One of the other attendees of Tomcon was ‘Q’, who is currently working at an undisclosed media company, doing undisclosed stuff. I had brought my gaming computer and HTC Vive VR headset because, if you haven’t seen Google Maps VR you really should, if you can.
Q brought a Magic Leap goggle set. Maybe you have heard of them; they got a lot of bad press because they did not live up to the world’s high expectations of them – mostly it seems to me because those expectations were unrealistic to begin with. It’s still first generation stuff. You can see pixels and the field of view is not as big as we’d probably wish it to be.
On the other hand, it’s cool. And it has some incredible potential to change gaming so long as humans don’t wipe themselves out, first.
The goggles are a clear surface that embeds lighted color OLED screens. So, you can see the room you’re in, clearly, but also you can see what the computer puts in your visual space. The computer can play with depth cues, and it’s also fed information from the sensors at either side of your eyes (mini LIDAR!) that act as mappers for the things around you as well as providing depth measurement. So the computer “knows” where everything in the room is, if you are looking that direction, and it builds a map of the room based on your line-of-sight.
The demo I was playing with was extremely simple but you can see the potential from miles away. Let me describe how it worked: you have the goggles on and you see: the room you’re in. You also see a little two-decker propeller plane that’s sort of cartoonish. The controller responds to your hand gestures, so you pull the trigger and the plane goes PuuuUTTTTPUTPUTPUTPUTPUT and flies off. There are pretty good quality speakers embedded in the temples of the headset, so you hear the plane but nobody else does. Then, you fly the plane around with your hand. After a while I could do things like fly it in circles around the computer on the table, or do immelman turns with it climbing toward the ceiling.
The part that blew me away was when I flew the plane into the back of Ron Dilley’s head and the plane exploded. Naturally, Ron felt nothing. But it was amazing: the in-game virtual object was interacting somewhat with real objects.
There’s another game where you’re shooting at robot ninjas and the robots will duck behind furniture and whatnot. It’s pretty pewpewpew-iful.
We had a pretty fun session just gassing about what kind of games could be made, and invented a category we called “massively cooperative games” – the idea being that everyone in a certain region is working to do something. I.e.: “the floor is lava” and people have a variety of bricks, blimps, boards, ropes, whatever, and try to assemble them to build a system whereby everyone can escape; essentially a “build your own platformer level.” I was just holding out for a sandtable for gaming: everyone can stare at an empty table and see terrain features, armies of drag-and-drop orcs or napoleonic cavalry, or maybe both, all doing their thing. Right now the technology is limited but the next version of this sort of stuff is going to be great. I feel a little bad for Magic Leap because there are going to be plenty of smart engineers going “we can do that better” and some of them will.
The current state of affairs for augmented reality is that there is a shortage of great applications and there are multiple competing standard APIs for making it work. Naturally Google did their own thing, as did everyone else. So if you want to write code, it’s going to be locked to one device or another for the next couple years. That being said, now is a good time to get in quick with a great game or two. The development kits for this stuff are still pretty stiff, ($3000 for the Magic Leap) but there is an interesting effect with app-stores: the people who get in first and get good ratings on their stuff, tend to hang near the top of the rating scales if the rating scales take “all time score” into effect. If someone creates a good ‘flappy birds’-style hit game on one of these new platforms, they’re effectively going to get an annuity that’ll pay them hundreds of thousands of dollars a year for a decade or so. It’s a gamble I won’t be taking.
There are parts of the API that allow you to interpret hand gestures and use them for controls. So I thought a simple game in which you sit on the couch and flying toasters flap back and forth while you point at them and say “pew! pew!” and they crash in flames and limp around bleeding… it’d be a sure hit. And we wonder why Americans are so violent: we surround ourselves with carnage. I’m not blaming gaming, by a long shot – it’s that we have a casually vicious popular culture in this country and it’s embedded in everything.
Unrelated: I love the distortions you can get when you do panorama mode close to something. The limo was crazy long (stupid long, actually, and very uncomfortable!) and it was fun to warp it. It was a good idea for us to go to Fermilab in one vehicle so people could nap, talk, and drink and if we got lost we’d all get lost together.
Andreas Avester says
As I was reading this, I kept thinking about how your red shirt is really cool. I guess I should draw some tribal dragons.
Also, augmented reality sounds fun.
Marcus Ranum says
I kept thinking about how your red shirt is really cool. I guess I should draw some tribal dragons.
I got that shirt back in the 90s, when tribal stuff was very cutting edge.
Also, augmented reality sounds fun.
It’s all fun and games until someone hooks them up to a cop database and it does a face recognition search of everyone who walks by, giving the cops an excuse to search everyone, and shoot people who are flagged as dangerous, outright.
Andreas Avester says
It’s not like they need an excuse to do these things—they already do it anyway.
But, in general, yes, all kinds of technology can be used for nasty purposes in the hands of a bad cop (or any authoritarian person in general).
Reginald Selkirk says
The downside of VR and AR: I work in a field that has used 3D stereo imaging for over 40 years. The hardware used to be expensive and esoteric. Enormously heavy CRT displays and liquid crystal glasses.
Then, when LCD monitors finally got fast enough, the tech companies decided to package it for gamers. The equipment got better. The price came way down. There was much rejoicing.
But now, the tech companies are on to the next thing – VR and AR – and have abandoned 3D stereo viewing in their wake. Nvidia is dropping support of the most prominent product. And of course they drove the previously-existing companies who made the high-priced stuff out of business. But a few scientists don’t drive the market, gamers do.
Marcus Ranum says
But now, the tech companies are on to the next thing – VR and AR – and have abandoned 3D stereo viewing in their wake.
Good point. I have a friend who works on topological maps, and uses stereo viewing to detect new wossnames appearing in places by examining left/right images from different times. Apparently it works pretty darned well. But they’ve got infinite money and will probably have a VR version soon…
If I was forty years younger and starting over in college today, I would definitely be trying to get into the ground floor with this.
The way I see it, this tech is at the stage that video games were in the late seventies and early eighties: too expensive for average people to jump into, but in the range of big companies to develop.
And where did those companies go? Malls. Arcades.
Right now, what are malls filled with? Great big enormous rooms that used to be occupied by big-box stores that went out of business, and are now way cheap to rent.
I imagine a time within the next few years where you and your friends pay fifty bucks apiece for an hour-long augmented D&D adventure. The four of you (a valkyrie, an elf, a wizard, and a fighter, naturally) look at each other and see each other in full kit as your chosen class. You’re holding an empty hilt, but you see a flaming sword in your hand. The big empty room fills up with trees, bushes, a cave entrance… You spend your hour fighting off waves of goblins as you painstakingly advance, then cap it off with a big boss fight against a troll. At the end, you all get loot that will help you face the next level that you’ll face as soon as you can scrape up the fifty bucks again.
Heck yeah, I’d be there.
Curt Sampson says
@brucegee1962 in #6 writes,
That might just be phrased in a way that I’m not reading what you really mean by this, but certainly it was the late ’70s and early ’80s where individuals could still develop video games indistinguishable from those with corporate budgets. Many of the Atari 2600 games were developed by a single person. Even the early arcade boards, cabinets and the like could have been developed by a single person, especially if they were willing to use easier but lower-volume manufacturing techniques such as wire-wrap (which was actually more reliable than PC boards anyway, though more expensive to manufacture once quantities grew past a few dozen). The only part that might require corporate resources was manufacturing and marketing, but even there this was easily within the realm of individuals for certain systems. (There were plenty of vendors who would duplicate cassette tapes or floppies cheaply, and that plus photocopied instructions in a Zip-lok bag was not an unusual packaging. Get a post office box and put a cheap advert in the back of Creative Computing (maybe even “typeset” with a letter-quality or dot-matrix printer!) and you’re in business!
Now, of course, even an “indie” game easily costs a couple of hundred thousand dollars to develop unless you’re going for a “retro 8-bit” feel. Triple-A games have budgets in hundreds of millions of dollars; the largest are larger than most films. (Grand Theft Auto V had a budget of $265 million; the most expensive films that were in the $200-$225 million range.) Most of the cost is art, level design, and so on, with actual programming being only a small fraction of the budget. (The typical full-time staff for a large game will be several hundred people of whom perhaps a dozen or so are computer programmers.)
I remember seeing an argument that the sort of systems computers can model and humans can easily understand lend themselves to moving around a space and pointing at things. So this means games about moving and pointing are the easiest to build. Hence all the shooters and racing games.
Just look at the time it takes to learn to play Crusader Kings or Dwarf Fortress, compared to Unreal Tournament. The systems and interactions in Unreal Tournament are intuitive, Dwarf Fortress is… not.
It’s not that computer games have to be violent, it’s that computer’s lend themselves to games about violence.
I’ve always wanted a game about colonising a solar system that focuses on social drift between different colonies and trying to build long term societies that work together rather than descend into violence. No idea how the fuck you model that in a computer.
Andrew Molitor says
All I really want is AI object recognition and an augmented reality arrow that pops up when I mutter irritably “where the hell is my phone?” (keys, pants, glasses, etc)
In fairness, those expectations were set by the company’s own deceptive publicity releases and consistent over – promising and under – delivering.
Could the goggles also edit things out? E.g. could you make it so a particular person was invisible to anyone wearing the goggles? Simply paint that person out with an image of the background. Would that work?