With the increasing use of Virtual Reality and whispers of Ray Tracing becoming more mainstream it is easy to boastfully declare that we are on the cusp of a true gaming revolution. But the reality is that if you picked up the five best games from 2015, nearly half a decade on you won’t see much difference.
Exciting tech cycles
It is important to view progress in video games not through a concentrated lens where we look at changes in the last few years but as a big picture. The reality is that if you zoom out far enough you will see that innovations like Virtual Reality (VR) are not here for the first time. Let’s take a look.
We can travel back all the way to the early nineties. If you were to go to the right arcade you would find VR experiences. You would put on a visor and feel emerged into a world that felt so visceral, and real that it couldn’t help but be the future of the video game industry. Except it wasn’t. Perhaps back then it was due to expense, or practicality, whatever the reason, it failed.
Fast forward another decade and there was an explosion in 3D content. Sports fans were watching their matches with 3D shades on in pubs, TV’s were shipping with built-in 3D, just about every cinema release had a version with glasses required, so what happened. Exactly the same as what happened last time that 3D content became trendy. It fizzled out. This time it probably wasn’t about the cost, after all, most TV’s were 3D compatible. But maybe it was the small percentage of the population whose brains simply don’t process the visual trickery. Or the fact that long term exposure to it can cause headaches, whatever the reason, 3D, just like it did in the eighties has disappeared once more. Perhaps it will return in a decade or two, it wouldn’t surprise me.
What goes around comes around
It isn’t just 3D and VR that we have seen before either. Take X-box’s ill-fated Kinect project. This was not the first time we had seen a console toy with games controlled via camera. In the case of the Kinect, it had the potential to be a real game-changer, it’s just a shame the technology required such specific conditions to function correctly. It’s also a real shame that not enough content was developed to really help the hardware shine. If it had been executed correctly it may have stepped away from being just a gimmick and become a true innovation.
The end of VR
So this all makes it sound a little like I think that Virtual Reality is going to die a death. Which is odd seeing as both Sony and Microsoft have suggested that the technology is going to feature as part of their next generation of consoles. Here is the problem with VR though, not everyone likes using it. It is not like a TV screen where 99% of the population enjoy using them problem-free, people complain of motion sickness and eye fatigue when playing VR. That’s completely skipping over the fact that the headsets can be pretty uncomfortable, especially during extended play sessions.
So should games devs double down?
Probably not. We face an interesting situation. Technology hasn’t advanced much in the past half a decade. The VR might be a gimmick and might shift consoles, but there haven’t been noticeable graphical gains on consoles for a long time, nor is there likely to be. Microsoft, are trying to sell their newest consoles on the speed factor, but will this be enough to shift units? Perhaps not. The future for gaming might not be as bright as you might hope.