The Future of Gaming

The Future of Gaming
Open-World Gaming

Spanner | 11 Nov 2008 12:35
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My parents used to go on and on about how much they played outside when they were kids, extolling the virtues of exercise, fresh air and sunlight that our generation, as beneficiaries of the first home videogame systems, denied ourselves.

At the time, I wholeheartedly believed they'd have taken to their sofas to play Atari Football instead of toiling away outside if given the choice. Which is why it was probably more difficult for me, a lifelong gamer, to accept the Wii as readily as the "family orientated" players that Nintendo has so successfully targeted. All those years learning joypad, keyboard and mouse control techniques suddenly became void. Nintendo expected people to jump around and wave their arms for entertainment - and we've been jumping around and waving our arms ever since.

We now find ourselves in a time when games - the best games - are physically interactive. But as my mother would undoubtedly point out, we still play these games inside. We're a step closer to exercising while we play, but all that fresh air and sunlight has yet to break through the hermetic seal of contemporary entertainment.

Strangely enough, the technology to take games out into the field has been around for a long time. Unfortunately, there aren't many developers keen to realize the scope of free-roaming gaming. Literal free-roaming, that is; not sandbox-style games with fast cars, plentiful guns and an endless cityscape.

On the south coast of England, however, a team of visionary gamers has been working on a mobile phone application intended to help game developers put the proliferation of GPS technology to more amusing effect. They're now in the process of field testing the platform, called LocoMatrix. Main man Richard Vahrman is surprisingly candid about where his inspiration for the project came from.

"Fat kids," he begins, light-hearted but surprisingly serious. "Seeing a family with two obese children in a pub car park, in the back of a people carrier on the edge of the South Downs, eating crisps and playing with their DSs rather than running around the beautiful countryside at their feet." The goal was simple: Vahrman wanted to "get kids running around outside playing computer games where they are the characters chasing and being chased, rather than manipulating them on the screen."

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Look at the age old argument that playing outside can be as much fun as playing inside, and the lines begin to blur. Vahrman talks about games where the players become the characters. It's a level of immersion that developers have consistently promised and failed to deliver. So why aren't game designers looking toward GPS as another tool in that holy quest?

"LocoMatrix has an open API that still needs some work, but this is already starting to get some use," Vahrman says. "Not so much interest from games industry as from other areas, such as using LocoMatrix as a vehicle for promotional campaigns, for team building, in education. We have two universities using it for teaching students, and we've started on a £100,000 project to create a resource for schools.

"Personally, team building is one of my favorites at the moment, and we're looking to do some really exciting things with our treasure hunts. One of the great things about being mobile-based is that all the players can be connected even if they're out of sight of each other, or in different towns. Even different countries."

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