Thursday, 17 April 2014

The Expectation of Free & Paying For Digital Goods

This seems like a strange outlier as I'm totally down with buying mp3s, digital games, digital movies, or ebooks. All of those were something I moved to without feeling a period of weirdness. It's not a data density thing, ebooks are clearly selling less bits. I am also very concious of my failure to read those physical comic books that I do buy (I've kinda moved to supporting webcomics by donation or buying other merch because the physical books are so unlikely to be rapidly consumed when they arrive). My preferred format for archival and reading is something that sits on my PC and can be displayed on my tablet (1920x1200 is a great pixel count for looking at typical comic book detail level art) and my shelves contain more physical books of comics I have never started reading than ones I have completed.

But every time I'm buying a CBZ/PDF or somesuch (as long as it is DRM-free, the PDFs will make it slightly harder to extract/convert to future formats to exert my continued ownership but sometime a good bundle deal will force DRM-free PDF as the only format) then it feels a bit weird to be buying a block of images. A unique weirdness to the format that isn't buyer's remorse (I'm quite happy with the thing I get for my money when consuming it) but seems attached to the digitised version of the medium (I don't get it ordering physical copies, even though I know I'll probably put it on a shelf and never read it).

It hasn't stopped me collecting somewhat of a digital archive of paid content (which I consume eagerly shortly after purchase) but it does mean I don't think of it as a standard, weekly purchase (unlike dropping a few quid on a random Steam title or bundle deal for games). It's been about three years now since I first purchased a digital comic, it hasn't become less weird but I probably do it more now than I've ever done before and have started looking at the subscription comic services are a possibility (which I've kinda done before with some monthly donation things for webcomics but never as an explicit cost of accessing the main content).

My RSS feeds indicate I regularly read about 80 webcomics (refined by: which have updated this year so not dead projects) and that's not including the stuff I'm reading (also for free) on the new digital platforms (eg. MangaBox, Comic-Walker) directly on my tablet. I would be interested to know if it's the volume of free (as in given, not piracy) content I consume that creates this weirdness (maybe someone who plays every free game/newgrounds release/F2P title without paying would feel weird buying a $10 indie title on Steam or $2-5 ad-free game on mobile because they're used to this sort of content being more than they can play and for free)?

Saturday, 12 April 2014

Why Make Games When We Can Make Installations?

The participant signs the disclaimer and announces their safe word. They dress in the boiler suit required.

They're led into a dark room with a single metallic reclining chair in the centre under spot illumination.

As they sit down, the light above them starts to dim and their limbs are strapped down.

[Pressure sensors in the chair detect their resting weight distribution and tension monitors on each strap activate to record the strain. Mics pick up any noise from the strap buckles.]

As the light approaches nothing, a VR headset is positioned over the participant's eyes and ears.

The *vinc* of the light being switched back on is heard by the participant with the resumption of illumination, making them look up to the sound and then turn away from the bright light.

The participant looks down at their new body, not quite perfect but it seems to be responding correctly. They quickly accept it.

[Leap Motions hidden below the end of the arm rests record the precise hand movements. This will be the key point of freedom the participant can use to bond with their virtual self at the start of this simulation. A fast-track camera records the body motions and merges that skeletal track with the pressure sensor data.]

Slowly things start emerging from the darkness and into the light, floating above and around the participant. A semi-transparent fish floats through the air and brushes the participant's arm. They violently react to the light touch they feel.

[A performer has walked up to the participant with a soft foam stick and used their mobile device to indicate to the simulation where to interact, viewing the scene from a virtual camera above the chair and using the timer they set in motion by selection an interaction point to match the virtual scene.]

From here, it's up to the simulation designers and performers to define the entertainment. We can shape your vision to anything our imagination can conceive. For the next hour, we will control all that you see and hear.

VR is going to be interesting for gaming. I don't think any of the existing stereoscopic (main brand: nVidia 3D Vision) & head-tracking (main brand: NaturalPoint TrackIR) communities are in any doubt about the experiential and ludic possibilities this extra input (the tracking of the VR unit is a major new source of input, discounting any ludic changes from this new input is crazy) and immersion (finally reaching a presence effect that isn't fleeting is very cool, maybe not AR presence cool but that's a problem for a future decade once we nail down VR and where we can go with it).

VR is going to be interesting for people with game development skills who want to do other things. We've already seen this sort of thing emerging in the last decade and finding a spare in the indie scene. Games that use non-traditional output devices to manage the players and track the rules. Games that require specialist equipment to experience and are found in art installations.

Computer and video games are interactive experiences watched over by machines. The question in the title answers itself. We've already accepted video games that are installations; VR is, by the interactive requirements, primarily a game technology. The next decade of VR is going to let a lot more designers play with the boundaries of the previous four decades of games designed for fixed screens.

We're finally at the point where all this might actually work. I'll see you all in 11ms when we've got to finish the render for the pre-warping and scan-out.