The electronic entertainment industry's heavyweights showed off their shiniest toys at the Games Developers Conference in Cologne. Soothsayers of the business also tried to predict the future of gaming technology.
The Games Developers Conference and gamescom gave players a chance to see upcoming titles
Cologne is hosting the Games Developers Conference, an industry-insider conference which ended on Wednesday, and gamescom, a massive public celebration of electronic entertainment, through Sunday.
One of Germany's biggest game developers, Frankfurt-based Crytek was there hawking its new CryENGINE3 software development toolset. Crytek is best known for its non-linear game-play and graphically intense action games such as "FarCry" and "Crysis."
Even as console gaming platforms like the XBOX 360 and Playstation3 have proven themselves software-selling juggernauts, the gaming industry will have to stop focusing purely on graphics to be successful, according to Crytek founder Cevat Yerli.
Building a better game
Video gaming graphics advances are effectively stalled for the next three years, Yerli said, as maximum screen resolution is tied to the gaming console development cycle. That means developers will have to find other ways to grab gamers' interest.
Until 2012, Crytek will rely on improving artificial intelligence, physics and special effects in order to differentiate itself from other games developers, he said.
"The online gaming market is growing fast," said Patrick Lehrmann, a project manager for Games Academy, a school for game developers. "And this market is not about graphics. It's going to be absolutely about game design.""
Instead, game design and game-play elements, which transcend the requirement for constantly advancing graphics, will become more important, said Lehrmann, who worked for several years on the graphics side of game development before joining the Berlin-based school.
Crysis seriously pushed the boundaries of graphics in video gaming
"I think there will come a time, very soon, when it's not about graphics anymore." he said, adding that graphics won't get worse but simply won't advance at the same speed as in recent years.
Graphics are just one part of the recipe
That's a development some European developers, including Hilmar Petursson, head of Reykjavik-based CCP, are likely to welcome.
CCP makes most of its money with the massively multiplayer online game "EVE Online." A very different game from any of Crytek's projects, EVE Online focuses less on graphics than the system needed to maintain a population of 300,000 people playing together on one server.
"We're constantly reinvesting in technology," CCP executive producer Nathan Richardsson said. "And getting to a point where we have a strong architectural runway to really keep on innovating."
To prove their dedication to pushing the technological envelope, CCP announced a new project at the Games Developers Conference called "DUST 514."
This will be a first person shooter, somewhat akin to the games that Crytek has made such a name for itself in producing. But CCP is taking this model a step further. DUST 514 will be a console multiplayer game, which will take place within the well-established universe of EVE Online.
"We're creating an FPS with consequences and benefits for gamers' actions," Richardsson said.
First person shooters tend to boast impressive graphics, and from the video CCP showed at the game's announcement, DUST will be no exception, but behind the surface of the game they plan to implement further layers of robust design.
The battles won or lost in DUST will impact the EVE universe and vice versa, and CCP hopes that cooperative alliances will emerge between players in the two linked games.
Good looks are hard to believe
While games developers will always strive to look good, there are some who are re-thinking the often superficial approach to game development, such as Crytek's Yerli.
"It's better to create a believable world than a realistic world," Yerli said in an interview with Deutsche Welle, saying that it's best to back away from attempting photo-realism and to create worlds that capture gamers' attention.
Most people can't tell the difference between the graphics in a game from seven years ago and a game from last year, Lehrmann said, but they know when a game they play is well designed.
"They can recognize how beautiful the work is that went into it," he said.
Author: Stuart Tiffen
Editor: Sean Sinico