Finding of the week #318

Lost to the Sands of Time?

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 problems that occur when trying to play older computer games.

It is Eastern and hence a very good opportunity to take a few days off and visit my parents. Staying in my old room, I can see my collection of computer games I bought and played as a teenager. Looking through the titles brings back some great memories and the desire to play some of them again: Commandos, Unreal Tournament, Command and Conquer Red Alert, Tomb Raider, The Settlers 2, Half-Life, etc.

Playing the games of the Commandos series was a fantastic time. The strategy games challenged a player with the goal to complete difficult missions with only a handful soldiers of which each had unique abilities. In this way, players had to combine those abilities to silently move through the maps and complete the objectives, e.g., destroying a dam or taking out a dangerous sniper. Thus far, the tactical real-time strategy gameplay of Commandos is unmatched.

However, since these good old days, new technologies were developed, computers became more powerful and new operating systems got released. As a result, it is not easy or sometimes even impossible to get older games running, again. When aborting to try to get such an old game running again, I often feel sad as it seems that I will never ever play it again despite still having access to the software itself.

Similar to books and movies, computer games have become an integral part of our culture. Some of these games, especially those that represent an important milestone in the history of gaming, need to be preserved and made available to future generations. This, however, also comes with the requirement to either preserve the technology on which the games are running or to develop a framework that can emulate specific systems on modern computers.

In conclusion, computer games are a part of our culture. Older games need to be kept running to preserve important milestones for future generations. Otherwise, they might be never experienced again and thus be lost to the sands of time.

Finding of the week #317

Patience Needed

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 constant requirement to be patient while pursuing a Ph.D.

Achieving a Ph.D. not only opens up the possibility to work in different positions in academia, it also means to complete the highest educational degree. In this way, the pursuit of a Ph.D not necessarily has to be simple or doable for everyone. It requires a lot of dedication and hard work.

One has to research the theoretical background and develop new theories that base on the literature. Subsequently, those theories have to be tested and to be evaluated in experiments. The results obtained during the experiments then need to be discussed and to be published in a journal or presented at a conference. This approach takes a lot of energy and often requires some detours.

However, the road to Ph.D also features many events one cannot control nor influence as they depend on others. A paper has to be accepted by reviewers before it can be published. During this review process, the paper cannot really be touched as one has to wait for the final decision of the review. This, unfortunately, can take several months of time. If one got the right reviewers, the paper is accepted and needs only a few changes. If the reviewers are not agreeing with the paper’s contribution, the paper gets rejected. In this way, the several month-long waiting period can also be a loss of time as one has to go through the waiting period again when resubmitting the paper to a different conference.

While this is the normal process of publishing scientific results, other elements that take patience are mostly related to receiving feedback that is important for moving on to a next step. Here, a Ph.D student is mostly dependent on the time of their advisors who are involved in other tasks and thus have to prioritize. While this is fully understandable, a meeting that would only take 5 minutes often results in a delay of several months. As a result, a Ph.D candidate frequently experiences a high degree of frustration.

In those moments, it is helpful to talk to other Ph.D while attending scientific events. It seems that everyone experiences the same problems during the career and thus can fully relate to this frustration. Unfortunately, as long as one does not decide to move to a next step with the risk to make a huge mistake, there is no way around the waiting game.

Patience is needed …

Finding of the week #316

The Value of Everything

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 computer games could initiate a rethinking process that ultimately makes the world to a better place.

Recently, as I was evaluating my lunch options, I saw the following offer at a small bistro: „Chicken wings and fries – €2.50“. Although this might sound like a great lunch opportunity, it seemed not very appealing to me. How can food be this cheap and still be healthy? The poor chickens must have lived under terrible conditions to be finally sold for such a low price.

Unfortunately, this is just the tip of the iceberg. Our culture enjoys a lot of meat-based meals which currently are offered at a very low price. This generates a huge demand for meat. To fulfill this demand and to keep the price low, meat has to be mass-produced. As a result of this, the way to handle the animals needs to be as efficient as possible. Their food needs to be cheap and their living space needs to be as small as possible to fit the highest number of animals into a particular area.

Fulfilling these conditions comes at the price of the animals‘ quality of life. They need to be vaccinated to reduce the chances of deseases and be kept under control so that they do not attack each other. Overall, this results in the animals living under terrible conditions to fulfill the high demand for cheap and meat-based food.

These problems, however, are often overlooked by the consumers. The only important thing is the price when it comes to selecting a product. Therefore, to start initiating a change of this process, it is important to raise the general awareness for these problems. Computer games could be one approach to achieve this goal.

Computer games could demonstrate the conditions under which the animals live by putting the player into the role of such an animal. This, however, would not really help to initiate a rethinking, as it provides not enough information about the decisions involved in the food production process. A potentially more effective way would be to involve the player in the complexity of the food industry by designing a tycoon-like computer game.

This game needs to evolve around the goal to effectively and efficiently lead a food company. While the player’s main goal should still be to achieve commercial success, other factors such as the happiness of the animals as well as the quality of the produced products have to play an important role. If designed well, this kind of computer game can inform players about the complexity of the food production as well as the side effects of mostly aiming for cheap products.

In conclusion, while computer games might not address the majority of the consumers, they still can start to initiate a rethinking. Players of these computer games might get convinced that they can put pressure on the food industry by selecting different products. Also, they can discuss the lessons learned with others and convince them as well.

Finding of the week #315

Between Entertainment and Long Lasting Impact

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 computer games I will remember for a very long time and those I will not.

When I think back to my computer game playing experience, then a few titles always will pop up in my mind first. For instance, I will always remember having played the Mass Effect series, Kerbal Space Program, and Assetto Corsa. But why are more memorable than games like Company of Heroes or Transport Fever which also kept me entertained while playing them?

The reason for their memorability lies in their game design that either resulted in a highly emotional gameplay or in a gameplay that allowed for a fair competition between players. Emotions are always real to us no matter if they are evoked by a real or by a virtual event. Emotions are also very deep experiences that are easily memorized and triggered when thinking back to a particular event.

The Mass Effect series puts the player into the role of a spaceship’s commander. During the gameplay, the game’s narrative challenges the player with the task to protect an entire galaxy from an enemy that intends to wipe out all living species. The player, however, is not alone but has virtual companions. Each of these crew member has an own personality and, depending on the players decisions during the gameplay, has a different fate. For instance, the player can have a love affair with members of the crew and sometimes even is responsible for deciding which of the crew members has to sacrifice its own life to protect the rest of the crew. In this way, the player creates strong emotional bonds to the virtual agents that start to feel real as the gameplay progresses. These emotions are what make Mass Effect to a very memorable computer game.

In contrast, Kerbal Space Program features no emotional narrative. However, the game’s difficulty is relatively high. The game mechanics encode knowledge about orbital mechanics that has to be understood by the players to successfully play the game. This not only results in a very steep learning curve, but also in very exciting moments when the player achieves a personal goal, e.g., landing on the Mun, and realizes that they have acquired new knowledge in this process. This challenge-based rewarding moment also evokes strong emotions in the player which subsequently result in the game being memorized as a very positive experience. Thinking back to playing Kerbal Space Program then triggers these emotions again, thus making this game to a very special game in a player’s history.

Allowing for a fair competition ultimately results in a very emotional gameplay as well. Assetto Corsa is a highly realistic racing game that provides players with the opportunity to perform virtual car races that put their own driving skills to a test. For instance, players can race against each other driving the same type of car which then results in no driver having an advantage due to balancing issues. This kind of gameplay induces a (friendly) competition among the players, especially when they participate in championships and compete over a longer period of time against each other. This competition, the challenge to practice and to train the own skills, and to ultimately celebrate small victories evokes positive (and sometimes also negative) emotions in the players. Thinking back to playing Assetto Corsa triggers these emotions again which also make this type of game to a very special memory.

In contrast to these games, other games merely provide some entertainment during their actual gameplay. They might even motivate a player to continue playing the game to collect all possible achievements, but at the end of the day, only light emotions were triggered during the gameplay. As a result, no or only weak emotional bonds are created to these games which make them seem less memorable when thinking about great games that truly influenced us.

In conclusion, while almost all computer games entertain a player, only those are truly perceived as great computer games that evoke strong emotions in the player during the gameplay. This also is an important insight for game designers who like to create serious games or to increase the motivation using a gamification approach. Creating a gameplay that evokes strong emotions potentially achieves the best results.

Finding of the week #314

Three Types of Exploration

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 different types of an exploration-based gameplay: travel-based, challenge-based, and resource-based

Personally, I am a huge fan of computer games that put a strong focus on the exploration of the virtual environments. The exploration aspect can be categorized in three main types: 1) a travel-based exploration, 2) a challenge-based exploration or a 3) resource-based exploration. Depending on the type, the exploration has a different role in the overall gameplay.

A travel-based exploration requires a fully explorable vast virtual environment that consists of several special features, such as waterfalls, spectacular vantage points, or hidden ruins inside of deep forests. These special features can be discovered by traveling through the environment. Here, the exploration either is the core element of the gameplay, e.g., when playing a walking simulator, or an optional aspect of the overall gameplay, e.g., when playing an open world role-playing game.

A challenge-based exploration lays a higher focus on the exploration of the virtual environment during the gameplay. In contrast to a mere travel-based exploration, this type requires the player to find a way to overcome obstacles. For instance, when playing Kerbal Space Program, a player has to design spacecraft that have the correct performance when aiming at the exploration of specific celestial bodies. The spacecraft not only has to reach the celestial body, but also to be powerful enough to deal with the environment, e.g., a strong gravity. In this way, a challenge-based exploration provides players with concrete goals for exploration that determine the overall gameplay.

Finally, a resource-based exploration allows a player to refine resources during the gameplay to craft more powerful items. This requires a player to find these resources first. In this way, the gameplay challenges a player to explore the virtual environment to find and to obtain all the basic resources. This often bases on the requirement to explore all regions and zones of the virtual environment. For instance, when playing Minecraft, a player needs to dig down to the so-called bedrock layer to find diamonds which are one of the most valuable resources in the game.

The three types can also be combined to provide different forms of exploration at the same time. Once having landed on the surface of a celestial body in Kerbal Space Program, a player can travel on the surface with the astronauts either on foot or using vehicles that have to be landed there first.

While travel-based exploration and challenge-based exploration follow simple rules, a resource-based exploration can be difficult to design. Here, players need to be made aware of the existence of all resources to initiate the exploration process. Also, players need to be informed how and where a certain resource can be found. Otherwise, a player might either miss some crafting recipes or experience frustration when feeling stuck during the exploration.

For instance, as I was searching for a specific resource on the home planet in the full release version of Astroneer, I felt stuck because I was not able to find it. Also, the game did not provide me with information that the resource could not be found on the home planet. In this way, I spend a long time digging deeper and deeper into the planet until I finally decided to abort this approach to try out to fly to a different planet in the virtual environment of Astroneer. As soon as I launched into space, the game provided me with a map of all the existing planets and informed me about the resources that can be found on them. Thus, to avoid this kind of frustration, it is important to provide players with hints or game mechanics to find out where specific resources can be found when implementing the resource-based exploration.

In conclusion, a computer game can provide three main types of exploration. Depending on the type, some additional information are required to avoid evoking a frustration in the player. The exploration types may be combined in the same computer game.

Finding of the week #313

Ideas for (Mentally) Surviving the Time as a PhD Student

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 recommendations for new PhD students that most likely will help to overcome the stress experienced.

The pursuit of a PhD is a very difficult and stressful time when simultaneously working in academia. The challenge even increases when the assigned research projects are only connected to a small degree to the PhD topic as well as when teaching has to be done. In such a scenario, the PhD always comes last and can often be continued after work only.

In such a situation, it is critical to organize one’s day carefully and to work as efficiently as possible. One approach is to either use existing guidelines for certain work processes or to try to define own protocols that support reoccurring events such as grading students at the end of the lecture period. Here, it is very practical to define strict goals that can easily be checked during an exam. Also, using a similar approach to conduct the exams simultaneously allows for an easy repetition as well as for a fair grading process.

The same rules apply to research projects. It is very helpful to create guidelines and protocols that support the planning of future experiments. By using these protocols, one merely has to go through the individual steps to prepare a new experiment and to avoid mistakes that could even negatively affect the experimental results.

However, for these methods to be effective, it is also important to reflect on the outcomes of a repeated application and to update the protocols based on the results of the analysis. In this way, the own workflow not only is streamlined, but also improved over time.

Still, even with a perfectly streamlined workflow, things frequently turn out to be different and result in additional tasks that were not expected. As a result of this, one often experiences a high degree of frustration as the progress of the PhD once again gets delayed. In addition, when finally being able to work towards it, the work has a high mental demand that can result in a quick exhaustion.

Therefore, aside from improving the own workflow, it is even more important to find activities that help to reduce the experienced frustration and to regain energy to stay focussed during stressful times. Personally, I can recommend activities that do not include the use of digital media, e.g., doing sport, as most of the time at work is already spent in front of a computer screen. The probably best approach is to set up a fixed schedule. Adhering to such a schedule results in the requirement to take a break and thus to regain energy before the degree of frustration becomes too high.

In summary, pursuing a PhD is a very stressful goal that requires a high degree of self-organization and, more importantly, activities to counteract the stress that is experienced.

Finding of the week #312

Following the Rules

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 ideas of being used to read instructions more closely when being a vested computer game player.

Most computer games provide players with specific goals and challenges. The goals are communicated in a clear and precise way. Hence, players exactly know what they have to do to overcome a challenge or to solve a quest. While working on the solution of the game goals, computer games provide immediate feedback to inform players that they are performing the correct actions.

For instance, a computer game can provide a quest that requires the player to collect 10 red apples: „Collect 10 red apples in Mrs Smith’s garden.“ In this way, players exactly know how they can complete this quest. A player still has to read the quest information carefully as the apples not only have to be red, but also found on Mrs Smith’s garden.

Thus, by providing players with these clear rules, they practice to read instructions carefully. Also, they learn how to quickly understand an assignment’s goals. The gameplay can include some time constraints that put the player under pressure to make decisions quickly. This constraint makes it important to analyze a task as quickly as possible.

Carefully reading instructions also is a common requirement in our daily life. For instance, it can be an assignment from an educational course or a request sent by someone’s supervisor. Only when the instructions are understood properly, the task can successfully be solved. Just skimming through the information might result in a task not completely solved. This can result in bad consequences like getting a bad grade in an exam.

Based on this theoretical analysis, it might be possible that computer game players can analyze and understand tasks better than non-players. Their gameplay experience might lead to a training of their analytical abilities to quickly and correctly understand a given task. In this way, computer game players might be able to work more efficiently.

In conclusion, playing computer games might also result in an improved ability to analyze any given situation as well as to successfully identify and to carry out the correct next steps.

Finding of the week #311

Putting the Pieces Together

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 process of writing a cumulative PhD thesis.

This week, I worked for incredible two hours on my PhD thesis. The rest of the week was just filled with exams, marking projects and meetings. Despite the lack of time, I clearly saw one thing I was working on over the last years: the red thread that connects all my different papers. It was a great feeling to see that all my thoughts I put into writing the papers payed off and seem to result in a comprehensive analysis of my research topic. My advisors might think differently when they will read the thesis, but for me it all makes sense!

Overall, I am very fortunate as last year in December the regulations got adjusted and finally allow for a cumulative thesis. In this way, I „merely“ need to write a short text that provides an overview of my field of research and connects all the individual papers to one comprehensive thesis.

Thus far, I completed most of the overview – only one small segment is missing – and started to introduce and to connect the papers. Until this week, I was considering to put the papers into the appendix and to reference them in the main text that provides a summary of each paper. At the end of this week’s first hour of writing the thesis, a friend suggested that I might just embed the papers at the positions where I would normally summarize their contributions.

This sparked a lot of new ideas and resulted in me putting together the core part of the thesis within this week’s second hour. Of course, the introductions for each paper are not detailed enough, but it has reached a level that is easy to extend. Now, my thesis mainly lacks this one specific theoretical part and a comprehensive discussion of my results.

Personally, seeing my thoughts of how the individual research projects are connected to take shape in my text processing software was a very rewarding feeling. Suddenly, finishing the PhD seems doable and is only a few steps away. If I can free up enough time, my personal goal of completing the thesis by the end of the month of March is still feasible. Once the thesis is complete, I only have to go through the lengthy process of receiving feedback from my advisors to finally submit it…

It feels good to finally put the pieces together and I cannot wait to say farewell to this project!

Finding of the week #310

Returning after two years of development

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 enjoyment of playing early access games.

More than two years ago, I played Astroneer just after its release as an early access game. Astroneer puts the player into the role of a little astronaut who lands on the surface of a planet. There, the player is challenged to set up a base, perform research and finally construct spacecraft to visit other planets in the solar system. The game is an open world game and allows players to discover the virtual environment at their own pace. Although not being polished, the game already was a lot of fun to play.

Astroneer

One of the most fun elements of playing early access games is to discover small bugs and glitches that break some parts of the game. Experiencing some visual glitches often results in some hilarious moments that cause an additional level of joy during the gameplay. For instance, I remember that the planets one could see in the sky were falling apart at some point. Suddenly, the planets were split into smaller pieces that started to drift apart, thus revealing a planet’s inner structure.

After having explored every planet in Astroneer’s solar system, I had the option to either continue playing the game to experience freshly added features or to stop playing it for a while to not get bored of it. I decided to stop playing the game and to wait for the release of its final version. In this way, I kept the game in good memory and avoided to go through the usual repetitive gameplay of early access games.

Typically, after the implementation of some major gameplay changes, a player often has to restart an ongoing game, thus going through the early stages of a game over and over again. While this can be fun when the changes affect the early game, it mostly becomes repetitive and annoying. As a result, players tend to „burn out“ on these games.

Now, two years later, Astroneer finally is released and so I returned to it. After this long break, the game feels almost like a new game as some game mechanics, e.g., researching new technologies, were changed completely and the graphics look way more polished and colorful. In this way, I can now enjoy Astroneer for a second time and basically play a different game.

In conclusion, playing early access games can be a lot of fun especially when glitches are accepted and more importantly enjoyed. However, due to the ongoing development process, players might burn out on the game when they have to start a new game for too many times. Thus, by only revisiting the game from time to time, the enjoyment can be preserved and the changes can be more appreciated.

Finding of the week #309

Energetic Physical Activities

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 problems of simulating physically energetic moments in computer games.

Recently, as I was exercising on a running machine, I experienced an interesting phenomenon of actually feeling my own performance. Normally, one can experience a feeling of satisfaction when a new level of performance is reached, e.g., achieving a new record time. This time, however, I was not only experiencing a new level of performance, but also noticing how I was affecting the environment. In particular, I noticed how the running machine was slightly shaking as I was running on it at a fast pace. It was like a super energetic moment to me.

This reminded me of a visualization style for delivering particularly strong blows during the gameplay of action games. Here, game designers let the view of the player shake for a short amount of time. This suggests that the player’s attack affected the entire virtual environment. When this frequently occurs during the gameplay, players might perceive the game as highly energetic.

However, in contrast to my running experience, the gameplay only provides visual feedback and lacks a directly physical involvement of the player in the actions. Naturally, due to the game immersion, players perceive it as a real event, but the actions remain artificial. In this way, the gameplay lacks a whole-body involvement which might result in an overall improved experience.

This would be different when targeting immersive Virtual Reality. By using tracked game controllers and a tracked Head-Mounted Display, a player’s physical action can easier be used to trigger actions inside of the virtual environments. Unfortunately, fitting haptic feedback is not yet possible. As a result, game designers would need to stick to visual cues. These cues need to be carefully implemented to avoid evoking cybersickness in the player.

In conclusion, although computer games might be capable of generating visually appealing simulations of physical activities, the lack of true physical involvement and haptic feedback potentially reduces the overall satisfaction in comparison to the real world activity. True virtual sport unfortunately needs some more time …