Jacob Corrects the World #1

A strange thing happened to me today.

I was walking down the high street, minding my own business when I noticed a movement out of the corner of my eye, people seemed to be gathering. And more worrying they seemed to be gathering around me, first just a trickle of people, but before long I was almost surrounded.

I tried to get away from the throng but it was too late, one particularly violent man with a shaved head and a scar across his nose had me pinned against the wall. And that was when he spoke.

“What do you think is the main problem with modern computer games?”

Well needless to say, dear readers, I was stunned. The question of there being one main problem never really occurred to me, but the crowd was adamant. All I could do was to promise them that I would put some serious consideration to the question.

Turning to the crowd, who all gave a collective but begrudging series of nods, the man released me and allowed my escape.

So, here I am. And though I cannot think of what I would call the greatest reason, I can at least give what I think to be a reason I have not seen raised elsewhere.

I’m sure that most of you are aware of the uncanny valley.

461px-Mori_Uncanny_Valley

No? Then allow me to explain.

Whilst designing robots to appeal more to humans it was theorised that people felt more comfortable with robots as they were given more “human” features, up until a point. But once the robot reaches a level of seeming almost human they were suddenly much less favourably received. Essentially it seemed that the closer robots became to looking human, the more the inhuman aspects showed.

tintoy

Even Pixar fell into it’s pull

So, what does this have to do with modern games? I’m not implying anything about graphics, I’m simply referring to the immersion factor.

Can I explain? Well this is me, so yes I can, but not very well. Nevertheless allow me to try.

Let’s take a look back at the golden days, to one of my (and I’m sure, everyone else’s) personal favourites, Super Mario Brothers.

super-mario-bros-dx-big

Sometimes you pick up a flower, then things get complicated.

The game itself was simple, you tried to jump on some things and not run into others. But it was still fun, it never tried to be more than it was, a game. You could describe these games as being in the first third of the graph above. They’re a bit bare on features but they still provide people with amusement, mainly because you can supplement them with your own imagination.

Then we had the dawn of 3D.

sssv-1

Polygons, polygons everywhere.

This is where games began to adapt and become more immersive. The third dimension added not just a whole new aspect to games, but also unique problems. Suddenly the players could not be restricted to merely moving backwards and forwards, although this new degree of freedom was enjoyable a way had to be found to contain them. It was the dawn of a computer game staple, the invisible wall.

I remember the first time I encountered one of these formidable barriers to freedom, I was playing Super Mario 64 in the bob-bomb battlefield. I was running up a hill when it suddenly stopped, the hill dropped away into nothingness and Mario had his nose spread even wider across his face by the unexpected impact. But it was fine, because I knew that I was playing a game.

The problems arose when game designers tried to hide the invisible barriers, instead of the totally inexplicable physics of the landscape vanishing from view we have the justifiably worse logic of police barriers stopping even the most determined superhero from walking down an alley, but it wasn’t too bad because back then the graphics were simply not good enough to be taken so seriously. Nevertheless this is where we begin to approach the edge of the uncanny valley.

Lastly, let’s see some of the more recent games; for example, army of two. Which I would call one of the more typical examples of modern gaming that I have actually played.

932860_20080215_screen002

It’s not as exciting as it looks.

And what does this game promise? “Unique co-op tactics – sniping, riot shield, vehicles designed for two man operations and more.” By this the game essentially means that at certain point in the game you can give your partner a leg-up, or that you can both kick down a door together.

Nothing wrong with that right? Right, scripted events have been in games for years now. But what matters is that while you can give your partner a leg-up, you can only do it where the game allows you to. In fact this game has such a bad distinction between what walls you can and cannot climb over, or the doors that you can and cannot kick down that it even has a feature in the game that tells you where you need to go. The logic behind the actions the game allows you to perform are overshadowed by the fact that you can only perform them in the areas where the game allows you to.

And now we’ve gone over the edge and are taking hikes through the centre of the uncanny valley.

You may think that now I’m being picky, and in a way you’d be right. Games have always had their limitations in that you can only do what the game has been programmed to allow you to do. But the more that a game tries to pretend it doesn’t have barriers, the more these barriers stand out and the less immersed you can feel in the game, like a robot that isn’t quite human.

And it isn’t as though there aren’t other ways around it, Super Mario Galaxy is probably the best example, by allowing the player to run around a sphere there are no hidden barriers. Other games like Half Life 2 hid their barriers very well in order to prevent any accidental damage to the fourth wall and yet still remain immersive. It may contain the occasional locked door or barrier of rubble, but you never really pick up on them because you’re always pushed forwards by the narrative and the levels are designed in such a way that they still allow for exploration.

I’m not saying that games should not be complex, a lot of the older games, mainly rpgs, are very complicated. Nor am I saying that developers should stop trying to be realistic, but it seems to me that essentially games now are developing a disturbing habit of trying to hide the fact that they are games.

And that, is what I believe to be one of the major problems with games today.

I realise that this may sound like me just being a miserable old man. Maybe that’s because I am, but essentially this is a post to try and practise discussing a point. If you agree or disagree please let me know in the comments, I’m eager to get some opinions on this.

Posted in Discussion | Tagged , | 2 Comments

My first driving lesson

I’m sure that for most people their first time being taught how to drive a car sticks in their head, you’re a bundle of nerves as you try and remember all of the checks you have to do before you start the car, where to put your hands on the wheel, which pedal is which, you think about all of the little things that could go wrong. Or the big things.

And that’s before you even start the engine. Once you turn the key the whole thing jumps to life and you find yourself in charge of what is essentially a massive lump of metal propelled by explosions. So you drive at a crawl, terrified that at any moment you might push your foot down even an centimetre too far and the whole thing is going to leap out of your tentative control and mow down some innocent pedestrian.

Or at least that’s how it was for me, that is, that’s how it was for me during my first official driving lesson. You see, there were a few very special things about my actual first lesson.

  • I was not much older than 10
  • My Dad was giving the lesson

Now, there is one thing that you should all know about my Father. Mainly that my Dad is flippin’ nuts. In fact I may have to share some of the stories he has told me about his youth with you all in the future, but for now allow us to focus on my first ever time being taught how to drive:

During my childhood I lived with my Dad and my Sister down a small country road which featured in the addresses of only five homes including our own. Next door lived another brother and sister living with their father, so most summer days were spent climbing trees, playing computer games and other such idealistic childhood activities with my sister and our friends next door. That was until one day my Dad decided that the time had come, the time for me to learn to drive.

That fateful day he gathered us all together on the farm and sat us all down in an old three-door ford to educate us all in the finer points of automotive control.

Things started well. “This is the clutch, but you wont need to use that because we’ll only be using the first gear. This is the brake, and this is the accelerator, press it to go faster.” All simple enough I thought, then the lesson progressed to my dad driving around the field for a few seconds to show us each of the controls in motion. However the tediousness of it evidentially soon got to him because before we knew it he turned to briefly check that we all had our seatbelts on before saying “Oh and don’t do, this!”

No sooner than anyone could even open their mouths we were thrown backwards into our seats as my Father slammed his foot down on the accelerator, thrashing the poor junkyard of a car to it’s limit and changing gears like a madman, he seemed to be heading straight for a hedge. Now a hedge may not sound like a lot to stand up to one tonne of metal doing at least 40mph, but these were hedges that had been standing for at least twice as many years as the car was doing miles an hour and they were firmly rooted by now, more a row of trees than a hedge. Besides, they also grew along a ditch. I glanced quickly at my Dad, an expression of concentration and joy on his face before the car launched itself through an invisible gap in the hedge free of trunks and neatly hopped over the ditch.

You’d be forgiven for thinking that we were terrified, but that would be forgetting that we weren’t even teenagers at this point and thus knew for a fact that we were invulnerable. We all cheered as the car ploughed on through the branches and carried us over safely, our elation only egging my Father on.

And he hadn’t finished his demonstration yet, yanking the handbrake my Dad swung the car around without slowing and darted straight back towards a different point in the same hedge, after pulling of the same trick twice he then began to perform a series of increasingly fast handbrake turns until he felt like he had made up for all of his mundanity at the start before he finally handed over the wheel.

Before I could accept, high on the adrenaline, the brother from next door jumped at the opportunity. My Dad handed him control of the vehicle, this soon turned out to be a mistake.

Immediately he tried the same trick he had seen performed twice before his eyes, assured in his own mind that it was simple he began to gun the engine, and though he couldn’t change gears we were doing a good 20mph before we reached the hedge.

Slamming into the ditch brought the car to an immediate standstill. A shame that the same could not be said for the occupants. Whilst my Dad, the brother and I were fine, my sister had a seatbelt bruise for a week afterwards and his sister got a severely bloody nose. You’d think that she had learnt her lesson to never get into a car with a member of my family again and that I’d have learnt my lesson about careless driving, but that wouldn’t leave me with another story I plan to share some other time…

The thing that still sticks to mind is the sound of my Dad laughing straight after the collision, a smile of recollection on his face.

Posted in Life Stories | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Itxi: Pose as a gangster because your costume just got real

I decided to change from my original idea of the Wayward Vagabond for a few reasons, varying from LURPS just not knowing about ms paint adventures at all (therefore people would just think that I was mayor of the Jawas) to simply wanting pockets.

Luckily there was an alternative.

Or

Yeah...

A quick addition of my suit plus a stylish fedora and I was done.

Not quite the home project I was hoping for but it was a surprisingly popular costume, especially considering that no-one knew who the character was.

Coming up later, some writing. Stay tuned.

Posted in Costumes | Tagged , | Leave a comment

All quiet on the Western front

Things have been a bit slow around here, but not for no reason. Before I can really do anything I need to get one of those things… jab? jump? hob? job? Job! That’s it.

So yeah, I need to find me one of these ‘jobs’ before I can truly get going with anything. But I have made progress on the costume. Unfortunately I have also had a few setbacks:

  • The landlord chose to clear out the basement over the summer, byebye cables. 😦
  • Materials are expensive

However, I have found some very cheap bedsheets, so besides what I may have said before I will probably go down the bedsheets route. That is unless I can find some more suitable materials that aren’t £14 a metre!

As for the cables, I’m sure that I can find something.

With these obstacles overcome, I still have one more problem, the eyes. I can’t decide whether to use white buttons sewn in just above my actual eyes, or whether to use some white scraps of material to make the eyes.

Not much, but I have to keep the ball rolling with this blog sometime. Also expect pictures when I get the fansuit, which I’m sure you’ll all enjoy.

Posted in Costumes, Uncategorized | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Jacob: Be the imp.

Ok, so let’s start this blog proper!

Every year so far one of the clubs I’m in a university has a Halloween costume bar-crawl. And apart from the first year my costume always sucks or doesn’t exist. So this year I plan to change that, especially since this might be my last year there.

But there are a few problems, I don’t have much time or money, and my skills with crafts are not as good as I’d like. So it has to be cheap and easy, yet still be recognisable to a nerdy audience.

Hmm…

Of course!

Who else has such a simplistic yet recognisable design?

So, even though I’m not too sure how many people will recognise this one, even in LURPS,  it’s still worth a shot. I’ve surmised that the costume can be broken down into a few basic pieces:

  • The skin/carapace. Actually an easy one, http://superfansuits.com/ The most pricey aspect of the suit, but reusable for any costume afterwards. Or maybe I can just use it to jump out on old people at night. The eyes might be a problem though if I want to be able to see.
  • The robes/toga. Any old white sheets put through a wash with some tea/coffee or possibly just some brown sheets. Will probably take some thought to get the colour right.
  • The Sash, easy enough, I have plenty of black cables at home. One of them with a print-out MAYO and a crayon R stuck to it.
  • The measure-spear. Probably best not to have anything sharp, so just a meter ruler for this one.

I plan to order the fan-suit tomorrow and have it shipped to my house back home. The rest of the materials will be purchased when I return.

This is a very simplistic beginning, but I want to start basic and then build up, this is mainly to practise blogging and organising a project.

Oh, and in case anyone is wondering where this character is from: http://www.mspaintadventures.com/

Posted in Costumes | Tagged , | 2 Comments

A Fresh Start

Not much here yet, and there probably wont be for a while until I get set up back home.

Though I guess you could say that my first project is setting up the website itself. But just to let you know, I’m completely new to website design, in fact design in general has always been a strange foreign land to me. What you see now is most likely the default setup, whilst I change some of the background stuff first and learn how to use WordPress before changing any of the graphics.

EDIT: Woah! What’s that you ask? It’s my new header, which is itself still a work in progress. But I’m happy with it.

What did you say? You think it looks awful? Tough.

Posted in Web Development | Tagged | 6 Comments