Realistic Gameplay

May 30, 2008 - 17 Responses

When the Wii was first announced back in 2005, I claimed that it was going to be the triumph of interactive design over brute-force processing for realistic graphics. Sales of the console during the last 2 years prove this point. But something unexpected happened: Even though the Wii wasn’t made for realistic graphics, the revolutionary controller enables such rich potential on interactive design that has permitted for the first time what I would like to call Realistic Gameplay.

The very first example of this approach is the game Winning Eleven for Wii. Unlike any other soccer game that I had played before, this game feels real. Very real on its interactive design. When I see a real soccer match on TV, my mind goes on saying “You two fuckers go an take the ball out of him”, “Everybody must go to attack now!” or “Hey asshole run so you can receive the pass” (yes, I can be quite an animal when watching sports, that’s part of the fun, right?). Those kind of interactions where I want to control not only the guy having the ball but also all the other ones out there so they can collectively perform a tactical play, wasn’t possible to reproduce on a game until Winning Eleven for Wii.

The sensation of controlling the collective interactions of my team rather than the single guy who has the ball, leads the gameplay to an overall tactical and strategical experience that makes me truly feel as the coach behind my team. Even when I design the tactical formation of my team, I really feel the impact of my choices on the field. And the in-match situations are so real and precise that off-sides, faults and other realistic soccer interactions now happen more often (unlike other soccer games).

It’s not the mission of this blog to make reviews about games.. but to explore the intricacies of interactive design. The realistic gameplay I found on the Wii was a profound experience, it felt as the discovery of perspective during the renaissance: it felt real. And that’s the way to go with games as an art form.

Software: Live at TED

April 5, 2008 - 2 Responses

When I think about how the Internet has changed my life, the first thing that comes to my mind is to thank this revolution for the incredible access to knowledge that has provided me (and millions around the planet).

And one of the reasons I’m so thankful has to do with TEDTalks. An incredible conference that happens in California every year were great minds get together, not to sell anything, but to share some of their ideas and investigations. And the organization behind TED has made sure these ideas get out there to the general public thanks to their online videos. Each week, I get on my feed a new conference, a new idea, that sparks something inside me.

Today, I saw an incredible performance that has a lot to do with this blog. MIT researcher, Golan Levin, has created an amazing piece of software that transforms his computer into an instrument and a canvas at the same time. And it’s a triumph of the blend between art and science.

I found his performance fascinating. It reminded me of a concert I’ve assisted a month ago about contemporary music. The avant garde musicians of our time are trying to discover new ways of shaping sound by breaking all the established rules we know about rythm, melody and harmony. To many of us, used to the pop sounds replicated in all media, it’s hard to understand how such noise could be considered music.

Yet, this software provides a synesthetic experience that helps us to understand better modern art and it certainly demonstrates how simple and profound creativity can be (and how all things in nature are related).

Chess as Art

March 15, 2008 - 10 Responses

The book How Life Imitates Chess written by world famous chess player Gary Kasparov has a very interesting paragraph describing how the dadaist artist Marcel Duchamp interpreted Chess:

The artist Marcel Duchamp was an energic chess player. During a period of his life, he even resigned art for chess and said that the game had “all the beauty of art and even more.” Duchamp confirmed this aspect of the game when he said “I have come to the conclusion that while all artists are not chess players, all chess players are artists.” And it’s true that we can’t ignore the creative element of chess, even though we must analyze this in contrast to the fundamental goal of winning the match.

On the blog of Julian Gallo (great site, written in spanish), I’ve found a beautiful definition of Chess written by Stefan Zweig:

(…) the only game that belongs to all peoples and all ages; of which none knows the divinity that bestowed it on the world, to slay boredom, to sharpen the senses, to exhilarate the spirit. One searches for its beginning and for its end. Children can learn its simple rules, duffers succumb to its temptation, yet within this immutable tight square it creates a particular species of master not to be compared with any other – persons destined for chess alone, specific geniuses in whom vision, patience, and technique operative through a distribution no less precisely ordained than in mathematicians, poets, composers, but merely used on a different level.

You might remember Gary Kasparov for his mythological match against IBM’s Deep Blue. One thing that has always fascinated me about that historical moment of gaming, is the claim Kasparov made saying that psychological tactics were applied by IBM to make him play under big pressure and hence, let the big machine win.

Apparently, the whole Deep Blue game worked as a great publicity stunt for IBM and when they won the rematch, the company’s stock went way too high on Wall Street.

Sometimes, games aren’t just a game.

Robots Have Feelings

March 6, 2008 - 6 Responses

Alan Kay once said:

People that love making software, eventually end up doing their own hardware.

I’ve often said to colleagues and friends that when I reach 30, I’ll stop doing software and interactive stuff just to start building robots. Nothing can beat a business card that says “robot maker”. It’s the ultimate thing.

According to those visions of the future from the 50’s were flying cars and robots would define the lifestyle of our century, seems that there’s still a lot of work to be done. Yet, if you make a little research online, you can see pretty surprising things.

Qrio is one of my favorites. He has a sweet and creepy voice. Plug that output with Wikipedia and you might be able to talk about anything with him!

I love how people like to act all natural when they are with ASIMO.

Finally, I just want to state that humans need to dance like robots more often..

The Art of the Demo

February 17, 2008 - 2 Responses

In the software industry, the most exciting moment for a developer is when he gets to unveil his product after months of hard work. That’s when he gets to see the faces of users and discover their reactions. It’s like getting to be a rock star on concert (or a weird variation of one).

And as a fanatic of the history of computers, I was reccommended to check out The Mother of All Demos. A real piece of history that shows a day, back in 1968, when Douglas Engelbart showcased a little thing called the Mouse. It’s a 9 part video if you want to see the full demo. Notions such as copy & paste were already there and the beeps that the computer does are priceless.

But who could deny that the absolute king of demoing is Steve Jobs? A man that has truly revolutionized in less than 25 years no less than 3 major industries: computers, music and phones. And I’m not even considering what he did for the animation industry as well.

So here is another exciting moment of computer history: The birth of the Macintosh.

I’m writing this because last week I got to demo to a group of colleagues what I’ve been working on for the last 3 months with the great team of Popego, and it’s always good to find some inspiration on the true champions of this skill. Soon you’ll find videos (and more) about that presentation on popego’s blog and you can actually become an alpha tester for Popego right now!

 

Ludic Comedy

January 12, 2008 - 3 Responses

We’ve all played Super Mario: a classic platform game where with trial & error you get to overcome the obstacles ahead of you. Now, a Japanese coder got the original level of Super Mario and gave it a very fun twist: it turned the game onto the most absurd and difficult platformer ever.

The bizarre kitty that’s replacing Mario, the silly music and the unfair rules make this ludic experiment quite fun to watch. Because you realize that it’s not about winning the game, but actually about experiencing the game as a comedy. When you discover the most stupid things happening to your character, frustration gets transformed into a laugh. What’s also nice about it, is that you can completely relate to the feelings the player is having: even though the character is a simple un-animated image, when he slowly walks towards the next trap you can realize the fear in him.

I find this hilarious and a really good way of remixing old classic games. Watch:

Software as Art

January 8, 2008 - 4 Responses

I usually blog about innovations on the field of gaming that try to unleash new possibilities with interactivity. Probably because games, due to the their intrinsic interactive value, are the most common place to find new styles of interactive design. But games are a subset of a much more broader category: Software.

Today, I want to share with you 2 specific works of computer code that really catched my imagination.

The first one of them is the marvelous We Feel Fine. A clear example of how you can turn the entire web 2.0 feeling into an artistic experience. A duet of coders in New York have created this amazing system that crawls the entire blogosphere trying to find the terms: “I’m feeling…” or “I feel…” and how the sentence continues. With that sentence they try to identify your current feeling and match it to a specific color. The result? An incredible view of the world’s current mood through an amazing interface that will leave you breathless.

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The second piece I would like to mention is the Phillip-K.-Dick-inspired Electric Sheep. When the famous sc-fi authour wrote his novel “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” he didn’t know that a team of programmers would go and try to actually find out what computers dream about. And they did by developing an astonishing screensaver system that calculates complex fractal animations in a distributed online network and the result is hours of the most beautiful math transformed into dancing designs that will appear on your screen each time your computer feels sleepy.

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I would like to see more stuff like this, because I truly consider digital interactivity the new horizon that art has to play with. Each time that I go to a museum like the MoMA or MALBA, I have this constant thought about what gets exhibited as “modern” art: When Marcel Duchamp put an urinal at an art exhibtion, he definitely was a genius for being the first one having that wild idea. But all the other ones that came after him doing that same thing, are, like the french like to say, pretentiousfucks.

Wii Like Remixing Technology

December 22, 2007 - 13 Responses

I’m sure that by now, you must be quite familiarized with all the alternative uses you can give to your Wiimote. But creativity, that amazing force that pushes humanity to discover new boundaries, always finds its way to show us something never seen before. Johnny Lee, from the Carnegie Mellon University, has created one of the most impressive hacks for the Wiimote.

See the video for further details.

An Update About Playdreamer

December 15, 2007 - One Response

On March this year at the Game Developers Conference, I gave a talk about the research I’ve been doing on 2006 on how to create interactive stories and showcased some tools that I’ve coded during that time. You can still see the complete session on google video.

Playdreamer was the name I gave to an ideal tool that I wanted to develop to create drama games. During this whole year, each time some interesting idea concerning interactive fiction popped in my mind, I would write it on a nice moleskine notebook that I bought for myself. Some of them are pretty wacky and delusional but anyhow, as ideas deserve to be free, I’m sharing some of those pages on my flickr.

Mockup of Playdreamer app

But Playdreamer wasn’t the only big idea on my mind. As some who are close to me know already, I’ve been working a lot on 2007 to start up a new company that aims to create an innovative piece of technology for the web called Popego. And, as the individual human being that I still am, I want to put all my energies (and passion) on that project. That’s why I’ll be 100% focused on Popego, and the Playdreamer project will have to be in the freezer until the time is right. If you’re curious on interactive fiction, you can still download the source code from my research and do something.

The exciting thing is that with Popego we are building an amazing project with a great team and the best possible partners you can get when it comes to talk about innovation and technology. I’ll be writing a new post to specifically talk about this idea in the future, and if you were interested on my Playdreamer research, I hope you understand the reasons that I’m giving to put it aside for a while. Quite probably, in the future I would like to find links between gaming and education with a tool like Playdreamer. We’ll see…

Art + Science = Game

November 17, 2007 - 9 Responses

It has always been told that games are the perfect marriage between art and science. The best and most simple empirical proof of such statement is made by Helsinki’s great talent Petri Purho with this little game over here. I remember meeting him at this year’s GDC after he made a brilliant presentation on the Experimental Gameplay Project. If you love experimental games, keep a close eye on his blog.

Probably one of the inspirations behind this great ludic idea was MIT’s magic blackboard. An awesome tool that could be applied to teach Maths and Physics in a more interactive way.

The marriage between these concepts -game and educational technology- is the piece of proof I needed for my previous post.  The techniques and ways of thinking from people involved in entertainment industries such as videogames, could shape entire generations if we start using those ideas for making schools a place were students want to go rather than imposing them the pressure of having to go. Education has been stuck in the 19th century for too long…