NEW YORK (CNN/Money) -
One of the best games around these days can't be found on store shelves and has absolutely no learning curve.
It's the guessing game -- and just about every gamer worth his or her salt is playing. Most are focusing on the game machines of 2005-2006: The PlayStation 3, the Xbox Next and the Nintendo Revolution. That's fine, but I prefer to play for bigger stakes. Lately, I've been pondering what the gaming world will be like in 2025.
Always the social type, I invited a few developers to play along. The idea was pretty simple: Pull out your crystal ball and take a stab at what and how we'd be playing video games 21 years from today. Expectations, as you might guess, are pretty high.
"I imagine there will be 3D projection technology that will allow you to play without a monitor," said Yuji Naka, creator of Sega's "Sonic" series. "Sonic will be running and the game will proceed just in front of or around you!"
Naka's not the only one who sees virtual reality coming of age, either.
"I look forward to true virtual reality in games 20 years from now, where you can become totally immersed in the action and storyline," said Ray Muzyka, joint CEO at Bioware, which created "Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic." "Imagine taking the role of your favorite hero in a movie and making meaningful choices to move the storyline along."
Not everyone sees such dramatic advances, however. Ed Boon, who co-created "Mortal Kombat" in 1992 and has been involved with every sequel the franchise has spawned, foresees a more gradual progression.
"My guess would be that the new machines will have basically more of everything that worked in the older machines," he said. "More memory, the ability to display more polygons, better lighting techniques and faster processors. I don't suspect they will introduce much new that is as influential as going from 2D to 3D."
Of course, future gaming will be about more than bells and whistles. Sony (SNE: Research, Estimates) and Microsoft (MSFT: Research, Estimates) are in a heated battle these days over your living room. The PlayStation and Xbox, of course, do more than play video games. They also double as DVD and CD players. And future generations may add even more multimedia functionality.
"In 2025 I doubt that we will even have something that we call 'gaming machines'," said Electronic Arts' (ERTS: Research, Estimates) Will Wright, creator of "The Sims," the best selling PC game of all time, and its just released sequel "The Sims 2".
"Today we don't have dedicated 'movie machines,' instead we have many different devices that can play and display movies as well as other media (DVD, TV, VCR, TIVO, PC, etc.). Each one of these machines has special features that give them some competitive advantage in the consumer electronics ecosystem. Movies have become a very portable form of media that can live on all of these. I think we're starting to see gaming evolve and diversify in a similar way."
Ted Price, CEO of Insomniac Games (creators of the "Spyro the Dragon" and "Ratchet & Clank" franchises), agrees.
"The biggest difference will be in how these new machines will become the center of your entertainment experience," he said. "Want to record your six favorite TV shows while you're playing a game? No problem; let your [PlayStation 5] do it for you. How about replacing the music in a game with the latest mp3s you've downloaded (legally)? No sweat. ...In 20 years it should be a given that all of your entertainment needs are satisfied by one machine."
Ok, so whether future machines are holographic projectors or super-powered multimedia machines -- or both -- remains up in the air. Let's talk controls.
Today, you've basically got two options when playing a game – a handheld gamepad or the mouse/keyboard combination. While alternative controls are trying to flex their muscles, only one (Sony's EyeToy) has had any real penetration in the market. Will those controllers still reign supreme 20 years down the road?
"I think a scenario where we're all using virtual controllers without physical representation will be quite likely," said Greg Zeschuk, the second half of Bioware's dynamic duo. "These controllers might use either magnetic fields or optical systems like those used in current motion capture set-ups. ...One other option is direct input into the nervous system of the player (i.e. a spinal input port at the back of one's neck), but this still seems rather far-fetched...and scary."
In the early 90s, when "virtual reality" was the next big thing, it required players to wear enormous headsets that led to complaints of headaches and neck pain. Combined with the primitive graphics of the time, the 'next big thing' died on the vine. But will we see a resurgence in the future? Insomniac's Price hopes so.
"Let's get rid of the TV and create a more convincing head-mounted 3D display," he said. "Let's take the controllers out of players' hands and instead create the sensation of actually holding a baseball bat or swinging a sword. And forget about keyboards -- even now many games are really starting to take advantage of the things you can do with vocal commands."
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That said, today's controllers have their defenders – and they're pretty adamant.
"Just as we saw wheels on cars in the very beginning or the power button in electronics, there are certain elements that must remain as long as the equipment exists," said Sega's Naka. "That makes me believe we will probably be using some sort of a [handheld] controller in future."
"In some ways I find the mouse to be a much more advanced device than your typical game controller," adds the more PC-centered Wright. "It is generally easier to learn because of the visual nature of its interface and has far more consistency across applications. The mouse is still rapidly changing (more buttons, mouse wheels), in a sense it represents the evolution of a new language based on micro-gestures of your hand and fingers. Whatever the device is, I think this new spatial/gesture language represents the most probable future of input devices."
So much for the game machines; next week, the developers speak out on the types of games we might be playing in 2025. In the meantime, where do you see the gaming industry headed in the next 20 years? Send me your thoughts via the link below.
Morris is Director of Content Development for CNN/Money. Click here to send him an e-mail.