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.

Finding of the week #260

The End of an Era

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 first official break from raiding in World of Warcraft.

World of Warcraft (WoW) is a part of my life since its release in the beginning of 2005. Despite some periods of reduced interest in the game, I never really stopped playing it and more or less completed every aspect of this vast narrative. The fascination for this game really started as I joined my very first raid as this was just an awesome experience.

At this time, raids consisted of 40 players who were collaboratively playing together in order to exhaust the challenges of a particular raid instance. Being only used to smaller five to ten player groups, it was an unprecedented feeling of being part of something that big. Also, once we managed to defeat a new encounter, it really felt as if we accomplished something meaningful as everyone was focussing very hard on this particular goal. This fascination sticked with me for the rest of my raiding career in WoW and kept me motivated throughout the years to continue playing the game.

Now, 12 years after having played WoW for the very first time, this motivation has more or less vanished. Of course, I still enjoy the collaborative aspects of the game, but unfortunately its core gameplay has not changed since its release. In addition, WoW went through several transformations implemented with the releases of the various expansion packs extending the vast narrative by a new story arch. Unfortunately, after turning WoW into a more fun and action packed game with the previous expansion, the current expansion went into the opposite direction and turned the game back into a heavy grinding game. Players were basically required to log in every day in order to gain experience points ultimately making their primary weapons stronger and more powerful. In addition, WoW currently reuses its content a lot thus making it rather boring to tackle the same instance again to experience a new difficulty level.

As a result of this, the gameplay was no longer really fun to me and I mostly continued playing the game to stick with my current raid group. However, after having missed an entire month of raiding due to other appointments or simply because I was too tired, I realized that I have not missed it at all. Thus, I finally decided to draw some consequences and take an official break from the game. Although it is the right decision, it feels weird as this is the first time I stopped raiding since the release of the game.

An era has come to an end …

Finding of the week #259

Inspiration and Motivation from Epic-Wins

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 epic-wins, especially when they are experienced after having demonstrated a strong endurance, can inspire us that everything is possible – even in the real world.

An epic-win can have many forms. In most of the cases, an epic-win is experienced when a computer game player or even a group of players manages to overcome a desperate situation during their gameplay. Another potential scenario for an epic-win is when a player manages to flawlessly solve a difficult situation thus experiencing a feeling that something extraordinary was accomplished. In the end, a player feels more powerful and ready to tackle the next difficult challenge after experiencing an epic-win as it lets players believe that everything is possible.

A different form of an epic-win is when a player finally achieves something in a game they were working towards for a very long time. This epic-win is even enhanced when the chances for a successful accomplishment of their goals are very low due to the underlying principles of the gameplay. For instance, a player’s goal could be a specific item that can only be found in a few places and to a very low percentage. Thus, the player is required to search for those places in the hope that they finally have some luck. When the player finally manages to collect that item or even obtains it in a very unlikely way, it feels like a super rewarding moment as the player demonstrated the own endurance.

Personally, I experienced such an epic-win the other day after finally finding a specific enchantment in Minecraft I was trying to get for quite some time. The most common way to get this enchantment is by simply fishing and hoping to catch enchanted books. This, however, is a very unspectacular activity in Minecraft as the player only is required to watch the bobber and press the right mouse button once it bounces. Hence, I only did this from time to time in the hope that I might end up catching such an enchanted book. Unfortunately, I was not that lucky and decided to explore a bit more my virtual world. During this expedition, I found a pyramid-a special feature in Minecraft-and, while I was exploring it, discovered a chest that contained the enchantment. In this very moment, I experienced a true epic-win as I was finally rewarded for my endurance even though I was not exactly searching for this book at that moment.

In conclusion, computer games always provide us with the chance of achieving something as long as it is possible in the game. Often, it just takes a lot of time and endurance, but, as it is possible, we keep on playing the game with the knowledge that one day we will achieve what we want to achieve. Hence, computer games can give us the motivation and confidence that we can accomplish anything, if we just try hard and long enough. If we can carry over this inspiration to the real world, computer games might be able to change the world or at least make us dream and give us hope.

Finding of the week #258

YouTube’s Decline

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 YouTube’s latest measurement to stop the exploitation of the monetization system. A measurement that turns YouTube into a very unhealthy ecosystem.

This week, I received an interesting email from YouTube informing me about the fact that I will have no longer access to the monetization system as my channel is not fulfilling some arbitrary yearly watch time and subscriber requirements. Interestingly, although stating that this measurement is an attempt to reduce the exploitation of the YouTube Partner Program, YouTube does not take into account how long a particular channel already is active.

YouTube Partner Program

Personally, I would fully understand if they do not allow new channels to enter the partner program and access the monetization system unless a channel published new content over a certain amount of time. For instance, it would perfectly make sense when they only allow channels that exist and were active for six months or longer to enter the partner program. However, this apparently was never considered by them. Instead, they once again just base their decisions on the success of a particular channel.

This also aligns with previous decisions and the general structure of their platform. Search results and video recommendations are mostly based on the view count of a particular channel. As a result of this, small or new channels do not have good chances to compete with already established channels that accumulated a lot of regular viewers during the early days of YouTube.

From my point of view as a very motivated and vested content creator, YouTube’s new measurement against the exploitation of the monetization system is another setback and a very disappointing decision. Of course, I never relied on the monetization system or created videos to make a living of them, but it gave me the feeling of being part of a healthy ecosystem. Now, the system seems to change to a more and more unhealthy system. After the new measurement entered into force, YouTube even further focusses on key-stones instead of leveraging niche players. In addition, they show once again that they do not care about low subscriber content creators who are the basis of their success.

In conclusion, I have to ask myself if I still like to continue to support a system that does not value the efforts of their users and only focusses on a few selected ones who can do whatever they like due to their huge amount of frequent viewers. Viewers who probably have never heard about smaller channels, that potentially produce better content, as YouTube avoids to leverage them. In the end, I think they went one step too far and it is time to take own measurements by uploading my content to a different video platform …

Finding of the week #257

Dramatic Music in Calm Moments

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 importance of a game’s soundtrack and the necessity to implement additional functions that check if a certain music theme has to be played.

A computer game’s music has a similar purpose to the soundtrack of a movie. It contributes to the game’s overall atmosphere and underlines key events of the gameplay. For instance, many stroy-based linear games implement an atmospheric background music that fits the overall setting of the game, but play more dramatic, energetic, and dominant music during a fight.

Depending on the style of the game, this also influences a player’s interactions with the game. During explorative gameplay that requires players to solve puzzles or to move from one spot to another, a player can interact with the game without any pressure. This more relaxed gameplay is supported by atmospheric background music. However, when a fight begins, one has to react quickly and accordingly in order to overcome the challenge. Thus, some more dramatic is played to emphasize the importance of the player’s gameplay and to induce some artificial pressure.

In addition, a change in the music theme can also provide players with hints about upcoming events, such as an encounter with a strong enemy, or an upcoming key moment in the game’s story. As a result of this, music is also used to guide the player through the story.

However, although music fulfills a similar purpose to a movie’s music, the implementation of theme changes is critical for the believability of the game’s atmosphere. In contrast to movies, a player can control the progression of the story by stopping at a certain spot to enjoy the scenery or taking a different approach than anticipated by the developers. This potentially can create unwanted effects that render the gameplay almost hilarious.

For instance, a player can trigger an event causing the music to change to a dramatic theme indicating the existence of enemies. However, when the player then decides to turn around because they want to check if there might be a different path, then they are continuously listening to the dramatic music without being in a fight. This potentially results in a very hilarious moment for the players as this music will not stop until they returned to the point where the story continues and the fight begins.

Therefore, it is also important, like with any other game mechanic, to anticipate any player behavior and to implement functions that change the music back to the previous theme or the general background music when a player takes a different route or starts to move away from the position where the next event would be triggered. Overall, music is an important part of each computer game and greatly affects a game’s atmosphere.

Finding of the week #256

Falcon Heavy: A Sportscar in Space

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 SpaceX’s impressive technology demonstration by launching a Falcon Heavy for the first time into space. The rocket transported a Tesla Roadster sportscar which now orbits around the Sun.

Last Tuesday at 2045 GMT, SpaceX launched a Falcon Heavy for the first time into space. The maiden flight transported a very special payload at first into an orbit around the Earth and later on into an orbit around the Sun that almost extends to the orbit of Mars: a Tesla Roadster driven by a mannequin wearing a spacesuit developed by SpaceX. Normally, those demonstration flights only transport a block of concrete into space, but Elon Musk, founder of SpaceX, decided to launch something fun to inspire people all around the world and get them excited.

The gigantic rocket is the most powerful space launch system since the Saturn V used to launch Apollo crews to the Moon. At liftoff, the Falcon Heavy had a mass of roughly 1,420 metric tons and left the historic launch pad 39A with nearly 5 million pounds of thrust. The thrust provided by the 27 Merlin main engines was about two-thirds the power of a space shuttle at launch.

The Falcon Heavy rocket basically consisted of three Falcon 9 rockets strapped together. The two strap-on boosters returned back to Cape Canaveral after being jettisoned during the ascent. They performed a synchronous landing with only a few hundred meters separating them. Personally, I found this moment just epic and inspiring. The core stage was programmed to land on an uncrewed barge in the Atlantic ocean but unfortunately ran out of igniter fluid and crashed into the sea only a short distance away from the ship.

The webcast covering the launch already ended about ten minutes after liftoff and the successful orbit insertion of the Tesla sportscar. Shortly afterwards, SpaceX started another stream showing footage from various cameras installed around the Roadster. The images of the mannequin sitting inside of the car in front of the Earth were just mindblowing and hilarious at the same time. „Don’t Panic!“ After about six hours in Earth orbit, the upper stage’s engine was ignited again and propelled the car into an orbit around the Sun.

In the end, SpaceX has opened a new market for super-heavy payloads and paved the way for more advanced and potentially even crewed missions to Mars. Well done!