Saturday, May 28, 2005

Next Steps in Video Games

Let's face it; video games will soon be to the point where they are photorealistic. Don't believe me? Just check out some of the screenshots for the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3. And of course, now, everything has physics. Current physics engines are pretty good; they've matured enough that there's even some consideration being given to having a "physics card" in the same way that you have a graphics card.

So what's next? Predicting the future is hard, so we'll look at the real world to give us a hint of what's to come in the virtual world. 3D engines are just a bunch of math that's used to render the world on your screen. In the real world, if you take mathematics, and you apply it, you get physics (basically). So there's our next step - which has already been taken. But what happens when you apply physics? As a student in an "applied physics" program, I can say with good authority that you get engineering. Engineering is concerned with the properties of non-ideal objects - instead of the rigid, unbreakable solids of physics, you have things that can bend, deform, break... It doesn't seem like that big a deal, but imagine a game where if you shot a bridge with a rocket launcher, it would weaken and collapse - without being scripted. Or you could plant explosives in a building to demolish it. Wouldn't that be cool? Red Faction's Geo-Mod engine was a very rudimentary form of this - you could destroy walls and collapse rock bridges by blowing them up. It isn't likely to be implemented fully until games start using voxel rendering (which will be a good complement to the anticipated switch to raytracing - it takes about 40 Ghz of processing power to raytrace a videogame in real-time, but dedicated hardware could mean it happens much sooner).

It's likely that another application of physics - chemistry - will be introduced to gaming at the same time as engineering engines. This won't be quite as exciting, but we may see some neat effects like pouring acid onto a cable to make it break, or being able to burn objects.

As for the next step, I'm guessing biology (applied chemistry?). This will allow for not only genetics and evolution (i.e. the upcoming game "Spore"), but also realistic organ systems and bone structures - so you could break your leg and be unable to move, or get shot and experience different effects depending on where you were hit (more than just the "zoned" systems of today where a headshot hurts you more than getting shot in the leg). Biology could apply to other things in the game, such as trees or animals, though this might be more useful for an MMORPG than a first person shooter.

Speaking of MMORPGs and FPSs, I think the line is going to start blurring pretty soon (if it hasn't already). Internet connectivity is only going to increase in the future, so it's likely that games will focus more on the multiplayer experience than a singleplayer one. So an FPS could take place as a sub-part of a larger game world, with the advantage that you could get friends to come and help you on your mission, or you could step out of it and enjoy other parts of the game when you get bored.

So that's my prediction for the future (the near future, at least). Call me when engineering engines are being implemented.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

View from the Other Side

For a good portion of my life, I was a student in the public school system. From 1990 to 2000 I attended Brigden Public School, and from 2000 to 2004 I attended L.C.C.V.I. in Petrolia. As I am only 18 years old, this constitutes an amazing 78% of my life so far. So I'm quite used to thinking of myself as a student. The world of teachers was something untouchable; unreachable. But recently I have been thrust into this world. Less than a year after completing high school, I am now working at one. There are students there that are older than me. Retaining my student mindset has given me an interesting perspective on the teacher/student divide. Here are some of my revelations:

-The staff washrooms aren't any nicer than the student washrooms. In fact, they're the very same, only smaller.
-Conversely, the staff room is the the nicest in the school (carpeting? OMG)
-Scantron machines aren't actually big dark unseen monsters that purposely knock marks off your multiple choice test. In fact, they are quite mundane.
-Male teachers (when away from the company of female teachers) will talk about sex even more than the male students.
-It doesn't matter how young you are, you will instinctively call the students "kids" once you start hanging out with teachers.
-Teachers enjoy fire drills and snow days too - possibly even more than students. I quote: "you should see us on fog days. It's like a party in here."
-Teachers also enjoy showing movies to their classes. As a student, you instinctively believe that whatever is fun for you is necessarily not fun for the teacher, but this turns out not to be the case.
-No matter how rebellious a student may seem; from a "higher up" viewpoint they all seem like sheep - note how they may rebel in class, but then go to the office to get in trouble when they are told to.

Crazy stuff, eh? I hope I don't get fired for this.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Why Nobody Came to the Time-Travelers' Convention

Some of you may remember the story about the Time Travelers' Convention that was floating around the internet a couple of weeks ago. Well, as you may have guessed, they "had no confirmed time travelers visit". This was originally thought to be due to the fact that you had to register a few days in advance to get a ticket; or else you wouldn't be let in. But surely this would be no problem for someone with a time machine.

No, the real reason is simply this: no time travelers came because no time travelers came. Think about it. Since nobody from the future showed up, this event will fade from the public mind quite quickly. Perhaps it might warrant a couple kilobytes on's Wayback machine. In any case, it will be forgotten long before anyone invents a time machine. Thus, anyone with a time machine won't know about it and therefore won't travel back to attend. Simple, even though causally it's rife with paradox. What is needed in order to get time travelers to come to an event is a way of marking its location in time and space that will endure for longer than a website. Engraved in stone? Maybe. Carved in huge letters in the surface of the moon using a laser? Possibly. How about you store it in something that's already lasted thousands of years, and is likely to last a few thousand more - like the pyramids of Egypt. A wall on the inside of one of the great pyramids would be a perfect place to put the coordinates of a time travelers' convention. In fact, it's surprising to note that there isn't intertemporal graffiti all over historic landmarks like the pyramids. If I had a time machine, I wouldn't think twice about carving my initials into one of those huge limestone bricks. "K.B. was here; June 9, 3392 BC". Perhaps it's there, just not in an accessable place. We'll need to dismantle the pyramids to know for sure.

In the meantime, we'd better busy ourselves with the practical aspects of constructing a time machine. Either that or (and this is almost more likely) improve our space-faring capabilities so we have a better chance of finding a time machine left by some ancient civilization on another planet... yes, Window of Opportunity is one of my favourite Stargate episodes. Of course the last few episodes of season 8 featured a time machine as well.

Now if only I could find something of infinite mass...

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

New Post

Well, I came across this interesting story about self-replicating robots, and I figured it warranted a new blog post. Unfortunately, this wasn't included in my technology prediction list that I posted here back in January. Oh well. Perhaps it's time to revise my "exponential technological progression" chart.

10,000,000 years ago: spoken language
1,000,000 years ago: fire and homes
100,000 years ago: social structures, simple machines (mostly the wheel)
10,000 years ago: cities, civilizations, written language
1,000 years ago: gunpowder and the steam engine
100 years ago: radio, airplanes, computers, and nuclear power
10 years ago: the internet and sequence the human genome
1 year ago: working nanotech and commercial space travel
0.1 years ago: computers faster than the human brain, computers controlled
directly from the brain
0.01 years ago: self-replicating robots

Now, obviously I'm not expecting this trend to continue and have a phenominal scientific breakthrough in the next 10 hours, but it is interesting.
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