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Wednesday, 14 November, 2001, 11:11 GMT
Emotional future for video games
Project Ego from Lionhead Studios
Project Ego will create a life-like experience
The games console industry will welcome the third next generation machine, the Xbox, to the US market on 15 November. BBC News Online's Darren Waters asks what the future holds for interactive gaming.

Sandy Duncan, head of Xbox Europe, says he looks forward to the computer game that makes him cry.

It is not that he is a masochist, but rather he is looking forward to a new generation of computer games that can provoke a more complex range of emotions.

Forumula 1 from EA Sports
F1 goes "beyond broadcast"
Excitement and frustration are probably the two most common feelings when playing a game but the technology has not yet been used to provoke more meaningful emotions, such as sadness.

But the launch of Xbox and Gamecube and the limits being explored by developers of Playstation 2 mean those sorts of experiences are not far off.

Sports simulations

The first step for developers is to create games that can match the experience of watching television.

For obvious reasons sports simulations have been the first port of call.

The real future for boxes like this is online

Ed Fries, Microsoft
Nick Channon, senior producer on Electronic Arts' Formula One, said: "We are pretty much there now. Machines like the Xbox allow us to get there visually.

"It is the first machine you can almost switch on a game and say: 'Is that TV?'.

"For a while now we have been trying to mimic TV in the way they broadcast these games, especially on the sports side.

"We are trying to get cameras in the same place and when people watch the games they are familiar with the way a Formula One race, for example, is broadcast."

'Young audience'

He said they are now trying to go beyond TV and broadcast - to put cameras "in places you can't in the real world".

Ed Fries, head of Microsoft's games division, said he does not think interactive entertainment has reached its true potential.

"There is a young audience who treat video gaming as part of their life," he said. "It is part of their entertainment diet - TV, music, video games. It is all mixed together for a 16-year-old.

"But for the lot of the rest of us - it is just not there. Maybe we come home from work and we watch TV, go out to a movie every once in a while.

"There is a huge segment of the population that just hasn't been exposed to interactive entertainment. It doesn't understand how powerful it is, how great it is not just to be told the story but to be the one in the story."

'Holy grail'

Unfortunately, games consoles have not yet proved up to the task of creating that kind of experience.

But that could change.

"We are working until we get to a point - and this is the dream - to be a better game than TV," said Dr Seamus Blackley, of Xbox.

Characters will tan, grow old, get lines on their faces, grow beards

Peter Molyneux, Lionhead Studios
"It will get to a point where it is a better experience than watching television and that is the holy grail."

Many in the industry believe online gaming will be the true catalyst for change.

"The real future for boxes like this is online," said Fries.

"If you play online it is not just these huge worlds with you against the machine, it's you against other players or co-operating.

"Hundreds of thousands of people all together in one space, all working together to solve problems, to fight battles, to improve their characters - it's incredibly compelling."

'Multiple plots'

Sandy Duncan, head of Xbox Europe, said online gaming would spawn episodic content.

"The analogy I always refer to is Hill Street Blues. Steven Bocho created a new format for a TV soap - multiple plots running in different time-lines across single and multiple episodes.

"That meant people could watch Hill Street Blues for one episode and be satisfied, while more devoted fans get more out of it.

"Translate that to games - in episodic games the stories can get more complex and reach out to a broader range of emotions."

Peter Molyneux of Lionhead Studios is one of the developers working towards that future.

In his new game, Project Ego, on the Xbox, he said he wants to create a game "that can change the world".

'Facial tic'

"The world that you play in changes as you go through it - depending on what you do," he explained.

Metal Gear Solid 2
Metal Gear Solid 2 brings a movie feel to games
In Project Ego, for example, a sapling kicked over by your character will not then go on to grow into a tree and 20 game years in the future you will not be able to hide behind it in a battle.

He adds: "Characters will tan, grow old, get lines on their faces, grow beards.

"The amount of lines and ageing is dependent on what has happened to him in life. Characters can develop a facial tic if you forever put him in stressful situations.

"Favouring a sword arm will result in muscles in that arm."

Clearly, the future for games is someway beyond the first monochrome blobs that appeared on computer screens.

Soon, empathy, concern and fear will all be part of the interactive game experience and perhaps, one day, even tears.

Ed Fries, Xbox games
"We can do eyes that communicate emotions to our audiences"
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