Second screen is key to next-gen gaming, says Gears of War designer

Xbox Smartglass
The future of console gaming in the palm of your hand?

Gaming, in many ways, has left the living room, with hordes of new gamers joining the player ranks on trains and buses, in cafes and schoolyards. The proliferation of smartphones and tablets has been a revolution in gaming, but not one that the AAA gaming developers or publishers have successfully utilised so far.

Jim Brown is a lead level designer for Epic Games, working over the last decade on the uber-popular Gears of Wars franchise. In his role he can see a future where he will need to anticipate the input of players "outside" of the game.

"Nobody has quite done it yet, but there's something there. Like, you're not playing the game, but you're playing something so that when you go back to the game it is going to help you." said Brown.

He imagines players on smartphones and tablets contributing to the games of players on consoles, maybe not playing side-by-side, but coordinating or complementing the console gameplay.

"My prediction about where next-gen is going, isn't as much about finding where the hardware is going to improve. What's interesting to me is finding a completely different approach, how can we use that technology in different ways; connecting people, getting them playing together, reaching out to social networks."

Social beings

This is certain a big part of what Sony announcement during its PS4 unveiling recently. Social, streaming, sharing and spectating were the buzzwords of the event, with Sony revealing that players could watch one another play live games, and hinting that players may be able to remotely control the games of their friends.

PS4 social gaming

Spectating will be a big part of the PS4 console generation

Though it is yet to reveal its next-gen console ambitions, Microsoft has already made headway towards the second screen, launching the Smartglass app across all the major mobile computing platforms. Smartglass lets you stream media to and from an Xbox 360 to a compatible phone or tablet, but can also display complementary information. In a movie you may see acting credits and in games it might display a level map or character inventory.

This is just the beginning for Microsoft, we feel. Whatever it names the next Xbox, and whatever the hardware specs, you can be sure there will be the same emphasis on sharing with those smaller screens.

While many will play games on their phones and tablets, the industry is banking on many more taking a passive approach. Spectating live gameplay is set to be a headline feature of next-gen consoles, thanks to the rise and rise of e-sports around the world. For designers like Brown, this is yet another new consideration.

"Competetive gaming is becoming more we need to think about presentation of the game, what it looks like, and not just for people playing the game, but for people who may just be watching it," said Brown.

"We've done a lot of stuff in [Gears of War] Judgement to accomodate this trend. You can click in as a spectator, so you can be a commentator in a free-for-all match as it was live-streaming out."