Games are us. (interview with Trip Hawkins) (interview)
by Peter Scisco
COMPUTE: What's in store for computer games in the next three years?
Trip Hawkins: I think what the consumer cares about is the audiovisual realism of the experience. There's a big leap from 8-bit to 16-bit. On the Sega Genesis and the Super Nintendo, the graphics look as good as EGA graphics and even better, because the animation is very good.
C: Will we see the same kind of explosion we saw with the 8-bit NEX happening with these 16-bit systems?
Hawkins: Yes, in fact it's happening right now. It's related to two factors. The smaller factir . . . is the growth of the home office market. A lot of consumers who are home office workers are going to buy an IBM compatible, and once they make the decision to get one, they can do a lot of different things with it, including entertainment. Videogames have a far more dramatic growth pattern because of the price point of the hardware. Plus, you've got 30 million households that were brought up on the 8-bit videogame systems. You only need a fraction of those to switch over to the 16-bit [market] that's already as big as the IBM floppy disk market.
C: If 16-bit videogame systems become that successful, will developers abandon the personal computer?
Hawkins: A high-end flight simulator like Chuck Yeager's Air Combat--you can't do that kind of a product on a videogame system. It needs to have bitmapped graphics and a lot of memory space. You can't do really fast polygon rendering, which is the technique used in flight simulators. We're still going to bring some of our simulations technology down to the videogames, but we can't do it at the same level. Other than that, if you have a good game, you're going to put it on all of the machines.
C: Define multimedia and its role in entertainment.
Hawkins: Here's what it means to me. It has to be interactive. If it's not interactive, then why bother? There are all kinds of digital technology being brought to audio and video, which is fine. But to call it multimedia and say it's a new business--well, what's new about it? It has to be interactive to really be new.
C: Define interactive.
Hawkins: It's to be contrasted with passive. If I am watching television and the information is all one way, the only way I interact with my TV is by pressing buttons on my remote.
C: How is that different from an arcade game? Just pressing a fire button--I wouldn't call that interactive.
Hawkins: There's a lot more going on than that, though the control may be simplistic. The thing about the TV remote is that's a real strong indication of people's desire to interact. Television is passive, and the passivity is brain numbing. People need to be stimulated so they're constantly changing what's on the screen.
C: I see arcade games as a linear experience.
Hawkins: That may be a function of the environment more than anything else. In a coin-op situation, you're trying to get a couple more quarters out of somebody every couple of minutes. So that influences the way the games are designed. But there's nothing intrinsic about the technology that makes it have to be that way.
C: Can entertainment software play a role in education?
Hawkins: Absolutely. The brain research that's been done in the U.S. over the last 20 years has proven that interaction is the single best way to increase your intelligence. There's no question in my mind that a kid who spends a lot of time playing videogames will have superior skills in pattern recognition. This is a cultural problem. Parents look at a kid playing a videogame, and he's staring at the screen almost like in a trance--and it scares them. They don't realize that that's good. He's intense. There's a lot of brain activity going on. If parents see their kid lounging around watching the TV, they don't realize that he's not being stimulated, that there's not as much brain activity going on.