Monday, September 15, 2014

How Capcom predicted the modern world of today

The other day I re-bought one of my favorite games of all time, Mega Man Battle Network. From middle school to high school the Battle Network series was a huge part of my gaming life (not to mention it is one of the main influences which lead to the creation of NGR), and it was one of the few game series I returned to time and time again. I spent so much time trying to 100% complete each game, and thankfully my friend was the one who always had the opposite version of each release so it was possible. Really I cannot stress enough how much I loved this series, and growing up I wanted nothing more than for that world to be real... Well, here we are over 13 years later, and we are pretty much there.

For anyone who does not know, Battle Network came out in 2001 and featured a modern world with "sci-fi" elements. The game was about a kid named Lan (who was the same age as me when I got the game funny enough) who carries around a handheld computer called a PET which contains a personal net navigator called a "navi." In this world everyone is connected online, and people are just about completely depended on their navi to go about their daily tasks. Their navis allow them to access the internet (which takes the form of a virtual world which the navis can walk around and explore), fight off computer viruses, and operate other basic PET features (which are ones you would expect a computer to be able to do, such as send email). Really in this world a navi isn't required to preform such operations, but they do make such tasks much easier and faster by doing them for you.

Back when this game first came out, a lot of the things seen in game just seemed nearly impossible to me. Sure smart phones were starting to take off in Japan at the time, but they were extremely limited, had very slow data transfer rates, and were more for checking email than hard web surfing. Meanwhile in the rest of the world, such devices were rarely seen. Maybe if you worked in an office, or had some other sort of business related job, you'd have a PDA running Windows CE (or a basic Blackberry), but that was basically it. Such devices were not found in the general public, and personally I never thought it would happen at the time. I mean, connecting to the internet from anywhere with a handheld computer? Every computer I had ever seen at the time had a large CRT attached to it, and had a massive tower with a cable connecting it to the rest of the world. I didn't know what was going on in Japan, but even with PDAs and what not, I never imagined that such technology would one day be so wide spread, and so greatly improved on.

So here we are. It is 2014, the smart phone is found world wide, we have many different ways to connect to the net (3G, 4G, hotspots, etc), and in general almost everyone is connected in some shape or form to it. Those who carry phones either go off of wi-fi or their phone's network, many who own tablets connect the same way, people with laptops or desktops can either go off of a hard connection or wi-fi as well. Besides smart phones, tablets, and PCs, even other devices such as game consoles are connected online, with built in wi-fi now being the standard. If you own the DS, 3DS, Wii, Wii U, PSP, Vita, PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, or Xbox One, then you are connected. Even early consoles such as the SEGA Dreamcast, GameCube, PS2, and Xbox can connect online with a hard connection (and in some cases a special adapter). The list of devices that connect to the net don't stop there though, and that's something Battle Network also showed off way before its time.

In the game there are a LOT of objects you can "jack in" to. By walking up to them and pressing the R button you could send your navi into that device's cyber world and connect to the internet. The thing is though, at the time, a lot of the things you could jack into didn't make sense. First of all, why did a TV need to connect to the internet? When you first start the game one of the first things you will notice is the flat wide screen TV in Lan's home. The TV itself was rare enough (I remember thinking Lan was rich or something considering how rare it was to see one), but when you search it a message is displayed stating that it is an old model and lacked a jack in port. So, does that mean newer TVs had them, meaning they connected to the internet? Yep, that was the case as they do appear later on in the series. Now how does this all relate to today? Well I'm pretty sure you all know. Now days Smart TVs are pretty common. What was once expensive just a few years ago, is now your standard mid price ranged television. Sure you can still get your standard wide screen without 3D or internet features for less, but as technology advances they will begin to slowly fade away. What once sounded like some fantasy in a game, is now a reality. Now instead of having to put in VHS tapes or DVDs to watch movies, you can just open up Netflix, Hulu, or Amazon and stream away as you let the world know what you're watching on Facebook and Twitter... All without ever putting down the remote.

Another object you could jack into was a car. Now I knew cars had computers in them, and there was the whole On-Star service, but now days things have evolved even farther. Putting aside the built in GPS, or USB ports (which I'll be touching on more very shortly) that allow you to connect it to your phone, some cars now days actually have built in wi-fi services. Driving somewhere and you need internet access for whatever reason? No problem if your car is a mobile hot spot! Just tap into the wi-fi connection, and away you go. As a kid I used to dream of being able to do just that with a laptop, and well, that dream is no longer a dream. While I don't have a car with such features, LTE still works just fine.

Besides Smart TVs, and cars, other objects found throughout the world with an internet connection include radios, security systems, pianos/keyboards, cameras, traffic lights, toys, and just about any other electronic device you might expect to see laying around. At the time seeing them having a cyber world of their own in game was a bit strange, but today it's just something to be expected. Some electronic toys connect to other devices and use the internet (the new Furby comes to mind), there are keyboards which use the internet in different ways, security systems are typically connected (how else would you be able to spy on your own home when you are away?), and even bluray players require updates to play newer movies or to just function correctly in general. It's no secret that the internet plays a major role in our lives now, but in 2001 did you really think it'd go this far? As it is now, we've already come a long way, and our advancements are not slowing down.

Although I already mentioned smart phones above, the PET is the largest aspect of the Battle Network world, and it is also the one major thing that came true and completely changed the way many of us live. A lot of features the PET included are found in today's smart phones, and just like the people in the Battle Network world who rely on their PET and navi to make it through each day, many of us in the real world now do the same.

The PET itself acted as a phone, it received email, it could access the internet via a jack in plug (and later IR and other wireless connections), it received news updates, and thanks to its built in personal helper it could do just about anything else you asked it. Sure you couldn't say it in game, but what if Lan asked Mega Man to play him some music? Well, he'd do just that. The PET is what the smart phone of today has become. Tell me, what do you use your phone for? (You don't really have to tell me unless you want to in the comments.) If you're like most people the phone is more than just a phone, and it can do just about anything you want it to do. Remember the old saying "There's an App for that?" Well it was true, and developers continue to make breakthroughs each day. When someone thinks of a feature they'd like for their phone, they get to work and make that feature a reality. What used to be a simple phone for making calls is now some people's main source for email, taking pictures and videos, notes, text chatting with friends (either with text messaging or one of the many instant messaging services or social networks), video calling, and you can even use it to watch all of your favorite videos on YouTube or your favorite TV shows and movies on one of the streaming services. You can even use USB cables, and bluetooth connections to connect phones to other devices to share information or access other features. Want to listen to your music from your phone in your car? Just plug it in, and there you go. Have a toy which interacts with some sort of app? Just sync your phone to it, and enjoy whatever it is the toy does (or watch your kids enjoy it). Some phones even make use of NFC connection to share information between devices as well, or you can even use the whole "air drop" system to share files with people in your area. Really there's actually not much that phones can't do now days, and some truly have become depended on them for both their personal and work life. The world where people seemingly can't live without their handheld device seen in a video game released in 2001 has become a reality, and it doesn't stop there.

While we don't have virtual beings living in our phones who we can customize to look how we want, and then take online to fight viruses and other people (which is somewhat of a sport in the Battle Network world), we do have personal assistants built into most devices. Sure they aren't actually alive, and they have a limit to what they can do and understand, but they are pretty helpful when they work right. Using the iPhone's Siri as an example, just by simply using your voice to ask it something, it can help navigate around your phone without you having to dig through the menus. Want to listen to your favorite song? Rather than opening up the music app or searching for it by hand, you can simply say "Siri can you play the Battle Network theme song?" And it will do it typically after an "okay Ben." The same can be said for Google's Google Talk or even Microsoft's Cortana. Want something to eat? Just tell it you're hungry and it'll use the phone's GPS to find the nearest places for you to eat. Have a specific type of food? Well, just tell it you want pizza and a list of numbers will be there before your eyes. Want to call the place? Just tell it to call and the phone will begin to ring. Have to pick it up in 20 minutes? Just tell it to remind you in 20 minutes, and your phone will set off an alert (which is much faster than opening your calendar and setting it up yourself). Sure this technology isn't perfect, but just like everything else it is improving every single day.

So, now the question is what will the future hold? Will we one day see something even closer to the navis in Battle Network? Will they be able to learn more about us, and possibly hold a bit more complex conversations? I'd say so. Who knows when it'll be, but look how far we've come in the last 13 years? The fantasy world I wished were reality has become just that, and things continue to advance each and every day. Never thought I'd be playing a 3D video game which looks almost lifelike either, but here I am. Really though I just find it hard to believe Capcom was right about the future, and I can't help but wonder what the coming years will bring.

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