Lindley thinks playing on mobile devices has not come near its potential: “There’s a new and emerging game area where mobility and location have particular kinds of impact on the kinds of game playing that are possible, ” he says. “This is something that is yet to be explored in depth.”The second trend that Zero-Game Studio is pursuing is that of massively multiplayer games, with as many as tens of thousands of players online at once. This form is so new that the styles of game play that uniquely exploit the medium have just started to emerge. There are now just above 50 massively multiplayer online games available, but more than 100 are in development.
Mirjam Eladhari, a game programmer who heads technology development at Zero-Game Studio, recently surveyed the upcoming crop of massively multiplayer online games. Before making the survey, Eladhari had a few preconceptions about the results. Almost all current games are played in either a sci-fi or a fantasy world, she notes, adding: “I thought that there would be an increasing number of games that combine different game play genres, such as real-time strategy or first-person shooter combined with role-playing. I also thought there would be a change in the choice of fictional themes for game worlds. This all proved to be wrong.”
Lindley would like to see the industry put more money into development of new concepts. Generally, he concedes, it’s easier to convince investors to follow established game forms with predictable markets. But, he says: “In the longer term, it will be necessary for the industry to push these boundaries to keep products interesting.”
Zero-Game Studio has made several attempts to author those new games. In addition to The Visby Game, the lab has created Ouroboros-a multiplayer online game populated with beautiful, mythical characters inspired by local tradition. Lindley calls Ouroboros a persistent virtual world for game research. The research is as basic as can be: it’s about what a game really is-and what it is not. Because if it is just role-playing online, Lindley insists, then it’s not a game.
The hunt is for a game that has a narrative, without loosing too much in action or freedom for the player. Usually, games with a story only display the narrative as film clips, and then inserts bits of ordinary action shoot-em-up game between the scenes. “In the end,” says Lindley, “I want to find a game where I care about the life that’s in it.”