Future of gaming to be more customized

SAN DIEGO — In the future, audiences won’t want to simply watch characters, but to control them — and their environments.

Speaking Monday at the Siggraph (Special Interest Group on Graphics) conference in San Diego, Electronic Arts’ Glenn Entis pointed to a future in which thrills come not simply from controlling digital characters but from creating them. The vidgame giant’s senior VP, chief visual officer and chief technology officer noted that in games like “The Sims,” players spend more than half their time creating their characters and environments rather than playing the game.

He also noted that even if visual effects spectaculars and CG-animated features still dominate the box office, the marriage of movies and computer-generated imagery could be losing some of its excitement for audiences.

“As an industry, we won. We just won,” said Entis. “But with that, as an industry, we’re drinking from the firehose. When you have 1,000 big thrills a year, where are the big thrills?”

Entis believes the future of entertainment may look less like watching a movie and a lot more like what CG artists do today.

Entis, a onetime animator at Pacific Data Images, which was absorbed by DreamWorks Animation, recalled the days when the first CG-animated characters were presented and the first realistic landscapes shown — even when the first realistic 3-D lighting was introduced.

“It’s been a long time since I had that feeling of a whole new world opening up,” he said.

Entis said that for graphics enthusiasts like him, the visual effects business has become less interesting as the most difficult problems have been solved and their applications have become commonplace.

CG went “from being an amazing problem to an interesting artistic problem to a commodity problem,” he said.

In that last stage, CG isn’t a technical wonder, it’s simply something that must be done as fast and cheaply as possible. That, Entis noted, was the case with videogames from the start, since vidgame graphics had to be rendered in real time: 60 frames a second rather than the average three frames an hour of a CG-animated movie.

Entis says that points to a new future for entertainment.

“We’re seeing across the board, in different kinds of areas, people want to create stuff for themselves,” he declared.

Until now, he said, most CG tools have been made for professionals who create graphics for audiences.

He said there’s a need for the game companies and the people who make tools to talk about “making tools so much fun that people can’t stay off of them. That may be the next stage after the commoditization phase.”

At the very least, said Entis, that should help CG mavens enjoy their work. In turn, it’s hoped that passion will translate to consumers.

“If people haven’t had fun making the game,” he asked, “how are people going to have fun playing it?”

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