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Sometimes I Wish That It Would Rain Here

Monday, May 23, 2005

E3 - next generation games?

last week was E3 (the electronic entertainment exposition) in LA, and though I did not go, quite a few people did. therev was footage from some of the next gen consoles (good mix, skip to the last 20 minutes of this PS3 video) as well as Nintendo's Game Boy Micro on demo. however, after all the coverage I read, I feel somewhat as does this ars writer that E3 is "a great big bag of cottony fluff."

of everything I saw, the only thing that really excited me was some footage from the PS3 video linked above that appears to be in game footage from a fps where the enemy shoots a gargoyle statue that goes to pieces as it's shot at, and then the player shoots out a glass bridge, causing his opponents on it to fall to the floor. that sort of interactive environment is something that, to my knowledge, has not been previously achieved to that degree. however, everything else is just pretty, and that's about it.

don't get me wrong. the level of detail and realism that we've achieved with real time graphics is truly amazing. and it's entirely possible that if graphics aren't the most important thing, I should be looking more at the GDC. however, I can't help but wonder if there's a better use of our creative hardware designing abilities. during a recent conversation with a friend back at UCF, he mentioned that one of the reasons comics such as Dilbert are so successful is that they only have a limited degree of realism. they are abstract enough to allow the anyone to identify with the character, but realistic enough to allow the reader to maintain psychic distancing. also, Masahiro Mori's uncanny valley comes to mind. furthermore, I attended a talk by Ed Niecikowski in which he intimated that in movies, and often now in video games, we block out the real world in order to create an artificial and somewhat realistic version of the real world (although he was speaking more in reference to sound design). is there a point at which we can have too much realism? I think the obvious answer is "yes," but the difficult part is determining what that point that is.

however, a big part of the reason that games focus so much on graphics now is that that's the hardware's strong point: pushing lots of matrix manipulations and the specialized math to compute ray tracing, particles, etc. however, there are other processor-intense calculations that need to be performed by lots of games, such as physics engines (for which a physics processor unit has been proposed, but may not catch on). why don't hardware companies develop more devices like this? could the problem be technical, or that not enough games would use the hardware to generate a large enough market?

or, does it have to do with capitalism? game companies are market-driven, and the market is consumer-driven, and apparently consumers want pretty graphics. it doesn't matter that the fps they are playing is essentially a reincarnation of Doom (or, to go back farther, Wolfenstein) with a prettier interface. gamers seem to get all caught up in the look of a game and seem to care less about its play value, and even less about its originality. yes, technically, you'll be fighting different enemies in different areas and the "plot" will be different, but the game play is essentially the same; very rarely does anything innovative come along, and when it does (e.g., GTA), it only strays slightly from the beaten commercial path.

however, we should step back for a moment and consider the fact that the market is in fact consumer-driven, which means that the majority of consumers want to play reincarnations of the same games over and over. the majority, but not the entirety. I, though not an avid gamer, would love to see something more plot- and character-based. don't write a script for what happens in the game, but create characters with personalities that react to the player's action, ally themselves with the player, conspire against him, interact with each other and not just with the player, and have plans and goals of their own. this is just one example of the sort of game I'm talking about. admittedly, such a system would be quite computationally expensive. so is pushing thousands of millions of floating point and matrix operations through a GPU, and we have developed specialized hardware to do it. is the difficulty that it's a problem of such complexity that we can't write anything like an efficient set of algorithms to solve it, or is the difficulty in marketability? people generally play games to win (I'm pretty sure that's a part of the definition of a game), and I'm not sure that anyone would accept a game that couldn't be definitively "won" as such.

in much the same way that art films not
palatable to the general movie-going public spawned, I think an indie game culture may evolve for such non-mainstream games (it appears that such a culture is already beginning).

there's a great deal of human nature to be explored in the way of why we play games, why we choose to play the games we do, why some people prefer some games over others, what people want out of games, and what a game is exactly. however, without the impetus of novel games from the industry, I think this exploration may be a long time coming.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

the cure for what ails society

everyone seems to think there is one core issue that is the root of all that is wrong with our country/society/world and, if resolved, will remedy everything that ails society. granted, this is quite a generalization, and in reality most people don't think there is only one issue but rather put the majority of their emphasis on a single issue. not to be left out, I, too, will choose an issue.

I choose parenting. what will influence this society more than those who will be the next to compose it? obviously, I don't mean to imply that every single problem can be remedied by good parenting. furthermore, I certainly don't purport to assume that their is a single golden standard by which one can determine the "goodness" of any given parent. it's a complicated, difficult, all consuming job, and it doesn't come with a manual. however, I do believe that general guidance can be given. I also believe that the root of all societal change begins with the next generation of the society, and who has more influence on that next generation than the adults with whom they live, i.e., their parents.

Orson Scott Card recently published an article in his Ornery American column entitled I Give You Permission, which in short encouraged parents to actually be strict with their children. not being a parent, I may not have any license to say anything about the way parenting works, but I plan on being a parent someday, and so have at least given it some deal of thought. a large bit of what he says makes sense; things like actually asking your child to be responsible, not giving a child everything he or she asks for, and giving more trust and freedom (though not total) to the child who merits it. most of it seems like reasonably sound advice.

although there were a couple sentences I'm not sure that I agreed with, one idea in particular threw me. he has this idea that kids aren't capable of self-control and need parents to teach it to them by telling them what they can and cannot do. when they get older, they realize that their actions have consequences and so are then able to exhibit proper self-control. I know that certain self-preservation drives are either not present or not as strong in young children, such that kids will often do risky things because they don't have the mental processes in place to stop them. however, I don't think that kids are totally without judgment. I remember what it was like to be a kid. my parents taught me some of what I should or shouldn't do, but they couldn't force me to repress my desires or delay gratification; I had to learn to do that for myself. furthermore, I knew other people who had very strict parents that, when they moved out or went to college, had absolutely no self-control, discipline, responsibility, or ability to delay gratification. it seems like this occurred because the self-control they had when younger was actually an
externally imposed substitute for self-control from their parents. if they had been allowed to develop their own self-control with the guidance of their parents, they would have been better equipped when parental control was removed.

one of the biggest things I advocate in parenting is that no two children are alike, and no two parents are alike. often times, a parent must adapt his or her parenting style to fit the specific, possibly
idiosyncratic needs of his or her child. to that end, it's entirely possible that my parents gave me the room to develop my own self-control at a young age because they realized that I would, but that might not have worked with another child or for other parents.

ultimately, I'd say that parenting is mostly (but not entirely) relative, both to the parent and the child. while some of OSC's comments are good advice, I'm not so sure that taking them as absolutes makes sense. it's quite possible that the relativism of parenting is an implicit assumption that comes to bear on the remainder of the article, but I would have liked such an assumption to be stated explicitly.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

time traveler convention

so apparently, MIT is having the first and only ever time traveler convention this weekend. obviously, this is a little toungue-in-cheek, but it's a clever idea nonetheless. I certainly plan on dropping a few notes about it here and there.

I'm actually curious to see if anyone "shows up" and what sort of evidence they may bring to demonstrate that they are in fact from the future. should be interesting.

seriously, though, if you're in the Cambridge area, you should check it out. there will apparently be speakers, as well as live performances by off white noise (very cool indie band I played with back in the day) and possibly other local bands.
if we get time travel within my lifetime, I'm definitely gonna go back there. as for now, it's unfortunately just a little impractical for me to fly out to Mass for the weekend.

and now, the obligatory information on location and time:

The Time Traveler Convention
May 7, 2005, 10:00pm EDT (08 May 2005 02:00:00 UTC)
(event starts at 8:00pm)
East Campus Courtyard, MIT

42:21:36.025°N, 71:05:16.332°W

(42.360007,-071.087870 in decimal degrees)