Posted on 23.06.13
Apart from the obligatory first-person shooters, the first wave of games made for a new virtual reality headset lets you explore imaginary worlds. First published as part of a New Scientist technology special on VR’s second coming.
DON’T think, just feel. Games-makers are embracing the Oculus Rift virtual reality headset and using it to create an entirely new kind of gaming experience. They are also changing the idea of what a game can be. “Right now we’re on the precipice of a new wave of video games,” says Robin Arnott, a sound designer based in Austin, Texas. “The Rift is such a gift for us.”
Around 75 existing games are being adapted to work with the goggles, including classic first-person shooters like Half-Life 2 and racing games like Race Driver: GRID. But Arnott wants to move beyond such games to create what he calls video dreams. He is part of the team behind SoundSelf, which he describes as a meditative trance experience. Players strap on the Oculus Rift and headphones, and sing a note. The game listens to your voice and sings back to you, shaping sounds and visuals in harmony.
Without full immersion, the game probably wouldn’t work. But players trying the demo at the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) in Los Angeles reported getting lost in the kaleidoscopic visuals and forgetting where they were. “You get into a trance, it’s very trippy,” says one.
Instead of looking at a screen and hearing sounds from external speakers, the VR headset shuts out all visual distractions and pushes the player into the virtual world. “We can make these abstract, unreal environments feel real,” says Arnott.
Other Oculus Rift games on show at E3 included If A Tree Screams In A Forest, in which players try to survive a short walk in the woods; Irrational Exuberance, described as a mix of stargazing and structure-building in a playground at the edge of reality, and Homework From Another World, a game about extraterrestrials and high school.
“I’m fascinated by the concept of lucid dreaming,” says Los Angeles-based game developer Julian Kantor. His E3 game was called The Recital, in which the user moves from a realistic sequence playing the role of a pianist getting ready for a performance to a surreal environment of vast, illogical spaces with a soundtrack that adapts to your actions. “When you take off the headset at the end of the play session, it’s as though you are waking up from a crazy dream,” he says.
Arnott hopes the Oculus Rift will encourage people to make non-violent games that are more about exploring a new environment than completing levels. But more shocking experiences are certain to prove popular. For example, another early game made for the device is a guillotine simulator, while a firm called Sinful Robot is working on “immersive erotic encounters”.
More at New Scientist.
Posted on 23.02.13
Highlights from this week’s New Scientist.
Bumblebees can sense the electric fields surrounding flowers and may rely on them to pick the sweetest nectar.
Sony’s PS4 wants to be the centre of a more sociable gaming experience. Here’s a run-down of the essentials.
Some seeds have a look that evokes all-consuming fire, says Svjetlana Tepavcevic, an artist who captures her portraits with a flatbed scanner.
Posted on 14.12.12
Michael Cook’s AI game designer releases a Christmas platformer. A Puzzling Present can be downloaded for free from the project’s website.
Ho! Ho! Ho! – Ouch! I’m bounding merrily through the snow in my Santa suit when I mistime a button tap and slam into some prickly holly. “That hurt! Press R to restart.”
Out today, the festive platform game, called A Puzzling Present, is the latest creation of Angelina, an AI system that designs its own video games. Released with a little help from its creator-cum-collaborator Michael Cook at Imperial College London, Angelina’s latest was made by using the code of existing games as a starting point and refining the features it finds into something new.
The ability to pick and choose design ingredients is a big advance, says Cook. Previously, the system came up with game mechanics by putting together rules it was given. “It would slot them together in new ways like a jigsaw, but I was never very happy with it,” says Cook. “After all, it needed me to hand it the jigsaw pieces.”
But now Angelina finds and test game possibilities – like reversing gravity, high-jumping and teleportation – on its own. It does this using “reflection”, a technique that lets software look at and manipulate its own code. Cook starts things off by providing a game level that can’t be solved, such as one with a wall between the start and the exit. Angelina then redesigns the level in an iterative process, using ideas it finds in existing games – making changes, testing them, and making further tweaks until the level works. “It’s closer to what a human does when they program,” says Cook.
Even more cunningly, it has found bugs in Cook’s code and taken advantage of them to invent new game levels. In one case, the game code wrongly let a player teleport inside a wall and still allow the character to jump. So Angelina invented a wall-jumping technique, where the player could climb up a vertical wall by repeatedly teleporting and jumping. “This was why I felt it’s so important to create a system that was independent of me,” says Cook.
In another example, Angelina found code that could be used to make the player bouncy, something that Cook hadn’t been aware of. “I’ve only seen a few games that use bouncing in that way,” Cook says. “You can’t even guarantee that professional developers will think of these things.”
Continue reading at New Scientist.
More > Read the Develop feature that introduced ANGELINA to the world.
Posted on 31.05.12
I wrote this grumpy letter to Edge magazine two years ago, annoyed about Sony’s removal of OtherOS. It was letter of the month in Edge 217 (August 2010) and bagged me a DSi XL. It’s the first piece of writing I got published and remains, word for word, the highest earning.
Sure, most of us were probably never going to install PS3 Linux (Edge 214), but that can’t be the point here – or it shouldn’t be. Sony’s move to force owners of older PS3s to remove OtherOS, a feature they’d purchased, via an update, is radical and a precedent for potential future post-purchase meddling that should be of interest to the gaming community at large.
Whatever you thought of OtherOS – and it’s clear most people thought it a useful gimmick at best – it was apparently OK for Sony to deny its customers online gaming unless they threw away something they’d bought. And Sony’s not the only publisher playing fast and loose with traditional concepts of ownership, as Edge has previously reported (Edge 200): in an ongoing legal dispute against developers of a World Of Warcraft bot, Blizzard is arguing that buying a piece of software actually only amounts to buying a license to use it under terms prescribed by the publisher. Another high-profile example is a case brought by Autodesk, in which it claimed (with similar reasoning) that purchasers of its software infringed a licensing agreement when they tried to sell that software secondhand.
Luckily, Autodesk’s claim was rejected, but the potential implications this kind of boundary-pushing has for the games market are significant. (Consider also Sony’s and EA’s recent introduction of an additional fee for buyers of secondhand copies of online games: was online play part of the original purchase or not? It isn’t clear.)
There’s obviously something fishy about this, but what exactly? Courts have long rejected attempts by vendors to impose after-sale restrictions or undesirable alterations. The only difference now, it seems, is that vendors of networked software can readily impose post-sale restrictions over the internet. With future distribution likely to be via some mix of digital marketplace and live streaming, the notion of software ownership and the rights that come with it become even less clear cut.
Before embracing this heady future of ubiquitous and instantly accessible gaming, shouldn’t we take publishers’ recent behaviour a bit more seriously? I for one won’t relish a future in which I have few guarantees that, once paid for, my cherished gaming experiences will remain unchanged.
More > Kicked Out of Town, Who Owns Your PlayStation?
Posted on 24.05.12
Feature written for Wired.co.uk.
I spoke to seven of the eleven members of the Indieskies collective in the tiny studio they rent from their university in Derby, learning how and why they took the initiative to use a placement year to make a business of their own.
Indieskies is a fledgling game studio, just eight months old, that has already released a Nokia-commissioned Kaleidobooth app with visual artist Max Hattler, three iOS games — Paradise Golf, Boulder Run, Cor3 — and the Xbox mini-game collection, 20 Games to Play With Your Friends. But at the end of the summer the eleven members of Indieskies will be going back to university to finish their degrees.
Read the whole interview at Wired.co.uk.