In this week's Cybershake, we take a look at what video game developers are working on for future digital fun. Plus, we note there's a new online tool for parents looking for the perfect summer camp for their kids.
Animated apes, blazing rocket ships, and spell-casting wizards in magical worlds may all be part of the fun of video games. But creating those delightful digital distractions is a serious global business -- one that nets more than $10 billion in sales annually.
To keep the industry on the cutting edge, thousands of computer programmers, software engineers, designers, executives, and industry luminaries gathered at the annual Game Developers' Conference in San Francisco this week.
"This is the world's largest event devoted to game creation," says Jamil Moledina, director of the conference. "This is where the world game developers come together to share ideas about the future of games."
Among the hot conference topics that excite designers today is the impending changes in computer hardware. While PCs continue to evolve rapidly, so too are home video game systems such as Sony's PlayStation 2 and Microsoft's Xbox.
At the conference, Sony executives discussed the company's new Cell processor, an advanced microchip that will be used in Sony's next generation game system.
But it wasn't only about geeky hardware and software at this year's conference. Another topic that gathered interest among programmers: working conditions at software publishing companies. This year, at least two game publishers are facing lawsuits by employees who were allegedly forced to work overtime to produce games without additional compensation.
Addressing such quality-of-life issues is important, says Moledina, since game makers will be busier than ever in the coming years. Not only are designers creating more titles for a growing number of computers and game systems, but they're building games that promise a much broader appeal.
"There's so much going on that can be called a game these days that it's just phenomenal," says Moledina. "We have games that involve a lot more drama, involve a lot more character development. [We're] really borrowing [entertainment] elements from the film industry."
And with the software game business now outstripping both the movie and music industries combined, it isn't just programmers and software publishers that are shaping the future of video games.
"We have speakers from film, from design, from music as well as [from the] game [industry] to talk about the future of interactive entertainment," says Moledina. "There's just so much wealth of ideas that developers have to play with... It's about creating games that appeal to different community of people."
Such collective industry "brainstorming" will produce games that move beyond the traditional genre of games that appealed to mainly 14-year-old boys. And while forthcoming games might take on a more cinematic and multimedia nature, Moledina believes there will still be simple yet addictive puzzle games such as Tetris.
"There's a game for every developer to make and there's a game for every player to play," says Moledina.
-- Larry Jacobs, ABC News
There still quite a few days before the spring season begins in the northern hemisphere. But parents in the United States are already fretting about summer. Or more correctly, they're already beginning to worry about finding the right summer camp to send their kids during the coming school break.
To help harried parents, The American Camp Association is offering a free online search engine at its Web site: AmericanCampAssociation.com
Tom Schenck, director information systems with the ACA, says parents can narrow their search using various criteria, including: "By activities, if your child has special needs, and one of the most popular ways of searching, of course, is by ZIP code [so they] can find a camp close to [home]."
Many of the camps listed in the directory include links to official Web sites, so parents can take virtual tours of campgrounds, e-mail camp directors, or even download official registration forms for their kids.
Developing a search engine for summer camps is just the latest example of how Net technology is making in-roads in an institution that traditionally invokes "non-techie" images. Schenck says many of the more than 2,400 ACA-accredited camps have found a good balance between technology and the great outdoors over the years.
Some camps, for example, allow parents to send e-mails to their kids attending camp. But "the camp will then print out the e-mail and give it to the camper," says Schenck. Since kids won't, in many cases, have direct access to a computer to reply, they're free to have fun exploring the great outdoors.
And to assuage parents suffering from separation anxiety, Schenck says some overnight camps have even set up a virtual visit system on their Web sites.
Once they enter their personal password at the site, "Parents can go and not only see photos of the camp, but are sometimes guaranteed to see photos of their own child each day," says Schenck.
However, summer camps haven't yet been able to digitally recreate and transmit over the Web the smells of s'mores around the campfire.
-- Cheri Preston, ABC News
Cybershake is produced for ABC News Radio by Andrea J. Smith.