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Commonwealth Games 2002

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Thursday, 1 November, 2001, 09:53 GMT
Games set sights on the future
Screnshot of Quake III Arena
The popularity of shoot-em-ups is set to continue
By BBC Click Online's David Jamieson

Computer games often depict futuristic worlds, but what about the future of the industry itself?

Industry insiders are certain of one thing: the popularity of the first-person shooter-type games like Quake III: Arena are likely to continue over the next few years.

It seems there is no substitute for attacking things or blowing them up.

"Over the next five years or so games are going to continue as they are, but make more use of multi-player aspects," said Asam Ahmed of games company THQ.

"Something that's a recent phenomenon in the internet world is the broadband access at a public level.

"As more and more homes access broadband internet, it will open up a new potential for gameplay insofar as the amount of data that can be transferred from one computer to another, and hence the complexity of online games, will increase," he said.

Specialist regions

Some games industry experts say globally the industry appears to be organising itself into regions of specialisation.

East Asia's games creators are experts in huge multi-player worlds and strategy games.

They are also responsible for producing some of the quirkiest games and the longest lasting characters in the gaming world. Just think of Super Mario or Sonic.

Lara Croft stars in Tomb Raider
Tomb Raider: huge hits
The US gaming industry is renowned for slick photo-realistic racing and simulation type packages.

Britain's strong gaming industry has a reputation for off-the-wall scenarios and characters, such as the phenomenally successful Tomb Raider.

One certainty is continuing improvement in desktop computer technology. Top-end graphics cards now have double the memory they did a year ago, processing chips have broken the two gigahertz barrier, while motherboards and RAM memory boast increasing data rates.

This means games can look more photo-realistic and the artificial intelligence programmes that run them are making your electronic opponents smarter.

A lot less certain is the future of wireless gaming. While it is hugely popular in Japan, recent announcements in Europe about the viability of 3G networks will only make games developers more cautious about this new platform.

3D gimmick

New gimmicks still abound, like a booth that can clone you in 3D. It uses a technique originally developed for medical imaging.

A sample 3D character, 3Q
Your 3D alter-ego can be nasty or nice
"It was designed to assist surgeons measuring people's faces prior to major surgery," said Chris Lane, chief executive officer of 3Q, the company behind the imaging technique.

Surgeons were finding it difficult to photograph fidgety children, he said.

"What we needed was a technology that would measure the face very accurately and be available for areas like surgical planning, looking at how the child develops, assessing congenital defects and so on."

Faces generated with 3Q's system can be made to look as nasty or as strange as people prefer. You can even add scars.

The image file is burned to CD, and can be imported into a game letting you step into the game world as yourself.

But no matter how realistic the image, it makes absolutely no difference whatsoever to how good you are at playing a game.

Click Online is on BBC World on Thursday at 2230, Friday at 1030, 1430 and 2030, Saturday at 0730, 1430 and 1930 and on Sunday at 1030. All times GMT.

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