Game, Set and Match II. Notes from The Many Worlds of Charbitat, by Michael Nitsche from the Georgia Institute of Technology.

1958, Tennis For Two was basically a game of pong on an analog computer. Not much has changed since. Apart from notable exceptions.

As the technology develops and graphic engines get stronger, the environment becomes more detailed, the level of complexity increases and the development takes more and more time and money. Is there still a place left for innovation and independent game developers?

Developing procedurally-generated content could be a solution, for example: Charbitat presented here and Spore. Procedural environment use basic algorithms and varying seed values to generate the virtual space. In Charbitat, the space moves and is re-created over time depending on how players interact with it, their actions are translated into a data set which influences the seed values that controls the manipulation of the game world. Result: Charbitat allows players to craft personalized and meaningful environment simply by playing.

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The system plugs into an existing commercial game engine (Unreal), splits up the world in tiles, clarify seed values (five elements: earth, water, wood, fire and metal). All along the game, the player is informed on the status, he or she can trace their actions.

The stories, developed as you're playing, are always unique but they can be shared.

Description: a lone heroine sets out on a quest through hostile land and uses her growing skills to overcome obstacles and save the world. When the player starts the game, the character is in a solitary first cell of an unformed, endless world. When she reaches one of the borderlines of a cell and steps into the void beyond, a new area is procedurally formed and populated. Every new cell adds to the existing world and imprints the player's behaviour patterns within the game space and its inhabitants.

Within each cell, the game engine records the player's actions in a data set. The data is then combined with information on surrounding cells, to draft instructions on terrain generation and asset placement for the next cell to be built. If a player plays in a certain way s/he consciously affects her character's data set and can anticipate the kind of space that she will create.

Players will be able to save their game states and return to it later. They can also swap worlds with other players. The developers think that players will probably develop a very personal relationship to their own world.

Developed by Michael Nitsche, Calvin Ashmore, Kate Compton, Jason Alderman, Matthias Shapiro, Rob Fitzpatrick, John Kelly, Martin Walsh.

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Game, Set and Match II. Notes from Annet Dekker, curator at the Netherlands Media Art Institute: The New Art of Gaming, Or What Gaming can Learn from Installation Art.

Apparently the Netherlands Media Art Institute will organise in September a festival around gaming, immersion, interactive installations. If anyone ever has more details about it, plizz plizz, let me know.

Dekker explained how works of installation use interactivity and the function of the body. Her focus was on the relationship between art and computer games, or what computer games can learn from art (and in particular its connection to space, architecture, the body and interactivity.)

Since the arrival of Spacewars in 1962, little has changed. Today, many games are promoted for their "immersive qualities." But waht do they mean by "immersion" in this context? Mainly life-like characters, better graphics and the use of new interfaces such as in Journey to Wild Divine, or Donkey Konga, for example. But even when players' faces are integrated into the image on the screen or even when they are hooked up in some way to the game, one cannot say that players are really immersed.

If you want to step back in time, the early cinema also claimed to provide viewers with an "immersive experience", so did the Italian opera.

Where in a game, the player needs a lot of concentration to get detached from the real world, in installation art, the player is immediately immersed in a different world. An environment is laid down that make new interaction models emerge in the virtual and the physical space, an environment designed by artists that reveals the new art of gaming.

Char Davies, Osmose, 1995-1996.

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Immersion in Osmose begins with the donning of the head-mounted display and motion-tracking vest. The first virtual space encountered is a 3D grid which functions as an orientation space. With the immersant's first breaths, the grid gives way to a clearing in a forest. There are a dozen world-spaces in Osmose, like Clearing, Forest, Pond, Subterranean Earth, Abyss, etc.

Through use of their own breath and balance, immersants are able to journey anywhere within these worlds as well as hover in the ambiguous transition areas in between.

Meanwhile, the audience can watch the choices that the immersant makes on a big screen and follow the immersant's body move on the silhouette projected on a wall. Of course, the gear worn by the immersant looks bulky now. Today (ten years later) the technology would be more subtle and cheaper.

Text Rain by Camille Utterback and Romy Achituv.

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This installation engages people's bodies, not just their eyes and fingers. In this dialogue between the physical and the virtual spaces, participants move their bodies to play with falling letters. On the screen they see a mirrored projection of themselves in b&w, combined with a color animation of falling letters. The letters respond to their motions and can be caught, lifted, and then let fall again. If a participant accumulates enough letters along their outstretched arms, or along the silhouette of any dark object, they can sometimes catch an entire word, or even a phrase. The falling letters are not random, but form lines of a poem about bodies and language. The role of body in communication is important.

Interactive Plant Growing (93), by Christa Sommerer and Laurent Mignonneau.

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Human viewers can control the 3D real-time growth of virtual plants by touching real plants or moving their hands towards them.

Plant structures on the screen are programmed as plant-algorithms; they can develop and grow in 3 dimensions, rotate, scale, translate, deform and vary. The electrical potential difference between viewers and plants is directly transformed into electrical signals which conduct how the virtual plants grow on the screen.

The work shows how an interface can become an integral part of an installation and hence the experience.

Installation art has reflected a lot on how to break the barriers between virtual and physical spaces. By using natural interfaces or large architectural settings or complex spaces, many installation immerse the viewer in a different world. In the beginning of the '90s, this was achieved by the use of dark spaces. Now artists return to real world spaces. This change is enforced by development in architectural design which is getting more fluid. Architects have begun to animate their work, hypersurface their walls, crossbreed different locations, etc. Example like Sky Ear, Scents of Space, Conscious Space (in which the only imput device is the body which acts as antenna) by Sonia Cillari and Muscle by Kas Oosterhuis mark a change that makes it difficult to distinguish architecture from art installations. There is a game-like structure in all those works.

Works by Blast Theory such as Desert Rain and Can You See Me Now make the connection between vitual and real world even more visible.

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Desert Rain is a game + installation + performance. Desert Rain sends you on a mission into a virtual world. Standing on a footplate into a cubicle, each of the six team members explores motels, deserts and underground bunkers, communicating with each other within the virtual world. Players have 30 minutes to find the target, complete the mission, and get to the final room, where others may have a very different idea of what actually happened out there...
Can You See Me Now experiment with the convergence of online and offline worlds by using mobile technologies.

Ada the Intelligent Room , developed for the Expo 2002 in Switzerland.

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Ada, created by a team led by Paul Verschure, was a direct result of the link between physical and psychological realms. The room tries to make contact with visitors and communicate through sound, lights and visuals.

The examples from the history of installation art and recent developments in architectural design show show that there is much to learn for game developers interested in presenting games "outside the box" in terms of interface design, audience participation and the use of spaces. This is not to suggest that there are no interesting games at the moment, but...


If the gaming industry doesn't pick up from this, in the end it will be left behind by the new art of gaming born from installation art and architectural design.

Related: From Paddles to Pads. Is Controller Design Killing Creativity in Video Games?

Notes from Steffen Walz's talk at Game, Set and Match II: A Spatio-Ludic Rhetoric: Serious Pervasive Game Design for Sentient Architectures.

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Dialectics of surveillance fun. Surveillance technologies are sine qua non components of our everyday life conditions. To what degree could serious pervasive games bring upon us an invisible system of technocontrol that would use the positive side of game. Turning our world into a "fun prison."

The game could consist in trying to avoid surveillance camera using a map of the location of the CCTV cams or trying to be detected by as many as possible. One way to look at pervasive games as a form of counter surveillance or sousveillance or inverse surveillance (using surveillance to make something new.)
Exemple: New York Surveillance Camera Players.

Serious pervasive games follow rules set outside the game itself (war, policy, marketing, health, etc.). The game moves beyond the computer screen and people have to behave accordingly to the rules of the games. It's more fun because you're outside, in the normal world and you can impersonate another character: But upon you is surveillance architecture.

A whole nation can be turned into a game space.

Walz the showed a series of projects he has worked on.
- his students repurposed a cloister into a war zome with players running around the space to conquer territory using a tag shooter.

- REXplorer (PDF presentation) in Regensburg, Germany best preserved city. Part of the Regensburg experience, the spell-casting game uses location-based technologies and gesture recognition and it will turn the whole city into a huge playboard.

In the game, landmarked buildings have locked magical spirits, secrets, and treasures inside of them, all of which can be unleashed and interacted with by the way of the proper magical spell gesture, called "cellcast". Tourists rent a magic"wand", a gesture sensing and location tracking mobile phone running custom software and data neccessary for the game. As if taking a positionable, Nintendo Revolution controller with built-in loudspeaker outdoors, players learn about the history of the city by interacting with the buildings themselves, but also by duelling with one another, or fulfilling cooperative quests. Game will be launched in August 2006.

- M.A.D.Control Players use PDAs on a wireless network to solve clues and find and deactivate a bomb hidden in a building. In addition to the real-world physical floors of the building, there's a "virtual floor"; player activity crosses back and forth between the real setting and the virtual one.

- Lightfight uses biofeedback hardware in combination with the redhell. Wearable biofeedback and IP enabled room functionnality and psychophysiology. The redhell acts as the display unit giving the player a feedback on the current gamestate.

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In the single player version one player connected to the lightstone competes against the computer personified by redhell. Standing at the far end of the room the player has to try to push the illuminated rows of neonlights towards the other end -applying force by raising his skinconductivity- while the redhell pushes in the opposite direction. During the course of the game the force with which the redhell pushes the light towards the player constantly increases. Once the illuminated row of neonlights has reached the players end of the room the game is over.

The fingerclip-sensors of the Hardware measure heartdata and the skinconductivity.
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- educational game: "Who's afraid of the Black Man" played in Stuttgart with semacodes, camera phones, GPRS, online multiplayer application.

- policy: "Spirits of Split" uses the Croatian city and real actors to represent real layers of the historical city,

- fundraising game to help ETH to fundraise money. People would buy one pixel of a huge billboard and over time the ETH logo would appear on the billboard.

Day one of Game, Set and Match II in Delft has been hugely satisfying. Will never ever find the time to blog everything i've heard but here's a first one:

First Person Paradoxes: The Logic of War in Computer Games
by David Nieborg, from the University of Amsterdam.

Most digital games revolve around direct or indirect conflicts. War has therefore always been an easy pick for game designers. This presentation focussed on"realistic" SQUAD-BASED online multiplayer First Person Shooter pc games. They are squad-based (on the one hand the terrorists, on the other one the counter-terrorists). They involve some tactics (that's what makes them realistic). Examples: America's Army, Battlefield 2, Counter Strike and the recent Ghost Recon (image below) which features the highest tech that the U.S. army actually has at its disposal.

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"Winning is keeping the target in constant sight", wrote Virilio. The battlefield has always been a question of perception: seeing is killing. That's why the U.S. military is so good at developing gears that enable soldiers to see better in whatever condition.

Are FPS games "murder simulators" (according to critics and academics) or "training tools" (for the U.S. military?

1999 Dave Grossman, Stop Teaching Our Kids To Kill

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Herz & Macedonia, Computer Game and the Military. Two Views, an article published in Defense Horizon in 2002.

The game industry and the U.S. military can benefit from each other.

Context:
1. The military entertainment context
. The connection between military and entertainment go beyond gaming: movies supported by military, cooperation with military to develop games, TV series, sponsoring of game events, etc.
Through the appropriation and adaptation of successful commercial game technology, the military taps directly into youth popular culture.

e.g. Full Spectrum Warrior 04 developed as a training tool for the U.S. army but available in the shops.
Close Combat, a training for marines available in shops as well.
Military wants to incorporate more youngsters.
Warlords, a LAN party for fun.

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JFETS (Joint Fires and Effects Trainer System, image above) developed with the help of Hollywood special effect experts. Increasing blurring of the entertainment and the industry.

2. Ongoing military transformation context

- passing from C3 to C4 ISR: from Command, Control and Communication to Command, Control, Communication, Computer, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance. War fought through an increased used of technology.
- Unmanned Aerial Vehicles
- robotisation.

Baudrillard in 91: When war has become information "it ceases to be war and becomes a virtual war".

Analysis: FPSs as war games. The analysis of FPS games points to "first person paradoxes." The static game space of multiplayer FPS maps do not correspond to the logic of war as it is fought now and in the future. The logic of war collide with the design of virtual battelfields resulting in two paradoxes.

1. Paradox of reductiveness
Every simulation involves some reduction of course.
Based on Luttwak's Strategy: the Logic of War and Peace (2001), the five levels of strategy are:
- technical level: weapons,
- tactical,
- operational,
- theather (in the sense "the European theatre of operation"),
- grand strategy: diplomacy/politics.

The logic of FFFF (find, fix, fight and finish the enemy) governs FPS games. Most of these games only feature the two first levels of strategy, ex: Counter Strike and America's Army. They only focus on the lowest levels of strategy and could therefore be labelled as abstract simulation of certain aspects of "real" war.
There are exceptions, Battlefield 2 has the operational level: a commandeur has a bird vision of the battlefield: he can send supply where needed, place artillery bombardments, etc.

Elements such as dying children, dullness of war (waiting for a battle), the rules of war (taking prisonners and interrogating them), the intrusion by journalists or NGOs... are conveniently absent in FPSs. Constant negociation between the goal to entertain and to offer an "authentic" experience.

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2. Paradox of fairness
The modelling of the two teams fighting in online FPSs has made it impossible to emphasize the role of technology within the military. Weapons and gears are carefully balanced. e.g. the two fighting parties in America's Army see themselves as U.S. soldiers and the other team as the opposing forces and both battle with weapons that have similar effects. Thus the paradox of fairness makes it impossible to simulate the (supposed) superiority of American soldiers.

Related: Can video games prepare soldiers to real war?

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