Monday, October 24, 2011

On games and recreation

I read about new videogames as they come out.  It's not on purpose, it's just that in the places I read they tend to come up.  The games seem to all have one thing in common: battle. And I don't like it.
Don't get me wrong.  I like explosions.  I love shows of power.  There is nothing I love to watch in a movie more than a good sword fight. I go to museums to look at armor. Let's face it-- my job is designing war robots.
And it's not the gore, either.  Seeing a computer animation of someone's guts, or a rotting corpse, gives me about the same feeling as seeing gum stuck under a desk I am sitting at.  Mild disgust, I suppose. I don't like gore, but it's just because it's ugly. I can't think of computer enemies as real.
The problem is the enemies distract me from my main purpose in a game. The enemies are like mosquitos, who annoy you until you manage to swat them away. I don't mind conflict in a story, but I wish it were something deeper and richer than erasing the things that bother you.
I think about my favorite games as a child.  They fall into two categories: flying games and worlds to explore.
Dragonstrike and Wing Commander were very similar in every way except that one was fantasy and the other science fiction.  In both games, you flew a series of combat missions, accompanied by friends who might die along the way. I did care about the story. The most important point was the flying, having that freedom to move through the world. In both games, I developed a technique to get rid of enemies.  I would fly as fast as I could in one direction, so that they would follow directly behind me.  Then, knowing exactly where they were, I would flip around and tag them before they could change course. What I liked about it was that it always worked.
The exploration games were Ultima VI and VII, Indiana Jones and the Search for at Atlantis and the Last Crusade. These games had hand to hand combat, but only if you couldn't figure out another way.  My favorite strategy was to carry around barrels so that I could set up a barricade, and fire in range weapons. It was just a way of getting rid of the mosquitos. what I liked was how vast the world was.  If there had been nothing to defeat, just mysteries to solve, I think I would have been as happy.
Two fun games that I've found recently were Crayon Physics Deluxe and Scribblenauts. Both games give you almost complete freedom to explore.  In Crayon Physics, anything you draw takes on physical properties. In Scribblenauts, any word you type appears as an object in the game.
What I would like to see is this kind of freedom combined with a rich, beautiful world to explore.  It's cool that they can make realistic modern cities for games like Arkham City or Grand Theft Auto, but most real cities are kind of ugly. I want to go somewhere beautiful, and not have to fight anyone when I'm there.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Jobs in Ten Years

In order for computers to generate compelling content, they must have a model of what humans find interesting or beautiful.  The only way to get this model is by measuring how interesting humans find particular images.  In the old days this was done by measuring ratings, but it was found much more effective to measure cortical response to images directly.  This can be done so quickly that it can take place even before conscious awareness takes place.  The Interest workers spend (a government mandated no more than) eight hours a day wearing a skullcap, watching movies that look something like Koyaanisqatsi sped up by 50 times.

Prediction markets are now big business, attracting both individuals and corporate algorithmic models. An intrader pursues up-to-the-millisecond news (largely through harvesting social networking updates) about a particular topic of interest, whether it be sports, celebrity babies, local politics, or box-office returns, and translates that news into what amounts to bets on the likelihood of these events happening.

The advent of brain scans able to recognize mental imagery has led to the ability to record dreams and imagined events.  While a few prefer the unedited content, most of these dreams are heavily edited to provide a semblance of story.  The technique has also influenced more mainstream filmmaking. Professional dreamers sometimes use "lucid dreaming" techniques, but purists prefer dreams directed solely by the subconscious. Being a professional dreamer is a lot like being a professional artist; very few make any money at it, but for some it is a calling. Ability to form mental imagery varies widely; 15% of the population are found to generate no mental images of any kind. It has surprisingly little effect on everyday abilities.

Do you have any other suggestions?