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Let' just say it right now: Video games are going to dominate the freaking future. You'll see it in your own lifetime. We're warning you, though, it's going to get weird. Beginning with ...

2008: Neverending Games, Sony' Model-T Matrix

Spore's Infinite Universe
Anything we say about the future of gaming has to start with Spore, a game from Will Wright (The Sims, Sim City) that no one would have even believed possible if they hadn't actually seen it in action. In Spore, you start out as a single-celled organism ...

... and evolve into a creature of your own design ...

... then form tribes ...

... then cities ...

... then planets ...

... then interplanetary travel ...

... which lets you visit other planets teeming with infinite varieties of alien life. Yes, guys, you can then build warships and wipe them out.

This sounds like a ridiculous crack fantasy to any gamer who's ever dropped $60 on a game and blown through all 12 levels in eight hours. How the hell do you fit an "infinite" number of planets and aliens on a few DVD' worth of data?

The answer is a technique called procedural generation, which just means the game doesn't have to store millions of creatures, it just stores the methods by which they can be built. You, the gamer, make the creatures.

Your malformed abominations, along with all the civilization and technologies that spring from your deranged imagination, are automatically uploaded online where they become part of the Spore universe. Those other planets you get to travel to? They're all created by other gamers.

They're planning on half a million stars with millions of planets orbiting. When we say "infinite," we mean it. We're talking about a game you could literally spend the rest of your natural life exploring without ever reaching the end.

Whether or not this particular game becomes a hit, this method of game creation is the inevitable future. A whole lot of what sucks about games right now--specifically, the huge art budgets that force publishers to cash in with shitty licensed games--will go by the wayside. Game makers won't have to construct a whole digital universe; they can simply provide the blueprint and distribute the creation process to millions of people like you and me.

But, what could wind up having an even bigger impact ...

PS3 Home
Sometime in the Spring of '08 Sony will break ground on the kind of virtual world that has been predicted by, well, about 40 percent of the science-fiction stories written in the last 50 years.

It' called PS3 Home and basically anybody with a PS3 console will be able to take a handsomer version of themselves into a cleaner, more-awesome version of the real world and mill around with other gamers doing the same.

I don't think we can summarize the scale of this as well as the insightful experts at PrisonPlanet.com have HERE, with the headline:

SONY BRINGS REAL LIFE MATRIX A STEP CLOSER
SETS PRECEDENT FOR FUTURE ARTIFICIAL UTOPIAS
CONSTRUCTED TO ESCAPE HELLHOLE OF REAL WORLD

Hell, yes. If we were Sony, we'd put that shit right on a billboard. Not that this is a tough sell; every move mankind has taken toward a virtual community has drawn a stampede. From MySpace to World of Warcraft, the promise of being able to start your life over as a cooler, better-looking version of yourself has been irresistible. Look at the picture up there. No one will be fat in PS3 Home.

So far, Sony has done an incredible job of convincing us not to buy a PS3 (It' getting pounded by the Wii and Xbox 360 in sales.) but even if PS3 Home dies on the vine, it will, at worst, serve as the blueprint the next virtual world is built from. It could be the Model-T of what could, generations later, turn into something close to The Matrix. But, we're getting ahead of ourselves.

But know this: It will happen. The virtual utopia has a spot reserved in our future right next to the sex robot: People want it, and it' just a matter of working out the details.

What Will Suck About It
People are dicks.

Check your inbox. How many of your emails are from friends, as opposed to spammers? How many of your female MySpace-friend requests are dummy pages set up for porn?

Spore and PS3 Home are still made up of people and therefore a certain percentage of those wondrous new universes will be composed of dicks. At some point you will travel to a wondrous new Spore world and find the creatures there have evolved to have hides covered in porn URLs.

As for PS3 Home, do you think Sony is pouring tens of millions into development so you and your little friends have a place to hang out? No, they're creating one of the greatest targeted-marketing opportunities in the history of advertising. How long until busty virtual girls are chatting you up, then interrupting flirty conversations to say they'll need 20 bucks to continue?

All that is just around the corner. Now, let' skip ahead a generation ...

2013: Badass Handhelds With Even Badderass Web Connections

A PS3 in Your Pocket
We'll be at the generation of the PlayStation 4 and the Xbox ... 720 or whatever they decide to call it.

Now, the gaming industry' greatest obstacle has always been the fact that humans eventually have to go outside. This is why handheld gaming is such a big deal these days The best-selling game machine isn't the Wii, PS3 or 360. It' the handheld Nintendo DS, by a huge margin.

People need something to do in all those settings where, in the old days, they used to read a paperback (at the beach, waiting at the airport) and kids need something to do on car trips or in detention. Both groups tend to be avid non-readers.

Come 2013, you should have a portable as powerful as a PS3 or 360 (portables run about a generation behind), which is pushing the limit of what the human eye can even perceive on a little 4-inch screen.

Now, saying handheld gaming is the future right after saying online gaming is the future may sound like a contradiction. After all, wireless Internet access is spotty and cell phone Internet makes you feel like it' 1997 all over again. But ...

The Miracle of 4G
This is where 4G comes in.

4G is the upcoming standard that will give you a wireless connection at 100Mbit/s, anywhere. That' more than 30 times faster than the best DSL connection you can get at home, kids.


Above: The Nokia 4G phone concept, currently in the
"Make-an-awesome-Photoshop-of-it" phase of development.

Whatever the virtual-gaming universe looks like at that point, be it World of Warcraft 2 or the second generation of PS3 Home or a sprawling descendant of Spore, you should be free to access it anywhere, at any time, from your handheld.

Also, this nearly-unlimited Web access will probably signal the end of physically buying games off the shelf. Electronic Arts is not going to see the point in selling boxed games for $60, when they can have you download it for a fee, then pay another monthly subscription fee to play it (the scheme that made Blizzard rich off World of Warcraft).

What Will Suck About It
As you may have already guessed, this era of "download anything, anywhere, anytime" also introduces the era of your mom screeching up the stairs after she opens up a $600 monthly gaming bill.

That bill won't just be from little Timmy buying new games or paying subscription fees on existing ones, either. It'll be from buying in-game content. Already you Xbox-360 gamers can spend real-world money to get extra cars in Forza 2.

It will be a money-making bonanza for them. For us, well, some day we'll reach the final boss' castle and meet a dragon who tells us that the only way to prove we have the heroic heart of the Chosen One is to give him 20 bucks.

Of course, being gamers, we'll still spend most of our time wishing for the Next Big Thing. Which brings us to ...

Continue Reading Below

2018: Graphics Fired Directly into Your Eyeball, The End of the Game Console

Size Becomes a Non-Factor
Computers tend to double in speed (or shrink to half their size) every two years. If that continues, by 2018, we'll be getting close to the end of how small the circuits can get (or at least that's what they say) because at some point you're using circuits that are only one-molecule wide. Efforts to make them smaller than that will probably, like, make you travel back in time or some shit.


From HERE

By that point though, a system quite a bit more powerful than your PS3 would fit on a device small enough that a dog could swallow it. So, we're talking about gaming over a cell phone-sized device that' just short of movie quality.

Of course, the problem with making handhelds smaller and smaller is that you're making that screen smaller and smaller, too. What good are spectacular graphics on a tiny little screen you have to squint to see?

The answer is, of course ...

Your Eyeball Becomes the Monitor
VRD (Virtual Retina Display) is a system they're working on at the University of Washington that will project images right into your damned eyeball.

The idea right now is for Heads-Up Displays for pilots and soldiers and such, but it'll be just a matter of making it small enough and cheap enough for the rest of us. By 2018, a device, no more intrusive than a pair of sunglasses and a Bluetooth, should be able to put you right into a virtual world that fills your whole field of vision. The graphics won't be real-life quality (that's further away than people think), but it should still be really fucking cool.

That' why we talk about the end of the home console here. You'll be getting to the point where the home "tethered-to-your-TV" system doesn't offer any advantages to your handheld, just as a land-line phone doesn't offer much over your cell these days.

It's no good talking about how home consoles will always look better, either. Already, graphics are getting to the point that non-hardcore gamers can't tell the difference from one generation to the next. That's why the Wii and even the PS2 are selling like crazy. The masses don't know what pixel shaders are and don't care. Graphics have advanced to the point that people look like people and dragons look like dragons.

Once handhelds reach that same threshold, most users just won't see a reason to play the one you can't take with you.

What Will Suck About It
About five minutes after the eye-projection technology hits the market, advertisers will find a way to superimpose ads over every damned surface you look at. It will detect your eyes staring at some girl' boobs, and suddenly across her cleavage you'll see the URL for www.soyouliketolookattitties.com.

Then, we'll find ourselves looking forward to ...

2023: No-Hands Gaming, Games That Learn

Brain Control
The problem with the head-mounted handhelds is, of course, you still need some kind of controller to move around and shoot the bad guys.

That' where direct brain control will come into play. This is where it all starts to sound like science fiction, but tell that to these people who are already developing a brain-computer interface they think will help with rehab for the disabled. Hitachi is testing one for everybody else:

You may insist that it's silly to think such world-changing technology would ever be used for something as frivolous as playing video games. But, then you have to tell the people at Emotiv, who have already made a device that can do it.

Obviously that stuff is still in the prototype stage and if you saw somebody doing whatever that guy up there is doing, you'd probably beat the hell out of him (wait, is that Andy Dick?). We figure it'll take between now and 2023 to make this device into something that won't make you look like a total jackass.

As for the games we'll be playing ...

Beyond AI
Assuming computer-processing power keeps expanding at the rate it's expected to, by this point a $1,000 computer will exceed the computational ability of the human brain.

Our tiny Bluetooth-sized device should be capable of generating graphics pretty damned close to what Industrial Light and Magic are doing now for big-budget movies. The graphics still won't be true-to-life, in the sense a part of our brain still knew the giant fighting robots in Transformers were fake (Though, maybe in 2023 giant fighting robots will be a common sight in the real world.).

Still, you should have games that can pretty easily render simpler environments, such as a living room realistic enough that if you dozed off with your PlayStation 6 eyepiece in, you'd wake up and not realize you were still in-game. At least not until the demons showed up.

That actually sounds pretty cool now that we mention it. Imagine a haunted-house game with dead people and shit sneaking up on you all the time, and as far as your eyes and ears know, they're really there. We're talking about a game that could trigger a fear response that would physically make you poop your pants.

Again, assuming the dead are not actually walking the earth in 2023, in which case the sight would be common.

But with the kind of processing power at your disposal, you have to think way beyond that. If you take that Spore-like procedural generation this far into the future, you wind up with games that can basically remake themselves on the fly, according to the reactions of the gamer.

Think about games that adjust their difficulty according to your level of skill, or games that change according to your mood. And if you're controlling it with your brain waves, it will know your mood.

What Will Suck About It
These are all still technologies created by human beings, which means that a whole lot of the games will still be terrible. Some of this magical immersive brain-interface technology will be dedicated to making a game version of Shrek 7.

We don't want to come off as cynical here, but those of us who were playing a Sega Genesis back in 1992 dreamed of the kind of consoles we'd have 15 years later. Not many of us were anticipating that some of the most popular titles of the wondrous future would be shitty games sold at Burger King.

Let's not forget the advertisers, either. Think how well they'll be able to target their ads when they know your exact emotional state. The day after your girlfriend dumps you, the porn ads will blanket the landscape. The moment you get hungry ...

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2028: Supercomputers Woven Into Your Jockstrap, Games That Do Everything

Computers Everywhere
If they keep bringing out new game machines every five years the way they have been, we'd be on the PlayStation 7 at this point. Though, that's really unlikely, even if Sony is still in business, and mankind has not been wiped out by the giant robots or the zombies.

The processing power and/or miniaturization of this stuff starts to get mind-boggling at this stage. If the "half-the-size-every-two-years" rule somehow held true to this point, you'd be talking about computing power in a package one-thousandth the size of what you're using now. That's laptops embedded in sheets of paper ...


E-paper.

... and processors woven into your clothes ...


E-fabric.

"¦ with the costs low enough that if you left your computerized T-shirt at the park you'd hardly bother to go back and get it the next day. We hereby predict that by the year 2028, someone, somewhere, will literally wipe his ass with a computer more powerful than any that exists today.

The point is that at this stage, the concept of actually owning a console/computer starts to get silly. Once miniaturization reaches this point, the next step is probably distributed computing, where all computers scattered around your house and around the world team up to do, well, whatever you need them to.

Some of you are already doing distributed computing, with the Folding at Home project, where computers all over the world are joining forces to do complex calculations to help solve the mysteries of protein folding and maybe cure diseases like Alzheimer's. PS3 owners are even doing it.

At this point, whatever interface you've got stuck on your head won't need its own processing power. It could just be a tool to tap into the collective power of a vast pool of computers operating 24 hours a day, all over the damned place. All you'll be doing is buying access.

Access to do what, you say? At this point, what we're calling "gaming"--the whole technique of running simulations that engage a human mind--could be used for pretty much anything. Would there even be other forms of entertainment? You could get your movies, TV shows and concerts there.

Hell, business types could even hold virtual meetings there, wearing virtual suits while their real body is sitting at home, lounging in briefs with a bong in their lap. For the kids, plug them into a simulation that teaches them algebra and say goodbye to the classroom forever.

What Will Suck About It
Do the math. If your brain is always wired into that vast computing network, somebody on the other end always knows where you are and what you're doing.

And, what you're thinking.

Yeah.

2033: The Real-Life Matrix, Video Games That Are Way Smarter Than You

According to computer smart guy Raymond Kurzweil, by 2029 the kind of computer power it'll take to equal a human brain will cost about $1. If trends continue as they have been, what we're calling supercomputers could be made as small as a speck of dust. You could paint them on your walls.

Take the whole idea of distributed computing we talked about and multiply it several thousand times over. Computers become both ubiquitous and invisible, embedded in almost every surface you touch, with the whole atmosphere full of the data they're shooting back and forth to each other. More information than your parents absorbed in a lifetime could come firing into your brain in the blink of an eye.

Combine that with patents Sony already has for ways to fire ultrasound pulses into the brain to create real-life sensory experiences, and you've got everything you need for five-senses virtual reality. And, you don't even need the jacks in the back of your skull.

We're assuming some kind of nuclear fusion or some other kind of vast energy source is out there by this point (all this flying data will require unimaginable amounts of electriciy) and that we're not living in mud huts and fighting radioactive mutants for food. But, if we're not, PS8 Home (or whatever they're calling the digital metaverse at that point) should finally exist as a new-and-improved version of reality you can touch and smell--only noticing the transition by the sudden absence of fat.

Imagine it. In your lifetime, a magical world where you can actually meet that Burger King mascot, and smell him and feel his robes. As for the porn, well, is it even porn at that stage? It's pretty much just sex. You have sex with the porn lady and when you roll over, there's the Burger King guy to hand you a Whopper in person.

As for what sort of "games" or other entertainment would be offered there, it's possible that by then the gaming industry would have achieved its final goal: A device that makes you enjoy the experience no matter what they do. It's true that it would require electrodes inserted into the pleasure centers of the brain, but at that stage it would probably be considered cruel to not implant them in every newborn.

Electronic Arts could crank out a Shrek 9 game in a couple of weeks that features nothing more than Shrek standing in your front yard, quietly staring and occasionally farting. The whole time your brain will be telling you it's the most fun you've ever had.

You may be having so much fun in the game realm that you'll never want to leave. And that's OK, because this guy says that just down the road (around 2050) you'll be able to download your mind into the computer. Your body dies, you live on in the virtual world. Forever.

Or, you know, as long as somebody is paying the bill.

What Will Suck About It
At this stage we could very well be getting to the outer edges the long-predicted era when mankind is just an irrelevant blip in a world dominated by computers. If the combined thinking power of the world's computers completely dwarfs the combined minds of all the humans, then at this point the machines will pretty much be making games purely to entertain each other.

Or, possibly mankind will only be allowed to survive for the machines' amusement. Perhaps they'll force us to walk through hallways and shoot each other out of a desire for ironic revenge that we will have accidentally programmed into them somehow.

It's all speculation at this point. Who can predict what will happen on that day when Spore has, generations later, culminated in systems powerful enough to create entire universes and even simulated minds to populate them. You would reach a point where the population of simulated beings in existence dwarfs the real ones.

Even stranger, the simulated people born inside the simulation would have no way of knowing they were in a simulation. You may have heard that guy in The New York Times say that mathematically we are almost certainly living in one of those simulations now.

But anyway, Spore looks pretty cool and we're looking forward to it.

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