|The Memoirs of the Information Age discussion list has been around for almost as long as this World's Magazine feature itself. A year ago next month, the original invitations went out to a few hundred IT professionals. Since that time, our conversations have ebbed and flowed, but I never had the daring to do a full-fledged poll. That changed approximately a week and a half ago.
I decided to poll the members of the MOIA discussion list because of two topics that intrigued me: the passionate involvement of people interested in computer/Internet gaming and the promise of an increasingly sophisticated VRML environment here on the Web. The response I received confirmed anecdotal observations.
For example, list member Len Bullard wrote in:
"....Notice that in games or worlds where the scene is outdoors (no occluding shapes) things slow down. Note how many games are played in levels or inside. In a typical model, right angles are everywhere and that enables rapid generation of regular shapes.
"Levels of Detail (LODs) are created to group geometry into shapes with less or more detail depending on the distance from which they are viewed. This speeds things up but costs memory as more objects have to be in RAM to be handled quickly. Other issues such as the amount of memory available for texuring is important. A texture can be prelit (drawn as if in the right light) thus saving comput[ing] power because dynamic lighting is an expensive operation. So, given the constaints of the scene (inside, outside, right angle walls), the language and the hardware, the rendering engine and content can be tuned for speed.....
"Hardware can only take up so much slack but that is constantly improving. The 3D designer has to design for now or two years from now. It is a set of business and art tradeoffs. The big difficulty is lifecycle. If every new version of the player screws up the last version of the content, the maintenance costs kill. That is why new games come out slowly but new versions of old ones are perrenial..." [NOTE: This response was given in the Survey section on 3D/Avatars in order to explain the difference between that Web approach and gaming. As the Survey responses are fully presented, it will be contextualized. -- Ed.]
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|One of the answers I was attempting to suss out was why computer/console/video games seem so much more involving than other applications. In particular, I wanted to ask this of a group of people who spent more time than most on these Memory Machines, out of financial necessity. I felt that by addressing the question to this group, who worked with a wide array of applications, I'd gain a different view than I would from the general population. Here's what I "heard."
Kevin Merrifield wrote in: "There are numerous controls, joystick settings, screen resolutions, and other settings that need "tinkering" with.Ý You really have to fine tune your computer to make a game work correctly.Ý And you have to know hardware.Ý Any user that wants to make a game work fluidly will have to learn how to install and configure a new video card, and that takes a little computer knowledge..."
Douglas McDaniel reponded: "...the interaction is faster, the results are more tangible. (However, there's nothing quite like a brainstorm on e-mail.) The total emotional abosorption rate, due to the speed and necessities of having to react to stuff on the screen, mean that the concentration has to be near-total...."
"MUDS came from Dungeons and Dragons gamers to begin with. Video games have also had a huge impact on cinema. The military has had a huge impact on games, too. Therefore, the military is a huge promoter of violence in our culture. In case you were wondering ...
And Len Bullard added: "As IBM showed in studies, when response times go under two seconds, the lock-in to the behavior is near 100%. This is a part of mammalian signal processing and can be shown in other games. Rapid frame rate and quick interfaces are key. "
Randy Shuman, one of minority of voluntary respondents who plays on-line games extensively, offered these insights: "I play online games, like Ultima Online (and Diablo II if Blizzard can ever fix the Realm servers) for the teamwork and comraderie. It's great to share in an other world experience with others. Who else are you going to talk to about the Blorth Drolth you just schlocked?! People at work, for years now, have asked if we have any idea what we sound like when we're talking about this or that game. It's another world with another language.
"There haven't been many good single or offline games of late. I used to be a heavy fan of the Wing Commander series, especially the first releases. The Privateer series was good too (Wing Commander and Privateer were both done by Chris Roberts for Origin Systems). What was compeling, for me, was the discovery and the challenge; that 'What's around the next corner' experience.
"Computer games are nothing like any canned-for-commercials offering you'd find on the television. This is an interactive world where what you do makes a difference in the future of the game, and you're probably doing something (like flying a space ship or fighting monsters) that you'll not be able to do anywhere in real life. I believe that's one of the appealing aspects of "games" like Microsoft Flight Simulator. I can't afford a Cessna, but I can still 'fly' one!
"Online games are all about team work. These are real people you're playing with, trying to solve problems and working together for a common goal. Online games are also about the pride of accomplishment and the ability to share that with others. I may learn some skill in a single player offline game, but to be able to use that skill in the sight of my peers has its own rewards. Like baseball cards or other collectables, they're worthless to any but those who can appreciate [them]...
"There is no emotional attachment with an application. It's just a program, just like the little paper clip help thingy in Microsoft Word. It's just a program. There's a great feeling when you program something and it works, but that something is not intended to be an extention of a part of your person, at least not the way a character in a game is intended to be. Also, there is nothing in any program that can replace the dynamics of the interactions between players in an online game. The mortal danger a game character faces is far and away more intense than anything a program can produce. Granted, your job might be on the line if the damned thing doesn't work, but when it does, the thrill is not emotionally attached to you like it is when your character succeeds..."
|TJ Meadows, another member of the on-line gaming respondents had this to say: "Yes I do play games online as well as offline I play games because after coding for 6-7 hours my brain goes numb... At that point I know I better stop coding or tomorrow will be spent fixing dumb errors... So I relax my mind by Killing some Quake spawns or battling my friends online. After about an hour or so of unwinding I can then go back to my work with full attention..
" Playstaion games or non-online computer games are always fun and will always be fun but if you get addicted enough to a game the poor little computer spawns lack the intelligence and are predictable - vs - a Human which can't be predictable even if they want to be :)
"...Gaming dumps you in a 3d environment that you can move around in and become a part of. Plus if you read the instructions (yes some of us do) there is the whole history of the game so that you can truly , manifest your self in to the game. Unfortunately Word, Access, Excel, And the one that I slave my life away at Notepad can't compete with 3d environments. Its like a book vs.. a movie lots of arguments on both sides but which one wins most of the time :) "
Each of these responses --- in both technical and also very personal, visceral terms --- confirmed by suspicions from anecdotal findings. The beauty and mystery of gaming, it seems, has everything to do with personal identification with the game character. Equally important, though, seems to be that gaming provides both the speed and interaction that most other Web environments do not, Len Bullard's "mammalian" two second-reponse model. "You are There," if you will.
Even off-line gaming, using primitive level of Artificial Intelligence (AI) --- and despite the drawbacks cited by respondents --- still provides some level of personal satisfaction which other applications, on or off the Web, do not.
As my colleague at Andover,net, Julie Bresnick opined last September regarding the popular game Tomb Raider, we enjoy Laura Croft because we are Laura.
This article was compiled by Rod Amis, who moderates the MOIA Discussion List.
IN PART TWO OF THE SERIES: MOIA Discussion List Members present opinions on how gaming is shaping the future of the Internet and look at the continuing emergence of VRML and "virtual worlds" on the Internet. We hope you'll come back, thanks! RA
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