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Wright, Meier, Bleszinski and Romero on the future

More personal games, better streaming, less self-reference and tramp simulators.

Four giants of game design - Will Wright, Sid Meier, Cliff Bleszinski and Jon Romero - have discussed their visions of the future of games, the challenges of the present day and the unlocked potential of the medium at a Game Developers Conference panel.

Wright argued that we were in a golden age that would lead to more personal game experiences, Meier warned of the dangers of a self-referential industry, Romero insisted on the importance of streaming game worlds, while Bleszisnki talked up serious games with social messages.

"I think in some sense we're in this golden age of game design right now," said Sims creator Wright, "the indie scene, app market and all that, and we have a lot of free-form exploration of whole new genres, new approaches.

"But now there's kind of a signal to noise issue. When there are 100,000 games or more released every year, how do you find the 50 really ground-breaking ones?"

Wright also argued that the ease with which game developers could study their audiences could lead to games that were extremely personal to players.

"For me, when you think about the most powerful artistic experiences, whether it's a book, a movie, a game... they are things where I walk away from that experience and it's changed the way I think. I see the world somewhat differently, I behave differently as a result of that," he said.

"I don't think you need super hi-res graphics for that, but you do need relevance though, to somehow reflect back on the way you live your life. I think that's why social gaming is taking off, [and] user generated content, things that are kind of reflecting off of you or saying something about you.

"We're just now entering an era where we're able to capture so much metrics, both aggregate metrics on a player base but also individual metrics on your very particular skills, likes, interests, social network etc., that we have the opportunity to take games into a whole new area where they become very customised to a unique individual player. That, to me, is probably the most powerful path that games have ahead of them that we haven't really tapped into."

Civilization mastermind Meier expressed frustration that most game designers were looking at other games rather than the world around them, as he and his contemporaries had done in the early days of the medium.

"I think we're kind of in danger of becoming self-referential as an industry," he said. "When we were starting out, a lot of the games that we did were things we thought were cool as a kid. Model railroads, kicking the can or things like that, we built games based on our experience.

"Now a lot of games are kind of built on 'a game I liked', and that game might have been built on a game that person liked... I'd really encourage game designers to reach out into their experience, what they think is cool other than other games that they've played - that's where i think a lot of the new ideas potentially come from."

Doom veteran Romero had some more prosaic concerns. After praising Minecraft's seamless blend of creativity and gameplay - "a pretty life-changing experience for me" - he insisted that developers needed to focus on better streaming of game worlds. (Anyone who counts the amount of time they spend staring at loading screens these days would surely agree.)

"I don't think there's any other game that has duplicated World of Warcraft's amazing client technology to stream a giant world that smoothly, and Minecraft does a really great job of doing that as well," he said.

"We're really limited by how much of a level we can hold in memory. I think that moving into streaming should be the next big... not tech breakthrough, it's been done already, but I think there should be more effort put into it."

And Gears of War designer Bleszinski had his own unique take. "I had a conversation with a very good friend of mine who's well known in the business who I'm not going to name. I asked this friend what would be your dream game to make, and this friend told me: a homeless simulator.

"That's something that I think, done properly, could have an interesting message about what a person in that predicament goes through. That's the power of this medium that I haven't tapped into because I make far more commercial, Michael Bay type stuff - but I'm envious of those who are able to do that."

At the talk - called Forgotten Tales Remembered: The Games That Inspired Leading Innovators - the quartet also revealed the early games that had inspired them the most. Will Wright chose Bill Budge's Pinbcall Construction Set; Sid Meier talked about Dan Bunten's revolutionary Seven Cities of Gold; Cliff Bleszinski waxed lyrical about Shigeru Miyamoto's The Legend of Zelda and the place it had in his childhood; and Jon Romero told how a fascination with pinball and the arcades culminated in his life-long love of Toru Iwatani's Pac-Man.

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