Hyndman, A. (2008, August 20). YouTube - Nortel to Develop Virtual Collaboration Tool called web.alive. YouTube - Broadcast Yourself. Retrieved October 29, 2010, from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qiYi3iEBJNM
Arn Hyndman is the chief architect for another (relatively) new technology called “web.alive.” This product, created by Nortel, looks like it could start in the lead (prior to RLE) as the business collaboration tool of choice because of its ability to let users “see where people are looking,” “make eye contact,” and “gain a sense of presence.” This ability to immerse people in their business environment looks promising. But nevertheless, the RLE has the potential to take what they are doing and do it better. Web.alive uses digital avatars that are controlled by looking at a screen (enforcing the realization that what they are doing is not fake) and interacting through a keyboard and mouse. The RLE uses real people, displays images directly on the retina (via something like the EyeTap), outputs sound via quality surround sound headphones, and if users need to visit locations remotely, they can even do control their “virtual identity” at that distant location via EEG controls. RLE's technology makes the users truly “gain a sense of presence” and feel like they are really there – and its ability to do so will be miles ahead of web.alive.
Biomedical Engineering Laboratory, Keio University. (2007, October 12). YouTube - Brain-computer interface for controlling Second Life avatars. YouTube - Broadcast Yourself.. Retrieved October 28, 2010, from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KhCBZcq58c0
This short demonstration displayed an example of how a device called a “brain computer interface” can read a user's brain patterns via an external “electroencephalogram.” Although it did not specifically detail how this process works, it did show what looks to be a credible example of the technology in action. Further research could determine how exactly such devices function. Meanwhile, this video proves that if a device like this can be used to control characters on screen in the Second Life world, then it seems feasible that such a device could be used to control users in an environment built on RLE technology. Furthermore, this example gives way to pondering how the RLE technology could be combined with an existing game: Since electroencephalogram based controls are already in place, RLE could combine the EEG with a modified EyeTap that gets a video feed from the computer and a stereo headset to create instant immersion. Additionally, LindenLabs could integrate the real world into their Second Life environments by way of the physical RLE network. This whole thought process began by seeing the amazing things possible with a simple video of a game and an EEG control device.
Bonsor, K. (n.d.). HowStuffWorks "How Augmented Reality Will Work". HowStuffWorks - Learn How Everything Works!. Retrieved October 29, 2010, from http://www.howstuffworks.com/augmented-reality.htm
This article from HowStuffWorks.com gives lots of details about precisely how Augmented Reality works. It details how still images and live video capture of real life scenes can be “augmented” (hence the name) with advanced image processing, manipulation, and rendering, techniques in order to inject virtual objects into the real world. This article will be especially useful in later iterations of the RLE. One of the quotes in the article described how augmented reality seeks to “blur the line between what's real and what's computer-generated by enhancing what we see, hear, feel and smell.” This is precisely what I have envisioned as my own goals for the RLE project. Altering our visual and audible perceptions of reality is relatively easy in the foreseeable future. However, the technology that will one day enable a later version of the RLE to interact with our olfactory glands is anything but close. The closest we've come to “smell-o-vision” are the “rides” at various theme parks (e.g., Universal Studios & Disney World) that spray previously concocted smells specific to one event and one event only. Instantly “re-enacting” a smell of whatever is being displayed on screen (i.e., a working “smell-o-vision”) is light years away.
Mostow, J. (Director). (2009). Surrogates [Motion picture]. USA: Touchstone Home Entertainment.
I viewed this film on October 20, 2010 on Netflix Instant Queue due to a suggestion from a fellow classmate. As a work of fiction, its credibility is not applicable. The story behind this film seems plausible. Surrogates is a movie that presents one possibility of what the RLE technology could become in the future. Ideally, the RLE technology would be able to draw many positive ideas from the film and none of the drawbacks associated with the fictional problems presented solely for the purpose of a good storyline. In the film, humans connected with their outside world through “surrogate robots” that were able to fully interact with the world in a way that was identical to how real humans were able to do so. This information was transmitted directly from human to robot via a headset worn that clearly showed an optical connection (in many scenes of the movie) and presumably contained some kind of connection to the other senses as well.
Yee, N. (2009, March 9). the DAEDALUS PROJECT: MMORPG Research, Cyberculture, MMORPG Psychology. Nick Yee's HomePage. Retrieved October 29, 2010, from http://www.nickyee.com/daedalus/
Nick Yee developed The Daedalus Project – a “long-running survey study of MMO players” that was put into hibernation in approximately March of 2009 after “10 years of doing surveys of online gamers.” There is an incredibly vast amount of information contained herein that should help me understand exactly what draws in players in to the MMO genre. And with that information I can focus on key player favorites – including the “eye candy” of photo realism that should be available in the RLE. And this should set apart any game based on RLE technology such that it can conquer its competitors.
Appendix B: Web Resources
The following is a list of web site resources that were not cited (and thus are not found in the bibliography), but we’re referenced in the innovation brief.
 ^ http://us.playstation.com/games-and-media/games/eyepet-ps3.html
 ^ http://us.playstation.com/games-and-media/games/invizimals-psp.html
 ^ http://www.vuzix.com/consumer/products_wrap920ar.html
Appendix C: Socio-Cultural Ideals
Even when this technology reaches fruition and indeed blurs the lines of reality, the question still remains: So what? What makes this technology desirable, and what makes it appeal to the consumer audience at large? The socio-cultural ideals that make this technology desirable today are the same as those which make video games and new technology appealing: escapism, exploration, competition, chance, simulation, social networking, and mental stimulation. Rudi Volti said in his 2006 book, Society & Technological Change, “electronic [entertainment] has advanced in conjunction with other historical changes, making it very difficult to come to an exact reckoning of [its] unique contributions to culture and society” (pg. 217). However, a thorough pondering of this new technology can at least scratch the surface in attempting to answer the next few key questions. Culturally then, several things needed to occur in order for this to come about. At the most basic level, people had to be bored with their current activities before they would seek out new things to do that were, perhaps, unavailable in their real lives. Additionally, since most online games incorporate some form of social interaction, perhaps some players were initially either too lonely had too low of self-esteem and so choose to interact in a virtual environment versus that of the real world. And later, when online social interactions become more popular, it become more widely accepted to visit distant friends online as an alternative to visiting them at local restaurant or other social gathering spot. Escapism and exploration, however, cross over from books. That is, books were around long before online games, and many readers read as a means of escaping their reality to go to a more interesting place and explore the “new” world contained in the author’s book. Ergo, the ideals that make video games popular entertainment are more or less the same ideals that make the RLE popular.
Appendix D: Historical Roots and Future Possibilities
As aforementioned, the “Real-Life Engine ©,” or RLE for short, grew as an extension to online games that can take them to an entirely new level of depth, realism, and control. RLE’s unprecedented features were indirectly first imagined at the very beginnings of virtual reality, and before even that was the concept of video games themselves. Ahead of video games was the creation of the very computers that would first be used for business but would one day execute the programming code of the video games—but that is only a broad and vague history of the technology. The specific technologies that will one day make a final iteration of the RLE possible are much less ambiguous: video cameras, microphones, satellite navigation, RFID technology, voice recognition software, large-scale database tools, client-side and server-side networking technology, holographic projection devices (in a future version once this technology is available), and even the human ingenuity required to conglomerate all of this technology together into a useful product. Narrowing down further, however, my Senior Innovation Project will encompass only the video and audio feeds for the RLE in order to focus on a manageable division of the project that can be completed prior to graduation.
This technology promises a new and uncharted frontier that offers untold numbers of possibilities that could change our ideas of video gaming as we know it. But even most “brand new” technology is often just an “update” to prior technology. On that note, the RLE came to where it is today by way of each generation of video gaming’s graphical and controller improvement over its predecessor. The original 8-bit NES improved upon Atari’s graphics, and their controller was eventually improved upon with the “Power Glove” and the “NES Zapper” (a “Light Gun” controller) accessory. Graphics continued to improve with each new generation of consoles released, but no significant improvements were made to controls until the seventh generation of video game consoles (the Xbox 360, PS3, and Wii) finally released controllers that responded to motion-based control.
One of the post-graduation steps for the project will be to integrate many more sensory I/O (input/output) devices and accessories. This is projected to include (and may change by completion of the final version): Motion technology; devices like the “EyeTap,” an ultra-compact device that enables “mediated reality” (ePI Lab, 2004) to be streamed directly into a user's vision or the Vuzix Wrap 920AR, a similar eyewear device made for augmented reality that boasts “6-degrees of freedom head tracking” (Vuzix, 2010); physics simulations technology like “Lagoa” (Biggs, 2010) for said mediation; the other devices aforementioned in this Innovation Brief; and whatever else our users and designers help us dream up to further immerse our users and create that much better of an experience. Each new iteration of the system will have a clearly defined set of new features and attempts will be made to avoid feature creep for each new release. However, the RLE is a constantly evolving system that will improve every time new technology is released. As new breakthroughs in gaming, communications, and other relevant technology are made, these can be assimilated to create and even more powerful RLE.
Finally, fluid interaction between players and fictional characters within a fictional universe should be nearly as easy and intuitive as interacting with someone in reality. This same level of fluid interaction should be possible between multiple human players that are simultaneously interacting within a fictional universe such as an MMORPG, FPS, etc.
Appendix E: Detrimental Effects?
Very few possibilities exist as detrimental effects of this new technology. From a social standpoint, an increased ability to virtually interact with users from the real world might reduce the frequency of traditional face-to-face social interaction within a small minority of the gaming population. However, a reduction in live contact akin to the fictional story Surrogates seems not only wholly impossible, but also highly unlikely at this stage of the technology. (In that scenario, nearly everyone except a small sect of “dreds” (naturalists) interacted with each other through advanced surrogates robots (Mostow, 2009).) This will most certainly not be an issue. Surely the release of this product would not suddenly deter humanity from going outside and experiencing reality. In fact, certain aspects of it (in the post-graduation versions of the project that include augmented reality) can potentially create exactly the opposite by encouraging away-from-the-computer interaction with the characters and worlds presented in the reality-based settings.
However, some would say that “there is such a thing as too much information” (Bonsor, 2010). If this technology becomes an addiction, then an “over-reliance” on it could cause people to “miss out on what's right in front of them” (Bonsor, 2010). And without embedded security features, RLE technology could allow us to instantly obtain information on people – even strangers – from their social network profiles in much the same way as an unsecured Facebook account (Bonsor, 2010). Thankfully, the RLE will include measures to prevent these shocking revelations and potential ID theft by enabling or disabling various levels of transmittal of their personal information to other RLE users.
Appendix F: Changes
The RLE seems formulated then to offer nothing but beneficial improvements to multiple aspects of society. How then is it predicted to change society? It shall create a richer gaming experience that enables previously impossible interactions with first the virtual world and later (post-graduation) with the real world and all that are in it. As a result, it will also increase revenue by drawing in even more non-traditional customers that previously were not included in the global gaming audience, just like how the Wii brought gaming to senior citizens and the new Wii U that was just debuted at E3 this week (Nintendo, 2011) will likely create another new subset of the gaming audience.
This new technology will allow unrivaled levels of communication that are only dreamed about by current engineers. Furthermore, it will expand the possible breadth of storylines and realism to a level that is as of yet unmatched by anything that currently exists. The possibilities are nearly limitless. Bonsor described several amazing possibilities for AR in general which could all be made possible through the RLE technology:
[You could] learn things about the city you've lived in for years just by [looking] at a nearby park or building, [saving money on construction materials by] using virtual markers to designate where a beam should go or which structural support to inspect, Paleontologists working in shifts to assemble a dinosaur skeleton could leave virtual 'notes' to team members on the bones themselves, artists could produce virtual graffiti [instead of marking up private property], and doctors could overlay a digital image of a patient's X-rays onto a mannequin for added realism (Bonsor, 2010).
Appendix G: Case Study
Once developers understand the power of the RLE is projected to offer they will be able to truly appreciate what it can do. An in-depth study of related technology currently available and in production has assisted me in finding all the pieces needed to turn this dream in to a reality. In addition to the non-fictional sources, I also considered the personal experiences with the entourage of fiction my team and I have viewed, heard, seen, and read throughout the years as a means of inspiration.
Second Life, a fully realized 3D virtual social networking and gaming platform, created by Linden Labs, seeks to achieve many of the same goals as the RLE system. It advertises itself as the "Internet's largest user-created 3d virtual world community,” and as a way to “Free your mind” (Linden Labs, 2010). And during part of the “What is Second Life” description and advertising sequence, the following possibilities are mentioned:
“Enter a world with infinite possibilities and live a life without boundaries, guided only by your imagination. Do what you love, with the people you love, from anywhere in the world. Explore destinations inspired by real cities. Immerse yourself in any environment you can imagine: watch the sunset from a mountaintop, dance the night away in a club or plumb the depths of the ocean on a scuba trip” (Linden Labs, 2010).
The RLE has the potential to do these same things with greater immersion and even be implemented into Second Life as a way to further immerse the player. The advantage that the RLE will have (post-graduation) is that the RLE allows real time exploration of the present day real world in select cities based on the storyline chosen for each video game in which the technology is used. When multiple developers' interests and video game locations area combined in a global RLE network, this network can potentially amount to world-wide virtualization.
The post-graduation RLE can also make possible ideas such as these that were envisioned on the How Stuff Works article: “Consider a scavenger-hunt game that uses virtual objects. You could use your phone to ‘place’ tokens around town, and participants would then use their [augmented-reality devices] to find these invisible objects” (Bonsor, 2010). There’s even a “human Pac-Man” game that “allows users to chase after each other in real life while wearing goggles that make them look like characters in Pac-Man” (Bonsor, 2010). Games like these can be enhanced (for those that already exist) and even initially made possible (for those that do not yet exist) by the technology projected to be available in the RLE.
Even of the most recent games, Invizimals, could be improved with the post-graduation RLE. Invizimals, so named as a portmanteau of “Invisible” and “Animals,” had this byline from Sony’s website: “Hunt and collect monsters in the REAL WORLD with your PSP® system and new Camera for the PSP® system” (SCEA, 2010). This game augments reality by “hiding,” virtual monsters within physical locations via the use of a camera. Once these monsters are “found” they can be captured and used for a variety of different features within the game. However, in order to play the game, the user still has to use a hand-held video game console. In the immortal words of the unnamed child at the diner in Back to the Future II, “You mean you have to use your hands? That’s like a baby’s toy!” (Zemeckis, 1989).
Nick Yee’s The Daedalus Project surveyed 3200 respondents and found that 80% of people “enjoy exploring the world [in MMORPGs] just for the sake of exploring it,” 77% enjoyed finding little known locations, and 80% enjoyed “exploring every map or zone in the world” (Yee, 2005). One player commented that “The fact that I was able to immerse myself in the game and relate to other people or just listen in to the 'chatter' was appealing” (Yee, 2005). Still other players enjoy the immersion aspect and the joy of “becoming part of a story that is being told” (Yee, 2005).
On all accounts, the RLE has more to offer: There may be a way to completely replace reality, garnering the best of both the virtual and the real worlds. An RLE-based game could have a physical location in real life (i.e., a restaurant) that is completely replaced by an entirely different virtual location. Thus, a player could walk into what is otherwise a McDonald's and then get a message that pops up to connect to a virtual storefront of a different nature. Radar and RFIDs could be used to track a physical player's location within the restaurant, or it could just be based on loss and reception of GPS data: when you loose the signal (if you physically play the game; or if your virtual character enters the building and “looses” the signal), it could decipher which building you entered. The game could either automatically connect your character to the server for the new location (in the event of only a single virtual place at that physical location), or it could present a series of doors (for example) through which you could choose to traverse to whatever destination game/server/realm/etc you desired.
Options like these could be great for serious tabletop gamers (imagine playing Dungeons and Dragons in a real-world setting), casual visitors, and everyone in between. Second Life “only” has 510,272 acres (2065 km2) of land to explore (Shepherd, 2010), while the real world has exponentially more ground to cover. The effort of Linden Labs and the Second Life community's members is no small feat. The content contained therein is nothing short of amazing. But it is still pails in comparison to the possibilities of the entire planet Earth. Thus, in order to take that last final step toward total immersion in the forefront of video gaming, developers should employ a combination of embedding the RLE technology into existing games and also building new games that center around the RLE.
Appendix H: Additional Bibliography Entries
Nintendo Network. (2011, June 7). Nintendo network @ E3 2011 - introducing wii u. Nintendo network @ E3 2011. Retrieved June 12, 2011, from http://e3.nintendo.com/hw/# /introduction
Vuzix.com. (n.d.). Vuzix iWear VR920 - The new virtual reality for gamers. Vuzix - view the future today. Retrieved June 12, 2011, from http://www.vuzix.com/consumer/products_vr920.html