The Lens Moves Back to Design


Besides the whole Neuronet/IAVRT thing that’s taken up some of my time, I’ve been thinking that I need to try (again) to focus this blog more narrowly on those subjects that are easily understood as being related. There’s a few reasons for this. One is that I don’t think most people see how, for example, I connect something like an indy(?) band’s video on Revver (reLink) to the future of product development and virtual worlds. Even if they’re dedicated readers of this blog, the lines are too tenuous for many people. One other reason is that I recognize my own tendency to stray too far afield; dangerous given my own widely varying interests. Consequently, I wanted to start off the New Year with a post about something that isn’t new, but which is starting to gather steam (pun intended): product realism inside videogames and virtual worlds.

The above still image is from a mid-November post over on IBM’s Game Tomorrow blog (Link) talking about realtime raytracing (there’s a Quicktime video linked as well). I’d caught an earlier Cell-rendering post (Link), but there’s something about seeing a designed object that really gets my attention; as an Industrial Designer, I can relate to the car more than an amorphous blob that’s a technical exercise. In addition to those posts, there was a bit of buzz recently about raytracing videogames after Daniel Pohl wrote about it in a widely-circulated article (Link – good read). Not that these advanced rendering techniques haven’t popped up in this context before – they have (reLink) – but there seems to be a growing swell of interest.

While I’ve already stated my thoughts that even previous generation content is sufficient for user immersion (reLink 1, reLink 2) and idea testing (reLink 3), that doesn’t mean manufacturers find the technology sufficient (assuming they’re even thinking along these lines, which I suspect most aren’t). I consider that both a shame and somewhat myopic. Even the much simpler keyboard thing shown below inside Half-Life 2 is sufficiently compelling to me that I … well… took a screenshot. That alone is significant to me: I took a screenshot of a videogame object as a valid design reference. And Half-Life 2 is filled with both common and futuristic products which are both fun and inspiring but also ordinary in their realism. It’s more interesting to me to play the game and look at and interact with the models than it is to flip through some of the design books out there.


Of course the question from me is: “From where did the design and the model come?” because those are things of particular interest and importance to a real world product designer; especially when the model is 1.6 million polygons like that Lambo. The next question I ask myself is: “When will companies start leveraging their product CAD by using it – or allowing it to be used – within virtual worlds and videogames?” because at that point real occupational crossover starts to happen.

At present I know only a few people like myself who straddle the product design/virtual objects design fence. That must surely be set to change in a big way based on a reasonable expectation that other Industrial Designers will be asking similar questions and taking an increasingly serious look at what it is I’m hoping to more clearly illustrate in future posts. Whether realtime raytracing takes off or not, it seems that the technology we have available now is sufficient. Then again, maybe a buzzword like “raytrace” – which was a big deal for many of us once running Alias on SGI machines – will get other, more experienced designers in positions of authority to finally take serious notice.

{Top Image source: Game Tomorrow; Bottom Image source: Valve Software‘s Half-Life 2}