The Jetsons and Back to the Future II sure missed the mark depicting our future. Sassy robots don’t serve us breakfast, skateboards still have wheels and, for the love of God, cars do not fly.
Standing on the ice at Toronto’s MasterCard Centre last summer, however, could almost trick the mind into believing we’d realized popular fiction’s utopian future. Maple Leafs defenseman Morgan Rielly and Montreal Canadiens sniper Max Pacioretty darted around the ice clad in black suits, covered in reflective balls. As the players deked, shot and play-fought, cameras surrounding the rink bounced light off the balls, triangulating the visual information. Instantaneously, on a TV screen just behind the boards, video game avatars mimicked each player’s movement in real time. Voila, motion-capture technology, the lifeblood of EA Sports’ insanely realistic hockey video game series.
“It looks a lot more restrictive than it actually was,” Pacioretty said after removing his high-tech gear. “I was expecting to go out there and feel like I wasn’t a hockey player, but we felt pretty comfortable. The technology was amazing.”
Other video game genres, such as action or horror, have actors perform all the movements and dialogue in similar MoCap suits, creating a smooth, cinematic experience. Sean Ramjagsingh, producer of EA Sports’ NHL series, told THN a few years back the company’s goal was photorealism. He envisioned a console presentation virtually impossible to distinguish from a real-life broadcast on TV, so that people would have to stop and stare to realize it was a video game.
We’ve more or less achieved that feat today. Graphics will inch forward a bit each year, especially given the power of eighth-generation consoles PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, but it’s the law of diminishing returns now. These games look amazing already. What, then, will the future bring in hockey gaming – and all sports gaming for that matter – in 10, 20 or 50 years? How can we possibly advance any further?