handcircus

Games and Interaction design

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Scale

I've been reading the throughly engrossing A Brief History of nearly everything by Bill Bryson, and its set my mind free-wheeling back to afternoons sitting on wooden stools in heavy blazers trying to bend my head round curiously abstract concepts while trying to avoid getting caught spraying hydrochloric acid on friends eyes through a bunsen burner.

Anyway one of the things that utterly terrifies me is the sense of scale you are dealing with in the universe. From the subatomic particle level to the intergalactic level, when comparing these sizes to the everyday, its nearly impossible to get any comprehension of the big picture. This in turn got me thinking about the presentation of scale within games and other interactive systems. These kind of systems could provide the ability to present scale in a way that helps our poor heads really fathom whats going on. I guess the most recent attempt to present continuous content over a wide range of scales would be Google Earth. I love google earth. If I had had access to this as a child, I would probably have had a far greater understanding of where things are. Its actually FUN to move around the world, zooming in, finding where you live, where you grew up, how many shops sell pork within 20 yards of oxford circus etc. Because the content is displayed continously, you can relate street to street, town to town, county to county, country to country, contintent to continent in a seamless manner that really gives you an overall understanding that is lost when trying to combine understanding using seperate mediums such as an A-Z, Atlas and globe.

This isnt the first time I've been given the opportunity to explore from the very small to the very large in such a manner. I remember the first time playing Peter Molyneux's Black and White. Zooming in to see invidivual faces, and then zooming out to see the entire planet was an amazing sensation. And now Mr Molyneux plans on showing off further, with Black and white 2 allowing you to zoom in to INDIVIDUAL ANTS. I hate ants (i seem to attract ants like candyman attracts flies... still no idea why), but its a nice idea. This kind of superhuman ability to massively zoom in and out is something you can only do in interactive systems and is real fun.

Will Wright, perhaps a bit threatened by Peter's performance, decided to go coder hunting in finland, obviously recruiting some insane talent to help him recreate his next visionary title "Spore". Have a look at his presentation here. Not content with ants to countries, he is now attempting to have a scale range from the cellular to the galactic (check out the vid.... you can scale out from creature level to at least solar system level continuosly). And it seems to work remarkably well. Obviously theres an insane amount of artwork that needs to be used but by using procedural generation techniques this doesnt need to be created manually. One particularly interesting thing though is that with this range of scale, you have numerous different systems that interoperate with each other (eg you have personal combat interacting with social groups, interacting with inter-tribe warfare), so theres an insane amount of emergent complexity.

Of course, for sheer enjoyment of change in scale, nothing beats Katamari Damacy, where not only your viewing perspective changes scale but also your AVATAR! Never played a game where you can wreck such pleasant revenge on a bloody cat that kept knocking you about when tiny. (never picked up the taj mahal and eiffel tour before either i guess).

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