Finding of the week #270

The Fascination of Being Evil

During my ongoing literature review I often discover interesting facts about things I’ve never thought about. Sometimes I can connect these facts with my own observations: The result is mostly a completely new idea why things are as they are. Maybe these ideas are new to you, too. Therefore I’ll share my new science based knowledge with you!

This week: This time, I think about the fascination of being evil and acting against the own principles inside of virtual worlds.

Some games allow for an evil or dark gameplay. This is achieved by either presenting an evil subject, allowing for decision-making and/or providing players with a complete freedom to do what they desire. The first approach puts players into the role of a supervillain trying to turn the world into a darker place, a member of a gang or mafia family, or simply making illegal activities to an integral part of the gameplay. For instance, the games of the Grand Theft Auto series allow players to steal vehicles or attack other non-player characters (NPCs) for no good reason.

The second approach is implemented by providing the option to choose between different ways of reacting to a request from NPCs. Instead of automatically helping them, players then can also decide to ignore the request or even send the NPCs into a trap to ultimately loot their remains. Frequently, this method is combined with a narrative that changes based on a player’s decisions. For instance, in the Mass Effect games, a player can decide to let an NPC die instead of helping him. This then results in the outcome that the player will not have a second encounter with this NPC later on. Also, it changes the entire story and leads to a different ending. Moreover, this method lets a player experience ethical questions and challenges her morale-decision making ability.

Finally, open world games can be used to provide players with a complete freedom. This, however, also requires the implementation of specific player abilities allowing for the execution of evil activities inside of the virtual worlds. For instance, Skyrim allows players to break into the houses of NPCs to steal their belongings or to attack other NPCs and to play the game as an outlaw.

Personally, I find it very interesting to try out things that are completely against my own principles. Normally, like in the real world, I like to interact with the virtual worlds in a good way and try to help all the NPCs I encounter. However, from time to time, it is refreshing to simply experiment with actions and reactions that would occur when I channel my darker-inner-self. In the end, it is fascinating to be evil from time to time.

Finding of the week #269

Acquiring Skills of Writing

During my ongoing literature review I often discover interesting facts about things I’ve never thought about. Sometimes I can connect these facts with my own observations: The result is mostly a completely new idea why things are as they are. Maybe these ideas are new to you, too. Therefore I’ll share my new science based knowledge with you!

This week: This time, I think about my personal progress in practicing paper writing and discuss my latest submissions. Practicing scientific writing is like acquiring a new skill, it requires a lot of practice to really master it.

Last year, I submitted one of my key papers describing the underlying theory of my PhD thesis to a journal. Half a year of anxiety and impatience later, I received the decision from the journal: they rejected my paper. Unfortunately, the three reviewers were not as thorough as I expected after such a long waiting period. Only one of them provided an in-depth review that mainly focussed on a few things that were not even close to the central part of the paper. This, however, is not an uncommon thing, but seems to be a thing that happens on a frequent basis …

Now, about three months after the rejection of my paper, I submitted it again to a very promising and interesting conference last Thursday. I have to admit that the paper has definitely improved over the course of the last three months and follows a much cleaner structure by now. However, it did not improve due to the reviews from the initial journal submission (thanks again reviewers …), but from my personal skill training in writing papers. Over the course of the last 9 months, I learned a few more lessons that helped me improving my key paper.

In the end, learning to write (good) papers is like acquiring a new skill. It requires a lot of deliberate practice to really get a feeling for the writing process and to learn to keep sentences as simple as possible. Hopefully, I fulfilled all of these requirements in this paper submission as I really like to see my theory getting published. It would not only provide me with positive feedback about my research, but also allow me to finally start focussing on the thesis writing process. So keep your fingers crossed!

In addition to the great overhaul of my key paper, I also managed to write two additional papers and submit them to the same conference. All of the them focus on my main research goal: demonstrating how knowledge can be learned and trained using game mechanics. One paper presents the underlying concept, the next one focusses on the predictability of my theory, and the last one describes an actual application of my theory to design effective learning environments.

Now, the new waiting period begins. Hopefully, my key paper gets accepted and if at least one of the additional papers gets accepted, too, I will be a super happy scientist. It would prove that my research is valuable and accepted by the community.

In the meantime, I will continue to practice my writing skills as there is still one paper that needs some minor changes, a new experiment is starting next week, and the next big deadline is slowly appearing at the horizon. Let’s get back to work …

Finding of the week #268

Timelapsed Gameplay

During my ongoing literature review I often discover interesting facts about things I’ve never thought about. Sometimes I can connect these facts with my own observations: The result is mostly a completely new idea why things are as they are. Maybe these ideas are new to you, too. Therefore I’ll share my new science based knowledge with you!

This week: This time, I think about how Let’s Plays are an interesting way to enjoy a complex game’s gameplay when not enough time is available to play the game oneself.

So far, I mostly looked at Let’s Play videos (LPs) from the point of view of a content creator and viewers who enjoy playing the game themselves. This time, I like to introduce another aspect of watching LPs: the chance of experiencing the game in a way that is not possible for the viewer.

Open world (building) games allow for a very creative gameplay as players can create impressive virtual environments from scratch, such as vivid towns, massive buildings and other complex structures. While the underlying principles are quite simple, completing such an advanced project often requires a huge amount of time. The games require players to gather and refine materials needed for the construction. Depending on the abundance and transmutation costs, this can take many hours of gameplay to store enough resources.

The creative part of constructing the project also requires time. On the one hand, games can challenge a player to add piece by piece to a building which can result in a huge amount of gametime for large projects. On the other hand, open world games avoid restricting the player hence a player has the complete freedom while building. As a result of this, a user might realize that a particular part of a projects needs to be restructured thus requiring additional time to finish a project.

For instance, building a rail system allowing for a quick travel in Minecraft is a simple task. A player merely has to place rails adjacent to each other to connect them and construct a rail line. However, crafting a rail requires a specific amount of wood and iron which needs to be gathered. In addition, the iron needs to be smelted before it can be used. Finally, player can express their creativity by building rail systems of various shapes thus they might be challenged to refine the layout multiple times until they are satisfied.

In sum, achieving something spectacular can require a lot of time and dedication. This time constraint, however, can make it very difficult for players who simply cannot afford putting so much effort into such a project. Thus, it can already be very rewarding and entertaining watching others implement their ideas and following their progress. When creating an LP episode, content creators can edit out the laborious gameplay of gathering resources or assembling structures out of small pieces. Instead, they simply show the progress of their builds over time.

Naturally, this is not the same as playing the game oneself. However, I personally like watching other players‘ ambitious projects becoming reality as it inspires me. Also, due to other tasks, I currently cannot immerse myself that much in a game, but I really like to see what is possible.

In the end, although LPs are not a substitute for the real gameplay, they can still provide viewers with experiences they hardly can make under normal circumstances.

Finding of the week #267

The Gamepad Skill

During my ongoing literature review I often discover interesting facts about things I’ve never thought about. Sometimes I can connect these facts with my own observations: The result is mostly a completely new idea why things are as they are. Maybe these ideas are new to you, too. Therefore I’ll share my new science based knowledge with you!

This week: This time, I think about my own difficulties when playing a console game as I am not used to play a game using gamepads. This observation provides another example for the requirement of well-trained human skills to successfully play a computer game.

Recently, we rediscovered the Playstation console in our meeting room and installed God of War on it. The game is an hack-and-slay action game and played from a 3rd-person perspective. God of War’s main challenge lies in the goal to defeat large groups of enemies or very powerful boss encounter by using the main characters abilities. These abilities mostly consist of combinable normal and powerful melee attacks and damage avoidance techniques such as dodging and blocking.

In this way, players are challenged to monitor an enemy’s behavior, to avoid taking damage and to defeat it as soon as possible. This, however, requires the player to quickly adjust to the situation and to move around to always face the enemies. As a result of this, a player’s hand-eye coordination is challenged to quickly react to the gameplay.

As the game is played on the Playstation, the only available input device is a Playstation controller. All navigation, interaction and view controls are mapped to the controller’s various buttons and thumbsticks. While performing actions using the controller’s buttons is not too much different to pressing keys on a keyboard, controlling my avatar’s orientation using a tiny thumbstick is very challenging. As a PC gamer, I am used to controll my perspective and to aim at targets with the mouse that allows for a very precise control in contrast to the thumbsticks.

As a result of this, although the gameplay itself is not very difficult, it seems to me very challenging as my avatar constantly faces into the wrong direction. It also shows how much playing a computer game requires constant practice to automatize and master the interaction methods.

Finding of the week #266

No Virtual Substitute for the Real Device

During my ongoing literature review I often discover interesting facts about things I’ve never thought about. Sometimes I can connect these facts with my own observations: The result is mostly a completely new idea why things are as they are. Maybe these ideas are new to you, too. Therefore I’ll share my new science based knowledge with you!

This week: This time, I think about some examples where a virtual simulation of a specific learning content cannot achieve a similar training effect as accurate and sensitive physical interactions are required.

Game-based and simulation-based training applications allow learners to learn and train new knowledge in an engaging environment. This virtual environment not only provides immediate feedback about the correctness of a user’s inputs, but it also visualizes the learning content in a way that is not possible in the real world. Also, by As a result, learners can develop an in-depth understanding of the underlying principles in a highly motivated way.

The training effect can even be increased when the training system implements immersive virtual reality (IVR) by rendering the gameplay to a Head-Mounted Display (HMD). An HMD allows users to visually immerse themselves in a virtual environment by blocking all visual information from the real world surrounding the user. In this way, a learner can experience the feeling of being directly inside of the virtual environment. This feeling of presence can increase the training effects as the knowledge then is presented in a more natural way to the learner.

Although training applications can simulate any knowledge and allow for a distant knowledge training, some learning contents still need the right hardware to provide haptic feedback for physical training. For instance, it is possible to present trainees large and complex machines in IVR to allow them to inspect their structure and learn about maintenance procedures even though they are just in a classroom. However, training the physical skills to actually disassemble and reassemble such a machine requires haptic feedback as learners need to know how to utilize the required tools correctly.

This problem also applies to other learning contents that require sensitive physical interactions. Recently, a friend and I were playing a mobile piano game requiring us to touch the touchscreen in the right moment and with the right amount of fingers to get the rhythm and keystrokes right. Thus, this game only allows for a rhythm training but not for an actual piano training.

We also tried a VR piano training game that was developed by a group of students who attended one of my seminars. While this VR game allows for a playful interaction with a virtual clavier, it still lacks haptic feedback as it is played using the HTC Vive controllers. However, the virtual environment has the potential to highlight the correct keys in order to guide the user and to explain the instrument. Hence, a player can only learn which of the keys has to be pressed in order to get a specific note but cannot practice sensitive physical interactions. Using a real clavier to interact with the training application would be the best solution, but then the virtual environment would be no longer needed.

As a result of this, training simulations allow for a good declarative knowledge training. However, when the learning content requires the physical interaction with a specific device, it becomes very complicated to achieve a good training environment due to the lack of a good haptic feedback that could create a substitute for the real device.

Finding of the week #265

Difficulties of playing mobile games

During my ongoing literature review I often discover interesting facts about things I’ve never thought about. Sometimes I can connect these facts with my own observations: The result is mostly a completely new idea why things are as they are. Maybe these ideas are new to you, too. Therefore I’ll share my new science based knowledge with you!

This week: This time, I think about my main issues when playing mobile games. These special games mostly implement the device’s touchscreen as input method which frequently results in falsely recognized inputs.

About a month ago, I finally started to play mobile games on a more frequent basis. As mobile games are played on cellphones, they can be used almost anywhere as long as I have my mobilde device with me. Also, the gameplay of those games is designed to be paused at any time and thus allows for quick and short game sessions. This especially is great as I currently do not have much time available to play computer games but still like to continue one of my favorite hobbies.

In contrast to other gaming devices, mobile games mostly implement the cellphone’s touchscreen as the core input method. As a result of this, the interactions have to be designed in a very simple way and be mapped to touch or drag gestures. The functionality of the touchscreen, however, adds another constraint to the interactions. A user can not simply keep a finger placed at a specific position to be ready for an upcoming input as it would be possible with traditional input devices. By keeping a finger on the sensor, the game potentially recognizes wrong inputs and can not be played successfully.

Another problem that can occur is the recognition of wrong inputs. For instance, Fallout Shelter allows a player to change the own perspective by touching the screen and „dragging“ the scenery around. The same interaction, however, needs to be performed to assign one of the virtual inhabitants of the user’s vault to a new task. As a result of this, I occasionally experience issues when I like to assign a dweller to a new task or when I like to change my perspective and accidently grab one of my inhabitants.

Therefore, as some kind of guideline, it is necessary to carefully decide how a user shall interact with the game and how to ensure a good usability of the selected interactions. In addition, it is critical to avoid assigning different interactions to the same gesture that can be performed on the same screen.

Finding of the week #264

Between Realism and Magic

During my ongoing literature review I often discover interesting facts about things I’ve never thought about. Sometimes I can connect these facts with my own observations: The result is mostly a completely new idea why things are as they are. Maybe these ideas are new to you, too. Therefore I’ll share my new science based knowledge with you!

This week: This time, I think about the power of magic that can turn a realistic simulation into a more convenient experience by bending a few rules for a short amount of time.

Simulation games aim at the realistic representation of real world knowledge and activities. They utilize equations and facts describing the knowledge to achieve an accurate simulation. Simultaneously, they provide interaction possibilities allowing for a manipulation of the simulation’s outcomes. As a result, players can interact with the game and practice the encoded knowledge’s application. For instance, a racing game allows a player to drive virtual racing cars that follow the underlying principles thus giving players the impressions of controlling an actual car.

However, often time becomes a critical issue for some of simulation contents as they normally take place over a long period of time. For instance, it takes a spacecraft several days to reach the Moon or a ship to cross the Atlantic ocean. As a result, players would need play the game for the same amount of time to really experience a realistic simulation. Aside from requiring a huge time commitment, it would also result in a lot of downtime and boring gameplay. Players would be required to wait for events to occur and quickly start to become bored by the game.

This problem can be demished with the power of game design that adds interaction techniques allowing for actions that are not possible in the real world. For instance, travel interaction techniques enable players to teleport themselves to distant locations thus greatly reducing the travel trime. Similarly, other techniques implement a time control function allowing for an increase or decrease of the simulation time. As a result, players can sail across the Atlantic ocean within a couple of minutes while still underlying the physical principles.

Although those „magical“ interactions reduce the overall realism of a simulation, they provide a convenient method to only focus on critical phases of the simulated knowledge. In the end, it is up to the users if they like to utilize magical power to bend some physical principles or if they prefer an ultra realistic simulation. In conclusion, computer games allow us to walk between magic and realism without reducing the accuracy of the simulation.

Finding of the week #263

Input Devices and Immersion

During my ongoing literature review I often discover interesting facts about things I’ve never thought about. Sometimes I can connect these facts with my own observations: The result is mostly a completely new idea why things are as they are. Maybe these ideas are new to you, too. Therefore I’ll share my new science based knowledge with you!

This week: This time, I think about how input devices affect the experienced immersion and presence of simulations and virtual environments in general.

Input devices are critical for the immersive effects of a computer game. Aside from allowing players to efficiently play a game, they can also mimic control devices used in the real world thus achieving a higher degree of realism. For instance, playing a racing simulation using a steering wheel can cause a higher degree of immersion than controlling the virtual racing cars with a keyboard. In addition, using devices that simulate the real world results in a higher naturalness and a higher believability of the simulation.

This requirement is even more important in the case of Immersive Virtual Reality (IVR) that visually excludes a player from the real world and gives the impression of being fully immersed in the virtual environment. IVR often, especially when combined with a simulation of a player’s virtual body, achieves a higher degree of presence than normal desktop simulations. Presence is the feeling of actually being directly inside of the virtual environment and being a part of it. This feeling also depends on the believability of the simulation and the degree to which the control devices feel natural to the users.

So far, I mostly was a bit put off by the current control devices of the HTC Vive or Oculus Rift as they basically are ergonomically formed game-pads. Often, they felt a bit bulky to me and resulted in some minor irritations that reduced a bit the immersive effects of the IVR simulations. Recently, I had the opportunity to try out some new input devices: the Manus VR tracking gloves. These gloves feature orientation sensors and analog sensors measuring the degree to which a user’s fingers are bent. This way, the Manus VR gloves allow for a tracking of the player’s hands and a virtual simulation of them and their current gesture.

As I tried the gloves for the very first time, I was very impressed as it really felt natural to me to interact with the virtual environment. A first test scene allowed me to grab and throw objects, to adjust levers, and to open and close drawers. Finally, I was no longer required to carry around bulky control devices. Instead, I could interact with the virtual environment like I would do in the real world: simply manipulating objects with my hands. To me, this was an unprecedented feeling and great immersive experience.

However, this experience also revealed another important requirement for completely believable input devices: haptic feedback. While it felt very believable to grab an object, it was still a bit irritating to have no object in my hands. I had to perform all of these interactions with the help of visual feedback that indicated when I successfully grabbed an object.

In conclusion, by providing more natural input devices, the immersive effects of virtual environments can greatly be improved. This especially is important when the IVR simulations provide a virtual body that represents the user inside of the virtual environments.

Finding of the week #262

Hard Work and Chances of Success

During my ongoing literature review I often discover interesting facts about things I’ve never thought about. Sometimes I can connect these facts with my own observations: The result is mostly a completely new idea why things are as they are. Maybe these ideas are new to you, too. Therefore I’ll share my new science based knowledge with you!

This week: This time, I think about the addictive aspects of playing computer games due to the lack of clear rules in the real world that create a guaranteed chance of success.

When playing a computer game, many players work towards a self-determined goal in a highly motivated way. Computer games are based on well-defined rules, constantly challenge a player with new goals that increase in their difficulty, provide immediate feedback about a player’s progression and finally reward them with meaningful rewards. Hence, computer games fulfill the requirements for flow which represents a very rewarding state of mind. While being in the state of flow, a player is completely immersed in the gameplay and derives joy from it.

As a result of this, the flow-inducing aspects of computer games motivate players to work hard towards their self-determined goals inside of the virtual environments. Also, the flow-inducing aspects are one of the reasons why computer games can appear more interesting than the reality. In contrast to the real world, computer games immediately inform a player about the outcomes of the own actions. Thus, the gameplay starts to feel more rewarding than any activity in the real world as a player’s actions are immediately recognized.

However, a player’s motivation to work hard towards a self-determined goal inside of a computer game can also be based on the fact that anything that exists in a virtual environment can be achieved. The reason for this is that computer games are based on clear rules that define what is possible and what is not. As soon as something is possible inside of a virtual world–even when the chances of success are very low–then it is possible. It might take some time until a player is lucky enough, but in the end it is possible when enough effort is put into the gameplay as it is guaranteed by the game’s rules.

This results in a strong difference to the real world where even more (rewarding) things are possible but no guaranteed chance of success exists. This lack of clear rules that create a chance of being able to successfully complete a self-determined goal can be very discouraging for most of us. Hence, computer games present a way to escape the disappointing aspects of the real life as shifting our attention towards them at least gives us the chance to achieve anything we want.

However, at the same time, computer games can also encourage us to work hard towards our goals by creating a state of mind that anything is possible. When we manage to take the motivation that anything is possible when we only work hard enough to the real world, we might be able to create some kind of guaranteed chance of success. We just need to believe in ourselves.

Finding of the week #261

Mobile Games?

During my ongoing literature review I often discover interesting facts about things I’ve never thought about. Sometimes I can connect these facts with my own observations: The result is mostly a completely new idea why things are as they are. Maybe these ideas are new to you, too. Therefore I’ll share my new science based knowledge with you!

This week: This time, I think about Fallout Shelter, the first mobile game that really caught my interest.

So far, I neglected mobile games as they often seemed not advanced enough to really provide me with some challenging gameplay. Mobile games are video games that are specifically designed to be played on smartphones or tablets. In contrast to desktop computer games, mobile games are designed to be played for a few minutes only. For instance, most players enjoy mobile games while waiting for a particular event, such as the arrival of a friend or the end of a bus ride, or to have a quick break at work.

Thus, the gameplay of mobile games is designed to require only simple and quick interactions. The interactions can be executed by merely touching a mobile device’s display or turning the entire device to trigger some readings of other sensors. Also, the gamplay allows for an interruption at any time to avoid frustration when the player has to stop the gameplay.

While mobile games still can be very entertaining and immerse players in the resulting gameplay due to flow-inducing properties, they never have been of interest to me as I enjoy challinging computer games that require advance problem-analyses and decision-making. Additionally, I enjoy simulation or first-person computer games that require additional input techniques that can not be achieved with a smartphone’s interactive display.

However, during a recent car ride back home, I watched a friend playing an interesting mobile game that quickly gained my attention: Fallout Shelter. The goal of the game is to construct an underground shelter that protects inhabitants from the radiation of a post nuclear war wasteland. For this purpose, the player can build new facilities, assign inhabitants to work there, complete quests and gather resources that are needed by the inhabitants. The really interesting part about the game is that the inhabitants have skills affecting their performance, can gain experience points and reach new levels making them stronger, and can equip special item that even further affect their performance. In this way, Fallout Shelter challenges players with some limited micromanagement that I personally enjoy when playing complex strategy games on my regular gaming machine.

In conclusion, although this game still shows the usual limitations of a mobile game, i.e., being designed to be played for only a few minutes at a time, it is the first mobile game that really interests me and changed a bit my attitude towards this special video game type. Hopefully, mobile games will continue to increase in complexity to allow for some advanced decision making as achieved by games like XCOM 2 or RimWorld.