Revisiting the ghost’s shell: movement maps and the gameplay tell

In a brief rant on the future of interaction design, Bret Victor talks about human capabilities. Specifically, the capabilities of human hands.

We live in a three-dimensional world. Our hands are designed for moving and rotating objects in three dimensions, for picking up objects and placing them over, under, beside, and inside each other. No creature on earth has a dexterity that compares to ours.
— Bret Victor, A Brief Rant on the Future of Interaction Design

If you’ve been following this series of posts, you know where this is headed. Aside from recent developments in VR, thus far almost all game controllers released to this date have relied on hands.

On Bret’s recommendation, I picked up John Napier’s book on hands. It is a comprehensive book comparing capabilities of different hands, particularly differences between those of humans and other primates. It’s guaranteed to change the way you look at your hands.

It also changed the way I look at controllers. Particularly, the way controllers change the way we play games. I’m not going to open up the can of keyboard-and-mouse–vs–controller-debate here, because frankly that’s just not very interesting to talk about. Here’s a more interesting question: how does your game controller change the way you play a game? Here’s another interesting question: what does this change look like? Continue reading Revisiting the ghost’s shell: movement maps and the gameplay tell

Revisiting the ghost’s shell: proprioception in gaming

[Featured image from]

Anyone who has played a local-multiplayer game (multiple players sharing one screen) knows how messy the initial conditioning is. You wiggle your controller’s thumbstick, press a few buttons, determine which of the viewports shown is your own (if split-screen first-person) or which of the on-screen characters running around is yours (if third-person). And even then, at some point in the game massive explosions happen, or you need a toilet break, and when you’re finally back with full attention you have to re-spot your character all over again.

This can get really messy with games like Assault Android Cactus. It is not uncommon to mix up another player’s character for your own, especially when there is lots of on-screen movement.

Assault Android Cactus [Comicbuzz]
Assault Android Cactus [Comicbuzz]

There are even games that exploit this difficulty of matching intention to movement—proprioception in medical parlance. The player who recognises his character first is much more likely to win in that game. Continue reading Revisiting the ghost’s shell: proprioception in gaming

Revisiting the ghost’s shell: Prologue

I recall, once, watching my cousin playing Deus Ex: Human Revolution. At some point in the intro cutscene, he enters an elevator, where a female non-playable character (NPC) is waiting. While they converse, my attention was pulled away by a strange observation: I could see the NPC in the mirrored walls of the elevator, but not my own reflection.

I don’t particularly care for the rationalisations of the effect—low graphics quality settings, the difficulties of the uncanny valley, whatever else the technical difficulties are. How did I come to recognise, however vaguely, that perspective as my own, and what led me to expect a reflection in the same mirrored surface?

I think some very interesting questions—and hopefully answers as well—lie at this intersection of perception, cognition, and gaming, and I’m going to try at least fortnightly posts while keeping up my output on small-form-factor computing (of which not very much is left). If you know me from somewhere, give me a poke if I haven’t been keeping up like I promised.

A.I. in Eve no Jikan

This post has been sitting in my WP Dashboard for almost a month now. Despite a dead graphics card and all sorts of WordPress brokenness in Google Chrome, here it finally is.

Eve no Jikan opens with a terse description of its futuristic scene of conflict:

In the future, probably Japan. / “Robots” have seen practical use for some time. / This is an era just after the widespread deployment of “Androids.”

Shortly after the title scene, the movie reveals itself to be an unabashed movie of the late 20th, early 21st century. Televisions still have their screens measured in vertical lines of resolution, the metric prefixed-byte remains a common unit of data storage, and Scandisk is still being used for filesystem maintenance. William Gibson, interviewed about the genre he writes, says “novels set in imaginary futures are necessarily about the moment in which they are written”. Eve certainly plays to the tune of this sentiment.

“What do you want of me, Blade Runner?”

“I am an android, not a human.”
“I am an android, not a human.”

Eve also pays its tributes to sci-fi movies that laid the road for it. Early in Act 2, Setoro chides “Blade Runner” (Masaki) for doing such a poor job of shadowing him. But this is no Blade Runner; the androids here aren’t pretending to be human; they have no need for disguise. While they may wear human skin, they are quite different functionally, and well aware of this even without the humans rubbing their noses in it. Nowhere is this clearer than at the end of Act 1, when Sammy, accused by Rikuo of “trying to be human”, points it out to him clearly: “I am an android, not a human.”

In this café, there is to be no discrimination between humans and robots.

So what exactly is up when we are first introduced to Café Time of Eve? Continue reading A.I. in Eve no Jikan

Promo: Making Faces — Metal Type in the 21st Century

For many like me, born in later times, typography and type design has largely been of a two-dimensional nature. The books we read are printed with offset lithography, our documents are printed by toner-based laserjet printers, and the articles we read online are displayed through condensed little points of light.

The process of how these letters are made, formed by hand, has largely been lost on my generation, and that is why P22’s Making Faces: Metal Type in the 21st Century is such a valuable documentary. The art of letter-crafting is carefully captured by Richard Kegler as he follows the late Jim Rimmer (1934–2010) through his process of design, transfer, and cutting of a new typeface, Stern, which has been released in metal and digital form simultaneously.

The process of pantographic typemaking is fascinating to watch, as Rimmer’s hands craft the letters, digitise them, cut them into blanks, and eventually shape the metal punches that will produce the letters on paper. The trained movements of his hands produce the shapes and intermediate objects involved in pantographic typemaking in very tangible form; one sees at a glance how the process of his arm movement creates the letter “k”, cuts its sillhouette out, transfers it to a metal blank pantographically, and cuts its three-dimensional profile into brass. For us, whose physical intuition of type largely amounts to Press the “k” key, and the letter “k” appears on screen, Kegler’s documentative piece is a solid reminder that type is shaped by human hands, and not merely digital forms given shape by digital processes.

The commemorative print of Stern, shown near the end of the film, is breathtaking:

The dark imprint Rimmer’s effort leaves on paper is the final result, but the processes that produce it are the source of its richness.

Of Sky Crawlers and Change

I finally watched The Sky Crawlers (from a source I will not name), and it left me with mixed feelings. It has been a long time since I have thought about so many things after watching anime, so I will pen some of them down.

First, a warning to readers: No, I did not have an outline of this written on a sheet of paper, nor did I plan an introduction, body (replete with elaboration) and conclusion, so I am afraid you will have to suffer some of my brain diarrhoea. Any academic body would tell you this is bad writing style, so do not emulate this. But for a blog … whatever.

Without revealing too much of the story and plot, The Sky Crawlers is a story about Kildren: adolescents doomed (or perhaps blessed) to live the prime of their youth over and over again, in an unchanging landscape. Like with other Mamoru Oshii works, this one is a thinker. What makes this one different is that it’s boring, absolutely boring, but intentionally so. Here I should immediately clarify that I do not use the word “boring” with the intent of insult.

Truthfully, the film piqued my interest only after I read Justin’s review of it (scathing look at the anime industry? Ooooh…) I don’t fully agree with him. As one of the posters on the ANN forums says, the theme of this movie is so general that it could apply to almost anything. It could be a scathing look at anime… or at engineering, or business, photography, or any number of fields and disciplines that have fallen into the rut of wash-rinse-repeat. From a general perspective, Sky Crawlers is the embodiment of pretty-but-boring; lovely textures and lighting, sharp CG, but flat textures on flat characters, and bland voice-acting. I wonder if this is Oshii’s way of making his point that invariability is an undesired result we should not be aiming for.

As a teenager I sometimes thought to myself, “How nice things would be if they could stay the same so I would never have to grow up”. Now the irony of that statement comes back to bite me. It’s triflingly amusing because at that moment in time, I was looking forward to an eternity of constancy; the preservation of a state that includes my preference for an eternally unchanging state of constancy. If that state could have been perfectly preserved maybe I would have been in frozen, time-preserved bliss. Wouldn’t that be a dandy state of things?

But in retrospect, perhaps invariability is desirable only in the context of an inevitably changing background. In a world where things are changing slowly but surely, constancy is the flip side of the coin, the greener side of the field. I As a teen, my thoughts aligned with dreams of never growing up or graduating, because growing up and graduating is the de-facto state of things I could not avoid. I wonder what I would have said in an alternate reality where ideas such as graduation never existed.

In the first chapter of The Nature of Physical Reality, (part of) a paragraph reads “Professor William Lyon Phelps, in his charming informal lectures to the undergraduates at Yale, insisted that physics had far less to say about truth and reality than did poetry. and to prove his point he asked them: ‘Would you now read a physics text that is 100 years old? Of course not. But you still read Shakespeare!’ ”

So much for truth and reality then, as convenient and useful constructs of the mind. Maybe they are not constant either, changing as our perceptions and collective ideas do. Perhaps, as the cliché goes, the only thing that doesn’t change is change itself. And if change is the only thing we can count on, then it’s probably time for me to grow up and stop getting too comfortable in my little academic pigeon-hole.