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SIGGRAPH 2009: Gaming Forward...

Product: SIGGRAPH 2009: Gaming

There were some exciting and unusual game-related topics and exhibits at SIGGRAPH 2009. Some of the presentations were a bit word and concept-heavy for the average gamer, being geared toward game developers and researchers. Others were much easier to grasp and appreciate; some were even hands-on demonstrations of concepts. These futuristic, and sometimes odd, concepts are likely to affect the games you're going to see in the future, either directly or indirectly. (All Images below are courtesy of ACM SIGGRAPH 2009 Media Images CD; Artist unknown.)

The Sleighing Simulator 2.0 was on display in the Emerging Technologies exhibition and it was demonstrating how peripheral motion can help to heighten the sense of movement in simulations. This demonstration featured a Wii Fit board with a sled mounted on top and a normal wide screen display directly in front of the player, but also had rectangular LED arrays that would light in an animated sequence that indicated the direction of motion. Since the player is not focusing on the LED arrays, high resolution is not needed. A low resolution motion that is seen "out of the corner of the eye" does the job of enhancing the brain's perception of movement.

Another Emerging Technologies exhibit, entitled Back to the Mouth, was an Xbox 360 based videogame that featured a novel light gun with a breath-sensing sensor, that was used much like a blow-dart gun. In addition to this controller, there was a food and drink bin that had eight compartments that had motors to shake different compartments to indicate which foods or drinks needed to be used next. The basis of the game is that you must eat or drink different things to change the chemistry of your breath and then you blow or suck on the tube to attack enemies. You might, for example, eat something garlic-flavored and then breathe on a vampire to destroy him.

While the typical food-related problem tied to videogames is usually overeating, the developers say that this videogame has successfully gotten children to eat foods that they typically would refuse to eat. (Such as garlic and spinach, I'd imagine.) I can see this technology going horribly awry in the form of a drinking game or, heaven forbid, a game based on Fear Factor's food-based challenges.

Another exhibit that aimed to trick kids into enjoying something was the SCOPE exhibit. According to the developers, "SCOPE gives traditional games a second chance, via augmented reality." Specifically, SCOPE features a head-mounted display and, with the help of special markers added to toys, adds virtual elements and special effects to the child's play. Imagine playing with your action figures, and seeing lasers when their weapons fire or magical looking special effects when one action figure casts a spell at another. The impetus behind this technology is to make these old, discarded toys fun again.

Twinkle, an interface for using handheld projectors to interact with physical surfaces, was another interactive technology that seeks to move videogame-style play beyond the limits of the traditional television screen. Twinkle uses a projector and a camera to add "augmented reality" within the beam of light. It is held much like a flashlight, but the area that is illuminated by the flashlight is analyzed by a computer and serves as an environment in which a sprite lives. Twinkle uses color to determine areas and special elements, then determines collisions with these colors and behaves appropriately. Moving the light around will cause your sprite to fly the direction you are moving the light, but if you lower her onto a black area, she will land on it and stand there or, if you continue to move the spotlight across the black surface, she will walk across the surface, attempting to remain in the center of the beam. If she encounters a "wall" of black, she will be stopped, however. If you then continue to move the light, she will be pushed to the edge and will "pop", much like Mario would on certain levels where you are forced to continue moving, but end up in a situation where you can't do so. Red items represent fire, while blue represents water. Forcing your sprite over either of these causes her to either catch on fire or get soaking wet. Interestingly, however, once done, you can reverse the effect with the opposite, either putting out the fire by moving her over the water or drying her off by moving her to the fire.

In the demonstration I tried, the play field was a whiteboard, with black rectangular magnets that served as walls and platforms, red magnets shaped like flames and blue magnets shaped like water drops. Additionally, areas colored in with dry erase markers also served as boundaries, fire or water, based on their colors. If you don't like sprites or fairies, however, no matter... this is really just a proof of concept. This is merely defining a manner of playing. What the visuals are, how the gameplay works and what the different colors indicate can change wildly with the game design.

Another exhibit, Versatile Training Field (or VFT) is touted as a "Wellness Entertainment System Using Trampoline Interface" and is intended to promote physical activity during gameplay. The VFT features a small trampoline which has a sensor beneath it that determines how the player is moving and where they are stepping. The system then translates these actions into avatar actions in the virtual world, allowing the player to effectively exercise in a virtual space. Visual representation of the space is accomplished by short throw projectors on two large area displays - one in front of the player and one beneath, to give a sense of immersion in the virtual environment.

It was fascinating to see and try out these interesting gaming concepts, but for now, they are just concepts. Still, you never know how quickly you might see LED motion panels for home consoles or a handheld self-contained projector based videogame, a la Twinkle. Time will tell and, as ever, today's kids get all the cool toys...

-Geck0, GameVortex Communications
AKA Robert Perkins

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Generic I'm at SIGGRAPH... Wish You Were Here Generic SIGGRAPH: Inspired by the Smallest Things...

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