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An evolution of computer games

30/04/2019
An evolution of computer games

Whenever I see my sons playing some Roblox games on the iPad, my mind immediately goes back in time to when I was a kid the same age as them in the 80s. Maybe I am getting old, but I always tell them that, back then, games were more addictive and more difficult to play. Obviously I’m somewhat nostalgic about those days but no one can deny the huge leaps and bounds that computer games have undergone over the last 40-odd years.

A history of technology

To consider the history of the computer game is one must essentially follow a history of technology, as computer games require technology to handle the large amount of data and processing that they need to do. Some claim that technology determines culture and some claim that culture determines technology - clearly, they have and influence on each other. The computer game was originally developed on equipment designed for military and academic purposes. Nowadays, however, the computer game is the driving force of development of much of the hardware that we have, such as 3D graphics accelerators.

The first computer game

The first computer game is believed to be Spacewar!. This was developed at MIT in 1962 and ran on a computer the size of a large car. The graphics were very primitive by today’s standards, although less so than many games that came much later in the 80s. The game was simple: Two players each control a spaceship circling a planet, and the players can shoot at each other, turn the ships and move. The goal was to hit the other player before you got hit yourself.

The 1970s: Text-based

Much of the 1970s games were text-based - involving the simple use of text. These games became quite popular in the 70s and even in the 80s because they were much easier to ‘write’ (code) and consumed much less processing power.
The first commercially-available game was Pong, released in 1973. It had a very simple concept and yet turned out to be very durable, even though the graphics were essentially just white rectangles on a black background. Pong was placed at entertainment venues, markets and fun fairs as a supplement to mechanical pastimes.

The 1980s: 2D technology

In the 80s, vector graphics played a pivotal role in graphics evolution by incorporating geometrical primitives such as points, lines, curves and shapes or polygons to produce images. This led to the introduction of 2D graphics techniques and brought us more indulging games using three different visual patterns: Parallel projection, Top-down Perspective and Side-scrolling.

The 1990s: 2.5D technology

The 90s saw the introduction of multiple facets of a character or an object. We no longer had 2D images, but instead, we had something in between 2D and 3D graphics techniques. Incorporating perspective in the design, it used an augmented form of parallel projections from 2D to reveal more details of the characters in the game.

The 2000s: 3D technology

A whole new dimension was introduced in the field of game development with the advent of the 3rd dimension which as has substantially improved the gaming experience for players. 3D graphics technology has been boosted over the years, bringing intensively rich gaming experiences for the players. These technologies can be split into the categories below:

  • Fixed 3D: Effective in displaying a high level of detail utilising minimal hardware resources. The drawback to this is a fixed-frame of reference for the players, restricting them from exploring from multiple viewpoints. Game example: Alone in the Dark.
  • First-Person View: This 3D view is a popular graphics perspective which provides an immersive experience. The players find themselves personally involved in the game. Game examples: Call of Duty and Halo.
  • Third-Person View: This view is rendered as a distant view of the player’s character. The viewpoint allows the experience of more details impacts on their characterised avatars. Game examples: Tomb Raider and Grand Theft Auto.

Conclusion

Computer games have become more and more immersive and, together with augmented and virtual reality, one could lean towards the argument that technology has determined culture and not vice-versa. Gaming has become a new culture that permeates our everyday life, from gamification in mobile advertising and the iGaming industry through to augmented reality (AR) and fully immersive virtual reality (VR) environments. Some may remember the 2016 Pokemon Go! Phenomenon which had large numbers of users physically encroaching on the every-day lives of the non-playing public, raising certain ethical and security issues. A 2018 film, Ready Player One, which pays homage to certain video games and even films, toys, comics and music from various time periods, captures well the fully immersive VR experience and suggests a near future where gaming has more than an influence on popular culture. Potentially foreseeable, it remains to be seen how technology development can respond to demand… That said, it’s good to be reminded that all this started from very humble beginnings.


Vincent Farrugia is a network and systems manager at Deloitte Malta.