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Thought Leaders: Chris Hecker
Innovation takes many forms within the gaming space, often beginning with insight and inspiration from a single person, be they a game developer, an engineer, a sociologist or anything else within the industry. That’s why we’re tracking down these thought leaders: to give you a sneak peek of the digital arts future through their eyes.
In this installment, we sit down with Chris Hecker, independent game developer (he is currently working on his forthcoming SpyParty), former editor at large of Game Developer magazine and member of the advisory board of the Game Developers Conference. Hecker talks about the future of game design and the role the indie developer will have in the marketplace.
DIG: What kind of technical innovations do you see on the horizon for game design?
Chris Hecker: I think we’re nowhere near done with technology advancement for computers in general, and video games specifically. All you have to do is look out your window and you quickly realize we’re not even close to being able to render anything like real life, let alone simulate it and interact with it, so it’s going to be a long time until we plateau in terms of technology that’s relevant to games, like 50 or more years probably. I’m a believer in strong AI as well, but that’s many decades -- if not centuries -- away.
That said, I do think we are at a temporary plateau in terms of graphics, meaning things are basically good enough for exploring a wide variety of game designs. In the near term, I hope developers will research technologies that are focused on the interactivity aspect of games, since that’s the aspect that sets us apart from other art and entertainment forms. So, things like human NPC behavior, the intersection between AI and animation, and the game world reacting to the player’s actions -- those are the kinds of things we need to focus on. Certainly, those are the areas in which I’m hoping SpyParty can move the game design ball forward a little bit.
Graphics will get better because graphics is easy (it’s trivially parallelizable, it yields to brute force well, it’s a mathematically understood problem, etc.). So I think developers should focus on the hard problems surrounding interactivity.
DIG: How do you think the game industry will develop in the future?
C.H.: I’m really excited that we’re in the middle of what some of us call the “Golden Age of Indie Games,” meaning that finally a developer or three can make an interesting game and find an audience large enough to make a sustainable business out of it. That sustainability is the key; being able to make a game you’re passionate about and then make enough money to make another one is hugely important to fostering creativity and risk-taking in the industry, which we need more of. I don’t think big blockbuster games are going away, just like summer movies are here to stay, but we are finally seeing the emergence of games that aren’t trying to be summer blockbusters, and that’s great.
DIG: Where do you see independent development fitting in? Will new market dynamics take cues from loan innovators or squeeze indies out?
C.H.: I think the music industry is an interesting case study in how creativity and business mix. In music, a new band with a new sound will come up in the local bars, and then one of a few things will happen. Maybe an A&R person from a label will hear the sound and rip it off for the next big group being produced. Maybe they’ll sign the band and they’ll get exploited but famous, and the sound will get out that way. Or maybe the band will do a grassroots thing and build a fan base slowly. All three ways are healthy for music as an art and entertainment form, in the sense that the new sounds are constantly getting mixed into the form.
Yes, some of those avenues are better and worse for the individual performers and for the music industry’s various players, but the important thing is that the creative churn is happening. I think indie games will be the same. The business opportunities might not always be as healthy as they are right now in the Golden Age, but people will still make games and move the game design ball forward -- and those ideas will become mulch for the next generation of games.
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