The Bulldozer of Change: It’s Always Coming, and the Keyboard is Old Hat

Change is consistent, no amount of resistance can prevent the future from taking place.

In my previous article about story based games, someone I know either read it, or merely a portion in my email and then argued that why I was wrong. Of course, his criticism was based on the very arguments I proposed and used, so it was painfully obvious to me ‘someone’ was not paying attention, and really didn’t read what I discussed. My main point is it (story based deaths and failure) is a weak, dead concept, it is old, tired and out of date, a throwback to board games and 1980’s arcade games, which has been used in story based games because the creator is just too lazy to do anything else. It’s an interesting conversation, follow me after the break for the whole enchilada!

While I am not someone who needs to be “right” (merely because new things are being discovered and learned everyday, so knowing all there is becomes an issue) I do not accept being “wrong” in this case. Whether my solutions to the problem are acceptable or not, well…that is a bit more dicey, as I doubt that they are. Still…I maintain that story based deaths and story telling games are in pure conflict, and that forced telling/punishment is what causes all player frustration. I am sure that someone will eventually invent a solution, and a company will endorse it and fix the whole mess, exactly like how Crytek pushed normal mapping in the first Far Cry, which is now a standard in every game (thank you, Z Brush!)

Some people (PC gamers, I am talking to you) are in LOVE with a keyboard and mouse as controls. A friend  of mine raves about ‘how great they are’ without enlarging his point into “as currently compared to.” But, the truth remains that new forms of game control are being studied and created right now, and that a bar of soap (the mouse was invented in 1964!) and a pizza box (keyboard) are truly ancient (the keyboard is based on the typewriter which was invented in 1860!) in light of todays technology.

So, still like that old tech? Because that mouse is nearly as old as me. And that keyboard… makes my grandfather look like a child. My point here is that they are mere control devices, and they are used, but in terms of “pure greatness?” They fall very short. What we really need are new ideas, new methods of game control, and they are on their way, just as new types of displays are. Whether that is a new type of joystick (itself quite old, it was invented in 1909!) that has extreme accuracy, or a new device, I cannot say. But it takes time to make new and great stuff, and economies are what currently allows many things to happen or not.

What we are really attached to is what we have become so very accustomed to: That is, what we have already learned, and what we now know, so we get to the point where it is a sacred cow. We are the pew sitters in a church who will not allow anyone to take our spot. We need to adapt, because it has long been demonstrated that those who adapt survive, and those that don’t… well, it was nice knowing you. Sure, you might actually hate Windows 8, but the fact is…more people can use a computer now, (easier to use) and that is far more important than your current opinion. In addition to that, your opinion is temporary, and just like with the GUI, the Start Menu and the Mouse, the haters will come to see the value of the new paradigm and embrace it. 

Seriously: There are more computers in use now because people don’t NEED to know basic programming in order to use one. I know this, because that is where I started. That’s 1974 for those of you who are unaware.

Add, minor tech ‘upgrades’ often only serve to enlarge the issue of “staying with old tech.” While tablets (example) have a keyboard ‘built in’, they are not that effective because they have no genuine feedback like a real world keyboard. But they do allow the user a new method (sheer portability) of computing, and are often “all-in-one” solutions with drawing, typing, (etc.) and a camera. Some people use them to take family photos. Some use them for work. Having such portable power available was an unheard of idea 20 years ago. Yet, in some ways it is fake change, as we are still  stuck with the same thing with a new face.

The important thing to keep in mind here is just a few, short facts:

1) A mouse and keyboard were not designed for 3D input, or as devices to do anything like that. They are 2D input devices that have been forced to do a “3D” job (as what a mouse does amounts to 2D when implemented on a screen)
2) While a joystick (originally conceived of for flying) is 3D, it doesn’t translate well into the virtual world due to a lack of ‘accuracy.’

So, if we analyze everything we currently have as interactive 3D devices, the one concept we learn quickly is that all of them work on a 2D plane even when 3D is displayed on the screen. games circumvent this by having 3D characters do scripted action, but the fact remains: It is a 2D device. The primary, obvious reason for this is that any 3D is resolved into “2D” on the monitor. Not an elegant solution, but it is what we currently have.

And so, while many complain that say the “wii-mote” is crap, or the new screen/joystick combo Nintendo has introduced is “no good”, I am going to defend them merely for making an effort into something new, trying to change dynamics, and being inventive. And, they (both devices) do offer altered ideas of feedback. On the other hand, while Kinect is an interesting and advanced concept, one thing it lacks is tactile/haptic feedback. It is basically all virtual, and so everything remains virtual, which is in my opinion, a dramatic limitation of all “virtual” devices.

Near and current future
Volumetric Displays (and experiences with other types) are going to advance far beyond what we now accept as ‘standard’, it is merely a matter of “living to see it”. A Hatsune Miku concert is just the tip of the current trend with a transparent display of ‘3D’, and note here: Nearly everything experienced is synthetic; the voice is synthesized and the character is 3D (but the ‘animation’ is mo-capped) obviously, the ‘back-up’ band is quite real, and the background display amounts to glass. The important thing to note here is audience participation.

Coming up in 10-50 years…
Some companies are experimenting with
helmets or glasses, others are aiming for a “fully immersive 3D experience.” Of course, without a full body experience, this puts the burden onto our mind, (as that is where all interaction would be taking place). While it could be effective at some level, it would still lack any tactile real-world feedback, unless some form of suit was worn, or we were actually there. Still, in “mind only” VR, there are senses that are being ignored, and all of those factor in to a convincing experience that makes life what it is. While we may be involved in a video game, it is not quite the same as having 5 senses convinced that the virtual world we are experiencing is “real.”

Whether some crazed dictator finds a way to “take over the world” using this tech or not, one could only speculate, but likely, it is all just fun entertainment (because, currently, that is a lot of gear to wear to a political rally). And, likely the only thing keeping the really big, great tech away from us is pure, personal, computational power.

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