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Games of 2020

Well the game of 2020 competition now over. My entry did not enter the winning circle; and no wonder, those are some pretty good designs. Anyway, I'm posting my entry to get some feedback and become a better desinger. Constructive criticism is encouraged.

Rafael Vazquez, Blogger

March 10, 2009

17 Min Read


Confucius said: "study the past if you want to define the future". Well, I'm not quite sure if he actually did say it or not, but there are wise words nonetheless. Games, as all other types of art, media, fashion, etc... have trends. Trends come in all different shapes, sizes and colors, however they do have one thing in common, they are cyclical. Well actually, they form more of a spiral. You see, even as the basics will stay and come again (i.e. cooperative gameplay), the context and polish are different (ie voice chat). This is mainly due to evolving ideas and to advances in technology; and if there is one thing certain about 2020 is that it will have bigger, badder technology, technology that when we are old and grumpy, will scare the living carp out of us.

So the first order of business is to extrapolate what will be the trends by 2020. At the moment we are smack in the middle of the "retro" trend. Oldschool gameplay, "simple" level design, more compact gaming time, the revival of twitchers, it's what we grew up with back in the late eighties. This is not by chance, that first generation of gamers has grown up and acquired the +50 charm power that only affects publishers, "purchasing power". Nostalgia is a big draw, and that is a constant. By 2020 the Z generation (I just like the term) of Halo, WoW, Guitar Hero will also discover that they have money...and nostalgia. They will look with longing to the massive multiplayer games, where story takes a backseat to emergent gameplay and competition. However, they will be quick to discover that 2020 is not like the early 2000s.

Technology will advance, interactivity will evolve, the graphic plateau will be reached and rejected. It turns out that unless you‟re doing a simulation, people actually want to be in a fantastical world where things aren't as normal as we‟re used to (you can make a safe bet in that we're gonna have exaggerated bodies). This is not a blind guess either; we can see this reflected in visual art, where (even if realism still exists out there) contemporary styles rule supreme (for now). How will the technology be in 2020? We can get a good clue by analyzing the state of the art in user interfaces at the moment. The trend is clearly to use your own body and mind as a tool for interactivity. From the Wii's controller to the Xbox 360's voice controlled games to the Emotiv mind control set the path developers are taking is clear. Sure, it is somewhat clunky now (Endwar, I'm looking at you), and its practical results are...debatable, but, if they keep on this track, by 2020 they will have their glitches ironed out. But what will make them stick to the path? Aren't they doomed to follow the way the VirtualBoy?

The thing is, they are not alone; there is another trend that is rooting for them...casual gaming. Back in the good old days (again the 80s) gaming was casual. You and your buddies went to the arcade, played a few rounds of Street Fighter until that kid (the pioneer hardcore gamer) came around and made you waste all your quarters. Then things changed; the middle 90's saw the rise of the hardcore, who went on a rampage dominating everything from Starcraft to Counterstrike. It was oblivion (or nirvana depending on what you were). Now we are seeing a resurgence of casual games. This is because of an infiltration of videogames in society as an accepted medium for entertainment. It is no longer for the geeks, nerds and perpetual bachelors. It is now for everybody. However, to appeal to the casual gamer one has to keep it simple. They don‟t like long games with overly complex controls (ejem, Steel battalion). If this cycle holds true, then by mid-2010 we will see a new era for the hardcore gamer (just like right now we are on the verge of a new era of geekdom, including nerd hip-hop and techie oriented movies), but by 2020 we will watch as casual games are starting to come back in vogue. Producers will sense this (with their special tenth sense) and user friendly, intuitive controls will start to appear.

My bet? Visual and gesture recognition is advancing amazingly fast in academia, as well as phoneme identification. Future game platforms will have a camera and a microphone as their main interface (maybe using a headset and bracelets to make recognition easier), with some ports so as to connect diverse peripherals (hardcore gamers never truly die out). Games will be controlled with

your gestures and with your voice, making conventional controllers obsolete. Mind control? Wouldn't hold my breath. Advances at the moment are amazing, but unless it gets more support by software developers, it will go the way of the commercial virtual reality gloves.

But what about games? Future games are going to be prettier, that‟s for sure. Bigger hardware, as well as more elegant software (not to mention all the common sense 11 years help develop) are going to make visuals stand out. However, as mentioned earlier, they will not use photorealism as much as we thought they would; sure some of them (especially simulations, some serious games and advergames) might, but the vast majority of games will take a more fantastical approach to visuals. Sadly, gameplay will stay more or less the same, especially in the west. This is due to the "sequelities" that now prevails in our industry. Sure, by 2015 this might possibly change (thou it doesn't seem likely), however, with only 5 years of innovation, we will not be having a radically different approach to gameplay. Shooters will still shoot, Racers will still race and twitchers will still give you thumb sores. Sure, there will be some innovations. For example, more freedom for the player is one of those trends that has been going steady for quite a while. The inclusion of emergent gameplay will become more and more widespread, and we're going to see more games specially designed to make this its central selling point. Player made communities will continue to grow, especially as it becomes more and more mainstream, and the line between virtual worlds and real worlds will start to get really blurry. Get prepared to take a lot of flak about this in the future, once virtual economies start influencing the real ones significantly, and once players see they can use this new medium to organize themselves in support or against X issue, it going to become REALLY complicated. We should try to predict and identify these future issues before they become a reality, and hope for the best.

So, how about an example of a game from 2020? Well one of the biggest games of 2020 is going to be "Path to Power". This is one of the first games to successfully blend socializing, city management, shooter, flight sim and political play at a massive scale. Basically put, it allows players to create, run, and defend their own nation, which will ally, antagonize and double-cross rival nations also from players. Everything from economy, to policy, to certain gameplay mechanics will be defined by ALL the player's actions. One could try to relate this game with a space MMORPG, but with radically different gameplay per class. One could also be excused in believing this is four different games, however they are so integrated that this isn't the case. We should begin explaining by parts.

First, the city sim. Similar to Sim City, some players will be able to build and manage their own city, becoming major and trying to fulfill all his citizens‟ wishes. Except for the fact that his citizens are other players, and if those players' wishes don't get fulfilled, well…someone will have to pay the price. When the player enters the game for the first time he will choose a home city, where he will spawn every time he logs on and he can keep his trophy room, organize parties, etc... If the major doesn't do his job then these player's homes will start to suffer the consequences (nothing big at first, maybe they won't be able to buy that cool lamp he wanted „cause there isn't enough electricity). Even more important the major also has to respond to his superiors. So let's say the new president is a warmonger, and he needs more tanks for X battlefield, well then it‟s up to you to reach that quota… queue in industry and pollution. Furthermore, the type of city you create also affect the gameplay, so if you create a bustling commercial metropolis, then players will get higher income, but soldiers that reside there will get no bonus in battle. This will create migration flows and specialized cities, which in turn will create rivalry in your own faction, not to mention competing states. At first one would start with a small district, then (if you win the power play) you will start progressing, becoming manager of bigger and bigger cities and states until you reach...well more on that later.

What if the player would rather be a soldier, and march on to battle. Well then, welcome to the army son. After selecting a home city, he will join a battalion, and start as a recruit in one of the different battles your nation is fighting against rival empires. However he is not alone...the top strategic decisions are made by players (like which state to attack) and so are which and how many battalions are sent to that front. Remember the tanks that were manufactured above, well that

basically states how many tank respawns that army has available for the battle. All this has to be decided by the top generals and politicians of a country. And thus, the soldier is always sent to the middle of the battle, whose result will affect the actual political and geographical landscape of the game. As he levels up he will get access to bigger weapons and reach higher ranks, and will eventually be able to affect decisions, be it at tactical (where to place respawn points) or strategic level (hey, let's assault that city over there). Tactical communication and squad integration are thoroughly encouraged, as is clan gameplay (if you have a tough battle ahead, call in the specialists). What, no wars at the moment? Oh well, it seems you'll have to stick to black ops skirmishes that don't represent war, but can affect your enemy's infrastructure ("what do you mean our tank factory was blown up?")

Vehicles are of course included, but this is a space game in the end (until we conquer space, space will conquer our imagination); so what really matters is space combat. Enter the flight sim, thou this classification is lean at best. Imagine huge capital ships with dozens of players on board controlling everything from turrets, to fighters, to special infiltration squads. Each ship can be upgraded to become even more devastating. Want to clear the skies with a swarm of fusion missiles, no problem; want to add some powerful planetary bombardment canons because some loser didn't reach the tank quota, sure thing. Each player can decide how his particular vessel will be armed and modified, down to the clan symbols on the wings. Of course, at first you won't be able to get the big star destroyer; you'll just have to level up some more. Everything from attacking specific parts of a ship from fighters to actually boarding the ship will become simple parts of the full repertoire of strategies the admirals can use.

Maybe you‟re not a fighter, nor a manager, you just want to gather around a few friends, drink your virtual beer and talk about soccer (by 2020 it is still the most popular sport worldwide...take that football!). Well then, just travel to a city, find your friends and talk with them via voicechat. Come play a couple of minigames, which by 2020 standards they are pretty much what we played back in 1990 (Nostalgic anybody?). How about watching some online movies? Or go on a virtual sightseeing tour of another country? All this can be done, provided the city managers do their work. Your bloc doesn't have a movie theater....guess you won't vote for that @"·$% again.

Which lead us to the big one....this game is called "Path to Power" after all. Who wouldn't want to be king for a day, especially if that means actually ruling over actual people? All players will be able to reach power, just taking different paths. Every week, elections are held, where all citizens will vote for who will rule them next term (unless the president bans them). Only high ranked players will be able to run for office (that means governors, generals or admirals), however in the end players will see that in order to win, you have to ally yourself with others. Of course you can always pretend you‟re with them and then change side the day before elections. Sound familiar? This is political power play at its best (or worst). However the prize is big. You get to rule an entire virtual nation; from diplomacy to economic to more subtle stuff (maybe you want all buildings to be pink). Diplomacy of course plays an important role. You can help create the new Allied nations, or just go on fighting despite them. International communications will be opened for you to create anything from trade agreements ("so you need more metal for those tanks, huh?") to territorial disputes. In the end territory is important, it establishes how much resources you have at your disposal and how much population your nation can keep. You can try and bargain for it.....or conquer it, why not. It is up to the president. O wait, the president canceled elections? Are we entering a dictatorship? I want to be the dictator instead of him? Well, if elections get canceled, then a whole new mechanic comes into play. If you, as tyrant, can't convince your population that you absolutely have to be in power for the good of the nation, problems will occur. Can anyone say "military coup"? Oh yeah, it can happen, but only in Path to Power.

The games control will change depending on which path you play, but all will use the same interface. Using gesture and voice recognition (or controller if you still think it's cool) you will be able to play any of the aforementioned roles. Are you a manager? Well then how about a "Minority Report" style interface, where you can easily travel through menus at the pointing of a finger, all the while you yell at your electoral opponent during the debate (broadcasted live to the rest of the

world). Soldier you say? Point and kill with our gesture recognition, unless of course you need artillery support, in that case call in the attack from your orbital ships. Flyboy then? Well, just put your hands in driving position and control your very own fighter, unless you‟re a ship admiral, in that case just point to the direction you want to go (they're slow enough) and bark orders to your underlings (just don't piss them off).

Imagine, if you will, you log on. The first time you did it (some months back) you chose your appearance, nation, home city and role. Back in the day you were just a rookie jarhead, living in a central city with high income, because you wanted a nice flat. However, those combat bonuses were too good to miss (half the respawn time!!!...I´m in) so you moved to a frontier city that is constantly under attack; it might not have as much social activities, but it is more in line with your....philosophy. You fought many battles and followed many orders, and you proved your worth. Now you're a seasoned lieutenant, and yesterday war was officially declared. The generals decided your job is to create a diversionary cross-border attack, to confuse the enemy. For this they assigned to your front 3 battalions, 50 tanks and artillery pieces and aerial support from Admiral "Halo6_Rules!!!". First is first, you enter the strategic command screen and watch how the world has evolved from the last time you logged on. Not much has happened, "Nerdvana" held elections and elected "PleaseStopMoreStarWarsFilms" and the battle lines of your current war are just beginning to be drawn...no one has made a significant border gains yet. Ok, that being settled, let‟s start the battle. You open the tactical command screen and ponder on the future battlefield; you select spawn points for your soldiers and tanks and see if "Halo_6Rules!!!" is online to plan the attack. He is not, but "Samuel Jackson" (No one remembers Chuck Norris in the future), the second admiral is. Good, he‟s more cooperative, has no political aims.

You plan the attack, set the waypoints for your troops, and begin the bombardment. All goes well, the bombardment hits most of the static defenses and the space fleet reports a small number of troops in the area. Good. Attack. Your tanks advance first with foot soldiers protecting the flanks. You grab a rifle and march with your men...you didn't get to lieutenant by sitting in the sidelines. Suddenly a barrage of rockets is fired, your point tank explodes, and you see troops with a yellow snake printed on them attacking. Shit, it‟s the "BoredOfElves" clan. No wonder they are so few, they are good....tournament good. But we are more, and we have a fleet. Suddenly you see an anti-orbit cannon fire in the distance.... the fleet is going to be in trouble. You enter the tactical screen and reset the waypoints...we need to destroy that cannon. It‟s going to be tough. We need reinforcements. You call the closest city...."we need more artillery!" No response. You check the strategic map, and watch in horror how that city is under siege. It‟s going to be really tough. Ok, fine, just call a city that is at a safe distance from the boarder. You choose "PacManchester", an industrial town. You call and wait. Major "Blinky's Revenge" answers. "Send more artillery ASAP," you bark. You wait. A single line comes through. "Can't, factories sabotaged 2 days ago". It's going to be really, really tough; but not impossible. You fight.

Is this a big game? Yes. Is it complex? Yes. Can it be done? By 2020 it will be. At the time we don't have the resources or technology to implement such a big game. Controlling all the variables is a statistical nightmare. Furthermore, if the market is large enough to merit and sustain such a game is debatable. However, by 2020 the gamer base will be considerably larger that today‟s. The game will appeal to both casual (through socializing or joining a fight for some minutes at a time) and hardcore (power play), and that will be in great part the secret of its success. You see, for all its technology, for all its complexity, for all its polish, for all its context and for all its tanks (couldn't let that one go) in the end, the bottom line is still the same. Plain and simple, the game is still fun.

Rafael Vazquez Rodrigues

[email protected]

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About the Author(s)

Rafael Vazquez


Rafael Vázquez is the lead game designer at Xibalba Studios and also does a bit of indie development on the side. He has worked on social and PC games both for entertainment and for social improvement, and is a firm believer of the power of math to uplift the art of game design. If you want to reach him, just send an email to [email protected].

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