back in 2 weeks, ta
Toying around Grand Theft Auto IV lately, I’ve been interested in how today’s ubiquitous computing can help to create original game play features in a console game. There are three interesting elements about this topics: the in-game GPS, the use of the cell-phone in the game and the role of tangible interactions.
The GPS in the game is an important feature as it guides you to specific place where you have to do specific things. But you often end up relying more on it to drive than looking the street view since the action takes place in a very dark areas (especially if like me you have a tendency to bump-and-destroy lots of street lamps). So far, I have only used cars with graphical indication but I’ve heard there are some luxury cars which talks the player through the streets. Unlike lots of real situation the markers and waypoints that appear on the tiny maps are really accurate and often well updated. Given the complexity of Liberty City, driving is much simpler than in past GTA games.
So, to some extent, geolocation in GTA is used as an enabling feature to help people getting around and making sense of that complex environment. You can avoid to use it but then the gameplay becomes weird since the world is very big and you might miss the place where the action is. That said, I haven’t seen any glitch or GPS trouble yet; I would be intrigued if the game designers used GPS miscalculation as a challenge.
In this case, the cell-phone is both a trigger for actions (like the GPS) but also an intriguing social feature that is less utilitarian. See for example what some game critics think about it:
“You’ll keep in touch with your dates, friends, and some of your enemies using another of GTAIV’s great new features: a cell phone,” he says. “There’s no unwieldy conversation system to deal with; you simply choose which friend you want to call, what you want to talk about (it could be work, a fun activity, or asking for a favor) and then, assuming that he or she answers the phone, the conversation plays out.”
This results in appreciable gameplay benefits. “The rewards that you get when another character likes you enough vary depending on who it is,” Calvert explains. “Without wishing to give away specifics, befriending a lawyer can prove useful if you’re having trouble with the cops, for example, and having a nurse on your friends list can literally be a lifesaver.”
“The mobile phone is central to this, allowing you to make phone calls and text-message people one-handed while you walk or drive; networking, socialising, organising, and listening to that ringtone you downloaded for America’s Next Top Hooker,” Bramwell explains. “When you fail a mission, you can answer a text to teleport yourself back to wherever you spawn after the cut-scene briefing finishes.”“
Finally, the pace of cell-phone use is sometimes so important that it nicely reflects the current discussion about how mobile devices help hyper-coordination and attest of the intensification of relationships between people (mmh game characters) close to what Antony Townsend describes in his paper Life in the Real-time City: Mobile Telephones and Urban Metabolism . In the real-world hypercoordination is now a given, in GTA IV it’s clearly a game feature.
While the GPS and cell phones are in-game elements, the last ubicomp feature in GTA IV is certainly the interaction mode using the discontinued sixaxis: the ability to sense both rotational orientation and translational acceleration along all three dimensional axes, providing six degrees of freedom. I personally found it problematic and not accurate, way too sensitive by my standards. And it seems that I am not alone having that feeling, using a tangible interface to control an helicopter may sound cool at first glance but it’s awfully bad in GTA IV.
Here’s their description:
“SenseSurface can be used with most laptops with a USB input. The sensing knobs have a custom designed movement sensor to determine position within a range of 180 degrees with a 10 bit digital output, linearity typically 1%. The magnetic knobs can be removed and repositioned immediately by picking them up and moving to a different part of screen. A unique sensing x/y matrix is attached to the rear of the laptop screen to detect the control’s position. The distance of the sensor from the screen can also be detected. The rotary controls are low friction and there are no screen finger prints as with normal touch surfaces. Linear sliders and switches can also be used on the lcd surface. For audio use, a logarithmic response can be programmed. The system is multitouch and scaleable , the number of controls on the screen is limited by the size of the screen. The screen can be at any angle.“
Why do I blog this? I find intriguing the notion of gestural interface through knobs as a an add-on to a normal input/output device.
Starting with a discussion of Disney’s Tomorrowland, Joel Garreau has a good piece in the Washington Post concerning how americans feel very little connection to the future anymore. Unlike the past, especially in the 50s (till the 80s), he describes how people are “future overwhelmed” using the term employed by Danny Hillis.
According to Garreau, Disney’s Tomorrowland seems to be a reassuring future aspiration as its “focus is on what doesn’t change”: ranging from intact nuclear family to “vigorous grandparents” and “the sound of crickets”. Garreau examines why this is not the future we have in the research pipeline and what the disconnection between this representation of the future and current research says about us. Some excerpts:
“The ’60s and ’70s were not good to the original Disney vision of the future. The Vietnam War, the assassinations, the revolt against anything square, the idea that big corporate computers only served to mangle individuality and imagination, the civil rights movement, the environmental movement, the women’s movement — all challenged the notion that every day, in every way, things were getting better and better.
Even more profoundly, the 2,000-year-old idea of the inevitability of “progress” was taking holes beneath the waterline. As Robert Nisbet notes in “History of the Idea of Progress,” across every ideology, people stopped believing one or more of the major premises that were its underpinnings — that reason alone, and the scientific method, was inherently worthy of faith; that economic and technological flowering was unquestionably worthwhile; that Western civilization was noble and even superior to its alternatives. The theme of the Jimmy Carter years was “malaise.”
The damage to the idea of a benevolent future, however, had been done. The punk rock Sex Pistols, in their anthem “God Save the Queen,” sang: “No future for you no future for me/No future no future for you.”
Sometimes it takes guts, trying to dazzle people with the current future.
“It’s much harder to astound people today, ” says Marty Sklar, the former principal creative executive of Walt Disney Imagineering, who in 2001 was named a “Disney Legend” for his work going all the way back to Walt’s era in the ’50s. “They see the speed of change all around them.”“
And the best part is certainly these quotes from Danny Hillis:
““Americans feel very little connection to the future anymore,” says Danny Hillis. (…) “It was very surprising to me, getting to the future, that nobody was all that interested. Things just started to happen so fast, we were overwhelmed. (…) “We are future overwhelmed. I don’t think people try to imagine the year 2050 the way we imagined 2001 in 1960. Because they can’t imagine it. Because technology is happening so fast, we can’t extrapolate. And if they do, it’s not a very positive thing to imagine. It’s about a lot of the unwanted side effects catching up to us — like global ecological disaster. The future views are kind of negative. “What I think it says is that we are nostalgic for a time when we believed in the future. People miss the future. There’s a yearning for it. Disney does know what people want. People want to feel some connectedness to the future. The way Disney delivers that is to reach back in time a little bit to the past when they did feel connected. “It’s a bit of a cop-out. There was a time when the future was streamlined jet cars. Rather than create a new sense of the future, they say, ‘Ah, remember when we believed that the future was streamlined jet cars?’ It’s a feeling of connection to the future, rather than connection to the future.“
Why do I blog this? still gathering stuff about failed and deflated futures for my project.
(Nintendo Chiritorie, a remote controlled vacuum cleaner designed by Nintendo back in 1979)
The point which interested me here is the role design plays in robotics:
“What type of design work is being done with robots now?
Perhaps the most obvious is the work in industrial design in creating the visual form of the robot. The industrial design of a robot is an example of styling visual form with significant impact on interaction. In fact, its difficult to separate industrial design from interaction design in robots. Because of the newness of robotics and the public’s unfamiliarity with robots, the visual form of the robot often takes a precedence in shaping our expectations of the robot and how we interact with the product.
In addition to designing the visual form of the robot there is a lot of interface design involved with robots: interfaces for tele-operation as well as interfaces for direct interaction. These interfaces might be screen based, physical, voice, or some combination of the three. Because we have yet to arrive at any standards for, or even common experiences of, interacting with a robot“
Why do I blog this? I am personally less interested in “robots” than in communicating or networked objects. And the role of design in the process of creating these new devices is relevant as it can uncover lots of new issues.
Seen yesterday in France, an Orange shop with an “identity studio”. The sort of place where you can get a picture of you and translate it into a digital identity with the consentment of the french government (as attested by the little sticker on the upper left-hand corner).
A recent study conducted by Deloitte on more than 100 businesses with online communities reported by Josh Catone deals why these platforms often fail or don’t meet the expectations:
- “Businesses are being enticed by fancy technology. Mesmerized by bells and whistles, many business are foolishly blowing their entire budgets on technology
- Lack of proper management. The Deloitte study found that 30% of online communities have just part-time employees in charge, and most have just a single PR person running the show. (…) Managed communities are a lot less likely to grow organically the way general mainstream social networks do, so you need someone who knows how to build one in charge.
- The wrong measurement metrics. Moran noticed that most businesses are measuring the success of their communities in the wrong way. Though their stated goals are usually to create viral, word-of-mouth marketing and increase brand loyalty, the metric they use to gauge success is unique visitors. If all you’re after is growing visits to the site, then you’re missing the point. You’re not trying to compete with mainstream social networks, so you don’t need to chase eyeballs. Rather you need to build interaction and create a level of comfort”
Why do I blog this? not really a surprise IMO but since I am documenting failures for a project, I add this to my list of common problems. There would also be a lot to draw about the over-expectations that concerns 3D.
Following odd performances lately and being interested by issues related to mobility and new spatial practices, I’ve noted these intriguing anecdotes in Switzerland.
First, the Bigger pineapple is a mobile collective who aims at “interrogating new means of transport” (apart from doing this). Their first achievement was to walk from Lausanne to Geneva (around 60 kilometers). Mostly young students, they started at 7:15 in the morning and arrived at 00:40. The purpose was to show the “real distance” between these two cities which seems close at first glance (they are if you take the train it’s only 30′). Other swiss peeps also started a similar trip by travelling from Neuchatel to Marseille (600km) using scooters (trottinettes)
The “Bigger Pineapple” are also interested in other transportation systems such as mobile bus stops, in this project. The issue they’re interested in is the one of personal mobility: are public transport adapted to our needs? what about creating a personal bus stop? They then built fake bus stop signs that they held in front of buses in Geneva to see if the bus would stop. As reported in the press only one agreed. Their next project want to deal with air flights.
It reminds me another interesting initiative, a bit outdated. Back in 2004, while we were starting the CatchBob location-based gamed project, Fabien and I were contacted by a guy who organize a bike trip in Lausanne called “Balade des chiens écrasés” (crused dogs trip). “Chiens écrasés” refers to newspaper sections where events such as murders or weird urban anecdotes happened. The point of this sort of trip is to revisit these places by biking around the city… with the idea of re-discover the city with a different viewpoint.
Why do I blog this? all these anecdotes IMO form a coherent set of weak signals from the near future which shows edge-but-meaningful urban practices. They question and raise important concerns, especially about mobility, culture and our relationship to space.
Recent advancements in the field of urban computing and visualization of electronic traces left by people in the physical space are more and more raising privacy issues. After a time where they’ve been carried out by public bodies, artists and research labs, some private initiatives and private research projects are now taking the lead, which raise the concerns even more than in the recent past.
The Guardian tackles that issue in an article about Bluetooth watching yesterday. The Cityware project in Bath is indeed looking at how people move around in cities by using scanning devices in certain locations unknown to the public. Bluetooth signals coming from devices such as mobile phones, laptops and digital cameras are captured and help to pinpoint people’s whereabouts in a now classic way. The main problem of course is that urban dwellers are then tracked without their consent, which leads privacy activists to qualify this kind of project as “yet another example of moronic use of technology”.
(Space syntax analysis from the Cityware project showing people using mobile phones (red) and cameras (blue) in an urban location (Bath Abbey))
So what are the elements at stake? Some excerpts from the article:
“ The Bath University researchers behind the project claim their scanners do not have access to the identity of the people tracked. Eamonn O’Neill, Cityware’s director, said: “The objective is not to track individuals, whether by Bluetooth or any other means. We are interested in the aggregate behaviour of city dwellers as a whole. The notion that any agency would seriously consider Bluetooth scanning as a surveillance technique is ludicrous.” But privacy experts disagree, pointing out that Bluetooth signals are assigned code names that can, to varying degrees, indicate a person’s identity.
Many people use pseudonyms, nicknames, initials, or abbreviations to identify their Bluetooth signals. Cityware’s scanners are also picking up signals that are listed using people’s full name, email address and telephone numbers.“
Some claims there are solutions to these problems but harmful scenarios can be considered:
“Vassilis Kostakos, a former member of Cityware who now does Bluetooth experiments on buses in Portugal for the University of Madeira, accepted such tracking was a problem. “We are actually trying to fix this,” Kostakos said. “If a person’s phone is talking to a scanner, then they should be told about it. Any technology can have good and bad consequences. In many ways, I think the role of a scientist is to point out both. I agree this is complex and I agree there are harmful scenarios.”
Kostakos said he could foresee complex ways in which criminals could exploit the technology, adding: “I recently tried to look at people’s travel patterns across the world, and we [saw] how a unique device which showed up in San Francisco turned up in Caracas and then Paris.”“
Why do I blog this? the article covers the ambivalence of that topic and how each stakeholders (researchers on one side and privacy activists on the other) have their own concerns and claims. Following the advancement of the field or a certain amount of time, I do agree we have no answers so far. Since lots of the studies so far have focused on “counting” people and measuring flows, it’s interesting to note that it’s not the first time urban planners are looking at intimate part of city dwellers’s lives. For example, the use of trash content analysis is an important method for that matter, which seems to raise less concerns, although it can also be invasive (but less relational since it’s easier to connect a Bluetooth ID to an email than linking a trashed Big Kahuna Burger to your social security #).
A bit more surprising is the article conclusion with this weird assertion: “some scientists using the technology describe a future scenario in which homes and cars adapt services to suit their owners, automatically dimming lights, preparing food and selecting preferred television channels“. It’s always weird to me to see this kind of engineer nonsense popping up again and again over time. Nonetheless I find it interesting as this sort of automation is a recurring dream that shows the perpetuation of bad ideas in design over time. It’s been few months that we’re discussing these issues with Fabien or Julian. Concerning the use of electronic traces, I am less interested in how it can help automating processes and depressing stuff like the one described above.
Pen annotations on a concrete wall… or when information put by builders in context stay in place. Beyond the aesthetic rendering through the glass, that picture nicely depicts the presence of certain indications about the building process which remains over time.