs) that still provide better conversation than most actual people on the multiplayer servers. Even deliberately retro titles like “Undertale” create their nostalgic environments in the context of modern advances. 

Naturally, progress continues. Developments in AI, cloud computing and augmented and virtual reality have made headlines lately, and the gaming world has moved quickly to incorporate them. Below are some of the forces shaping the gaming world in 2024 and beyond.

AI: More human than human (eventually, maybe)

A kind of AI has been present in video games since basically the beginning, determining when to trigger Zangief’s pile driver or let you try to hit on Asterion. Now companies like Nvidia and Convai are exploring the potential of generative AI to create unique conversations and let NPCs manipulate their environments. The dialogue Nvidia’s Avatar Cloud Engine produced fell squarely into the uncanny valley, reporters at CES 2024 noted, but development continues. Hey, it’s not like humans have always produced the best lines in video games.

Concerns arose over the source of Nvidia’s training data, and the company’s statement that it gets consent before any use has left some skeptical. Artists are also worried about companies using AI to eliminate their jobs. Ace’s creator Purnendu Mukherjee said, “I only see narrative designers in more demands, not less.” 

That makes sense. Generic dialogue doesn’t work for major NPCs in detailed video game worlds. The engine would need to learn using information about the NPC and the setting, as well as the character’s particular voice. Commander Shepard doesn’t sound much like Wrex, after all. 

NYU Game Innovation Lab co-Director Julian Togelius supports Mukherjee’s view. Togelius adds that generative AI’s less-than-100-percent accuracy rate makes it a very iffy tool for level design, where one broken stage can ruin an entire game. As experts have pointed out about other areas, while generative AI can help with many tasks, it’s neither the panacea nor the apocalypse that the hype suggests.  

Outside the games themselves, AI could start making a difference very soon. Manufacturers have been shipping AI PCs for a year or so, and even without AI-based games, the technology can improve performance by optimizing and automating tasks. Advanced Micro Devices Chief Architect of Gaming Solutions Frank Azor said that purchasing a PC without AI is like “buying a computer without an Ethernet port or Wi-Fi in 1998.” 

Yow.

VR: A Vision (Pro) for video games’ future?

Virtual reality has become the latest battleground between technology companies, thanks to Apple’s Vision Pro clearly hitting a nerve with Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Quest maker Meta. While augmented reality, VR’s less-headsetty cousin, has been making gaming news since Pokemon Go actually got gamers out of the house for a while, no VR game has yet achieved that kind of cultural ubiquity. 

The day may be coming. Modern headsets are made for mixed reality, incorporating users’ environments into the VR setting to offer an experience that’s more immersive than AR video games. VR modes for popular games like Gran Turismo 7 and Resident Evil Village are getting rave reviews,. Developers are creating titles like Mannequin and Behemoth specifically for the medium. A Kickstarter-backed hoverboard is even on the way, hopefully with a brighter future than peripherals like the Power Glove.  

Most VR gaming will probably take place on the Quest, Sony’s PlayStation VR2 or headsets designed for PCs. Apple is following its track record of treating gaming as a vaguely embarrassing second thought (she writes a touch bitterly, having wrestled virtual emulators into submission on more than one MacBook), and is emphasizing the productivity and visual media potential of the Vision Pro. The headset does offer 250 titles via the Apple Arcade, but those are considerably fewer and involve VR less than other libraries.

Game streaming: Console, Schmonsole

Cloud gaming is sort of a tragedy for today’s socially inept youth, who can no longer make friends by virtue of having the latest console. (College kids can take comfort in the fact that it’s harder to virtually sit around a dorm room drinking beer while playing Smash Bros.) For those of us with tight living spaces, tight budgets or both, though, being able to play just about any video game on just about any device is pretty amazing. 

The industry toyed with the notion of video game streaming from 2003 onward, but technological improvements and market shifts only let it really take off with Google’s now-defunct Stadia in 2019 and then the Samsung Gaming Hub in late 2020. Speedier internet, more developed platforms and people staying home more in the aftermath of lockdowns helped the medium build momentum. Gamers spent 10% of their Xbox time on the Cloud Gaming service last year, while GeForce is adding enhancements, games and payment options. Apple is even getting around its lack of native gaming support by making the Vision Pro compatible with all cloud gaming platforms.

While cloud gaming lets users untie games from consoles and avoid replacing their computers to play the latest Elder Scrolls title, it imposes its own requirement: bandwidth. The clouds don’t generally open for anything less than 10 Mbps. Really solid experiences require more like 20 or even 30, depending on how data-heavy the games are. It’s just another item on the list of reasons that consumer broadband demands have skyrocketed in the past few years. The kids of tomorrow may not seek out the kid in class with the PS2, but they may choose to hang out with the one who has the fastest internet.

Conclusion

Few of us hanging around GameStop and looking longingly at the N64 back in the late ‘90s imagined how far games would come and how little time it would take. I’m sure the video game future has just as many surprises, whether they’re previous concepts that finally have the tech to succeed or completely new ideas, and I can’t wait to see what they end up being.

 

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Leah Sirama
Leah Sirama
Leah Sirama, a lifelong enthusiast of Artificial Intelligence, has been exploring technology and the digital realm since childhood. Known for his creative thinking, he's dedicated to improving AI experiences for all, making him a respected figure in the field. His passion, curiosity, and creativity drive advancements in the AI world.