future


Alone in a crowd – RPGs and MMORPGs

Free roaming role playing games are one of the most intriguing style of games and experiences to engage with IMHO. I use the word experience, not just games, in order to encapsulate the social environments and metaverse’s such as Second Life, Hi Fidelity et al. However I also did not just restrict that first sentence to include online massively multiplayer/multiuser online. There have been two significant release the past few weeks that are both huge expansive free roaming role playing games The Witcher III and Elder Scrolls online – Tamriel Unlimited. . I have been struck by a few experiences that I have had in these environments. Ones that reach past just playing a game or getting some points/gold/kudos/screenshots.

If you are not a gamer, or don’t engage with these sorts of things they may seem almost identical. They are certainly in a genre and have lots in common.
Witcher III - Sunset
Witcher III – Xbox one
Elder Scrolls Sunset
Elder Scrolls – Xbox One

As you can see in both you are able to take a break from any action and just appreciate the environment. This is not intended to be a graphic comparison though the slightly different styles, yet still aiming for the “real” is noticeable in these two examples.
Witcher III is a single player game. It is a story driven plot. A very long story it would seem too. Like all role playing games it rewards your play with new skills, levels and abilities as you level up. You gradually unlock the very expansive world with all its challenges and new types of monsters and bad guys as you progress through the main storyline. This generally involves traversing the world searching and fighting in various ways. It has a 3rd person style of free form combat. You choose the type of weapon and various potions and armour to give you a fighting chance against increasingly higher level creatures. You can just wander off the plot and the beaten track and see what you bump into. However this particular RPG reminds you constantly that whilst you might feel you have learned a lot there is still more levelling up to do as you arrive at a place in a world full of things that can cut you down with a single strike. Level systems in RPG’s generally appear as numbers on the display. When you have spent 20 hours playing and just reached level 7 and you wander into a clearing with a large beast that says level 35, where level progression is non linear and requires exponentially more effort and time per level you know you are in trouble. Witcher reminds you that no matter how heroic and skilled you thing you are, there is always something bigger and better. It has a grittiness to the entire game that brings a sense of foreboding, yet it is still entertaining. However you are very much alone and left to your own devices.

Elder Scrolls Online – Tamriel Unlimited is a very different feel and a very different experience. It is Skyrim (the one player RPG from a few years ago), reborn into a persistent Massive Multiple Player Online experience. Skyrim had been noted for it’s random generation of dungeons combined with its epic land size and the variation of things that you ended up doing in the virtual environment. Elder Scrolls has both a 3rd person and a 1st person view. The latter lets you see the world, and just your hands/ weapons. It lets you use each and on its own, weapon and shield combinations. The weapon can be ranged magic in one hand and a sword in the other. You travel the world finding missions from non player characters. Most of these involve collecting, running to and fro and just like the Witcher III putting things together and crafting items you need, potions, armour, magic, food etc.
Elder Scrolls Online

So unlike Witcher III your character is in the environment with lots of other people. Just like the other giants of the MMORPG genre, World Of Warcraft and Eve Online. It is quite unusual for this sort of genre to make it to a console. Usually these platforms get multiplayer shooters where 16-32 people battle for a few minutes in an arena that is then destroyed and reformed for the next battle.
Here we have a world that we all share, all the time. Of course the technical detail of which server, or how anyone is actually in the “same” place is obscured and not entirely relevant to the experience. Also the world itself is generally a locally loaded place. The servers are there to broker player position, communication and hold certain shared features in the experience, but it is not really a full persistent world.

I have found it works really well as a game to be wandering around, getting engrossed in each task, gradually levelling up, choosing skill tree paths, working out what to carry, sell, deconstruct and to craft. Lots of the missions from the non player characters are actually there to help you learn the very complex system of crafting as much as forwarding any plot line points. Choosing missions chooses various guilds and organisations to which you belong.
Looking suitably masked in elder scrolls online
I called this post “alone in the crowd” because it is a particular feature of this style of environment that you do see lots and lots of other people, milling around playing their own missions, but you do not have to interact with them if you don’t want to. Though sometimes it is unavoidable, or required to work in a team.
Elder Scrolls Online
This is by no means a crowd shot! but the character not the right is just running off somewhere. They ran past me, I paid no attention to them, nor them to me other than we just both know we are part of the human noise of this virtual city.

Most things are not restricted based on numbers in the free roam areas. For example the blacksmith station is a object you have to walk up to, select and then take part in an inventory management/crafting dialogue. The things you are doing are entirely related to you and your experience, but we all have to gather around the anvil in order to do this. This is good when there are only a few people, but when it’s busy the room is full of lots of gormless characters standing around.
Elder Scrolls Online
Passing one another in the world feels like something we normally do, it adds to the sense of a shared experience, but all standing around staring into space, or watching people traverse the land mostly by jumping and bounding around in order to get for a to b quickly starts to look like a complete mess of uncoordinated activity. Which of course, it is 🙂
This is a feature of most virtual world online experiences. The only time it is not is when people are more seriously role playing and rules are set to preserve the experience. This happens in some areas in Second Life where you are encouraged to be wearing the right clothes, speaking the right way to join in with the entertainment of acting. Rather like not turning at a real life roman re-enactment on a segway wearing a stetson.
That is not to detract from the game, or games like it. This is a genre where stuff like this has to happen due to the way the tech works, but also the way people work. It is funny, but it can be a jolt in the immersion.

Where this sharing of space does work though is in battles with things in the environment and things in it. You can be wandering around exploring and then be set upon by a pack of wolves. When you start fighting it becomes “your” battle. However other people passing by can also see and join in with that battle, or choose it ignore it. Those wolves become a shared experience. There are a lot more bad guys than wolves but it’s an easy example to use. For a short period of time, you and the others who just happen to be there at the time are no longer alone. You are working with the same problem. Now this could just be thought of as a few experience points of resources to add, share split, ignore but it has all sorts of extra dynamics.

If you see someone in trouble, do you help ? Does your helping actually hinder and annoy them? as they were challenging themselves and their character.
Sometimes you just have to join in in order to be able to get the things you need to proceed. In one particular example the bits of a monster were needed in order to escape an area. If someone else kills the monster before you get any sort of hit in then you are not credited with any part of the kill so do get the bits you need. This meant waiting, or searching for another one of the same type, waiting for a re-spawn and getting in there before the rest of the crowd. Game design and rules may have altered how many people might be competing for this single resource, and I did escape, but it was an interesting co-opetition dynamic.

This led also to another thought on timelines, on the immersive experience and how we are often reminded of our place in these virtual worlds. Having worked towards a small piece of the plot and defeated a particular boss, whereby a slight levelling occurred, new kit and a small buzz of excitement at having completed something, whilst standing near the same spot taking stock a new crowd arrived. Of in the distance I heard the bad guy arrive again, go through the same “No mr bond I expect you to die” style of dialogue. I watched from the distance as my fellow travellers and gamers fought the same battle, but in a different way. In my timeline, this battle was over. I was stood in what was attempting to be a coherent virtual experience being reminded I was not. It is not a problem, as such, but it is a thing.

It is reminder and a breaking of the story. Yet I think there may be something in this kind of feeling of immersion and then shocking back into reminders it is not real. It is an accident of the technology restrictions that cause this to happen. It is a technique used in other media when the action breaks the plane to the fourth wall. When a stage actor talks to the audience when previously the audience were passive. Some of the most chilling of these have been Kevin Spacey in House of Cards. The very occasional, to the point you think they have forgotten to write any in, turning to the audience and engaging in dialogue is very special. One of the most memorable being “Oh did you think I had forgotten about you?” still gives me goosebumps thinking about it.

It should not matter if we choose to form clans and take on multiplayer missions, or just act on our own in these worlds. The very mechanism we are using has the ability to reach back out to us and surprise us. I have felt this in games just a few times. It may be a party trick in some cases but reaching out to the human, through the role play, through the immersion may just be the most memorable and entertaining thing a virtual world can do.

Untethering Humans, goodbye screens

We are on the cusp of a huge change in how we as humans interact with one another, with the world and with the things we create for one another. A bold statement, but one that stands up, I believe, by following some historical developments in technology and social and work related change.
The change involves all the great terms, Augmented Reality, Virtual Reality, Blended Reality and the metaverse. It is a change that has a major feature, one of untethering, or unshackling us as human beings from a fixed place or a fixed view of the world.

Hovering
Here I am being untethered from the world in a freefall parachute experience, whilst also being on TV 🙂

All the great revolutions in human endeavour have involved either transporting us via our imagination to another place or concept, books, film, plays etc. or transporting us physically to another place, the wheel, steam trains, flight. Even modern telecommunications fit into that bracket. The telephone or the video link transport us to a shared virtual place with other people.

Virtual worlds are, as I may have mentioned a few times before, ways to enhance the experience of humans interacting with other humans and with interesting concepts and ideas. That experience, up to know has been a tethered one. We have evolved the last few decades becoming reliant on rectangular screens. Windows on the world, showing us text, images, video and virtual environments. Those screens have in evolved. We had large bulky cathode ray tubes, LED, Plasma, OLED and various flat wall projectors. The screens have always remained a frame, a fixed size tethering us to a more tunnel vision version. The screen is a funnel through which elements are directed at us. We started to the untethering process with wi-fi and mobile communications. Laptops, tablets and smartphones gave us the ability to take that funnel, a focused view of a world with us.

More recent developments have led to the VR headsets. An attempt to provide an experience that completely immerses us by providing a single screen for each eye. It is a specific medium for many yet to be invented experiences. It does though tether us further. It removes the world. That is not to say the Oculus Rift, Morpheus and HTC Vive are not important steps but they are half the story of untethering the human race. Forget the bulk and the weight, we are good at making things smaller and lighter as we have seen with the mobile telephone. The pure injection of something into our eyes and eyes via a blinkering system feels, and is, more tethering. It is good at the second affordance of transporting is to places with others, and it is where virtual world and the VR headsets naturally and obviously co-exist.

The real revolution comes from full blended reality and realities. That plural is important. We have had magic lens and magic mirror Augmented Reality for a while. Marker based and markerless ways to use one of these screens that we carry around or have fixed in out living rooms to show us digital representations of things places in out environment. They are always fun. However they are almost always just another screen in our screens. Being able to see feel and hear things in our physical environment wherever we are in the world and have them form part of that environment truly untethers us.
Augmented Reality is not new of course. We, as in the tech community, has been tinkering with it for years. Even this mini example on my old Nokia N95 back in 2008 starts to hint at the direction of travel.

Hackday5 Augmented Reality step 2

The devices used to do this are obviously starting at a basic level. Though we have the AR headsets of Microsoft Hololens, Google’s Magic Leap to start pushing the boundaries. They will not be the final result of this massive change. With an internet of things world, with the physical world instrumented and producing data, with large cloud servers offering compute power at the end of an wireless connection to analyse that data and to be able to visualize and interact with things in our physical environment we have a lot to discover and to explore.

I mentioned realities, not just reality. There is no reason to only have augmentation into a physical world. After all if you are immersed in a game environment or a virtual world you may actually choose, because you can, to shut out the world, to draw the digital curtains and explore. However, just as when you are engaged in any activity anywhere, things come to you in context. You need to be able to interact with other environments from which ever one you happen to be in.

Take an example, using Microsoft Hololens, Minecraft and Skype. In todays world you would have minecraft on you laptop/console/phone be digging around, building sharing the space with others. Skype call comes in from someone you want to talk to. You window away from Minecraft and focus on Skype. It is all very tethered. In a blended reality, as Hololens has shown you can have Minecraft on the rug in front of you and skype hanging on the wall next to the real clock. Things and data placed in the physical environment in a way that works for you and for them. However you may want to be more totally immersed in Minecraft and go full VR. If something can make a small hole in the real world for the experience, then it can surely make an all encompassing hole, thus providing you with only Minecraft. Yet, if it can place Skype on your real wall, then it can now place it on your virtual walls and bring that along with you.
This is very much a combination that is going to happen. It is not binary to be either in VR or not, in AR or not. It is either, both or neither.

It is noticeable that Facebook, who bought heavily into Oculus Rift have purchased Surreal Vision last month who specialize in using instrumentation and scanning kit to make sense of the physical world and place digital data in that world. Up until now Oculus Rift, which has really led the VR charge since its kickstarter (yes I backed that one!) has been focussed on the blinkered version of VR. This purchase shows the intent to go for a blended approach. Obviously this is needed as otherwise Magic Leap and Hololens will quickly eat into the Rifts place in the world.
So three of the worlds largest companies, Facebook, Google and Microsoft have significant plays in blended reality and the “face race” as it is sometimes called to get headsets on us. Sony have Project Morpheus which is generally just VR, yet Sony have had AR applications for many years with PS Move.
Here is Predlet 2.0 enjoying the AR Eyepet experience back in 2010 (yes five years ago !)

So here it is. We are getting increasingly more accurate ways to map the world into data, we have world producing IOT data streams, we have ever increasing ubiquitous networks and we have devices that know where they are, what direction they are facing. We have high power backend servers that can make sense of our speech and of context. On top of that we have free roaming devices to feed and overlay information to us, yes a little bit bulky and clunky but that will change. We are almost completely untethered. Wherever we are we can experience whatever we need or want, we can, in the future blend that with more than one experience. We can introduce others to our point of view or keep our point of view private. We can fully immerse or just augment, or augment our full immersion. WE can also make the virtual real with 3d printing!
That is truly exciting and amazing isn’t it?
It makes this sort of thing in Second Life seem an age away, but it is the underpinning for me and many others. Even in this old picture of the initial Wimbledon build in 2006 there is a cube hovering at the back. It is one of Jessica Qin’s virtual world virtual reality cubes.
Wimbledon 06 magic carpet
That cube and other things like it provided an inspiration for this sort of multiple level augmentation of reality. It was constrained by the tethered screen but was, and still is, remarkable influential.
Jessica Qin Holocube
Here my Second Life avatar, so my view of a virtual world is inside 3d effect that provides a view, a curved 3d view not just a picture, or something else. It is like the avatar is wearing a virtual Oculus rift it that helps get the idea across.
This is from 2008 by way of a quick example of the fact even then it could work.

So lets get blending then 🙂

More than just a CV – Reputation matters

The last few months have been a little bit unusual, or maybe just part of the general flow of business and life depending how you look at it. Having an independent limited company, with just one employee (me) leads to the inevitable feast and famine of projects. Without a product, as such, there is no sustainable revenue stream. Just expertise. That might be advice and consulting, helping people along a path, or it may be diving in and join the fight developing something.
Yoda
Whilst clearly I am not Yoda, there are some traits to make an analogy too. Standing back and observing, but still very hands on when needed 🙂
My two main paying long term projects appear to have tapered off. One due to some international malarkey with a 3rd party and the other due to an organisations reorganisation of who doe what where. As an ad hoc provider you are the end of the chain and so just have to take it as a risk of the business.
The thing with long term projects is that you have to offer a degree of loyalty. Some things just take time and that may not mean getting paid. Its a gamble. In this case both gambles have not paid off it would seem. Don’t get me wrong both bits of work have been fantastic opportunities to build interesting virtual world spaces and do the full stack and lots of overall design and direction. Things just happen.
My other startup investment work, despite being an amazingly cool idea has not managed to get the sort of investment it needs (yet). The “yet” is important as its not worth throwing the towel in when you know it’s revolutionary. I am used to doing things before their time that people don’t quite understand yet. We got quite a long way with a very promising investor a year or so ago but that didn’t work out. So we are back pitching, hustling, trying to showcase and inspire people to get it. As a professional evangelist I know that it is hard work getting adoption of the new. Yet we still plough on.
So that leaves the day to day stuff. Getting new projects, new leads, new contracts or even a new full time/part time traditional job role.
Everything I have ever done has been based on people either knowing me, knowing my work, knowing someone who knows someone. It is why the virtual world space has been so influential in my life, it was being able to expand on who knew who and working directly with people at a more direct creative level that makes it engaging.
Now, though, despite having an extensive web presence, this blog and my previous ones go back years, having a TV show reel, having writing and speaking portfolios I find that I am having to fall back on the traditional CV or resume to send out and hope it conveys enough of the breadth and depth of this particular strange profile I and my company has.
Reputation is everything, so it seems strange to have recruitment firms look at my CV and just pattern match on particular keywords. I have experience of that not being so great when I was helping us ramp up with software contractors back in the 1999. We did indeed get a CV through from our filtering recruitment consultant needing a Lotus Domino programmer, but had someone who had worked at Domino pizza. Being a generalist/full stack developer/architect/evangelist and with a long experience in all elements of the tech industry and across other industries my CV often has the keywords in it. It does have the explanation and the more interesting wording around the job of an evangelist and of a technology innovator, but that gets lost in the filtering.
However if someone were to Google a subject and cross reference with my name or handle (hence always mentioning epredator) they would find a long and extensive track record. To me the web is ultimately my reference. I am not sure though that applying for jobs or contracts would work with a CV that just said “google epredator” followed by “don’t you know who I am” 🙂
I was asked by one recruiter if I knew Agile. I pointed out that back before the agile manifesto we were doing interactive development with flat structures in the early days of the web as there was in fact no other sensible way to do it. We battled the waterfall traditional approach. Stuff like that you can’t put in a CV it is for a conversation, otherwise, as it did just then, it sounds arrogant.
I had another look at upwork recently too, just for a little quick contract, and to see how it works. However it is full of “can you just rebuild world of warcraft for me for $200, must show reference examples”. That got be worrying that all my reference work has actually been rather closed off.
The startup work is trying to gain funding, so its not like we open source everything or put the code on github. It covers everything, unity3d, c#, opensim, php, mysql, linux, Facebook, twitter, drupal etc. It is a pat pending concept too. Yet I can’t just show that to anyone.
My research work has been behind closed doors, some of it completely secret, again the end product can sort of be demonstrated in one case, but the other with it’s complexity is not a look at this project though I do try and allude to its content.
So have I painted myself into a dead end? I don’t think so. I have gained a lot of experience in many things over the years. I have applied myself to technical and non technical roles. I even learned to custard pie people in the face on TV. That is what a generalist does. It is a skill to be able to adjust and go with the flow, to excel in new things. I admire specialists, I envy them sometimes. They have a defined focus, that have a specific role in life. Mine is to do lots of things and share them with lots of people.
So if you are reading this and sharing the ups and downs helps, or if you are a kindred spirit or even if you are an intelligent head hunter, or potential partner/customer who wants to have an interesting conversation and explore the world then please get in contact.
I am on twitter as epredator or here epredator [at] feedingedge.co.uk
Of course my CV is available on request 🙂 Meanwhile I will be applying some martial arts unbreakable spirit and getting on with the future.

Hanging on or Leaping – Trust the technology

It has been quite a busy week with it being half term and Predlet 1.0 12th birthday. It started with an experience that I was not totally looking forward too. This experience was a haptic fear generating simulation using a real world physics engine, or climbing trees as you may want to call it.
Predlet 1.0 has wanted, for some time, to go to Go Ape. This is a treetop adventure that involves being 30+ feet up in the trees walking across precarious platforms, making leaps of faith and taking zip lines. As this is quite a potentially dangerous endeavour any of the “Baboons” (under 16’s) need to be accompanied by a responsible Gorilla. I was volunteered to be that Gorilla.
GoApe(Photo by @elemming)
I am not really a climber, speed and zooming around, or ground based activities are more my thing.
The whole thing is really very safe, as long as you do it correctly. You are provided with a harness containing 2 carabiner’s on one short and one slightly longer rope. You also have a hook over pulley that is used almost all the time. You are trained on the ground to always hook on, to ensure you do things in the right order. Then you get to practice on a set of equipment that is only 3 feet from the ground.
There are only really a few points to consider. Before you know it you are ascending the first wobbly rope ladder (attached to you harness and your safety ropes and counterweighted). Like all good experiences it leads you along. I had the extra concerns of making sure both Predlet 1.0 and her friend were taking care and doing things right, they had to go first and I had to follow.
Clambering up was a bit awkward, and the focus of clicking on and off with the carabiners was fairly intense. After all being 30 feet up and not attached, which it is quite possible to do as you transition does focus the mind.
I was not feeling that great shuffling along. You have to attach the rollers to the overhead parallel cable, one carabiner to it and the other just over the wire. To start with everything feels loose. Yes you have a harness, yes 3 ropes in total are attached. However you have to hang on. If you fall you go no more than a few inches in reality as the ropes are only just slack. The feeling though, and the height is very real. So you cling on and shuffle across these various obstacles.
However there are other types of obstacle, you encounter one very early on. The Tarzan swing. There us a cargo net suspended across from a completely open gap. So you have to clip on to rope and just jump off to swing across. This is where it got a little counter intuitive and why I am writing this.
Once attached I looked at the drop, I had the rope attached and I sat a little and felt the harness working. So I just jumped. It was a lot easier to just trust the technology and actually need it than the other obstacles that the technology was a backup.
So this got me thinking, albeit afterwards I was a bit more focussed at the time, that often we spend time and effort clinging to things and in particular one type of technology to get us through. We sort of know there is a backup but the old way works so lets keep shuffling. In this example there were things like the ends of logs forming a bridge. The pulley and cable acted as the support, but the aim was with tip toe across the gap on the older technology of the log. I know some people would have been fine with it but trying to relax, knowing from martial arts that that is the best thing to have good body control, is countered by the tension of hanging on, gripping what you can. At the end of these there was a sense of relief at having made it to the next stand. So it was goal to goal, hanging on, not wanting to use or need the harness and ropes.
At the end of each section there was another leap of faith involving a zip line. Unlike the tarzan swing this few seconds of hurtling towards the ground gave you a chance to feel what was happening. There was enough time to consider your elegant landing, or in my case crash landing. I felt quite happy to brace myself and plough into the pile of chipped bark at high speed. Again just trusting in the technology to carry me, there is no backup.
So I am guessing I am a leaper not a shuffler. I think the tech evangelist personality type has to be. I think we also spend a lot of time crashing at the end of zip lines too. Also though it is important to do the shuffling, to do the hanging on in there with the old tech in order to feel what others feel and be able to help them find that innovative leap of faith that will bring so much benefit.
Anyway, it was quite fun without all this extra layering of though process. More importantly the girls enjoyed it a lot and found it funny that I had to be up there with them.
Goape

Just Cause 3 – Its been 5 years since ….

It’s been five years since I wrote this post about Just Cause2 in which I mentioned “Sandbox games are the closest to what we see in virtual worlds in crossover terms. Just Cause 2 is a single player game, in part because the destruction you create is really personalising your island. However the balance between “give me something to do” and “I am just going to find something to do” may be something the VW providers and content creators need to consider in helping people find a narrative, either social or business related.”
Well I stand by that. The mix of ready made tasks, ongoing narrative plot live and freedom to find your own things to do as you wander around is a core theme in some of the most enjoyable experiences. Minecraft, Goat Simulator, GTA V Watch Dogs etc.
Now we have the reveal of gameplay for Just Cause 3. Which if nothing else looks fantastically exciting 🙂

Fingers crossed it is as good as the last one, it certainly looks it.

Amiga kickstarter book, breaking mirror worlds & VR

A few days ago my copy of the book “Commodore Amiga: a visual Commpendium book” that I backed in Kickstarter arrived. The book is by Sam Dyer through BitmapBooks. It came with a load of extra goodies from my backing and my name along with my fellow backers vanity printed in the appendix. The only slight problem was that unlike all the other Kickstarter campaigns I wasn’t “allowed” to have a credit as epredator as it made the list look untidy unless we had normal names. That is the authors choice of course 🙂
Fond Amiga memories all in 1 book
My computer owning history went ZX81, Commodore 64 then Amiga 500 (and later 1200). The Amiga was 1987 and became my main machine for most of my polytechnic/university time. It caused me to get an overdraft for the first time to buy an external hard drive for a piece of work I was doing (that and to play the later cinemaware games that needed two floppy disk drives to work).
It was the machine I coded my final year project, which was a mix of hardware and software but also had to work on the much larger and more expensive Apollo computers we had.
It is the machine I spent ours with sellotaped together graph paper planning my SimCity builds and mapping Bards Tale Dungeons.
It is also the machine I first experience proper network gaming on with a null modem cable and F/A-18 flight simulator. Not only was that the first proper LAN party gaming but it forged the idea that machines do not have to have a consistent shared view of the world just because they are connected. The F/A-18 simulator let my good friend Wal and I fly around shooting at one another in a shared digital space. It was the early days of having a printer and being able to do “desktop publishing” aka DTP. I even produced a poster for our little event.
When we played we had different terrain packs running on each Amiga as we had different versions of the game. There was no server this was really peer to peer. The terrain was local to each Amiga, but the relative location of one another in that space was shared. Each machine was doing its own collision detection. It meant if I saw mountains I needed to avoid them, yet on the other machine that same local space might be flat desert. We all perceive reality differently anyway, but here we were forced to perceive and act according to whatever the digital model threw at us. In reality we kept to the sky and forcing your opponent into their own scenery was considered unsporting (though occasionally funny and much needed).
This set the precedent for me that whilst mirror worlds, virtual worlds that attempt to be 100% like a real place, have a reason to exist we do not have to play by the same physical rules of time and space in virtual environments.
Other things of note about the Amiga. Well I coded as predator on the Commodore 64 and that moved across to the Amiga too. The e was a later addition on the front by the principles are the same.
My wife also discovered gaming on my Amiga. Getting completely wrapped up and in the zone on Sim City and realising it was 4am. Later it would be Lemmings that caught her attention. Hence she is now elemming on twitter.
The book is full of classic images nearly all of which I have some sort of memory of that is more than yes I recognise that picture.
Games like Alien Breed (a gauntlet like top down shooter) and The Secret Of Monkey Island (a classic point and click humorous adventure) on their own rack up considerable hours of entertainment for very different reasons
Fond Amiga memories all in 1 book
Whilst fondly reminiscing and remembering things that impact how I think and work today I was also at the same time in current and future mode. Right next door on the table was my copy of Games(TM)
My life history in 1 picture #nearly #amiga #vr #metaverse
As I tweeted at the time My life history in 1 picture #nearly #amiga #vr #metaverse.
When we put on a headset, a total immersion one, we get a view of a world that is instantly believable. Something fed directly to our eyes and linked to the direct we are looking becomes a convincing reality. In a shared virtual world we will assume that we are all seeing the same thing. That does not have to be the case, as with the F/A-18 example. We can have different experiences yet share the same world. To help think about that consider the game Battleships. Each player has the same map, the same relative grid references on a piece of paper or on plastic peg board. yet on that map you can only see your own boats and any pieces of information you have gained through playing. When considering a mirror world or a virtual world build it can be harder to consider this. Yet many games and environments already have a little dollop of this behaviour with personal displays of health, ammo, speed etc in a Heads up Display. Those HUDs are an augmented reality display in a virtual world.
When we now consider the blended view headsets like the HoloLens and the MergeVR we are taking the real world as the server in effect. It is a fixed environment. We are then placing and enhancing what we see in that world with 3D overlays. Convincing the viewer the digital stuff is real.
Unlike the F/A-18 terrain the real world is there for each person. If there is a table in the middle of the room, even if you make it look like it is not for a headset wearer with object removal and clever visuals they will still trip over it. However the other way around can make for an interesting dynamic. headset wearers made to think there are obstacles and things in their way that they have to move around, but its different for each headset wearer. Just a little though experiment in perception. I didn’t even throw in anything about 3D printers actually making the new obstacles in the real world. That’s a bit much for a monday morning.
Anyway, the Amiga book is great. It was a fantastic period in games and in home technology, but we have many more exciting times coming.

VR – Everything old is new again – good!

It is important when getting interested and excited about new things to look at its lineage. Something I often did in my series of articles over the years in Flush Magazine
So with the current rush of Virtual Reality gaming and experiences and the slew of new kit we have some very interesting near off the shelf kit such as this.
*warning it contains violence (see where I am on that here)

However, back in the 90’s we had VR kit like Virtuality (they must be kicking themselves for be too early for the masses. Though thats a curse us early adopters and evangelists have to live with 🙂

The headsets were quite heavy and the container you stood or sat in was not a treadmill but part of the sensing rig.
The graphics may look old fashioned and clunky but they were good experiences. When I was at poly/uni in Leicester getting ready to do a year out this was the company I wanted to go and work for if I had a chance too. They sent to me IBM instead. Though as you can see from the Virtuality company details they had very close ties with IBM. So it was close 🙂 It i also funny how things work out.
Still, it is very cool having all these headset sat around me and some that just work on my portable communication device too 🙂

Over 15 years experience in Virtual Worlds, 30+ in tech – What now?

A few days ago I realised it has been over 9 years since I first publicly blogged about how important I thought the principles of the metaverse and virtual worlds were going to be for both social and business uses. This post, pictured below for completeness was a tipping point for some radical changes in many of our lives as part of Eightbar.
Second Life first post
I had been working to that sort of point of understanding though since some very early work with virtual environments and how people get to interact with one another in them around 1999/2000 with SmartVR trying to keep the social bond in our internal web and multi media design group together when we were cast asunder to different locations by business pressures (or bad decisions who knows!). I knew we had to have a sense of one another existence aside from text in emails and instant messages. So we tried to build a merged version of both offices as if they were in one place. The aim to then instrument those with presence and the ability to walk over to someone’s desk and talk. Mirror world, blended reality and even internet of things, Yes I know, a bit before its time! Cue music, “Story of my life” by 1D 🙂

We definitely had a technology and expectation bubble later 2006-2009. However, that, as with all emerging technology is all part of the evolution. The garnet curve et al. What surprises me the most still is that people think when a bubble like that bursts that its all over. That somehow everything that was learned in that time was pointless. “Are virtual worlds still a thing?” etc. I feel for the even earlier pioneers like Bruce Damer, who patiently put up with our ramblings as we all rushed to discover and feel for ourselves those things he already knew.
Increasingly I am talking to new startup ands seeing new activity in the virtual space. The same use cases, the same sparks of creativity that we had in the previous wave(s), the same infectious passion to do something interesting and worthwhile. Sometimes this is somehow differentiated from the last wave of virtual worlds under the heading of virtual reality. The current wave is focussed on the devices, the removal of keyboard and of a fixed screen. The Oculus Rift, HoloLens etc. However, thats a layer of new things to learn and experience on what we have already been through. After all its a virtual world you end up looking at or blending with in a VR headset!

I spend so much time looking forward and extrapolating concepts and ideas it is now very scary to look back and consider the experience I have gathered. The war stories and success stories, the concepts and ideas that I have tried. The emotional impact of virtual worlds. The evolution of the technology and of people’s expectation of that technology. The sheer number of people that have moved around in a 3d environment from an early age with things like Minecraft, who are now about to enter higher education and the workforce.

So I am left in a slightly bemused state as to what to do with this knowledge. With this all going so much more mainstream again I am no longer working in a niche. Do I ply my trade of independent consulting chipping away in odd places and helping and mentoring some of the new entrants in the market or do I try and find a bigger place to spread the word?

At the same time though, knowing lots of things makes you realise how much you don’t know. The imposter’s syndrome kicks in. Surely everyone must know all this stuff by now? It’s obvious and stands up to logical reasoning to try and connect with other people in as rich a way as possible. The network is there, the tech is there, the lineage is there. Though clearly not everyone gets it yet. I often wonder if the biggest naysayers I had to deal with on my journey so far have figured it out yet? It will probably turn out they will be getting rich quick right now whilst I sit and ponder such things.

On the other side of the virtual coin, I know from my martial arts that constant practice and investigation leads to a black belt. In the case of Choi Kwang Do that’s just over 3 years worth. So how many Dan worth of tech equivalent experience does that put me at. 25 years in the industry professionally but 30+ as techie.

I still want to do the right thing, to help others level themselves up. I don’t think I am craving fame and fortune but the ability to share and build is what drives me. If fame and fortune as a spokesperson, evangelist for some amazing idea or TV show reaches that end, then thats fine by me.

I am at a crossroads, my VR headset letting me look in all directions. I see half built roads in many directions. What now? A well funded company that I can help build a great road with, or forge off down one for the other paths seeing what happens on the way.
Of course that makes it seem like there is a clear choice on the plate. I suspect most of the the well funded companies and corporations don’t think they need any help, which is rather where I came in on this!

Needless to say I am always open to conversations, offers, partnerships, patronage, retainers and technology evangelist roles. There must be a slew of investors out there wondering what to put their money into, who need some sagely advice ;). Or that book… there is always that book… (600 images x 1000 words each 600,000 words just on these Second Life experiences. That’s just the ones with online. The offline ones double that!. Not to mention the other places, games, and self built experiences!

I took this photo in April 2006 as part of sharing of our journey
The wilderness

I have always liked a nice greenfield to start building on. Equally that did not build itself, it was a massive shared team experience. No one has all the answers. Some of us are good at helping people find them though.

Right! Can we get on with this now?

A great week for science and tech, games, 3d printing and AR

There is always something going on in science and emerging technology. However some weeks just bring a bumper bundle of interesting things all at once. Here in the UK the biggest event had to been the near total eclipse of the Sun. We had some great coverage on the the TV with Stargazing live sending a plane up over the Faroe islands to capture the total eclipse. I was all armed and ready with a homemade pinhole camera.
Shredded wheat pinhole camera
This turned out great but unfortunately we were quite overcast here so it was of little use as a camera. I also spent the eclipse at Predlet 2.0 celebration assembly. They had the eclipse on the big screen for all the primary school kids to see. Whilst we had the lights off in the hall it did not get totally dark, but it did get a bit chilly. It was great that the school keyed into this major event that demonstrates the motion of the planets. So rather like the last one in 1999 I can certainly say I will remember where I was and what we were doing.(a conversation I had with @asanyfuleno on Twitter and Facebook)
This brings me on to our technological change and the trajectory we are on. In 1999 I was in IBM Hursley with my fellow Interactive Media Centre crew. A mix of designers, producers and techies and no suits. It was still the early days of the web and we were building all sorts of things for all sorts of clients. In particular during that eclipse it was some more work for Vauxhall cars. We downed tools briefly to look out across Hursley park to see the dusk settle in and flocks of birds head to roost thinking it was night.
It does not seem that long ago but… it is 16 years. When we were building those quite advanced websites Amazon was just starting, Flickr was 6 years away, Twitter about 7 years away, Facebook a mere 5 (but with a long lead time) and we were only on Grand Theft Auto II, still a top down pac man clone. We were connected to lots of our colleague son instant messaging but general communications were phone and SMS and of course email. So we were not tweeting and sharing pictures, or now as people do live feeds on Meerkat. Many people were not internet banking, trust in communications and computers was not high. We were pre dot.com boom/bust too. Not to mention no one really had much internet access out and about or at home. Certainly no wi-fi routers! We were all enthralled by the still excellent Matrix movie. The phone in that, the slide down communicator style Nokia being one of the iconic images of the decade.
NB. As I posted this I saw this wonderful lego remake of the lobby scene so just had to add it in this post 🙂

It was a wild time of innovation and one many of us remember fondly I think. People tended to leave us alone as we brought in money doing things no managers or career vultures knew to jump on. So that eclipse reminds me of a time I set on a path of trying to be in that zone all the time. I was back then getting my first samples from a company that made 3d printers as I was amazed at the principle, and I was pondering what we could do with designers that knew 3d and this emerging tech. We were also busy playing Quake and Unreal in shared virtual worlds across the LAN in our downtime so I was already forming my thoughts on our connection to one another through these environments. Having experiences that I still share today in a newer hi tech world where patterns are repeating themselves, but better and faster.
That leads me to another movie reference and in the spirit of staying in this zone. This footage of a new type of Terminator T-1000 style 3d manufacturing. 3D printers may not be mainstream as such but many more people get the concept of additive manufacture. Laying down layer after layer of material such as plastic. It is the same as we made coil clay pots out of snakes of rolled clay when we were at school. A newer form of 3D printing went a little viral on the inter webs this week from carbon3d.com. This exciting development pulls an object out of a resin. It is really the same layering principle but done in a much more sophisticated way. CLIP (Continuous Liquid Interface Production) balances exposing the resin to molecules to oxygen or to UV light. Oxygen keeps it as a liquid (hence left behind) and targeted UV light causes the resin to become solid, polymerization. Similar liquid based processes use lasers to fire into a resin. This one though slowly draws the object out of the resin. Giving it a slightly more ethereal or scifi look to it. It is also very quick in comparison to other methods. Whilst this video is going faster than actual speed it is still a matter of minutes rather than hours to create objects.

Another video doing the round that shows some interesting future developments is one from Google funded Magic Leap. This is a blended reality/augmented reality company. We already have Microsoft moving into the space with Hololens. Much of Magic Leap’s announcements have not been as clearly defined as one might hope. There is some magic coming and it is a leap. Microsoft of course had a great pre-release of Hololens, some impressive video but some equally impressive testimonials and articles from journalist and bloggers who got to experience the alpha kit. The video appeared to be a mock up but fairly believable.
Magic Leap were set to do a TED talk but apparently pulled out at the last minute and this video appeared instead.

It got a lot of people excited, which is the point, but it seems even more of a mock up video than any of the others. It is very ell done as the Lord of the Rings FX company Weta Workshop have a joint credit. The technology is clearly coming. I don’t think we are there yet in understanding and getting the sort of precise registration and overlays. We will, and one day it may look like this video. Of course it’s not just the tech but the design that has to keep up. If you are designing a game that has aliens coming out of the ceiling it will have a lot less impact if you try and play outside or in an atrium with a massive vaulted ceiling. The game has to understand not just where you are and what the physical space is like but how to use that space. Think about an blended reality board game, or an actual board game for that matter. The physical objects to play Risk, Monopoly etc require a large flat surface. Usually a table. You clear the table of obstructions and set up and play. Now a project board game could be done on any surface, Monopoly on the wall. It could even remove or project over things hung on the wall, obscure lights etc. It is relying on a degree of focus in one place. A fast moving shooting game where you walk around or look around will be reading the environment but the game design has to adjust what it throws at you to make it continue to make sense. We already have AR games looking for ghosts and creatures that just float around. They are interesting but not engaging enough. Full VR doesn’t have this problem as it replaces the entire world with a new view. Even in that there are lots of unanswered questions of design, how stories are told, cut scenes, attracting attention, user interfaces, reducing motion sickness etc. Blending with a physical world, where that world could be anywhere or anything is going to take a lot more early adopter suffering and a number of false starts and dead ends. It can of course combine with rapid 3d printing, creating new things in the real world that fit with the game or AR/BR experience. Yes thats more complexity, more things to try and figure out. It is why it is such a rich and vibrant subject.
Just bringing it back a little bit to another development this week. The latest in the Battlefield gaming franchise Battlefield Hardline went live. This, in case you don’t do games, is a 3d first person shooter. Previous games have been military, this one is cops and robbers in a modern Miami Vice tv style. One of the features of Battlefield is the massive online combat. It features large spaces and it makes you feel like a small spec in the map. Other shooters are more close in like Call of Duty. The large expanse means Battlefield can focus on things like vehicles. Flying helicopters and driving cars. Not just you though, you can be a pilot and deliver your colleagues to the drop zone whilst you gunner gives cover.
This new game has a great online multiplayer mode called hotwire that apps into vehicles really well. Usually game modes are capture the flag or holding a specify fixed point to win the game. In hotwire you grab a car/lorry etc and try and keep that safe. It means that you have to do some mad game driving weaving and dodging. It also means that you compatriots get to hand out of the windows of the car trying to shoot back at the bad guys. It is very funny and entertaining.
What also struck me was the 1 player game called “episodes”. This deliberately sticks with a TV cop show format as you play through the levels. After a level has finished the how you did page looks like Netflix with a next episode starts in 20 seconds down in the bottom right. If you quite a level before heading to the main menu it does a “next time in Battlefield Hardline” mini montage of the next episode. As the first cut scenes player I got a Miami Vice vibe which the main character then hit back by referencing it. It was great timing, and in joke, but one for us of a certain age where Miami Vice was the show to watch. Fantastic stuff.
I really like its style. It also has a logo builder on the website so in keeping with what I always do I built a version of the Feeding Edge logo in a Hardline style.
Battlefield Hardline Feeding Edge logo
I may not be great at the game, as I bounce around looking for new experiences in games, but I do like a good bit of customisation to explore.

Happy 6th Birthday Feeding Edge Ltd

It is now 6 years ago this month that I started Feeding Edge Ltd! 6, six, VI, Tasset, 3×2 etc etc. However you do the numbers the time has flown by. I like to look back at all the things that would not have happened, or would have been very unlikely if I had not left my then job of 20 years back in 2009. Of course I still do what I did then, with a lot more freedom to operate and explore. Of course it has downsides too. A corporate guaranteed regular high end salary pays for a lot of things, though you have no time to do them. A larger company has people able to cover you, to add to projects and to find other interesting projects. It does of course also have the chance to middle management to act in odd ways and for project scopes to be messed about by sales people.

So as a single person company I have to tread a balance between not over tendering or getting involved in too many projects, but also lay the foundations and seeds for other longer term chances. It is, as the photo about shows of my WWE wrestler a fight, with the chance of some scars 🙂
Right at the moment I am waiting on a multi year development project to kick off. Unity3d and lots of other stuff, it’s more of this. However, external organisations interacting, and being the end of the chain this process has dragged on since before christmas. It is my decision to stay with it, but commercially in the short term it is painful. It is a gamble as I could be spending time waiting for something that doesn’t happen. The previous phase of the project meant I had to technically leave Feeding Edge for a few months as the project did not accommodate “sub contracting”. This ended up just costing me personally as I got enrolled in a pension for a few months and I had left by the time I got any paperwork and never had a chance to reject the pension. Just one of those things.
However the worst feeling was not working for Feeding Edge. I was really, its still my company but officially on the tax books etc I was employed elsewhere on a sort of zero hours contract. I don’t think I will be doing that again. It just means more paperwork and less income 🙂
So while I am waiting I try and not go off selling my services or getting wrapped up in projects. I know full well if I do I will end up not being able to deliver either. There is no such thing as a short term piece of work for me usually as I get embroiled in the whole project very quickly. Quick contract coding no strings attached is not really my style.
So downtime between paying work is spent exploring, learning. I try to do something interesting and learn something everyday.
I am of course available to do other things like TV, Radio, Writing etc. In many ways they make the ideal counter balance for development work. When you are building things you tend to have to block time out to code. I gathered together all my Flush Magazine articles into a portfolio book recently. It was really interesting to see it as an entire body of work

That is only from a few years or writing, so maybe, just maybe I need to write a book after all? A different book to the one I expected to be writing about leaving corporate life 6 years again and telling all, and one that instead focuses on the style of writing I have arrived at with Flush, looking at past patterns and experiences and projecting them forward as a sort of Historic Futurism.
After an interesting twitter discussion with friends old and new today I was still as evangelical as ever about the metaverse and the exiting times ahead as VR and AR headsets demand virtual environments and it starts to become even more normal to expect that sort of interaction. It’s not going away, and neither am I!
Right time to go and get ready to learn and teach my chosen martial art Choi Kwang Do. For over 3 years now this has been a major part of my life and my families life. I have to share this picture as Sabunim Close came to visit Basingstoke CKD this week. He, at 17 was accepted to a Korean university to pursue a degree in Choi Kwang Do. He upped sticks and went there knowing full well it was the right path for him, as there rest of us did 🙂 It was great to see him return on holiday and come and visit us all. Pil Seung (certain victory)

CKD has provided the social contact that working at home and in isolation (despite lots of digital contacts) as well as re-enforcing my own guiding principles of trying to do the right thing and help people.
So, on top of. spending more quality family time, the freedom to operate, the chance to have done 3 series of kids TV, presenting to lots of groups of interesting people, exploring startup life, learning, exploring and building virtual environments I have achieved a life time ambition of a black belt (a life changing experience) and I also get to teach and mentor. Not a bad move was it in 2009 🙂