It’s been an exciting year for gamers. A lot of the most hotly ever anticipated advances within gaming have now become reality; most notably VR technology. But significant progress within artificial intelligence has also made possible a whole range of transformations to the way designers develop games, and the way we play them. Besides the actual games, online platforms have also contributed toward the way that the gamer community interacts.
In gaming, artificial intelligence has typically been used to generate intelligent behavioural patterns that reflect how a human would play. Games are configured with algorithms which mimic human flaws and thereby make the computer possible to defeat, or even allow the game to take on an unpredictable course each time you play.
‘No Man’s Sky’ is an example of the sophisticated way in which A.I. can now be used in games. The game, which sees players as intergalactic explorers, has a complex algorithm which is continuously generating new planets, animals, ecosystems and atmospheres so that a player can explore this online world without there ever coming an end to the literally infinite number of new worlds he or she can discover. This style of A.I. is known as procedural generation, and will also be used in the highly anticipated space game ‘Star Citizen’.
The concept of VR gaming is not new, but 2016 is arguably the first year virtual reality games have reached a point of being realistic, comfortable and affordable. Four main VR console brands are driving the market right now – Oculus Rift, PlayStation VR, HTC Vive and Samsung Gear VR – the latter costing just under $100. The advent of VR gaming has opened up a whole new world of possibilities, and there’s no going back now that VR has become the optimal gaming experience.
Trends in 2016 have pointed towards the revival of online poker. Californian and Pennsylvanian lawmakers are discussing bills that would make online poker legal in those states; an act that is predicted to be the catalyst that sees online poker legalized elsewhere in the US too. Currently, online poker is only legal in Nevada, Delaware and New Jersey. Despite this, over 60 million Americans are believed to be active players. Advocates of online poker will point out the games’ cultural value, and the fact that consistently good players prove it is a game of skill more so than of gambling. With widespread legalisation just around the corner, we can expect a poker mania to once again hit the US, perhaps reminiscent of its early 00s heydays.
Twitch, and streaming platforms in general, can be accredited with the growing popularity of esports. Esports tournaments have been viewed by more than 26 million viewers – that’s more than the NCAA! Professional gamers are even earning as much $200,000 from a single tournament as a result of esports’ global popularity. It’s clear that 2016 was the year that esports was truly established as a spectators sport, and even declared an official sport in countries such as the US and Russia.
Pokemon GO has left us in no doubt that augmented reality, when executed well, can make for hugely successful games. Before Pokemon GO, the sci-fi augmented reality game Ingress had developed something of a cult following over the years. After Pokemon GO became one of the biggest gaming successes of 2016, it feels like we can expect the popularity of augmented reality to influence other game designers and see the concept used in even more creative ways in the near future.
The internet hasmade possible more platforms where indie game developers can get the word out about their games. Kickstarter revolutionized the way studios could fund their development, and Steam has made it easier than ever for developers to upload their games and reach wider audiences. With 2016 having been a great year for indie games (The Witness, Cuphead and Firewatch to name but a few titles!) we should expect an increasing number of alternative and experimental games to get the attention they deserve, diversifying the choice of games going forward.