I was planning on doing a wish list of features I’d like to see in the next version of Grand Theft Auto. One was the ability to create mayhem at a sports stadium filled with people. I’d like to be able to sneak into a football stadium packed with people watching their hometown team and snipe at people and sorta just create panic in the stadium ala Black Sunday.
GTA does a pretty good job at having the ambient AI (artificial intelligence) characters in the game react realistically but usually it’s groups of people, three or four in a bunch, who react. I can’t recall seeing more AI characters reacting to something you, as a player, have done.
I ran across an article on Xbox.com about the Xbox 360’s artificial intelligence capabilities that explains why you don’t see massive crowd reactions to player actions in games. The article quotes Chris Satchell, General Manager of the Game Developers Group at Microsoft, explaining what the computational processing power of the Xbox 360 will mean for next-gen games beyond beautiful, high-definition graphics and 5.1 Dolby surround sound:
"I love it when you take an NPC [non-player character] and give it some really simple rulesâ€”by itself, it looks okayâ€”then you put 10 of them together and the interaction makes things start to look interesting. Then you put 100 of them together, then you put 500 of them together…the emergent behavior is really amazing."
"You plug in some really simple things [A.I. rules]â€”fleeing behavior, avoidance, frightâ€”you put these emotions in and you run it with 30 NPCs, you get one type of behavior. You run it with 500 NPCs, and you get a film. You see a scene and now you’ve got enough processing power to run 500 NPCs, with enough processing power to render them and to do collision for them, you get experiences in games you’ve never seen before."
So not only will the Xbox 360 improve dramatically from a look and sound standpoint, gameplay itself will be improved and more realistic.
Add to this the graphics improvements and sound system improvement and the next-gen systems will bring video gaming a large step closer to the holy grail of gaming: photorealism.
Take a look at Madden 06 for Xbox 360 trailers at GameInformer.com. The graphics are clearly vastly improved over the curent-gen version of the game. Much sharper and more detailed. Take a look at Brett Favre‘s face in the Packers vs. Vikings clips and you’ll see the character actually looks like Farve. The players’ movements are also immensely improved; they are much more fluid and natural.
Couple these improvements with the built in 5.1 Dolby surround sound support and the improvment in the realism of the games becomes obvious. You may be able to hear a fan heckling the quarterback in the stands on the right-hand side. Or in first person shooters, you may be able to hear shots coming from behind you on your left, allowing you to wheel around to face the threat without ever having seen it.
Games need to get to the point where it becomes less and less obvious that you’re playing a video game and more like you are a participant in a drama. That requires realism and realism, ultimately, is where video games must improve if the industry is to elevate itself above films as the predominant entertainment and art form. The Xbox 360 will help the industry reach that goal.