So I did something sort of crazy tonight.

I posted about myself on Reddit. And maybe you’re here because of that. So nonetheless, I hope I don’t disappoint (too much, as writers are bound to do).

But I wanted to talk a little bit about my passion. Because, it seems, it’s one of the few things I do have (besides an English Lit degree, but really, come on).

I enjoy video games, kind of a whole lot.

And I enjoy talking about them, about the technology that makes them possible, and about what that means for us.

So I wrote posted a blurb about wanting to work for Oculus. Well, it’s true. I do. Badly. But why?

Last night, I went to a concert. It was a band called Haim. (rhymes with Time).

They look like this.

Haim-the-band-11-630x419

And they kicked ass. Even better than The National and Tame Impala concert I saw in Dallas this weekend, and you know why?

Because they are the next big thing.

It’s really as simple as that. Not only were they extremely talented at what they did. But they cared so much about their craft. And the craziest part about it to me? The youngest of the three sisters was younger than me. AND SHE REALLY KICKED ASS!

It was so impressive and inspiring! Definitely a kick in the pants.

Honestly though, Oculus is Haim. Haim is Oculus. Finkel is Einhorn.

29engok

So not only are these Oculus guys (Palmer, Nate, Iribe, Carmack, Antonov, Forsyth, and so on) absolute geniuses in their fields, but they have the determination, the vision, and passion to get VR back on track!

The thing is: When you know something is the “next big thing”, how can you not jump on it full force? That’s what this reddit post was tonight – A kind of shout at the moon, half-desparate, all-passionate. Because to tell the honest truth, I want to be a part of it. That’s why I’ve started writing video games pitches, taking courses on Javascript, designing an Oculus demo, directing a video resume, and writing about it all right here. So it’s just the start. But like one poignant commenter on reddit mentioned, “One thing you have that is scarce is passion and that can be a powerful source of inspiration if you can stick through jackasses like me making you want to give up. :)” And if passions what it takes, then damn it, lets do it.

Okay half-time’s over team, now you can run back on the field.

Thanks for taking the time to read and hear a little bit about one guy’s excitement about another’s passion.

I’ll be writing more about the Oculus Rift to come. So come back by if you have any interest.

Thanks for kicking me in the pants, Reddit (and Haim).

Call of Duty in the Oculus Rift (Like Totally Philosophized)

Cod is not a purely immersive experience. It is hyper-mediated immersive one. And if you want to know what it’s like being surrounded in hypermedia. Try being surrounded by those media search engine commercial people who talk all the time slightly relevant ads. And to be honest, for this reason, I think Cod would be horrible in the Oculus Rift.

Information Overload

Information Overload

Okay- it’s a double-edged sword. That game would be horribly awesome. And here’s the reason for my duality: there really could be something wonderful and empowering about being a soldier in a battlefield with no lasting consequences. BUT. Imagine if you were the terminator and you actually measured people that way, like a series of red pixels. But the worst of it is, you’re just navigating through meaningful menus about what to expect from these pixels. There is a red dot there on my mini map. “I shall rotate and run in that general direction.” But even so. You’re not immersed like your watching Planet Earth and you’re there with the bush babies and sea lions – Your hypermediated and its not a vacation experience for the rift like so many see-this, go-here kind of games. They aren’t even games, they are tours and there is something about them that doesn’t rub me right.

Okay. This guy may disagree with me.

Okay.
This guy may disagree with me.

Swimming or floating through space is cool. But is that the best we could think of? Different atmospheres? I’m talking different means of processing information. Granted, I understand tech demos are pretty much all that’s available for the Rift right now. But that’s why it’s exciting to see how developers will discover UI that doesn’t not break your immersion into the virtual reality experience. Because clearly, call of duty would clearly do that as it is right now. But integrated into the system however. Making the headpiece you were into an actual helmet that you wear and there is an eye piece that shines over one of your eyes like Google Glass. Giving you data about the scene. Now that game I will make and hopefully get some funding behind.

But like I said, now, it’s a mess of data. There’s truly no room for Huds at all in VR unless there is natural reasoning behind it. Such as the immersive experience that our hero Isaac does in Dead Space. The lights on his back is his health. Intelligent.

Like Dis.

Like Dis.

A great example of well done GUI is the modded Minecraft- AKA Minecrift, that affixes the chat bar to a nearby surface when you bring it up – As if it’s a part of the world you inhabit – which is pretty dang cool.

Not like this crap.

Not like this crap.

Any indication of imminent death is wrong. Eyes do not bleed red on the side of your body the bullet shot you at. Truly a more revolutionary thought is this, you do not die. And not like some Prince of Persia game where the magic fairy princess saves you every dang time. I’m talking about a game where death is not an aspect of failure.

Not to be confused with real life.

Not to be confused with real life.

We want to know the immaturity of games? It is that failure means death. They are synonymous. Where in life do we see death as failure when we are attempting to try again. But this is not entirely true, death can be known to be now as merely “free restarts” – coins not necessary. And it’s simply a new beginning. Though, I guess there’s something kind of poetic about that isn’t there? Death, in video games, is renewal, it is about the gathering of strength once more into the fight. And I guess we could get all sappy and talk about symbolical things and be about our selves dying and rebirthing all the time within the course of our lives. Sometimes we die for others. But most die for themselves. What’s that quote about trying to keep life for yourself?

Yeah. Something like that.

Yeah. Something like that.

Regardless. This was for a point. I doubt Call of Duty in its present form would be playable (talk about whiplash) on the Oculus Rift. But one day I hope there to be a game that takes issue with learning from death. Because in capital R, we don’t have death to learn from. Death is final. But VR just might be about immortality and the attempt to live through death. Dang it. Prince of Persia again.

NOOOOOOOOOOOOOO

Like, Woah is me.

My 15 minute impression of the Oculus Rift

So a little more personal post today. I’ve been waiting to try this device, the Oculus Rift, for the past 7 months at least. I was discouraged to back the Kickstarter by it’s suggestion to wait for the consumer version, but couldn’t help myself once the youtube videos starting coming out. So I pre-ordered one in March. Unfortunately, my Rift is held up in US Customers right now, so I am doomed to a continual eternity of checking the Oculus Sub-Reddit.

Very Fortunately, there is a google maps app that allows current owners of the Rift to post their location if they are up for demoing their Rift. And Luckey for me, a very nice gentleman by the name of Derek allowed me to demo his Rift. We met up in a busy bar in Tempe, AZ, surrounded by people, and once again, luckily sitting next to the only power outlet in the entire place. Okay. So we may have unplugged a light strip to power up his laptop, but it was worth it…damn it.

The first demo Derek had me try was the Rift Roller coaster. A demo space modified by one guy to include, like the name suggests, a roller coaster. With near noise canceling headphones on, I was able to almost block out the noise of the bar. The clicks and clocks of the coaster’s rungs gave me chills all the way to the top.

The funny thing is. I’ve tried this demo before. I’ve seen it on a much higher resolution screen, that didn’t tear, didn’t blur, and held my face 5 inches from the screen. No surprise. Rift was still better. Granted, it’s all been said before, the resolution needs work, the “screen door” is there from being an inch away from a 720p screen. In other words, the potential for this amazing thing couldn’t be more exciting. Looking behind me, I could see a castle who’s residents smelled of Peach Ale and princesses drunkenly whispered to each other, “The F**k is with this guy?” Glee was me. Going down the big drop, the pixels tore, the screen blurred, and I grinned on like Ray Charles.

Learning how to play Jazz Piano.

Learning how to play Jazz Piano.

Now, of course, I’ll tell you to buy it. Not right now. It’s not for normal people right now. It’s for people who want a rougher, unrefined VR experience with glorified tech demos and harshly modded currently available PC Games. All this requires a little PC technology finesse, though it is nothing beyond following someone’s written instructions on an online forum like MTBS3D, where founder Palmer started off, or occasionally on the Oculus Sub-Reddit. As someone who is waiting on their Rift to clear Chinese/USA Customs and freaking get here already, I’m already satisfied. The other games I played tonight, Blue Marble, Heli-Hell, First Law, and Rift Racer, all had one thing in common – They were basically sit down, enjoy the ride, movie-like experiences. And they were perfect for the time (and physical space) I had for the demo. When I receive my Rift however, I imagine these games would get boring very quickly and would not last the test of time. And that makes sense because they are literally tech demos created by unpaid, limited individuals for kicks and shniggles. But what I am looking forward to, like this guy suggests, is trying out an actual game in the Rift, namely, Minecraft. Give me a goal and an interface like the XBOX controller that allows me to interact with the world more easily, and the Rift experience will divulge from simple 360degree movie watching to, well, Virtual Reality.

I’m excited for the scale and accompanying awe of standing next to a tower I just built 1ft brick by 1ft brick. Having the feeling of how tall you are, of how far you can see, of how much you can interact with will change the way we think about games. There will no longer be a screen that separates you from this place you could only dream about. With the Rift, the only interferences with the medium, like other means of physical input, are quickly being overcome by people like Hydra and Omni who are taking up the challenge.

Tonight, after hyping myself up for the moment after 7 months for the moment, I entered the world of Oculus Rift, and walked away impressed, excited, and satisfied. And I’m glad to say it only took 15 minutes to feel that way.

Oculus’s Luckey and Mitchell: What’s the End Game for the Rift? (Q&A, Part Two)

plott:

A solid read about the founders of the Oculus, if not a promising prediction on the future of their company.

Originally posted on TECH in AMERICA (TiA):

Oculus VR’s Palmer Luckey, left, and Nate Mitchell, right. At center, AllThingsD’s Lauren Goode tries out the Oculus Rift at CES 2013.

Oculus VR’s Palmer Luckey, left, and Nate Mitchell, right. At center, AllThingsD’s Lauren Goode tries out the Oculus Rift at CES 2013.

by Eric Johnson (courtesy AllthingsD)

Oculus VR’s Palmer Luckey, left, and Nate Mitchell, right. At center, AllThingsD’s Lauren Goode tries out the Oculus Rift at CES 2013.

This is the second part of our two-part Q&A with Palmer Luckey and Nate Mitchell, the co-founders of virtual-reality gaming company Oculus VR. In Part One, Luckey and Mitchell discussed controlling expectations, what they want from developers, and the challenges of trying to make games do something radically different.

AllThingsD: What do you guys think about Google Glass? They’ve got their dev kits out right now, too, and –

Palmer Luckey: — What’s Google Glass? [laughs]

No, seriously, they’re doing something sort of similar with getting this wearable computing device to developers. Does the early buzz about Glass worry you?

Luckey

View original 2,355 more words

How Video Games Teach Us (Part II)

Educational? Looks violent....SPOILER, it's both.

Educational? Looks violent….SPOILER, it’s both.

Dragon Age 2 is a role-playing videogame, located in a medieval fantasy-type setting. In it, players lead a character through a large narrative that spans the range of ten years. During this time, players grow their character into the eventual champion of the realm. Before all this, players are given the choice of a playing as either a warrior, a rogue, or a mage as their main character.

This is the beginning of narrative agency.

Though the creative decision may be greatly limited compared to several other popular RPGs, it is done for reasons related to narrative. After the character creation, a cutscene unfolds which reveals the story as a framed narrative by a dwarf companion who will join the player’s character’s team later during the game. The story the dwarf tells is completely dependant upon the player’s choices throughout the game. Whether he tells it in a positive or negative light is also dependant upon the main character’s relationship to the dwarf in the game.

Not only will the choices players make determine the personality of the main character, the narrative at large, the relationships between the main character and his teammates, but also they will change how the main character interacts with society.

Early in the game, one can already notice the intricate web preparing to be spun. More than anything the procedural rhetoric being presented to the player is this: choose wisely. This is why players are spending fifteen extra dollars on strategy guides to games already costing sixty dollars and upward. With Dragon Age 2 there is rarely a “best choice” in whatever you do. And yet, there are always more choices to be made that are unrelated to the central narrative quest. It is what makes the roleplaying genre the prime subject for a study in true agency.

Soooo cute... but that's about it.

Soooo cute… but that’s about it.

This concept of true agency is not to be confused with mere customization. Imagine a game of Pac-Man in which there is something other to accomplish than eating all the yellow pellets. Such a game would not longer be Pac-man. It would simply be Pac-Man, with distractions. Imagine the game of PONG where there was more to do than bounce the white pixel past one’s opponent. It could only be called PONG: multi-tasking. Extra achievements are merely extraneous in games that do not allow for trueplayer agency.

You could make Pac-Man pink, the white pixel purple, or perform any other countless graphical manipulation. This however, is simply a fashion show, not character control, and certainly not true agency.

 Now, there are also games that are core role-playing genre, like Fallout 3, Red Dead Redemption, or Mass Effect 1,2&3, where complex choices of morality driving the narrative are simplified into black and white categories. There may be consequences as a result of choosing one over the other, a different ending based on adhering to good rather than bad, but the system is a vast oversimplification of human decision that harms the transfer of true application from game to day-to-day life.

Dragon Age 2 suffers few of the same downfalls these modern role-playing video games do. The “side missions” in Dragon Age 2 are sometimes irrelevant to the main quest, sometimes merely helpful, but most often, they make certain action choices within the main quest available that would have otherwise been inaccessible if not completed before hand.

This is important as one considers the full reality of one’s life. Rarely, are things completely distinct from another; skills often intertwine, and in the world of globalization, social connections are key to success.

In regards to its system of morality and corresponding action options, Dragon Age 2 does not simplistically give players a good-neutral-bad three-choice wheel. While providing not only those options, it also lets players perform tactful, witty, charming, aggressive, direct, flirtatious, rejecting, and extorting actions; one can even defer the action to another character in one’s team as way of building their relationship.

Even making the choice to be male or female makes a difference in dialogue

 Though unlimited options are not possible as they would be in real life situations, Dragon Age 2 presents a newer system of character response that more closely mirrors day-to-day decision-making. The experience that Dragon Age 2 presents lends credence to its potent use of procedural rhetoric.

For further reading on the nature of choice and freewill in video games, I highly recommend this article on Bioshock Infinite after you’ve beaten the game: http://kevinjameswong.com/2013/04/08/bioshock-infinite-is-a-metacommentary-on-the-nature-of-video-game-storytelling/

How Videogames Teach Us

In the last decade, videogames have made massive gains in the scholarly world. It’s true that videogames continue to push the envelope on the technological front of the unknown, yet it has not been solely due to increasingly complex graphical algorithms nor has it been the mass amount of income generated by the industry that has grabbed the attention of scholars in areas outside of videogaming. Rather, the concept of procedural rhetoric, or the means of persuading by use of a process, has piqued eager minds to understand why videogames are such a potent ingredient in the realms of advertising, politics, and even education

What madness is this?

What madness is this?

As detailed in Persuasive Games by Ian Bogost, these fields and more have already created videogames, some more elementary than others, to present a strong argument for the positions their creator’s maintain. The Mcdonald’s Game is one such game where players are swayed to the belief that Mcdonalds is a corrupt corporation. This process is done by placing players in the position of the Mcdonalds’ CEO, and giving them the chance to make morally reprehensible choices in order to amass a fortune of ill-gotten monetary gain.

Extort, Reap, Mutate, and Enjoy!

Extort, Reap, Mutate, and Enjoy!

Of course, persuasion is not only done in this name-shaming manner. The game Tenure is one that allows players to live out the role of a high school teacher, experiencing the political tensions and the difficulty of maneuvering through the web-like structured educational system. It is not a simple tutorial walk-through that one is placed into within Tenure. Instead, it is through a continual presentation of choice that players experience the life of a teacher. Player freedom to choose, or what is known in videogame theory as agency, is central to the potency of procedural rhetoric. On a set path, one can only act as a spectator as one does a guidebook or mandatory safety video. Specifically, agency puts the exertion of power in the player’s hands and allows them to experience the consequences of their own specific actions. “Enacted events,” according to narrative scholar Janet Murray, “have the power that exceeds both narrated and conventionally dramatized events because we assimilate them as personal experience”. However, games like Tenure are unheard of in the mainstream community of videogaming. The game’s persuasion through procedure is too powerful a tool to remain restricted to the obscure territory of “educational games”. Are games with a similar design being made, brought to, and sold successfully on the frontlines of popular videogames?

Hang out with me through the next couple posts as we explore this concept of Procedural Rhetoric through one of my favorite games from a couple years back, Dragon Age 2.

The Oculus Rift or that thing everyone’s talking about

It’s called the Rift – made by a company called Oculus. Thus, the Oculus Rift.

If you don’t follow gaming on the fringe-soon-to-be-mainstream, then get ready for the future. But before we can go there, we need to talk a little about what’s been done in the past.

This Is Not It.

Virtual Reality….jk.

So,

for the past infinite amount of years behind us, the best we’ve been able to do in “affordable” virtual reality is a big headset that’s basically put you in the back row of a large movie theater where the faraway screen is surrounded by a black tunnel. And you could get one of these things for around $10,000. Oh and this thing above? This is a virtual boy… basically a black and red screen gameboy that blocks out external light… not exactly what you’d call “virtual reality”.

So then, what’s so special about the Rift that’s got everyone checking their keyboard warranties for drool coverage?

I’ll begin recapping what Oculus says about the Rift in their kickstarter launch video:

Facts:

Whereas old “VR” headsets acted like personal home-theaters for your head and only provided 40 degrees of a viewing angle…

1. The Rift’s viewing angle lets you see 110 degrees

which means you cannot look up or down, left or right, and see the edges of the screen = No More Black Tunnel = More Immersion.

2. The Rift allows you to see in Stereoscopic 3D

Because there is a separate image for each eye, it imitate how your eyes work in real life – having a separate image for each “camera”. Ever watched a 3D movie at a theater and gotten wonky eye-feelings or strain or fuzzyness with the images? It’s because you have one screen displaying both images at the same time while the glasses are tricking your eyes. With the Rift, no more wonky glasses mediating between you and the image. Booyah.

3. The Rift tracks your head motion without almost any lag

Which means you turn and you see what you should be turning to see. Again, pretty much like real life. But what’s the big implications of this?

You feel like you are actually there.

So to put this in perspective: Imagine one entire sense of yours being entirely consumed with something. Let’s say, you smell an overwhelming aroma of chocolate chip cookies coming from the kitchen. It would not be crazy of you to imagine that there is a hot tray of chocolate chip cookies sitting on the stove. In fact, it might be crazy of you NOT to think that. After all, that’s what your sense of smell is telling you. Now, your sense of smell is pretty convincing. But your sense of sight is easily one of the strongest sense we have (if it is available to you, if not, then I applaud your reading this). Imagine the world around you instantly transformed into a Tuscan landscape on the end of a long summer’s day. With a twist of your head, you watch the leaves of the tree in the front yard sway softly against the wind and the red shutters of the century old house do the same. You can walk around the house, peak up the chimney, gaze long over the fence onto the rolling valleys of the Italian countryside. You might feel a bit like this guy’s grandmother does…

So you don’t see exactly what she is seeing the whole time, but that’s not what’s important. If I showed you a screen of what she was watching, you could only see it as you would on your laptop or smartphone screen, as you would in a theater or living room surrounded by the peripheral of everything else. It would be ultimately distracting and wouldn’t immerse you, wouldn’t convince you that you were there. (However, if you do want to see videos where you can see what they see, there’s this tool called google and, well, I won’t spoil the rest) (Okay, for that snide comment here’s a video)

And with that, I leave you to your imagination, and all the possibilities that are now within our reach as we consider this the future of not only gaming and entertainment, but also of education, architecture, medicine, and psychology.