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Vidgames enter brave new open world

Wii, online gaming point to future

Eight-year-old Rafael Solano can see the future — or at least his future.

Not content with the ease of use of his Nintendo Wii, he imagines a game system that features “controllers you could actually interact with that could go, like, on your knees or something, and on your arms. You punch your character with Punch and kick your character with Kick.”

And while his dreams are not too far from the realm of possibility (it’s likely that someone is even trying to develop “kick-punch” technology right now), game systems have made such steep advances recently that the sky seems to be the limit.

So where will games go? Is the possibility of completely virtual worlds, with next to no difference from reality, something that will happen in Solano’s lifetime?

After all, when Nintendo announced its Revolution (later renamed Wii) at the E3 videogame convention in 2004 to sighs from the jaded gaming press, few guessed that it would become not only a blockbuster, but a game changer.

Despite the fact that it was the only system that both kids and their grandparents could play together easily, most doubted it could compete with big boys like Sony’s PlayStation 3 and Microsoft’s Xbox 360.

But with its intuitive, motion-controlled interactivity, Wii has revolutionized gaming. From simulating chopping food (the “Cooking Mama” series) to swinging a tennis racket (“Wii Play”), Wii’s impact has been felt across the whole industry: Sony adapted the motion-control sensitivity to its PS3 controllers, and Microsoft just announced a clone of Wii’s popular avatar maker.

Once Wii makes the jump to high-def gaming, it will be possible to imagine “virtually” anything: If you can do it with your hands, you’ll be able to do it in the game.

Big franchises

That’s the concept that led to the boom in musical-simulator games like “Guitar Hero” and “Rock Band.” Using a controller the shape of a guitar, players can tap along to a song’s driving guitar solo that sounds just as good as the original.

“Guitar Hero” and “Rock Band” were two of the biggest franchises of the last few years. And while their popularity and sales have shrunk — even with technological advances like being able to create original music in the latest release of “Guitar Hero World Tour” — they have left an indelible mark on gaming.

Online gaming, using Microsoft’s Xbox Live and Sony’s PlayStation Network, has exploded as well. Here gamers play games against actual people they don’t know just as if they were sitting on the couch next to them. With titles like the “Call of Duty” series, players battle over and over again, unlocking new skill levels and weapons.

In the future, multiplayer games will be a lot more crowded, as shown by the ability to have 60-person battles in the recently released “Resistance 2” for PlayStation 3, as well as a mind-numbing 256-player battles in the upcoming “Massive Action Game.” How long until thousands are able to battle at once?

But perhaps the games with the biggest impact have been open-world, or sandbox, games like the “Grand Theft Auto” series: Go anywhere, do anything, be anyone, with no forced linear approach. (The latest installment — “GTA IV” — offers so much to see and do that game play is nearly limitless.)

Unlimited adventure in an unlimited open world. Those words may be the best way to sum up the future of games. After all, what better way to escape the pressure and monotony of reality than by slipping on a totally new persona? As games get more and more photorealistic, in a few short years the lines between what’s real and what’s virtual will be impossible to delineate.

And that’s the future.

When asked if he will play games for the rest of his life, Solano says, “I hope I can.”

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