Games and Interaction design

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Ever a murakami game?

I've long been a fan of Haruki Murakami, much like many of my friends now, ever since I first read "Hard Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World" - a tale littered with unicorns, surrealism, comedy and science fiction. I've just finished reading "Dance, Dance, Dance" - reminded me strongly of "The Wind up Bird Chronicle" - a novel that features a character with recurring character traits throughout many of his novels - an introverted, sensitive, regular middle-aged japanese man, on the edge of society - to which extraordinary events happen. While reading the book, it made me think of some of the statements from Robert McKee's "Story" - a popular screenwriting guide - that discuss how difficult it is to transfer a novel that is particularly introspective to the screen. While narration and other techniques can be used to force an audience to understand the thoughts of the character, it bypasses the real beauty of cinema when an audience discovers a character's persona implicitly through their actions rather than directly. It would be hard to really convey the emotional dialogue of his books through film (although the first officially sanctioned Murakami film is now out in the UK - Tony Takitani).

While it seems near impossible to create that kind of experience on the screen - what further challenges are offered in attempting to add interactivity to the mix. Would it be possible to create a game that provided an experience that bore similarity to a Murakami novel? While a lot of the pleasure of a Murakami novel is letting the book wash over you and transport you to a dream-like state, could this be possible in an interactive setting? Or would it just be tiresome and aimless?

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Back into game design

After a few hours of working on a current project, I've really noticed how much I've missed creating games over the past few months. I've really lost focus on what it is that enjoy so much about game design and become more obsessed with the how rather than the why. While the PlayStation.com project was very rewarding, its so refreshing to get back to design. Getting the physics engine up and running, and seeing the ideas in my head starting to take form has really sorted me out. I feel like I've met an old friend again. Its bringing back many memories of creating FLY, Shooting Stars and Create-A-Make while at Random Media.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Interesting aesthetics in video games

Couple of unusual aesthetic experiments floating round the web at the moment (both of these are courtesy of fort90.com). One is an example video of fish-eye lens projection for a 3d environement, as used for the much-sought after rarity Sonic X-treme, a cancelled Saturn title with an extremely peculiar history and dedicated set of treasure hunters searching for existing prototypes. Have a look at the video here, and you can really see how unusual the aesthetic is when playing a 3d game with this kind of projection - it looks utterly surreal but (in my opinion) refreshing and really visually pleasing. It gives all straight edges a peculiar curved edge, and makes the world feel completely different as so much changes visually as you navigate the space.

Secondly is "Sketchfighter 4000 Alpha", an OSX game taking a rather fetching sketchbook style, the kind of additive-induced hallucination a bored 8-year old with ADT might encounter in a paritucularly uninspiring maths class. You can watch videos of it here. I love the explosions

Monday, April 10, 2006

Hippo Lake

I got round to finishing my first ogre project this weekend - a simulation of flocking featuring some slightly fetching hippos.

I've always been fascinated by the complex behaviour that can be exhibited by a simple simulation with interesting interactions between elements, ever since seeing Craig Reynold's boids.

You can read a bit more about it and download Hippo Lake here.

Friday, April 07, 2006

New PlayStation.com

The project I've been working on for many months has finally gone live : the new PlayStation.com. The project was built in house at SCEE - I did the initial prototyping concept work with the IA's here and built the final flash front-end. Its been a *massive* project from start to finish - mainly because of all the different systems being brought together and the huge amount of content (thousands of game records and tens of thousands of stories, multiplied by 22 locales!) but its great to see it finally live. The main aim was to give the site a fresh look in keeping with the current PlayStation branding and really open up the content. Use of pagination and expansion/contaction gives the user flexibility in their browsing and by maintaining all PS2 game record metadata in memory, we were able to add features such as the game finder. I'll try and do a more in-depth post-mortem soon.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Does gaming have a lot to learn from Interactive Art Installations?

More great coverage from We Make Money Not Art, this time from Game Set and Match II. Interesting commentary, but I'm not sure that I necessarily agree with all of it. I think it assumes that just because games are not created that explore such outlandish methods of interaction (such as touch-sensitive coloured floor-grids) or unusual environments, that these are currently areas not being considered or explored by game developers. I think the final comment: "If the gaming industry doesn't pick up from this, in the end it will be left behind by the new art of gaming born from installation art and architectural design." is perhaps slightly naive, and doesnt really factor in the essential differences between an artistic endeavour and a commercial product for consoles. A lot of R&D is done exploring exactly the same ingredients on show (gestural interfaces, natural interfaces, even things like Philips game controlled ambient lighting), but its rare that such a product breaks through, due to the huge number of restrictions on creating a commerical product. Eyetoy is a great example of something that was developed as an R&D project by Richard Marks at SCEA R&D while artists such as mine-control were doing there own thing. The end Eyetoy product could not use background subtraction or color tracking (some of the most effective forms of computer vision for interaction) because you cannot guarantee lighting conditions in the living room of the average consumer, so it was only viable for the controlled conditions of gallery spaces (for now).

Monday, April 03, 2006

Couple of links from We-Make-Money-Not-Art

Nintendo's Yamauchi combines traditional japanese culture with modern tech. Short write up here and official site here.

UVA's latest installation
More responsive work on those purty LED screens here

Changed my mind, time to switch

Well I've changed my mind. Got about 80% of the way with getting rendering up and running from a collada source, with lighting and texturing (and it was an interesting learning process) and started questioning my own intentions for what I was doing. It was taking up a lot of my time to write rendering code, and made me realise that I'm just not that interested in creating that sort of thing. As a result I've swapped over to OGRE. My main concerns about the switch were the art pipeline from maya. I expected things to get a bit screwed, especially with characters, but after only about 5 hours work from first compiling an ogre program, I've now got almost everything working *exactly* how I wanted it to. This engine is all I was looking for in a package... theres so much support for different graphic techniques and so much of it is defined in scripts, removing the need for recompilation. Some testimonies here .