This month was the AGM for the BCS Animation and Games specialist group that I have been chairing for a very long while now. I gave a presentation from a personal view point (this is not a work presentation and I make that clear in the disclaimers, though it is what I work in too of course), on the advances in Metaverse and GenAI content creation. The full YouTube version is below but the link to the blurb and bio (and the video) at the BCS is here
We are always looking for presenters to come and share some ideas with our specialist group around all things games, animation, metaverse, esports etc, so if you are interested ping me there is a slot waiting for you. We sometimes get a big crowd, other times smaller ones but with the videos published like this it can be a useful thing to do and share.
For those of you who don’t know, BCS (formerly British Computer Society) Chartered Institute for IT is a UK based (but worldwide membership) professional body for anyone in the tech industry. It exists at all levels from just getting going in the business to Fellows with vast amounts of experience and willingness to help. It was part of my professional certification whilst at IBM and I then also became a certifier whilst there too. Volunteering and sharing ideas, such as this presentation, is one of the many ways to get involved (you don’t have to do this). It benefits you as an individual but also elevates tech roles within enterprises and organizations you work in.
Firstly, yes it looks like its a while since I posted on here, but that’s the challenge when work life and social/hobby life are one and the same thing. I have to save all the really good stuff for my professional output. However, I bought myself what is my 16th VR or AR headset with the Meta Quest 3 and as a long time user of such kit I wanted to share my personal (and only personal) thoughts about this bit of kit.
Our Quest 2 has been kept in our kitchen ready for anyone in the family to use it since it arrived. The kitchen is the only place with just about enough free space to wave arms and make the odd step safely in VR. Though as I may have explained before there is a dent in the fridge from a side fist I did playing Superhot VR when I was training for my 2nd Degree Black Belt in Choi Kwang Do. The Quest 2 went straight to VR, obscuring the world (that was it’s job after all) but the guardian that we manually drew around the kitchen (often repeating that process) tended to keep us in bounds. Picking up the controllers and getting them on the right hands in the right way was always a bit fiddly, like plugging in a USB A and always getting it wrong the first two times despite there only being two ways to do it.
The Quest 3 on the other hand, starts with colour pass through, you put it on (over glasses too as they fit in the headset), and just see a slightly blurry version of where you actually are, its much quicker to get in and stood in the right place. (Quest 2 has pass through but it’s very disorientating and B&W). The new hand controllers are much easier to see and to pick up the right way as they don’t have the massive halo loops of plastic around them for sensors. The headset also does the guardian and scanning around for things on its own, you don’t have to (though you can) draw a line around yourself, which in the Quest 2 seemed like some sort of weird religious or mystical incantation involving a border of salt.
The Quest 3 is also light and smaller than the 2, or at least feels like it, I haven’t weighed them. This makes the whole experience to just get going much less faff an bother. It is a similar leap to when we had to place external sensors and try and line everything up before playing anything.
Going into a VR game of applications is pretty much the same across headsets, though it is noticeably crisper and faster/flashier as all new kit tends to be. Though now games win particular are being upgraded to have richer visuals, which in turn will start slowing it all down again. I plumped for the lower spec memory of 128Gb as mostly the family plays Beat Sabre and Pistol Whip, but I now have some games that seems to be 13Gb so it will eat it up more quickly now.
The Mixed Reality (MR) elements of the Quest 3 blending the pass through view of the world with digital elements anchored in that view is the clever bit. This is augmented reality but calling it mixed reality is as accurate. The view you see is virtual, its a camera showing you the physical world, it is able to scan the environment and build a digital mesh of it knowing what are walls, surfaces and objects in the view. It does in the example first steps app asking you to look around you and you see it overlay what it considers the mesh of the world. It’s very matrix, and deliberately visual, not really any need to show the user other than to intrigue them. The demo app then causes a break in the ceiling with bits falling on the floor and giving a view of a space environment and another planet in the distance. Through this hole drops a spaceship that lands (in my case on the the kitchen floor). Being in pass through makes it easy to walk around not bumping into physical things, as you can see them, so get a better look up into the hole in the ceiling. Over the course of the demo tribble like fluffy things break through the walls and run around you space, they drop behind things like the breakfast bar in our kitchen and you can’t see them unless you go and look over. They creatures also run along the walls and other surfaces. It really is quite effective as a cartoon comedy demo of full AR. as this is not holding up a tablet or phone the field of view and turning of you own head and hence view is 100% natural.
The wonderful old painting application Vermillion had some upgrades, so now in full MR the easel and paint brushes can be in your own room and now even better you can hang you paintings on you physical wall and they will stay there if you want them too. You can see family walking into the room and talk to them, though it’s a little odd for them to know whether you can see them or not, having been used to giving the VR headset a wide birth (as the fridge didn’t above) 🙂
This Quest 3 for the kitchen liberates by Quest 2 for my gaming PC, which in turn retires the tethered Rift/S. It also means we can play multiplayer games with two of us in the house. The main account can share their apps (though only on one headset). I shared the Quest 3 apps and unshared on Quest 2 but we were able (with me logged into Quest 2 and Predlet 2.0 using his account on Quest 3) to play a good few rounds of the VR Walkabout Mini-golf and some multiplayer beat Sabre. I say a good few rounds but the battery life is pretty short on both headsets. This can be sorted by attaching a very long USB cable to the power outlet, but that sort of removes the untethered nature of the headset.
This Quest 3 and pass through is obviously a much cheaper version of what the Apple Vision Pro is aiming to do, but it’s out first, it works and it has a library of interesting things to engage with. Though the really new stuff like Assassin’s Creed and Asgards Wrath II (Remake) are not out at release. So it’s more to play VR things and the odd MR update at the moment. I say out first but pass through has been the mission of commercially available Varjo headsets for a while.
One other thing pass through allows for is being able to see you phone (sort of as its a bit warped). This is very useful as trying to buy things in the store in VR doesn’t work as it needs the phone app to do all the verification. This used to mean taking the headset off, now it means double le tapping the headset for pass through and finding your phone. That’s a silly use case as it should just work in the environment or represent the phone and its OS in the environment, but that’s payment rails for you.
In short, it’s good, worth it and I like it. IO am looking forward to more proper AR/MR apps and experiences, whilst enjoying the brand new ones like Samba De Amigo that just launched (again not new as we played that a lot on the Sega Dreamcast with a set of maraca controllers way back).. and pose….. Happy memories reborn 🙂
Having my books Reconfigure and Cont3xt I am always using them and the story I created as a way to explore other mediums. I started drawing a few years ago to see if I could maybe go manga with it, that included buying some action figure mini drawing mannequins that have some tech and weapon props. I created some meta humans and have a unity based mocap suit from a kickstarter to see if I could produce anime. Audio voice generation has been another thing I tried. Each of these projects would be a significant amount of time, effort and probably cost too, but delving in as a mini proof of concept gives me an appreciation of what would be needed.
Midjourney and the AI image generators have offered another option to explore, an very quickly too. One of the challenges is to get the same character to appear in each generated image (i.e. story board). I decided to sort that out later in this POC. Though I did suggest that the actress to play Roisin should be Ruby Rose to get a potential consistent likeness.
Having got this image, which was pretty good for a first attempt, with very little text in the prompt I popped over to runway.ml and tried its new gen-2 image to video generation. This time with NO PROMPT at at all! It decided she should look up and stare into the distance, which in the book she is doing as she is being chased and very aware of her surroundings as she tries to outwit those after the amazing tech she has discovered. They only generate short clips on the free accounts, but those few seconds I found to be quite astounding and bewitching.
GenAI is obviously on a major drive into all sorts of areas, but the ability to potentially use tools like this to create a film version of my books on my own time and budget is emerging as a strong contender, unless Netflix or Prime decide they would like to do it instead 🙂
In 2016 I wrote Cont3xt the follow up to Reconfigure and part of that was an upgrade our lead character gets. She has access to an API that can manipulate the physical world like the virtual, she builds that up into a Unity application for her smart phone in the first book. The second she gets an EyeBlend headset, state of the art (and still just a little ahead of Apple and co’s attempts. So she ports the Unity app and upgrades the messaging system for this high bandwidth device and to enhance the experience. Rather like all the developers are doing right at the moment. Life imitates art 🙂 Read Reconfigure first, but this might be a topical time to check out Cont3xt whilst you wait for the Apple demo in a local store next year. (Just £0.99 each for these adventures 🙂 )
“An EyeBlend? They are not on general release yet? How did you get that?” Her eyes lit up wildly as Roisin took in the news.
“Oh you know, I have a few friends who hack for a living.” Alex replied with an air of comedy superiority.
“You sure do! The EyeBlend is an awesome piece of kit. It does full blended reality applications. It uses field effect projection with live object tracking!” She said enthusiastically. “They call it a hologram, though it really isn’t as such. You can forgive that though as the effect is the same, apparently.” Roisin was on her tech turf again.
I saw some links the other day to a new clothing and bag range here at Loewe’s that I thought, hang on I have seen that somewhere before 🙂 Not posting a picture because its would be their copyright image so just go have a look instead.
This range is physical, but made to look pixelated and game like with chunky and stepped back borders and gradient colouring. It makes something real look a bit like it’s out of minecraft. There have been a few things before like shades to match the Thug Life internet meme, but this is proper expensive clothing, Zoolander territory.
The things was that in 2016, as I have tweeted and popped onto Linkedin, I wrote a little piece of detail about Roisin in Reconfigure to enhance her gamer geek chic status that said the following
“She slipped on her red Converse shoes and her grey SuperDry hoody. The phone just squeezed into her jeans front pocket. She picked up her odd cartoon looking bag, full of all the essentials she might need, lip gloss, money, cards, keys, moleskin notebook, hand wipes. The handbag was a regular size but looked slightly larger due to the cartoon cel shaded look that it had. The front panel looked like a 2d drawing of a 3d object in a video game. Thick black lines added around the primary coloured sections. “
Now I can’t claim to have invented this fashion range, because as a writer, with a story set in the current day I drew upon lots of things I had already seen or experienced, i.e. write what you know. However, I am really happy that Roisin’s look from 2016 is now popping up again in 2023. In the same way my first ever public presentation when I started as an industry analyst with 451 Research back in 2016 showed the direction towards an autonomous enterprise, such as we are seeing some people create with AutoGPT/ChatGPT and alike right now.
I play a lot of games, of a lot of different types and genres, and have done for too many years (45 of them at least). I know that driving games always attract my attention, I am many hours into the current Forza Horizon and all the preceding Forza’s of all types. I like a good free roam RPG, obviously GTA5 rules the roost there, but No Man’s Sky also scratches that itch. However I also really like turn based combat games, many of which have been Switch based ones of late, though good old Xcom used to be the one to drop into. I also really like Fights in Tight Spaces for a quick blast of card based gameplay with great visuals. These turn based games suit us older slower gamers, I do still enjoy run and gun FPS like COD but in multiplayer those tiny milli seconds of thoughts wading through years of experience to get to a trigger pull reaction on a target don’t work.
At christmas I got Marvel Midnight Suns on the Xbox Series X, thinking it would be an interesting, quick enjoyable game to have a go at. It is most of those things but it certainly has not been quick. In fact since xmas 22 I have not played anything else (10 mins on Forza doesn’t count). It has properly dragged me in with its turn based, card/resource battle, over the top cartoon visuals, stacks of side missions to just play for to level up, a massive storyline and a mini world to explore on foot in between battles. All this super heroes are in it (well not all, but an awful lot!), and the lead character is my very own super hero. There is also a stack of costume and room customisation, collectables, research of upgrades and weird little friendship building conversations and gift giving (I did say that was weird).
The heart of the game uses individual superhero abilities expressed in a small deck of cards to say what a move can do or the impact it has. Some cards give heroism as a resource, others spend it. You get 3 cards to play each turn (or more with some levelled up modifiers) out of selection of cards depending on the 3 particular super heroes in the mission you are engaged with. There are also environment moves to throw things, blow up things and drop heavy objects on the bad guys. The camera work and the animations for all these battling effects get increasingly frenetic. e.g. Wolverine (once he joins through the story) is able to chain hits together on multiple enemies, they often begin with a frenzied battle cry and flexing of his blades in traditional Wolverine fashion. It shares a lot with XCom given its by Fireaxis but it does’t have that infantry style constant loss of the team, after all in most cases superheroes live to fight another day. They do get hurt and damaged and some attention to repair them is required though. Also in the deck there are special battle cards that recipes are research,learned, found etc. Various resources can be used to craft those. Also battles often give an item that Tony Stark will analyse for you, a coil, that opens up a set of new cards, which you get to pick a couple to add to heroes you have taken on battles, or your personal deck. Having more than one of the same card they can be smashed together in the training yard to create more powerful attacks. It goes on and on 🙂
The start of most missions, once you pick the 3 heroes there is a short slow motion walk to camera scene, with avengers music playing that I have yet to skip, as its very much a “hell yeah!” moment. Examples are below, different versions of my hero’s costume in the centre.
I am about 60 hours in to this game, and much of that is enjoying the levelling up in side battles, or finding good player combinations, e.g. cap is very much a defensive tank, digging in with block or tainting enemies, spider man is a bounce around getting everyone character. There are also lots of magic and environment focussed characters, Ghost Rider does a lot of damage, but also to himself, Blade grabs energy and makes bad guys bleed for constant damage.
The enemy roster gets quite complex too, whilst it starts with soldiers and big guts with shields, I now have things that when attacked at all split in two, or spiritually linked demons that you have to kill them all in one turn or they come back resurrecting one another. There are also some huge bosses to deal with, not to mention (not really a spoiler) a corrupted Sabretooth and Hulk.
Different battles have different objectives, and sometimes you can get away with just focussing on the objective, e.g. hack all three terminals before the server gets beaten to a pulp, you don’t always have to clear the bad guys, so an otherwise encounter ending move might be a game saving one. Other times it is a take them all out situation.
There is some DLC heading toward the game this weekend I think, with Deadpool. So sorry any other games vying for my attention at the moment. I am busy saving the world 🙂
I had the honour of hosting my good friends from Gamesatwork.biz for a BCS animation and games event to hear about how they have managed to create compelling content in a weekly podcast for what is not approaching 400 episodes! The official BCS event link page and links to everything else about the BCS is here but I have added the youtube directly. Its very free form, not scripted and was a entertaining to be the interviewer, especially as I know Michael, Michael and Andy just know what to say and when to say it.
As the guys explain a lot of the content is based on us all sending them things we are spotting or are busy doing and enjoying. All the podcasts episodes have their own show notes and links so after watching this go check those out and see the sort of thing they do, or vice versa and then start sharing stuff with them, the more the merrier. Also if you are in tech, check out the BCS as a professional org.
Ok so I tried something a little recursive in nature to see what ChatGPT AI do, and I think this is very much in the write style and has some surprising little rant in it about the process of writing a sitcom. I like this better than the first Blackadder sketch I had in the previous post.
write a Blackadder sketch of Blackadder writing a Blackadder sketch
Baldrick: My lord, what are you doing?
Blackadder: I am trying to write a sketch for our next Blackadder episode, Baldrick.
Baldrick: But my lord, you are Blackadder. Why are you writing a sketch about Blackadder writing a sketch?
Blackadder: Because, Baldrick, it is a clever and meta way to poke fun at the absurdity of the situation.
Baldrick: Ah, I see. But what is the sketch about, my lord?
Blackadder: It is about Blackadder sitting at his desk, trying to come up with a sketch for the next Blackadder episode. But every idea he comes up with is met with objections from the other characters.
Baldrick: Like what, my lord?
Blackadder: Well, for example, I might come up with an idea for a sketch where Blackadder and I go on a quest to find the Holy Grail. But then Prince George would object, saying that we already did that in a previous episode.
Baldrick: Oh, I see. And then what would happen, my lord?
Blackadder: Then I would come up with another idea, perhaps involving a time-traveling Blackadder going back to the Tudor era. But then Queenie would object, saying that we already did that in a previous episode as well.
Baldrick: So Blackadder can’t come up with any new ideas for sketches?
Blackadder: Exactly, Baldrick. It’s a satirical commentary on the creative challenges of writing for a long-running television show.
Baldrick: Oh, I get it now, my lord. That sounds like a very clever sketch.
Blackadder: Yes, Baldrick, I thought so too. But now I just need to figure out how to end it.
Baldrick: How about Blackadder giving up and going for a walk instead?
Blackadder: Hmm, not bad, Baldrick. Not bad at all. I think I’ll go with that. Thank you for your assistance.
Baldrick: Always happy to help, my lord.
Blackadder: Now let’s hope this sketch is a hit with the audience.
(Blackadder gets up from his desk and exits, with Baldrick following behind.)
My social feeds were getting full of people trying out a version of the GPT3 AI for text by OpenAI on https://chat.openai.com/chat so I thought I would have a look at it. It is as amazing as the AI art generation, not a sentient being but a tool that when asked the write questions gives interesting answers.
Whilst essay style responses are interesting I asked it a rather odd question with a style slant towards it and this is what I got. Not hilariously funny, but just consider that the characters are as you would expect them to be. There is a sense of trying to get out of doing something, then getting caught out and sent back to the beginning.
“Write a Blackadder sketch set in a 20th century office environment”
Blackadder: (sitting at his desk, staring at a stack of papers) Baldrick, I’m drowning in paperwork.
Baldrick: (leaning against the doorframe) Yes, sir.
Blackadder: (sighing) It seems like no matter how much I do, there’s always more to do. And on top of that, the boss is breathing down my neck.
Baldrick: (nodding) Yes, sir.
Blackadder: (slamming his fist on the desk) I need a break, Baldrick. I need to get out of this office and do something fun for a change.
Baldrick: (smirking) I’ve got just the thing, sir. How about we play a game of darts?
Blackadder: (raising an eyebrow) Darts? In the office? Are you mad, Baldrick?
Baldrick: (shrugging) Why not, sir? It’ll be a nice change of pace, and it’ll take your mind off all this paperwork.
Blackadder: (considering) Hmm, I suppose you have a point. But we’ll have to be careful not to break anything.
Baldrick: (grinning) Don’t worry, sir. I’ll go get the darts.
(Baldrick exits the room and returns a moment later with a dartboard and a set of darts)
Blackadder: (picking up a dart) Alright, Baldrick. Let’s see who the better marksman is.
(They start playing darts, with Blackadder proving to be the better player)
Blackadder: (throwing a dart and hitting the bullseye) Ha! Another bullseye, Baldrick. You’ll have to try harder than that if you want to beat me.
Baldrick: (throwing a dart and missing the board entirely) Oops, sorry sir.
Blackadder: (rolling his eyes) Never mind, Baldrick. At least we’re having fun.
(Just then, the boss enters the room)
Boss: Blackadder! What is going on in here?
Blackadder: (turning to face the boss) Ah, just taking a break from all the paperwork, sir. Playing a friendly game of darts.
Boss: (scowling) Darts? In the office? This is highly inappropriate, Blackadder. I expect better from you.
Blackadder: (apologetically) My apologies, sir. It won’t happen again.
Boss: (sternly) See that it doesn’t. Now, get back to work, both of you.
(Blackadder and Baldrick sheepishly return to their desks and resume their work, with Blackadder grumbling about the unfairness of it all)
It’s not just long form that this bot can produce I also asked it for something shorter and to the point
“Write a haiku about cars”
Cars speed down the road,
Metal beasts with roaring engines,
Nature takes a backseat.
Next I chose to mix it with some AI image generation (this time using photo leap on the iPhone)
Create a play with two people discussing the Metaverse, one person is positive the other person is negative
Person 1: Have you heard about the Metaverse? It’s this amazing virtual world where anything is possible.
Person 2: Yeah, I’ve heard of it. But it’s just a bunch of hype. It’s never going to happen.
Person 1: Are you kidding me? The technology is already here. It’s just a matter of time before we can all access it.
Person 2: I don’t know. It sounds like a utopia, but I think it’s more likely to become a dystopian nightmare.
Person 1: That’s just fear-mongering. The Metaverse has the potential to revolutionize the way we live and interact with each other.
Person 2: But what about the consequences? What happens when people start spending all their time in the virtual world instead of the real one?
Person 1: That’s a valid concern, but I think it’s a risk worth taking. The potential benefits are just too great to ignore.
Person 2: But what about the loss of privacy? In the Metaverse, everything about us will be out in the open for anyone to see.
Person 1: That’s true, but I think the benefits will outweigh the drawbacks. The Metaverse will allow us to connect with people in ways we never thought possible.
Person 2: But what about the cost? Creating and maintaining the Metaverse is going to be incredibly expensive.
Person 1: That’s a short-sighted view. The Metaverse has the potential to generate huge amounts of wealth and create countless new jobs.
Person 2: But what about the impact on the environment? The amount of energy needed to power the Metaverse will be enormous.
Person 1: Again, I think the benefits will outweigh the drawbacks. The Metaverse will allow us to explore new frontiers and push the boundaries of what’s possible.
Person 2: I still have my doubts. The Metaverse sounds like a pipe dream to me.
Person 1: That’s okay. Not everyone has to believe in it. But I have faith that the Metaverse is the future, and I’m excited to see where it takes us.
Person 2: I hope you’re right. But I’m still skeptical.
Person 1: That’s okay. Time will tell. In the meantime, I’ll continue to dream of the possibilities the Metaverse holds.
Yet more wonders I did behold when I asked…
“Describe the Metaverse in the style of William Shakespeare”
In the style of William Shakespeare, the Metaverse may be described as a boundless realm of virtual reality, where spirits roam free and digital avatars take on form and substance. It is a world beyond the flesh, where imagination is the only limit and all things are possible. Here, one may forge new identities and explore uncharted territories, unfettered by the constraints of the physical world. In this vast and wondrous domain, the boundaries of time and space are mere illusions, and the possibilities for adventure and discovery are endless. So come, brave travelers, and enter the Metaverse, where you may revel in the boundless wonders of a virtual world, and unleash the full power of your imagination.
Very clever, and this is accelerating very quickly. Certainly something to keep an eye on!
It always amazes me how there is always something to learn or be surprised about tech, you think you have a handle on it and then you see or somehow sense something else. I recently got hit with a thought about the relative sizes of an avatar in a shared virtual space/metaverse application and what that can be used for. I have often talked about the scale of virtual worlds being a mutable thing, we can be sub atomic or at the scale of a universe in a virtual environment. I have also talked about being the room or place, i.e. a sort of dungeon master approach controlling the room (as a version of an avatar) whilst others experience something about that place.
The first experience that got me thinking about relative avatar size was getting to play Beat Saber as a 3 player VR game. I had done 2 player, here you see your fellow player off to the side facing you but experiencing the same song and blocks. You are so busy playing and concentrating, but it is a good experience to be shared. However once over 2 people, at 3 in this case, you are all on your own track but facing a common central point, like being on a star. The player that is doing best has their avatar zoomed and projected up towards that central point as a reminder you need to work harder. Its a great mechanic and is then using the avatar size as a communication mechanism, i.e. they are better at Beat Saber than you.
The next experience was to properly play the VR dungeon crawling turn based dice and card Demeo as a multiplayer. This game has you and your friends gathered around a board decked with figurines. You are represented by you hands, to pick up the pieces and moves them, or to roll the dice, and by a set of glasses or small mask. The avatar is not a whole thing, no need for legs etc. The board is the thing you all want to see. Each player can change not only the direction of the board just for them, by dragging it around but also zoom in and out to see the lay of the lay or get right in and look at how the characters have been digitally painted. The game is collaborative and turn based, and you get to see the other players had and mask avatars. Here though is the twist, you also get a sense of whether the other person is stood looking around the table top or if they have zoomed close because the avatar you see of them scales up and down in size according to their view of the world. Not only can you see the direction they are looking but how detailed their view might be. If you are zoomed in and you look up you see the giant avatar of your fellow player looking at you. This is all very fluid, gameplay is not messed up by it, and it shows a level of body language that only really exists in metaverse style applications. The VR element makes it feel even better but the effect works on 2d screens too.
We often talk about sense of presence, remember you were next to someone in a virtual place, but this is another dynamic that is obvious, but only obvious now having experienced it. Anyway, that’s the thing I learned earlier this week. Also in order to find a picture to express the image above started as one DALL-E sentence for the AI generation, but I also tinkered around with the new web editing that lets you add new frames of generation to existing images, creating AI generated composites!. The stately home was an accident, but somehow looks very much like my old 2006 metaverse evangelist physical and virtual home of IBM Hursley. The ability to create an image and a feeling for this post, not just grab a screenshot for the games (which is always tricky to get what you want anyway when it involves other players), is also rather cool and is the first time I have created an image for a subject, rather than the subject be image generation. The future is arriving fast!
Anyway, avatars, not always what you think they are are they? 🙂