The year of 2015 marks the 20th anniversary of the first online casino. Little fuss is being made over an anniversary that offers the chance to take stock of just how far and how quickly online gaming has come, and not just in the casino sector. What is now a $40 billion industry simply did not exist at the beginning of 1995. That in itself is quite a transformation. But the ever increasing level of gaming delivery across the board means that it is all too easy to forget just how far things have progressed from the early days of 2D black and white Rastor and Vector technologies. It’s hard to imagine that something as basic as Asteroids was cutting edge within that timeframe.
In some respects the essential gaming experience has hardly changed. Familiar games such as online roulette, poker and baccarat have been around since the beginning of the casino boom, just as the imperative to ever more textured and smoother, more ‘realistic’ 3D renderings has been an ever constant driver of more general gaming technologies.
‘Realistic’ comes in scare quotes because it has meant different things to different people at different times. The degree of realism available in the 1990s was obviously a long way shy of what Oculus Rift can offer in 2015.
At every stage, hardware, software and gaming fashion have played their part. The introduction of first person perspectives in the mid-1990s – a massive step change in terms of ‘realism’ – was the product of the storage capacity of the CD (following on from laser disc technologies) and fifth generation consoles. Before that, limits on processing power and memory had restricted graphics to parallax 2D suggestions of 3D that relied on suggestion as much as representation to convey any sense of 3D. ‘Realism’ in gaming is a wholly relative term.
And of course, the quality of imagery has only been even remotely photographically ‘realistic’ in the past four or five years. There have been some significant points along the path towards immersive 3D realism from the roto-scoped animation of the early 90s to the introduction of VGA graphics, texture mapped 3D environments and the development of stand-alone graphics processing units. The demand for a more ‘realistic’ gaming experience has been insatiable.
The Pentium class and 486 cups that enabled games like Quake and Unreal Tournament may have been striking for the way they rendered movement super smooth and delivered backgrounds that were fully textured and 3D capable in the 90s, but they were soon overtaken. Seventh generation consoles, cloud-based environments and the seemingly limitless capability of computing means that, increasingly, the only limit to a fully realistic immersion in a gaming environment is the amount you are prepared to spend on the kit. That is maybe where those casinos might help!
The development of sensory reactive games such as Never Mind that use biofeedback technology to convey your own physical responses back into the game, using it as a means to shape the course of the game itself, take the idea of ‘realistic’ to a whole new level – and one that goes beyond the merely visual. There have been some seismic steps forward in gaming technology over the past 20 years, and it is a safe bet that there will be plenty more by the time we get to 2035.
Image by Doun Dounell