What should we expect from AR/VR’s gaming future?

Augmented and virtual reality devices are only just now reaching an age of both mainstream appeal and technological deliverance. As a long-time staple of science and speculative fiction, we already have a deep history from which we can draw the possible potentials of these amazing devices. Despite this, we are still undeniably in the early age when it comes to both VR and AR tech.

If we had to compare what these devices are now capable of, we feel the best comparison would be that of the PS1 and N64 generation of consoles. We are starting to get a glimpse of the true potential when it comes to overall complexity, sure, but it’s undeniable that there still remains considerable room for growth.

So would the first baby steps into this look like, and what do we hope and expect from AR and VR in the future?

You’ve come a long way, baby

We expect many of our readers will be too young to remember, but the current generation is far from the first effort from mainstream gaming to break into virtual reality. The first major push – and one which is as interesting as it was hilariously limited – was that of the Nintendo Virtual Boy.

Originally (poorly) conceived as a follow-up to the Gameboy, the Virtual Boy was released in 1995 and was available through 1996. It sold a respectable 770k units, but numbers aren’t enough to prove quality, as the success of Bieber so clearly illustrates. Critical response to the device was negative, to say the least, but a lot of this came down to the simple technological realities of the time.

 

Digital Press, Clifton, NJ 3/28/09 - 10 of 27

Digital Press, Clifton, NJ 3/28/09 – 10” (CC BY 2.0) by goodrob13

The Virtual Boy sat on a desk, had players stoop to look through the visor and generated its virtual image through an early version of the parallax method which we see today. Not too bad, right?

How about a resolution of 384 x 224 pixels, a monochrome red and black display, and a scan rate of 50.2 Hz? If you can’t imagine that then picture gaining a migraine after a few minutes of playing an incredibly poor library of games.

If you consider the 20MHz clock speed and 1MB of DRAM then this is actually fairly impressive. If viewed through the eyes of a general player who wants to enjoy a game and not end up sick, however, this was nothing short of an utter waste of money.

At least it showed us what might be accomplished, once our reach finally met our grasp.

Phones, self-contained units, and glasses

As we stand today, VR and AR units are tied to a few different systems. The most capable of these, at least at this point in time, are tied to consoles and PCs. The reason for this is quite simple – these are the most powerful, and generating quality VR and AR experiences requires an enormous amount of processing. These are literally thousands of times more powerful than the former Virtual Boy, though even now the larger experiences still struggle to maintain consistent quality among all but very expensive PC systems.

Of course, technology is not stagnant, and with each passing year the capabilities of these devices help push us further and further into a guaranteed cohesive experience. Mobile phones are now approaching such power that devices like the Samsung Gear and Merge VR offer a lot of power in a little package.

These advancements are increasingly matched by the likes of self-contained units, with devices like the Oculus Go and Lenovo Mirage giving enthusiasts what they want, without the need for additional hardware. Eventually, we could expect these to be effectively miniaturized to such a degree that they have a profile no bigger than Google Glass while offering a wider view and massively increased capabilities. Such a dream might still be a long way off, but it will come, and we can’t wait

Augmenting reality

Now we get to the stuff everyone really cares about – the games. Sure AR and VR already offer a fairly substantial range of games and tools, but we have a long way to go yet. What we really want, at least when it comes to AR, comes down to two elements – a dynamic playfield, and an increased social element which many games have diminished into the internet age.

When it comes to a playfield, what we picture is the sort of potential hinted at by the likes of Pokémon Go, just cranked up to an entirely new level. Just using the Pokemon concept alone, we could have entire cities which share a synchronized version of a singular world. Each person could see the same thing, at the same time, and combat could easily approach that of the original games or even the anime – minus the risk of horrific accidents which would come about from playing with weaponized monsters, that is.

Through the use of GPS tracking and Wi-Fi networks, both of which will only improve in the future, we could have virtual gyms all throughout the world, with trainers wearing AR devices playing and fighting together.

Disfraz Minecraft

Disfraz Minecraft” (CC BY-SA 2.0) by sukiweb

To use another game as an example, and one of the exciting suggestions of early AR demos which we never saw come into true adaption, we could look at Minecraft. We love the game, with the undeniable appeal for a great many players coming from personalizing and showing off their own creations. Huge, funny, complex, or ridiculous, we already love this game, so what could it be like if our entire home, or even larger communities, offered AR overlays of personally developed buildings?

Fill your house with buildings, explore it on your PC, defend it against invaders, and have a block building game without the awful cleaning up which this traditionally requires. Sure, the possibilities for trolling are enormous, but the potential is there, and should already be theoretically possible, at least on the smaller scales.

When it comes to the social aspect, the potential we see for gaming is immense, though really this could extend to far more uses than just raw entertainment. Take for example the elderly or housebound, or even those with family or friends located potentially hundreds or thousands of miles away. Sure, social games like bingo are already offered by many online casinos, and as websites like Oddschecker show, these already take significant bonuses over the traditional but in the future this potential could reach even further.

What if, in the future, casinos and other games could incorporate projected images of real people and family with these games, to offer the social experience over long distances and with little fuss? Of course, on the other side, family reunions might become even more unbearable than they are today, but that is what ‘technical difficulties’ are for.

And what about virtual?

The limits on VR gaming are not as severe as with AR, though they still do exist. Primarily these come down to software adoption and discomfort more than anything else. Sure, VR might seem like the perfect opportunity to play through your favorite open worlds, to get truly engaged on a level which a mere screen could never offer, but there are very few games which offer these experiences. Luckily this is an issue which time itself should mitigate, with greater rates of VR adoption and better development tools making these pursuits much more financially viable for even smaller studios.

Virtual Reality Demonstrations

Virtual Reality Demonstrations” (CC BY 2.0) by UTKnightCenter

In terms of discomfort, this is harder to speculate on. It is likely that higher frame-rates and better visual tech will reduce headaches and eyestrain, as they already have from the developments from the Virtual Boy to today, but bigger improvements still remain a bit of a mystery.

What does this mean?

It means that we’ve spent far too long lamenting the fact that despite AR and VR having come so far, and offering so much, they still have a long way to go. Sure, kids born today will likely grow up in a world full of amazing VR and AR games, but our impatience means we want them now. The great thing is that with each new development in gaming, there are always those who push the envelope in ways which we could never predict.

We stand by our presumptions of what AR and VR gaming will look like to some degree, but we’re sure that the real progress will make even our most hopeful predictions seem childish in their simplicity. At least, that is what we hope.

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