Simple, User-defined, and Maddening

GameSpy has a less than stellar rep within the gaming community, but they do occasionally have articles I really enjoy. Such is the case with this article covering Peter Molyneux’s talk during the GDC’s new “Vision Track” lecture series. His discussion on Simplicity resonated with the designer in me, and there are a few interface designers out there who could learn a few things from him. But for shear fun, it’s the last portion of the article that gets the juices going. It’s Molyneaux’s “The Room” experiment that really begins to capture some of what I think will crack open cyberspace to the average person (or drive them crazy).
For years I’ve been puzzled by the hiring of architects to design virtual worlds, when I’ve always thought it should be just the opposite: virtual designers should be people who know nothing about real world constraints – children for example. “The Room” may seem unresolved to us adults; a virtual place with little or no purpose beyond defying the real world’s laws of…well… reality. But then we don’t turn cardboard boxes into juggernaut tanks to do battle on uncut lawns. Or sit for hours watching ants disappear into their little holes in the ground, imagining what it must be like to step into their labyrinthian world. Well, not anymore. I’d be more than happy to have someone create something that helps bring some of that wonder back. We could all use a bit of that in this world.

Xbox 2

Blue’s News has posted a portion of the features listed in the “Guide” to Microsoft’s upcoming gaming platform: the eagerly anticipated Xbox 2. Among the features of note are:

* Marketplace. Browseable by game, by genre, and in a number of other ways, the Marketplace will provide a one-stop shop for consumers to acquire episodic content, new game levels, maps, weapons, vehicles, skins and new community-created content.
* Micro-transactions. Breaking down barriers of small-ticket online commerce, micro-transactions will allow developers and the gaming community to charge as little as they like for content they create and publish on Marketplace. Imagine players slapping down $.99 to buy a one-of-a-kind, fully tricked-out racing car to be the envy of their buddies.

Some of you out there understand why I initially chose “reBang” as my company name: it referred to the creation of real world product additionally leveraged as virtual content. This makes sense since the modern development of tangible goods almost always now involves the creation of a virtual 3D representation.

I’ve been waiting for the chance to straddle two worlds for some time, and the implementation of Marketplace and Micro-transactions features in MS’s console signals that this may now soon be possible (the first issue, high-rez content, has been resolved with the latest technology as demonstrated in Half-Life 2, Doom3, and the forthcoming Unreal 3 game engine).

Looks like I need to get myself in gear and position myself appropriately now that the time is fast approaching for this to happen. And that may mean less “shotgun” blogging and more focus. It was coming anyway.

Fido, sit. Fido, fetch. Fido, infiltrate and detonate.

Read something today that reminded me of this, the first paragraph from William Gibson’s novel Count Zero:

They set a slamhound on Turner’s trail in New Delhi, slotted it to his pheromones and the color of his hair. It caught up with him on a street called Chandni Chauk and came scrambling for his rented BMW through a forest of bare brown legs and pedicab tires. Its core was a kilogram of recrystallized hexogene and flaked TNT.

Having read that, now take a look at this link (courtesy of Engadget) on what the mad scientists at Darpa are trying to create.

[Note: Links went dead, so here’s a Wikipedia entry – BigDog]

A Second Life Outside of Second Life

Scanning over last week’s news on I noticed an interesting entry: the Wall Street Journal reports (bottom of page) on the development behind Tringo, a game developed for play inside a virtual world but which has been licensed for both internet and mobile phone play.nullI like this one because it’s related to this: I’ve been wondering and asking around why designers aren’t using the interface design tools now included with videogame SDK’s (Software Development Kits) to prototype real world interfaces inside a 3D game (e.g. Doom3 – see image above) – complete with in-game simulation of real world events like moving robotic arms or opening airlocks. It seems so obvious to be using these free tools. But no one’s responding to my inquiries.

The World of Legalistic Wordplay

Whether it’s the political speeches or the corporate fine print, there’s one thing becoming increasingly clear: variations in word meanings are turning the planet into another Babel. Witness the latest word out of Russia courtesy of Gizmodo:

Basically the catch is in the definition of “distribution” under that law implies actual physical sale of pirated cassetes and disks, in case of downloads the DA office said that “Allofmp3 does not distribute copies of CD’s, but creates conditions for its users to use the content themselves”, and they don’t have an article against that. I think it’s their online encoding feature that “saved” them – with it, the user supposedly makes a copy of the song himself, and this is not something that was assumed under the anti-piracy law.

And here’s a link to a Russian blog (in English) discussing the case.

Of course much of the West has gone down this path before. But this case is a good reminder to ask ourselves: did we do it correctly? Assuming rapid prototyping becomes affordable and readily available to consumers, will the high-resolution models being created for videogames be ripped and “saved” as toys? It’s certainly possible for me to do this now – and I do not use the game’s 3D model to accomplish this. So what are the laws preventing this activity? Are there “outs”? Do they use terminology that ignores the possibilities of future technologies or methodologies the way this Russian law does and ours once did…. maybe still do? Have to wonder how many loopholes we have yet to find in the U.S. legal system.