With the advent of the Xbox 360 and PS3, a new term was coined: ‘Next-Gen’ gaming. The actual meaning of this phrase is open to interpretation. In literal terms, it represents the next generation of games console technology. However, in marketing terms, it is very commonly the case that next-gen = better graphics. This is because it is easiest for people to advertise a game based on its looks (people can all wow a game for its graphics without having played it), and is a sure-fire way to sell a game.
The real meaning of next-gen is the potential of the hardware to more accurately mimic realistic behaviour, and not just looks. Because of today’s multi-threaded processors, it is possible not only to calculate things immensely quickly, but also to do many of these calculations simultaneously. In practical terms, this allows a lot more ‘intelligence’ to be put into games.
The most exciting of these next-gen innovations is the ability to insert realistic physics into a game. Half Life 2 was one of the first to use the Havok physics engine effectively, in order for you to be able to manipulate objects and have them behave as they do in real life – following the laws of physics.
But what about people? Games normally programme a finite series of animations for a character, so that when something happens to them, they will follow one of those scripted animations and behave in a certain way. Unfortunately (as all you gamers will be aware), developers only have a certain amount of time to make such animations, and so you will always get to a point where you start to see the same animations play over and over again.
Imagine making a Grand Theft Auto game. Even if you had time to create 20 ‘being hit by a car’ animations, you will still get repetition when playing the game, because you will undoubtedly see many more than 20 people getting run over during a stint with GTA.
But what if instead of making loads of animations from scratch, you modelled each individual body part and programmed each one’s response to any form of stimulus? Then, you could see a man being hit by a car 1000 times and see a different reaction each time, based on the direction, location, speed, force etc. of the impact. This is what the Euphoria engine, created by Natural Motion, actually does – and it was used in GTA IV with dramatic effect.
Compare the difference in the character’s reactions in GTA: San Andreas (first video), and GTA IV, which uses the Euphoria engine (second video):
GTA IV was exciting because it was one of the first major games to take advantage of Natural Motion technology. However, not many other games have since then. The big franchises are always the biggest culprits, and the wrestling games by THQ (Smackdown vs Raw series) are no exception.
I love these games, not only since I am a wrestling fan, but because they are immensely fun to play – especially with a few mates. However, apart from the aforementioned ‘next-gen graphics’ that most game developers have concentrated on to promote their games, there has been very little change in the underlying physics of the game. The hit detection and animations are as canned as ever, and haven’t improved a great deal in 8 or so years.
THQ have no incentive to make drastic changes to their game, in the same way that EA have no incentives to change FIFA or Tiger Woods a whole lot – they hold all the licenses and so have a kind of monopoly in creating official games. Therefore, they know they will get sales regardless.
I, for one, have been craving the kinds of improvements to games promised with the advent of such groundbreaking physics technologies, but instead (for the most part) I have been left with the same pile of video-game turd as before – with a touch of make-up every year to freshen up those baggy eyes.
Then, I stumbled upon Endorphin Championship Wrestling on YouTube. People had started using Natural Motion’s Endorphin software, based on the same context-sensitive human behaviour as the Euphoria engine. It opened my eyes as to where wrestling games (and all sports games) should be. The Smackdown vs Raw games are crying out for this to be implemented. In a game where human behaviour and movement are so integral, why are we still using a fixed number of animations, making the game repetitive, when sports games are supposed to be different every time?
I’ll leave you with this video of what one should be able to do in a future wrestling game. For more information on Natural Motion, visit their website: http://www.naturalmotion.com/