Archive for Videogames

Uncanny Environments


I think Dying Light has nailed the urban environment.  It’s been coming for a while, every iteration, every game that comes out that has been set in an analog for a real world space has been taking baby-steps forward.  Watch Dogs nearly got it, the Modern Warfare games were as close as I’d ever seen up until that point, Max Payne had a toe over the line, but I think in Dying Light we finally have a believable urban environment to play with.

Why do I say this?  Because of all the *stuff*.

For long time (decades, really), if there was an object in your environment, it was useful.  Barrels?  You could blow those up.  Boxes?  Smash’em to get stuff.  But not any longer, in fact, the fact that “useful” objects are tagged with some kind of glow effect, or show up as actionable in your HUD is, in part, due to the fact that there is so much stuff in the world that you can’t find what you need unless we point your eyeballs at it.

In order to get an environment to look “real” it has to be dirty.  This is a problem that artists have beat their heads against over and over.  One of the things that made the model effects in Star Wars look so real?  The dirt, the grime, the grit in-between joints. Ever try to get “realistic textures” from in-service military vehicles?  Good luck, they keep those things *so* clean that, even though you are working from a photo of an actual tank, nobody ever believes it.

It’s the uncanny valley of environments, and I think we’ve finally climbed out.


Catch and Destroy

Image from Astrobiology Magazine online


Walter Jon Williams may have described it most clearly in his novel “Aristoi”, the idea that any nano-technological critter, given the ability to reproduce, can go bad and take over a whole environment, devouring everything it can reach.  If you are a cyberpunk/hard sci-fi fan, you may have heard of it as “Mataglap” or “Grey Goo”.  It begs the question, how do you control against a microscopically sized organism?  Or more to the point, how can you control against them on the fly, away from lab facilities and clean rooms?

Here and now, for biological organisms, there is a solution.  Specialized adhesive tapes that can be impregnated with chemical compounds to neutralize biological organisms.  The kinds of germs, bugs and viruses that many imagine the architecture of future nano-particles will be based upon.

As always, the link’s there at the top so you can read the original article for yourself and decide if you’re going to be taping the cracks around your windows closed in case the Measles epidemic comes to your street in suburbia.


Throttled back

Custom rigs

The future is here, strangely enough.  3d printers can kit you out with a custom drone, you can create aggressive, combat ready items of clothing that deliver a jab or an electric shock if someone gets too close.  You can slip magnets under the skin  of your fingers (if you have a strong stomach and a lot of lidocaine) to get a tactile sense of the magnetic fields around you.  There are all these bits and bobs and emerging tech and inventive use cases that can be found in every corner of the world and, while they haven’t yet gelled into the inevitable dystopic future we all fear, the sheer number of things that we can do now that were just an idea less than 10 years ago is truly mind blowing.



The Peanut Perception

As a card-carrying member of the human race, there are a number of things that have to be fought on a regular basis.  The big one that I run across over and over again in Game Design is players going blind.

Not in a literal sense.  I could (and sometimes do) develop for that, but in a figurative one.  Once something becomes familiar, the brain sort of shunts it out of the way, you stop *looking* at it and it becomes background noise.

The peanuts at our local Burger Chain serve (to me, as a game designer) a dual purpose.  1. They give the customers something to snack on because it takes a while to cook food.  I can only imagine how many 7 year old appetites have been ruined by the “free peanut” policy.

Reason #2 is, as a game designer, far more interesting.  See, floors are annoying.  They gather crud of all kinds, they have to be mopped and swept.  In many eating establishments you find that the floors are brightly patterned or darkly colored to try and hide this.  They are high-traffic places and as such, have a high maintenance.  But to an employee, those floors become invisible after awhile, they go blind to the state of the floors.  Not because they necessarily don’t care, but because that’s just what happens after a while.  The floors are also one of the first things a player, erm, patron sees when they come in the door.

Your establishment is JUDGED by the state of your floors.

So a dark tile floor, coupled with peanut shells would be a recipe for disaster, right?

Not quite.

See, those shells draw attention to themselves.  The patterns change all the time, they get kicked around.  There’s always something new to see (unlike that one french fry in the corner), the patterns change and the brain is triggered to see what’s different.  Fries and other comestibles don’t really drop often enough, or in enough quantity to trigger this effect.

So the floors stop becoming invisible.

The peanuts, possibly incidentally, solve the problem of clean floors by making those floors dirty, but in such a way as to draw attention to them.  So while you might think that providing such a thing as un-shelled peanuts is crazy, I’m thinking it’s “crazy like a fox”.


Depth and Breadth in your IP

Go on. Ring it up.


I love depth.  It’s the stupid little things in any property, whether it be videogames, books, movies, television, theatre, the little “added value” touches and cookies that tell an audience that the team building this property really gets it.  They get what to is to be a fan (or at least they have someone on staff who does with the clout to make it so).  Fans respond (usually positively).  Go on.  Call the number.