The State of VR 2017

I recently published a new vlog called The State of VR 2017. I have been working on the ideas for a couple months and honed them down to an 8 minute video. I feel strongest about my ideas regarding consumer applications, and those come toward the end of the video. My ideas on video game design venture into the realm of aesthetics and may not be as useful to the general public. I hope you enjoy the vlog, here it is:

Book Recommendation: “Real Time Rendering” by Thomas Akenine Moller, for anyone looking to understand the fundamentals of math based game programming and 3D graphics.

 

 

Notes on Ian Bogost Talk at UCLA 1/24/17

Here are my notes from Bogost promoting his book “Play Anything”:

Rule as limitation
Rule leads to challenge
Challenge leads to pleasure

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Focusing on following a rule can make an experience more interesting

The words: game play and fun have become trite, just like how are you doing or I love you when overused.

We understand little about our object of interest – video games. What is a game? Harder to define than other mediums, harder to explain what fun or game is? We kind of don’t know

Mary poppins – a spoon ful of sugar helps the medicine go down, singing a song makes work more fun

Covers over drudgery – isn’t a good solution to real work, kind of like listening to music while working.

Asteroids math games are no good, they try to hide something instead of integrating with it

In every job that just be done there is an element of fun, find the fun and the job becomes a game – Mary Poppins

The first time you tell someone I love you, it means more the first time than it does 2 years down the line, only means something when it is withheld.

Fun is like this, it is kind of infrequent. This is a fun game, that was a good book, does little more than show anonymous endorsement. Single vague metric for aesthetic value in games.

Mercilessly vacant.

A painting has to be fun to be good! Sounds horrible.

Fun is a limited sort of novelty descriptor which is inadequate to describe a mature art form

Raph Coster redefines fun as a good feeling we get from solving problems and defining patterns.

Folly creates surprise from exploration – the fool finds something new in a familiar situation

Even with the same friends at the same bar talking about the same thing, something new was discovered, something fun happened.

A spoon ful of sugar stipulates that any problem is insufficient on its own and everything about it has already been thought through, marry poppins is a liar.

In our secular age, value must be found by sheer force of will, from within, we are skeptics and resistant, irony – everything is duplicitous and untrustworthy, this demand forces us to recede within ourselves.

Refusing to choose / the hipster decision. Afraid to confront any reality of the self. Irony has become refusing to reveal whether or not you mean what you say.

Fear of the incompatibility of our inner desires and reality. Irony is an escape root from earnesty. Irony is an escape from having to choose between earnesty and disdain, not being able to know.

We need a defense again the sense that anything might go wrong at any moment. Irony comes from fear, our lives are subject to ever increasing uncertainty. We now resist engaging with reality to protect us from the risk.

This distances us from the experience of reality. Irony is a cultural illness or madness. Ironoia is a distrust of things. Recede further from things rather than using them.

We think that fun is within us and not within the things themselves. The meanings that we invent.

We embrace the wretchedness of difficult things to make them fun. Allowing things to be just what they are and actively communing with them allows us to find pleasure with them.

Game: the voluntary attempt to over come arbitrary obstacles

Something terrifying in games – sublimity can be found everywhere and is arbitrary.

Free movement within a more rigid structures – respecting the structure and subjecting oneself to it – not overcoming it – this is play. Fun is the feeling of operating.

Paradox of play – we think of it as freedom, but in fact it is about limiting freedom.

We think that doing whatever we want is playing – this is backwards. Instead, meaningful play arises from constraints.

On the guitar you must follow rules and follow constraints to play well, to PLAY well. You can play anything.

Play is a material property of things. A name for deliberating operating a constrained system.

Finding something new in something familiar.

Fun is not a goal, it is a result of treating a play object with dignity and respect.
The things we find the most fun are the hardest things that resist us – in that resistance we find fun.

Sometimes things give up secrets, instra and mahout the tennis players found something in tennis that no one had found before.

Fun is related to folly.

It’s hard to care about things at all. Its easier to keep them at arms length.

We expect things to come to us and bring value to us. Comfort is the problem not the solution.

Find the job in the job to truly make it fun instead of finding the fun in the job

Fun is finding novelty in familiarity. Play is working within restraints. Play is deep attention. Give respect to something that does not deserve respect. Attend to something over time with care and it will reveal its secrets.

The most interesting things about games is that we know we are experiencing arbitrariness and we accept it.

Boredom – we have expended the obvious answers, and now we have to dig deep and do the hardest work.

“I am trying to reframe play in the most abstract way possible such that it can apply to anything.”

-Ian Bogost

Book Recommendation: “Play Anything” by Ian Bogost, to find out about the meaning of play in its most abstract form.

VR + AR Telepresence Applications

Paul Graham states that a product needs to be wanted/needed by the customer…desperately…like a child with a cut finger needs a band-aid, the need must be strong as possible in order for the product to succeed. If you want to sell a band aid, go to a kitchen full of sharp knives with many cooks working under pressure…. Etc..

What does a person want/need ordinarily?

  • To be with his family
  • To live in a comfortable place
  • To do well at work

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Unfortunately, these things conflict with one another. Families are expensive, work is hard to find, and comfortable places are not always where the work is. Many companies exist in places that are not ideal for raising families, like New York City. Say you run a company in NYC, but wanted to live with your family in Colorado. How would your family take it if you had to travel to New York every week? Your children would miss you, your partner would grow unhappy, and your life would be painful – and on the other hand, if you worked remotely from Colorado, your company would lack your leadership presence.

 

Right now, many working people have long commutes and travel which actively detriment the things that matter most to them, many people are forced to live in cities they despise because of the localization of certain industries.

 

What if we could introduce a technology that could alleviate the suffering that comes with long commutes, travel, and uncomfortable domestic situations? Well, it is called AR/VR, and it already exists. What we will discover is that the greatest strength AR/VR possesses is that of allowing the telecommunication of HUMAN PRESENCE in a way that surpasses all pre-existing communication technologies, it will change what it means to be AN EMPLOYEE, to be IN THE OFFICE, it will change what it means to BE, at least within reasonably effective limits.

 

As it stands now, there is a major issue with remote work: communication. Most remote work style communication is done via text, video, or audio. These are all subpar to sitting down face to face with a team member, and while they suffice for relaying directives and specific instructions, they fall short in the realms of creativity, collaboration, spontaneity, and empathy. VR/AR can capture 95% of a human presence and represent it in 3D space – only in the realms of touch and smell does it truly fall short – both of which are not usually important aspects of work life.

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If we can simulate the presence between two people in a room we can increase the collaborative potential of remote work ten fold and cut costs on travel, real estate, and improve QOL on all employees. Imagine that you work at a web design company – you could have a remote meeting with a client and bring her into your office for a virtual white boarding session where you could both write on the same white board while looking each other in the eye. The level of communication and understanding would completely trump that of a Skype call by relaying facial expression, hand gestures, and human presence. This would allow for unrestrained collaboration without the cost of travel, and an expedited communication of expectations with the client – ultimately resulting in a cleanly executed development process.

 

The ultimate success of AR/VR will be in telecommunicating human presence and physical space, this will be able to unlock the most important aspects of human communication: collaboration, creativity, spontaneity, and empathy for use across a network in ways that will expedite and improve the quality of remote work, delocalize industries, and give liberty to professionals to live where they want and work where they want.

Book Recommendation: “Rich Dad Poor Dad” by Robert Kiyosaki, for anyone looking for an introduction into how to think like a rich person.

The VR Advantage

What I have learned after examining VR video games is that they are not enhanced by AR/VR in a meaningful way.

I believe that interactive systems are highly functional when they use their input systems to effectively communicate information and allow users to interact with that information in a natural, intuitive way.

Looking at all of the games I have played in VR, the only ones that have made we want to come back for a second go are the multiplayer games. In fact, the first VR project I made was a multiplayer game.

When you play a multiplayer game, another human is sending you information and communicating with you in a way that makes you engaged and interested. The difference between a VR multiplayer game and a regular multiplayer game is that you get access to a deeper amount of information about the player on the other side than you could with just a computer, and this information is entirely to do with their BODY and HUMAN PRESENCE.

After reading books like Charisma Myth and People Skills, it becomes very clear that human communication is about much more than just the words you say, but rather the posture you maintain, the hand gestures you make, the pauses in your speech, the eye contact you transmit. VR/AR has the potential to capture all of these expressions and represent them in virtual space, and this is the true advantage of VR/AR over regular computers.

A single player game will not be superior in VR than on a screen, because no game will ever be able to be designed to interpret the minutiae of human expression and use it in a system of deep game mechanics. Only a human or AI can interpret this sort of information in a useful way, games only require simple binary inputs on behalf of the user because they are essentially static systems whose depth is not built on deep input but rather on shallow input being processed in a variety of contexts. This is not to say that single player games are not fun experiences in VR, it is to say that they are not evolved or more game-like.

I believe that the ultimate strength of VR/AR will come from humans coming together in virtual environments and communicating through immersive interactive systems, utilizing the complex input data generated with AR/VR in conjunction with creative and analytical VR tools that can help record and capture the communication between people. This will not only drive the success of remote work and telecommunication, but will also allow for new modes of streamlined, uninhibited human collaboration – two people will be able to draw on a white board at once while overlapping in virtual space. The ability to learn, collaborate, and instruct from remote spaces will see a major improvement and the distance between individuals will impede their work life communication and collaboration less than ever before.

I will be expanding on this topic with much greater detail in an upcoming video presentation, please stay tuned.

Book Recommendation: “Kafka on the Shore” by Haruki Murakami, for anyone interested in Japanese history, surrealism, madness, and what is perhaps one of Murakami’s best works.

Becoming a Game Developer in LA

Chapter 1: The Value of a Dollar

On a Saturday afternoon in a Mandeville canyon residential courtyard, I was conversing with one of my mentors about why game companies fail so often. After some careful thought, Nolan Bushnell set down his dry martini and made an aphoristic declaration: “A successful business should be focused on generating outcomes, not just ideas or intentions.” What he meant was that when you decide to build a product or start a company, you have to envision how to generate a real outcome as fast as possible. A real outcome is a finished product that puts money in the bank. If you are not dead set on getting money in the bank as soon as possible, you should not start a company. If you meet someone who is not dead set on getting money in the bank as soon as possible, do not go into business with them. You should always err on the side of pragmatism, especially when you are young.

If you want to make an original game, you need investment capital. Video games are an industrial art form and they ordinarily require lots of teamwork combined with lots of money to yield a successful result. In order to receive investment capital, you need to have already made money off of a game and proven that you know what you are doing. If you have not already made money off of a game, you will not receive investment capital – unless you have great connections.

The reality is that people do not understand how hard it is so make just one dollar doing what you love. It is a major achievement which takes time, experience, dedication, and repeated failure. Even the most creative or artistic person must confront the reality of having a solid revenue stream if he or she wants to get serious about having a lasting creative career.

The ultimate challenge in video game development is making enough money from your own games to continue to make more games without having to do contract work. Like any problem, it can be dissected and broken down into constituent parts. One part is that people do not have a basic need for video games. In order to sell a video game, people have to be convinced that they need it. Here are a couple of ways that someone could be convinced that they need to buy a game:

  • Joe has a crush on a girl named Sally who likes a certain game called Fire Dash. Sally loves talking about Fire Dash, but since Joe has not played it, he cannot keep up the conversation. He goes home and buys Fire Dash just so he can have a better conversation with Sally. Sold.
  • Wendy’s little brother has a birthday coming up. He likes video games. She asks a store attendant for a recommendation. The store attendant says Fire Dash is the perfect gift. Sold.
  • Alex wants to be in the know regarding the latest indie games on the market. Fire Dash comes up on Steam as a top new release. Sold.

It is obvious that there is a market for video games. A huge one. But achieving the aforementioned sales scenarios in a saturated market is very difficult and almost impossible for someone just starting out. Selling even a few copies of a game is incredibly hard. Finishing a game and having it accepted by an online store is incredibly hard. Working on a game by yourself can be a deathtrap.

The first thing you need to do in your mission to become a game developer is join a game company and work for someone else. This is the first step in getting experience and making connections.

If you are not qualified to work for someone else, work for free until you are. If you cannot afford to work for free, save up money until you can. Every obstacle is a problem that can be broken down into constituent parts. Getting a job at a game company is about being in the right place at the right time and having the evidence that you are going to add value to someone else’s team. To provide evidence, have sample work, prototypes, and a CV ready at all times. To be in the right place at the right time, well, you just have to move to Los Angeles.

Los Angeles is without a doubt the best place on earth to become a gamedev. Given USC’s constant stream of newly founded game projects, AAA studios including Riot and Naughty Dog, and weekly networking events helping newcomers integrate into the scene, if you are not in LA and you are trying to become a game developer you should pack your bags and fly out tomorrow “Mulholland Drive” style because no where on earth is there better opportunity for gamedev success than here in Silicon Beach.

No matter who you are there is a niche for you in this city. With LA’s rich history in art and entertainment you find a lot different types of artists, writers, and musicians coming into the game world making LA’s games the coolest and best. Video games are just beginning to be recognized as an artform capable of self expression. LA is a breeding ground for this type of direction in games due to its booming indie game developer scene concretized by groups like Glitch city a game dev collective or the youtube celebdevs like YandereDev. However, LA is a brutally isolating and unforgiving place. Between the traffic, urban sprawl, cost of living, heat, and generally closed off social climate, Los Angeles is the type of place to chew up and spit out a newcomer who does not have the hustle and thick skin to endure the dramatic ups and downs that come during the acclimation period. It is for this reason that Los Angeles produces such incredible works of art. People constantly struggle to exist – whether the struggle is social, financial or psychological, many people here are suffering and the only way to alleviate that suffering is by working hard.

Spending money is an essential part of living in most big cities and to spend money you have to earn it. The differences between earning 20k, 40k, 60k, and 80k per year are quite different. You do not become comfortably independent until you are making between 40k-60k, and you do not really get to buy things you want or save money until you make more than that. This is just for taking care of yourself. If you throw another person into the equation it is another story. The reality of money hits hard in this city, but it is important to not let superficial judgements get to you. Even if you are not making a whole lot of money, if you are passionate, humble, hardworking, well mannered, and fun to be around, you will find that people will give you the benefit of the doubt. Money is not a cause – it is a result. The more you are able to not let money get in the away of your goals and relationships the more easily you will find your path and make money off of a career that you believe in.

As a creative person, it may be easy to say “I do not care about money, I am just going to be an artist and dive right into an ambitious project and hope that it gets picked up,” but the unfortunate truth is that you will most definitely fail if you have that attitude, especially in Los Angeles. You need money to survive and connections to achieve your dreams, you cannot do anything on your own.

There are a lot of ways to get rich in LA, but if getting rich means working with people you do not like or doing something you are not passionate about, you will find yourself with a state of depression and regret. People with power will see talent in you and want to keep you around so they can get a cut when all of your work pays off. These people will employ you or even help you out when you need it most. But they will also hold you back once you are on your feet. Remember that just because people appear to care for you does not mean they do. You have to be skeptical of almost everyone and truly get to know people before getting into serious business.The worst thing that can happen is going into business with someone who you cannot trust.

Book Recommendation: “Genealogy of Morals” by F. Nietzsche, for a look into the history of good and evil, good and bad, power relationships, societal organization, and the study of asceticism and its effect on the individual.

Riot Games: “Day in the Life” Blogs

Me via text message: How do you feel about company blogs?

Friend at Riot Games: They are the single most effective recruiting tool.

http://www.riotgames.com/articles/20160707/2315/day-life-software-engineer

The above link is an exemplar of blog as recruiting tool and company culture branding. Reading through it, we find out about a smart, self-motivated engineer who works at Riot’s Hong Kong location. What is particularly effective about this blog is the way in which the man’s day is scheduled and how it reflects both his personality and the company culture, the two things that prospective employee are going to want to understand before working at Riot.

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League of Legends, Riot’s world famous title.

On the train to work, he spends time doing a little extra programming OR plays some mobile games. This shows that he is both disciplined but understands how to relax in smart ways that boost his knowledge in the games space: he is a go-getter. At work by 8am, we see that his morning is not too overwhelming, he gets communication and a bit of work in before the 10am meeting, programs hard until noon at which point he goes out to eat with his friends. When he gets back, he plays LoL against his co-workers until around two, he then goes into a deep focused programming session until around 5 at which point he works on his personal growth by researching tech or playing with Unity3D for his side project. Before heading home to his WIFE, he stops by a yoga studio to meditate.

Chalking up his day, this man only programs for two intense 2-hour sessions. The rest is communication, meetings, and leisure. You can tell that every day is extraordinarily well balanced and not oppressive in the slightest, and that this man is a highly productive, top talent, major value add who loves his job and lives an ideal life.
Riot is a billion dollar leader in today’s game industry and a forerunner of “zen” tech culture replacing the “crunch” video game culture of the past. Riot seeks to enrich the lives of its employees rather than oppress them, but the more important fact is that this could be a myth and perhaps there are many overworked employees at Riot. Nonetheless, the best game developers on earth are going to want to work at Riot simply because they heard the myth in the first place, a myth that is generated by word of mouth and blogs like this.

Book Recommendation: “The Power Elite” by C Wright Mills, for anyone interested in a fascinating look into the origin of neo-conservative beliefs.

New Mr. Robot Inspired Game Project

I am working on a new game called Silicon Beach Psychopath inspired by Mr. Robot and my personal experiences in Los Angeles.

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The gameplay revolves around David P Luna (seen above) as he wanders around a nightmare version of Los Angeles trying to get better at programming so he can get a job. I expect the game to take around 30 minutes to play and 6 months to develop. Playing as David, you have to manage your anxiety which increases every time you use a computer or run into a psychotic trigger. You alleviate your anxiety by talking to your therapist Dr. Goldberg and answering his questions correctly.

I will be revealing more about the other characters and nuances of design in future updates – stay tuned!

Book Recommendation: “Console Wars” by Blake J Harris, for anyone who wants to find out how the old video game industry worked and how it differs from what it is today.