FUTURE MMOS: When gaming, the web and reality cross over

GAMING has become one of the fastest growing industries in the world today. With millions of people currently playing single online titles such as World of Warcraft, while still managing to show a steady growth curve, the sky is not even measurable as the limit anymore.

online gamingEven if you’re not an online gamer, nor are you familiar with massive multiplayer online role playing games (MMORPGs), it is still interesting to know what the future of online gaming may hold and the impact that it will have on the entertainment industry as a whole. We may even see the first attempts at a crossing over of gaming, the web and reality.

The unique aspect of MMORPGs, such as WoW is that they are constantly changing. With continual updates and expansions being developed, as well as the social bonds that are formed between players online, MMORPGs are perpetual by nature. Player activity actively changes these massive gaming worlds, keeping them fresh and ever-evolving.

For gamers, MMORPGs are exciting virtual worlds into which we escape to have countless interesting adventures. For the rest of the world, a MMORPG is a form of entertainment - comparable to books or movies, just more interactive. Games are also able to story-tell like no other genre and newer technology­ is making gaming more visually appealing than ever before.

MONEY, MONEY, MONEY!

To put gaming investment into perspective, to develop a MMORPG the same scale as WoW costs anywhere between $60 million and $100 m. With that sort of money you could theoretically buy a new game every 10 minutes for the next 20 years.

dollarDeveloping MMOs is therefore a life or death risk, but with the decade-long success of WoW (which has certainly set the benchmark — reaping in over $1 billion every year) we can certainly expect to see more MMOs being developed in the foreseeable future.

The only scary part is that online games such as WoW are designed to be played at the exclusion of everything else and thrive on how much of the player’s time they can consume. There was even that case in 2009 where a young Chinese girl died of exhaustion after playing WoW for several days straight. However, MMOs are not something to be feared, and it is interesting to follow their evolution and study their compelling nature.

FUTURE ONLINE GAMING

With WoW having monopolised the online gaming market, it may take some time before we see a new and innovative release come to our screens. However, the fact that WoW only covers a single genre, there is a lot of room for the MMO model to evolve and grow in the future. Not everyone is into orcs and elves and medieval folklore. In the near future we may see interactive home décor­ simulations, fishing games, multiplayer­ motoring games or educational puzzle titles — all playable with others in a 3D online environment.

We’re likely to see a lot more user-generated content driving the development of future gaming too. Player-driven content is the lifeblood of MMOs and the fact that players can change the course of a game’s story will result in unique experiences for every player.

We may also see development of social­ games and web-based games in the future. These have the potential to grow and compel gamers and prove to be profitable at the same time. Sponsorship could come in the form of website links and web adverts. Farmville, for example, could have you visit www.jerrysfarmsupplies.com to get your new watering-can game card allowing you to progress further in your virtual farming endeavours.

Darth coffeeWe may also see a blending in of reality-based gaming in the near future. Having you visit the nearest MacDonalds or coffee shop in your area could form part of a quest for example.

Such ventures could provide the exorbitant funding that is required to develop online gaming further. This means guaranteed customers for selected stores, exercise and sunlight for gamers­ and the neccessary funds to develop multiplayer gaming further; win-win-win. It may be aggressive advertising at its best, but at least it will get gamers­ off their chairs and into the daylight.

The future of online gaming will certainly be something exciting to behold, no doubt. I leave you with one of my favourite gaming quotes:

“When we look at the future of MMORPGs, we think virtual reality. We dream about being able to lead another life where you are the boss and control everything. In real life, you are influenced by everyone else. In virtual reality, you get to choose your paths and if you think something is wrong, you change it.” — www.astahost.com

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You can read the first part of this series here

GAMING: And 3D stereoscopic gaming devices

Yesterweek I wrote a post about 3D glasses and all the joys they bring to the wealthiest 10% of the world. If that made you wet your pants with excitement, I thought it would be great to describe how they work in a little more detail.

Stereoscopic gaming

Stereoscopic gaming, for that matter, is basically gaming with the use of a 3D enhancing device such as 3D goggles. The stereoscopic experience is taken to greater heights with the combined use of surround sound and force feedback devices (or ‘haptics’ to be more technical).

With just the 3D specs and surround sound, entertainment junkies share a similar experience with avid IMAX (3D theatre) goers. Add gaming and a PC to the picture, and the result is superior immersion and an orgasmic experience.

Stereoscopic 3D hardware makes explosions fly out of the screen and adds depth that makes your computer screen look like a window rather than a flat projection, so say the manufactureres of 3D technology. Furthermore, nearly all gamers who have experienced this testify that their gaming performance is improved ten-fold. Here’s what one gamer had to say:

"The feeling of depth enhanced the visuals by a factor of ten. When I rolled in on my ground targets, I found that my aiming of rockets and bombs was actually a lot better in 3D than in 2D" - Flightsim.com

Installation

Installing such devices appears to be a real cinch. A single video synchronisation adapter is used for most, and wireless devices require no serial ports or USB connection whatsoever. All that is required is to install the device’s software.

The wireless devices make use of an infrared transmitter to communicate with your PC and a dual-emitter transmitter to synchronise your monitor’s refresh rate with the glasses. Once set up, your specs activate automatically when viewing just about any PC game, photo or movie.

Battery life seems to be rather good too. Most 3D glasses use lithium cell batteries that provide 50-100 hours of usage. Retailers further promise that there’s no need to change your preferred video card drivers to utilise their stereoscopic software. Nice.

Where can I get a pair and for how much?

My spidey senses are telling me that the above question is probably on your mind right now. It’s a bit of a tough one to answer, as there is such a monumentous range of 3D glasses on the market with different levels of coolness.

However, the standard pair, which can do most of the things mentioned today (and is pictured in my last post) goes for around R1000, but you can shave R300 off of that if you don’t mind a pair with wires. Just don’t get carried away and leap across the room to avoid a virtual grenade exploding beneath you.

PS: There are several websites selling 3D goggles but note that there are some great deals on used pairs on sites such as e-bay.

Related post: The reality of the virtual – part I

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VIRTUAL REALITY: 3D Glasses and the VisionDome

AS computer-processing power increases and even more realistic graphics are developed, the simulated environments produced by virtual reality systems will become even more believable than some already are.

I’ve always believed that, besides war, gaming (more generally – the entertainment industry) brings about the most innovative technological developments. In fact, the technology developed from military uses of virtual reality is finding application in several walks of life. For example:

  • Medical students are now operating on virtual patients rather than dissecting real, organic-smelling people
  • Architects are taking people on virtual tours of their dream home before finalising the design
  • I won’t even mention that heights that virtual reality gaming has reached
  • Business people are attending conferences and social events without having to board a plane
  • Chat rooms today mean much more than just email notice boards, which were all the rage a few years back
  • In this day and age consumers are even able to shop in 3D stores from the comfort of their armchair or beanbag

Twenty years ago few imagined that personal computers would soon be found in almost every home, classroom and office. In twenty years time, virtual reality may be just as central to our lives. Immersing ourselves in a virtual environment of our choice may become as commonplace as turning on the old television.

I’ve always had an interest in virtual reality. I wanted to know more about it. So I searched the interwebs to see what’s currently available on the market. Here are the cheapest and most expensive (i.e. most advanced) stuffs I came across:

The VisionDome
The VisionDome volume 5At the cutting edge of vitual reality - the VisionDome is a kind of half egg-shell that up to 45 people can sit/stand in and watch some pretty intense television, or lose themselves in some very life-like games.

At 5-meters in diameter, the V5 (the latest in the VisionDome family) provides a massive screen area and comfortable seating to give larger audiences a truly immersive and incredible experience.

It boasts a maximum resolution of 2048x1536 mega pixels, has 6 projector or lens options, and has a maximum output of 8000 ANSI Lumens. You would think that no one can live at that speed, which is why it sells for around
$345 500 (roughly R2 764 000).

3D GLASSES: What all the cool geeks are wearing
3D glasses possibly lie more within a South African’s budget. In the past decade, virtual reality glasses have improved in quality and become much lighter and cheaper thanks to the advancement of virtual reality technology and software.

Wireless options allow you to roam the room with your headset on, and almost all units plug into computers, DVDs and TVs. The option for a Stereo 3D input is also now available with Apple's latest in the line of Intel Xenon driven processors.

Stylish
Change the way you see the world... and look pretty stylish too

Stereo 3D is just one step into the world of virtual reality. When connected to a video source with the correct software, amazing entertainment and good times in your living room are to be had by all.

As Fate would have it, it is estimated that this market will probably first be driven by adult entertainment (i.e. porn), then enhanced video games, then the major film industry.

E-DTM 3-D
Here’s a pair of 3D specs that I thought sounded rather appealing (exerpt taken from www.edimentional .com):

The E-DTM 3-D glasses instantly convert virtually all of your existing PC video game titles into true 3D. That means a real sense of depth and distance as you're taking aim at the enemy battalion approaching, trying to find the apex of the next turn, or coming in for a carrier landing in your F-14. It's why so many customers report improved game play performance when using our glasses in addition to stunning scenery and visuals

Note for interested buyers:
When researching a good pair of 3D goggles, make sure you know the difference between goggles that only enlarge a TV image and ones that actually provide a true 3D view. While more expensive models incorporate 3D technology, the basic models only enhance the viewing area to the size of a super-large television screen.

•Next time we will take a look at stereoscopic displays and haptics (force feedback devices). These are those appendages such as the cyber-glove, that take one’s virtual experience that much closer to reality.

See also: The reality of the virtual part II

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VIRTUAL REALITY: Exit reality and enter the virtual world of the 3D web

AN Australian company has launched a free tool that offers web browsers a world-first opportunity to view the Internet in three dimensions.

Melbourne-based ExitReality said its application allows users to turn any regular website into a 3D virtual environment, where an avatar representing them can walk around and meet other browsers viewing the same website.

Founder Danny Stefanic said that, previously, only specialised websites such as Second Life and World of Warcraft allowed users to enter a 3D environment, however, interaction within those environments are limited.

"ExitReality goes far beyond that. It allows you to view not just one website but the entire World Wide Web in 3D," said Stefanic.

Exit reality and enter the virtual world of the 3D web
cool

Browsers can use the tool to turn their social networking pages on sites such as Facebook and MySpace into a virtual apartment, where photographs are displayed on the wall and links to friends are displayed as "doors" leading to other apartments.

Users can customise their flats by "decorating" with 3D versions of couches from stores such as Ikea or downloading an e-jukebox to play music clips stored on their personal page.

Similarly, using ExitReality on video-sharing websites such as YouTube creates a virtual cinema, where the browser's avatar sits next to other users logged on to watch the clip they have selected.

Stefanic said the tool will transform the web from a solo experience into one that could be shared with friends and other users interested in the same content.

"The user can see and share experiences with their friends while chatting with them and other people at either their own website or another billion web pages" - Danny Stefanic

Stefanic says there is a wealth of 3D content on the Internet that conventional web search engines ignored. Such 3D effects made the web more interesting for users, meaning they were more likely to spend more time browsing the page.

"Users would normally spend no longer than a couple of minutes on a 2D website," he said. "In a 3D environment, this time can extend to half an hour, creating a huge potential for the website owner to maximise user engagement."

Link: ExitReality home
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: The reality of the virtual

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WANNADO: Amusement park where kids do what they wannado

WHEN I was growing up as a child the dream place to go was Disneyland. People dressed like Goofy, candy floss, and a few amusement park rides seemed to cut it as the height of entertainment. But that was back then.

The youth of today will be nagging their parents to take them to a Wannado City – an indoor role-playing theme park. The first of its kind, Wannado occupies 140 000 square-feet of South Florida’s largest mall and sees more than 26 million visitors a year.

It's been said that Wannado has redefined child entertainment by simulating a dream world where children are encouraged to take on and experience one or several adult professions. It features 60 Real-play venues and over 120 career possibilities – ranging from archaeologists, doctors, attorneys and TV hosts to fashion models, pizza makers, DJs and clowns.

The venues and professions are designed to allow kids to live out their dreams while simultaneously empowering them to become decision-makers and learn responsibility. It is the ultimate childhood experience which has been framed around the difficult question of: “What do you wanna do when you grow up?”

Wannado City

At Wannado City, kids can do what they wanna do!

At Wannado City, kids can do what they wanna do!

"At Wannado City, kids can do what they wanna do"

The chief creative officer of Wannado City – Luis Javier Laresgoiti, came up with the idea while watching his daughter "play executive" on his business phone. Wannado is now a fully capitalised venture backed by multinational entertainment corporation and is led by an experienced team of entertainment executives from corporations such as Paramount Parks, Nickelodeon, Time Warner and Disney.

Such corporate backing brings me back to the reality that we live in a vicious, expanding capitalist society. When my peers and I were younger we only had to start worrying about what jobs we might do in our latter high school years. A Wannado City, on the other hand, almost seems like a cleverly fun way of instilling a capitalist ideology into the naive minds of children, with the hidden agenda of: "Get them while they're young!"

The project is aimed at the 2-14 year-old set and will cost you or your child within that age range $30 (roughly R210) to get in. Kids aged over 15 are charged half-price and those under 2 get in for free.

Wannado City caters for schools, corporate organisations, and even faith-based groups. If you have a birthday party coming up, book now – they cater for those too.

Additional Wannado City locations are currently being developed throughout the United States. I just wonder whether South Africa will have anything remotely similar by the time I have kids. Otherwise they’re just going to have to aspire to be a journalist like their dad. Sorry kids!

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