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PixlTalk Episode 64: 88 MPH

The future's so bright, I gotta wear shades!

It's time for another installment of PixlTalk! Julian wrote a blog series about the future of video games, and that's the impetus for this discussion by the Tri-Force crew. Before that, we take some listener questions, talk some games we've been playing, what would be a good entry-level horror movie, and adventures in indie game store shopping.

Then the crew put some garbage into their Mr. Fusion and take a trip into the future to see what's in store for all of us as gamers. We have a lot to say about what we hope games will look like in the next generation and beyond, and touch briefly on the topic of digital distribution. We'll be hitting that subject in depth down the road, so please look forward to it! Also, what impact could tablets have on the console market, and what do the guys want to see in the far flung future? Spoilers: Star Trek is mentioned a lot.

There's all of this, plus Rob openly mocks Julian's love for Felicia Day, and Patrick gets a beer! Check out the Euclideon tech demo Julian brings up, and if you want more info on Interstellar Marines you can click right here. Ten episodes in, and the Tri-Force crew is just getting warmed up! See you in the future!


Featured Music:

Alan Silvestri-Back to the Future Main Theme

Daft Punk-Recognizer

The Incredible Moses Leroy-Beep Beep Love




04/27/2012 at 06:21 PM

Doc, I have to tell you about the fuuuture!

Greatest episode this side of the Mississippi guys. As I listened and made a list out of things to comment on, I realized I was ending up with a list of a dozen things to ramble about and needed to shrink it down. I'm going to keep it clean and cover 3 things. I want to mention what I've been playing, a little about biometrics in game design, and finally what is most important to me in the future of game-design or gaming.

What I've been playing. It's been like a year since the game came out and I've bitched forever to different people about how it was at the top of my "to-buy" list, and now I can finally say I'm playing Deus Ex: Human Revolution. Sadly enough I can't talk as much about it because I just started a couple days ago and I just finished the "boss" encounter at the end of the first real level. It's been a lot of fun and I think it's not only beautiful in presentation, but it's built perfectly for me (for stealth). Esteban Cuevas here at the site has played it a bit and not long ago aired his gripe on Twitter that the game is not a very good shooter, and is definitely a stealth game. So far I have to agree with him.

At the beginning of the first level I told the boss man to give me stealth weapons and I've hardly even had to use those. I've literally sneaked around, searched every nook of the level, choked out several guards, and the only time I ever used my tranquilizer rifle was on purpose just because I was hours into the game and realized I had no idea what it was like to shoot it lol. The levels and gameplay are designed in such a way that it perfectly suits my playstyle, however it lets me know I could change it up if I wanted to. I picked up a machine gun and killed a room of guys one time and it was a much messier, louder, and faster way to get things done, and the cool thing is I didn't get punished for it, but it wasn't fun for me. The fact I have been rewarded for playing any which way I choose has been extremely comforting to me. It's very player-authored and however I play is what my experience is going to be. Somebody who runs and guns is going to have vastly different memories and experiences of the game than somebody like me who sneaks around silent the entire time and stalks every single enemy patiently. I hate when other games try to give you "options" but then they punish you one way or another for each choice. So far Deus Ex seems to reward me for whatever I choose and not bash me for something the game didn't want me to do.

I've also been playing a lot of Elderscrolls, and I'm getting very impatient in my long stoic wait for a Skyrim Complete edition. I'm a massive fan of the series, I started with Morrowind, moved on to Oblivion, and I actually dreamed of having a game set in Skyrim long before Bethesda even revealed that a game based in Skyrim was the next entry (I flipped out when they announced it). I was more hyped for that game than any game in 2011, and Julian was the voice of reason that actually convinced me to wait for a complete edition. I had to sit idly by while everybody either praised the game or shit on it, and after all the hype has died down, I'm still waiting for this thing. I'm trying to keep my wait going though because I know it will pay off. The bugs will be fixed, the patches will be added, the two or so big expansions will eventually be out at some points during this year, and just maybe a complete edition will be out either at the end of this year or sometime next year (I'm hoping sooner than later).

I just started a new character in Oblivion and I'm having a lot of fun with that. You know how Rob said he knew Kirkwall and The Citadel like the back of his hand and he loved how those worlds were crafted? I pretty much know Cyrodiil like the back of my hand. Not only geographically but as a game too. At least the Fighter's Guild quests, Dark Brotherhood, the main quest, all the sidequests, the few Oblivion gate dungeons you come across that get recycled constantly, the in game items, the mechanics, the best ways to level the character I want, the skills I want, race and bonus' I want, etc. It's been like 6 years since Oblivion came out, and there are certainly some antiquated aspects to it that I can do without, but even after all this time and all the 100+ hours I've put in, I can still wander around and be soothed by the amazing orchestral score and look up at the skybox at night and be in awe as the stars shine and the beautiful multiple moons slowly shimmer and move across the sky. I love escapism in my games, I love to get out of my normal life (I obviously don't love my everyday life as much as you guys love yours lol) and live in sombody elses imagination, or in my own. Elderscrolls games are my favorite escapist games on the planet. It's pure and free escapism, in gaming form.

Biometrics in gaming. I loved when you guys brought up the concept and when Patrick talked about having a game find out what gives you those amazing feelings, like when he first played an RPG. I actually want to study biometrics myself, learn to build experiments that can augment playtesting, use equipment and techniques to collect physiological data from players, and analyze that data to see if it can help make better games. Ever since I started getting interested in level design, gameplay design, playtesting, and analysis, I've always wanted to approach it scientifically but I didn't know how, and when I started reading Mike Ambinder's work over at Valve I realized that this stuff can be done and does get done. The science gets done! The science must get done. The science will get done.

Right here is a direct link to the pdf file of Ambinder's 2011 GDC presentation on Biometrics: BioFeedback in Gameplay. If that doesn't work here's a link to the publications page where not only that presentation is available to view, but plenty of other amazing ones: Valve Publications. It's awesome and I study the presentations all the time, even the ones I can't understand like programming. You can read articles and presentations as far back as 1999, for example there's one where Ken Birdwell explains the "Cabal" design process they use, how it works, why it's worked for them, and how they used it to design Half Life 1. They explained it very fairly and openly in detail, and exposed the inefficiencies the process can cause, but how loose and different it is from the typical military hierarchical creative structure most developers have, and how the Cabal ultimately yields superior creativity and better games in the end for Valve's people.

At one of the recent GDCs Gabe Newell (it might have even been during an acceptance speech), of all the things he could talk about, talked a little about how biometrics were very important to the company and 1UP did an article about it with the headline "Biometrics are the future of gaming, say's Valve co-founder" and whatnot. Gabe was fascinated with the kind of tech being introduced by the various motion control/motion detection technologies, the Wii Vitality sensor, and the fact that biometrics could possibly have an impact on design and games. Reading the work of Mike Ambinder you can see that they aren't kidding around, they've been balls deep in this for years now obviously.

In the Biofeedback in Gameplay link I left, Ambinder's slide show, shows what equipment and techniques they use to get physio data, and the pros and cons of each process, anomalies and inaccuracies to expect, etc. He also gives some examples of how some of the data has been used in gameplay already, and how it might be used later in future designs. Just to run through some of it and get it out there quickly, biometrics could possibly lead to having games where your status is monitored by the game and it will react dynamically to you. For example they are experimenting with the Left 4 Dead AI Director they invented for the first two games so that it can use biofeedback to influence the experiences players are having. Depending on the player's status, the difficulty could literally be altered real-time during gameplay (enemy health, weapon placements, boss placements, party members, etc). NPCs could recognize how you are feeling, what state you're in, and respond to you in different ways. Your eyes could be tracked to study where you're looking, NPCs might react to that. The game could study you, estimate your state, and if it thinks you are disengaged from the experience it could attempt to engage you in various ways.

In regards to multiplayer gameplay, they're using biofeedback experiments to see if you could have a system where you could be alerted if your teammate is in distress, or the feedback could affect your matchmaking filters. You could possibly even build an FPS where your eyes are the input that aims your character's vision. He goes on to ask viewers, "If your eyes control the camera it would likely speed up gameplay greatly, so does the speed of gameplay equal a better experience?" He asks a lot of questions, always wants to test, and analyze, he's my kind of guy. That's exactly what I want to do too. He never says that biometrics are the future, and he never says any of the experiments or analysis will lead to better games, he just keeps continuing to do the tests, and the team will find out for themselves based on what the gamers think, and what the results of the constant playtesting loops are. Heart rate, skin conductance level, facial expression and eye movement study, electroencephalography, pupil dilation, blood pressure, body temperature, posture, are all tools that might lead to data that could be informative and lead you to a better idea or solution.

They want to learn more about arousal patterns, what engages players, disengages them, fatigues, energizes, elicits responses and emotions, what's fun, what's not, what players actually do when they play, how they feel. The idea is to hopefully discover optimal arousal patterns for the particular game or situation. They don't have a hierarchy so people don't necessarily fight over who's idea is "better" per se. There are plenty of creative disputes, but they leave it up to testing and see what the science says. They see what works best for the players, which is what matters the most, because at the end of the day when you simplify everything, it's all about making fun games for players, not ego, dominance, or hierarchy. On a side note Michael Abrash, also from Valve, wrote a blog recently about how he is working on "wearable computing", which is fascinating all on its own, and is related somewhat to our discussion, but I won't go on about that particular one.

What I'm looking forward to the most in the future of gaming: Well by then I hope I have at least a degree or school certifications, a portfolio of indie games and mods, and I'm moved to Washington, and sending in as many resumes and doing as many interviews as possible for how ever many years it takes till I have a computer station at Valve or Bungie lol. When it comes to specific design elements that are the most important to me, it's all about animation. I'm not an animator by any stretch, I can hardly draw, but animation is the most important thing to me. I don't want things to look "photo-real", but I want things to be believable. No matter how pretty Crysis 2, Mass Effect 2, or Mirror's Edge are, they all still have that wonky current evolution of animation that we haven't seen advance very much over the years. I agree wholeheartedly with Julian's sentiment about being able to shoot people in the face, but not be able to believably embrace them. When it comes to visuals I will always choose a superior art style over a superior polygon count, so that's easy and doable. Great sound design is doable, challenging AI is doable. No single design element is "unimportant", they are all vital, and there are many things that have to come together to make a gameworld believable and to me the most important of all is animation.

These days it's getting easier and easier to make games "look" right and look amazing, but I've never honestly played a game that really "felt" right. Plenty of games feel amazing, like parkouring in Mirror's Edge, or using aerial faithplates in Portal 2, but I want to play and watch games that feel right and you need animation and collision detection to do that. When I saw Quantic Dream's Kara tech demo a few months ago, the one where the artificial/robotic girl is assembled, becomes aware, talks like a human, cries out and shows fear as she is dissembled I just about cried when I saw that. I believed her performance and felt it. It wasn't some wonky handshake in Mass Effect 3, it was an enormous amount of subtle animations across an entire figure. There's a believable figure executing realistic movements, and my brain instantly analyzes that situation and says, "That seems real, that's elegant." Here's why it's so important. When animation is that good, I don't have to sit back and gawk at how bad it is or how wonky it is, it just feels right and I don't have to worry about it. That's where I want animation in games to get. It doesn't have to be real life, but it needs to be expressive, beautiful, intimate, and dynamic just like real life is.

When I watched that Kara tech demo it felt like we were one small step closer to literally being able to play a video game that was similar to an interactive Pixar production. And fuck guys, do I ever love Pixar and animated movies. WALL-E is my favorite of all time and the level of animation and emotion that ends up in movies like that get me all choked up when I watch them. Games need to do that and I think they will. Animation and collision detection for the wins.

Julian Titus Senior Editor

04/28/2012 at 12:01 AM

You're playing Deus Ex right. That game made me feel like a predator, and there was an amazing thrill about slipping into an area not only unseen, but never killing a soul. That's an achievement I'm proud of, just like going through Mirror's Edge without firing a shot. I don't think the shooting mechanics are good enough to play guns blazing, though. The boss fights are all like that, and I hated all of them. But I suck at shooting, so take that how you will.

The Kara demo is incredible, and it makes me question if we even need the next generation yet. I know things can get way better, but I want to see what more can be squeezed out of the current consoles. With Nintendo settling for a system that may not even be as powerful as the PS3 it feels like there's reason to tarry a little longer in the 7th generation, even if it's already gone longer than normal. What do you think of the Euclideon demo? Even if their claims are far out and we can only do a fraction of what they claim next generation, it excites me.

Julian Titus Senior Editor

04/28/2012 at 12:01 AM

The Hunger Games was the other movie I saw. No wonder why I forgot about it during the show.

Rob Ottone Staff Alumnus

04/28/2012 at 10:20 AM

Oh, come on, The Hunger Games was solid. Solid solid solid. Even if Mystique from First Class has a huge neck.

Julian Titus Senior Editor

04/28/2012 at 11:29 AM

I didn't dislike it, but it dragged on for me, and I feel like the movie didn't do a good job about informing me about this world. I'm interested in reading the book now, but the movie was definitely a three star for me. Also, I didn't like any of the characters, especially Catnis. And Mystique from First Class has chipmunk cheeks.

Rob Ottone Staff Alumnus

04/28/2012 at 04:11 PM

Catnis and Mystique = Same broad!

Also, is that out of 4 or 5 stars?

Julian Titus Senior Editor

04/28/2012 at 04:33 PM

Out of five. And I know she's the same person. She looks so weird to me.

Rob Ottone Staff Alumnus

04/29/2012 at 11:40 AM

She's pretty. Your points are invalidated by Felicia Day.

Julian Titus Senior Editor

04/29/2012 at 01:18 PM

Your points are invalidated by your face. (We've totally hijacked this thread. I want more comments!)

Patrick Kijek Contributing Writer

05/02/2012 at 09:46 PM

I can't believe ya'll don't like her. Give her to me, then. I want to squish those cheeks and you should, too.

The book didn't do a great job of informing us about the world either. It was like they took out chapters in editing the book. The movie actually was able to briefly portray the characters better than in the book, since you could visualize them and see them in the background.

Angelo Grant Staff Writer

04/30/2012 at 11:36 AM

Rob is wrong about Felicia Day, especially when comparing her to that (FAKE!) redhead Kate from Titanic.  Felicia actually comes off as real, honest, and cute, while Kate seems fake and skanky to me.  Do not want.  My wife is hotter than both of them anyway, so I don't have any real need to belabor the point.

Julian, dude, have you ever listened to Lacuna Coil?  Awesome Italian Goth Metal band fronted by a crazy hot woman who is so into games they used a sample from Descent in one of their songs?

They also did covers of Depeche mode and REM.  

Here's the Descent Reference song Aeon/Tight Rope.  Friggin awesome.  They also occasionally do songs in Italian (Senzafine.  It's missing the intro from the album though.  Sad.)

Patrick Kijek Contributing Writer

05/02/2012 at 09:48 PM

That's awesome. I used to have some Lacuna Coil, but to know that they sampled Descent gives them cred.

Esteban Cuevas Staff Alumnus

05/03/2012 at 03:08 AM

Sorry I'm late. I just wanted to say that I saw The Exorcist when I was four so that's why I have a fear of horror stuff. I'm planning to watch the movie adaptation of Silent Hill next. I'll probably watch Scream sometime after that.

I'm in the middle about Felicia Day. On one hand, I love her work. The Guild is awesome, Dr. Horrible was incredible and The Flog is the best show on her new YouTube channel Geek and Sundry. However, I don't find her attractive at all. But that's okay!

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