Recently, companies like OnLive have been getting attention (forgot the other one’s name). Let’s just assume they somehow solve the latency issue (I’ll be skeptical of that until I can test it with my own broadband connection. And I’m a pretty lag-sensitive gamer). Since the concept solves a lot of issues for game developers, like piracy, expensive hardware, compatibility, reselling and so on I’m sure this is going to be big. Could be huge, if not for the broadband/low-latency/always-connected requirement. All issues aside – what interests me is the kind of games this makes possible.
The interesting thing about this technology is that on the consumer-side, there won’t be any differences when game complexity goes up. There will be development of course – we still want higher resolution and eventually “real” 3D viewing on our end. But the complexity of 3d details, lighting and physics will stay on the other end. Each server farm will have the opportunity to make some big optimizations.
Take precomputed radiance transfer techniques for example. Given a fairly static world you can compute that for your entire map and have pretty fast indirect lighting. It just takes very long to compute and uses a lot of space. Yet that would not be an issue on a server farm with incredible computing power and the fact that static data only has to be there once per game. For procedural worlds you could have some kind of global game cache, so when multiple players visit the same part of the world, it only has to be generated once.
With MMOs, this gets even better. All the synchronization between players is done locally and any changes to the world have no effect on throughput (at least from the local network to the internet). You can use as much physics as you want – limited only by the hardware/software architecture of your server farm. You could allocate some servers to do PRT and other generation tasks for the entire virtual world, making life easier for the “viewing” units and therefore keeping the system scalable.
Otherland, here we come!