Finding of the week #327

The End of the Thesis

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 last few days I spent with my thesis.

Last Sunday afternoon, I was working on my thesis. As usual, I was not planning to do other things that afternoon. However, after having implemented all the remaining changes, I sat in front of my laptop and no further idea popped into my mind. More or less confused, I was asking myself: „Am I done?

I decided to just take a break and play some Diablo 3, but still no potentials for improvement evolved in my head. So I ate dinner, watched some TV and finally went to bed. Even in the next morning, no further ideas developed and so I was quite certain that I did all I could. Of course, if I would have read the entire thesis again, I might have found a few things here and there, but since I already read it three times, I hoped that no major issue remained undiscovered.

Later that day, I got the thesis printed. On Wednesday morning, I finally submitted the thesis. Unfortunately, my submission put my thesis into some kind of limbo. I still lack two signatures (I even asked for them to be send via email) and this ultimately resulted in my thesis not being fully submitted. Thus, I have to wait once again …

The only good thing is: I completed the thesis and it is over!

The thesis!

Finding of the week #326

The (Hopefully) Last Weekend

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 last few lessons learned while writing my PhD thesis.

It seems as if I have finally reached the end of the thesis writing process. After one and a half months of polishing the text, there are not many things left to be done. Just a few hours ago, I finished the third proofreading cycle during which I only found minor issues and minor potentials for improvement. I even received nice feedback from a friend who stated that my conclusion is great and that I finally should submit it. Yet, there were still a few lessons learned.

Stay true to yourself. As I gave a couple of colleagues access to my manusscript, I also received some critical feedback this week. In particular, my colleague’s feedback addressed two points of my thesis where I was not sure how to add the needed information at best. After long considerations, I decided for an option that seemed to provide the best compromise. However, after having received some feedback – he was the only one who complained about it – I was thinking about my approach again. After evaluating the pros and cons, I decided to stick with my approach. In the end, it is my thesis and feedback often is a subjective opinion. It can give some inspirations for improvement, but it can also achieve the opposite. Sometimes, it is good to evaluate the implementation of feedback and to deliberately decide against it.

Be the one who makes the final call. As the PhD thesis will be graded by two to three independent reviewers, it is very hard to write an ideal thesis. There is always room for improvement, but the potential improvements depend on the individual perspectives. As discussed above, asking several other people can result in various kinds of feedback. In this way, it is better to simply follow the rules of scientific writing, carefully evaluate feedback and subsequently polish the thesis until a state of satisfaction is reached. The only one who really has to be happy with the thesis is the author.

Be bold? This actually is one of my last few issues with my thesis. How bold can I am? Currently, I think about how far I can go with giving my thesis a bit of a personal touch. Adding a personal note can be interpreted as taking research not serious. However, it is also my work and thus it can reflect a bit of my personality as long as this does not interfere with a clear scientific presentation of the results. Sometimes, it is good to distinguish oneself from the rest by doing something unique (?).

If all goes well and I do not receive any critical feedback until the start of next week, this will be my last entry before submitting the thesis. Keep your fingers crossed!

Finding of the week #325

Returning to an Old Game

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 return to Diablo 3. Playing such a fast-paced action game can help players to completely forget about stressful tasks, thus allowing for a quick regeneration of some energy.

Recently, caused by the stressful last phase of my thesis writing process, I experienced the strong desire to play Diablo 3, again. Several years ago, as I was writing my master’s thesis, I also played this game to distract me for a few minutes and to help me to regain some energy. Since then, I occasionally played it during the initial stages of my research process, but my interest eventually stopped after I exhausted most of its challenges.

Now, as I just need something quick and fun to play, again, Diablo 3 exactly fulfills my needs. Furthermore, an expansion pack got released some years ago which I have not bought until this week. As a result, I now even have new content to explore and new character levels to reach!

The gameplay is very simple as it mainly requires me to run through open terrain or dungeons to find the next quest item or to slay a specific enemy. Running and attacking is done using the left mouse button and additional skills can be triggered using the right mouse button or pressing the 1-4 keys. In this way, Diablo 3 causes only a very limited mental load. A perfect game for relaxing between or after demanding writing phases.

Aside from providing me with an easy access to some challenging and entertaining gameplay moments, it also feels very rewarding. The game implements several game mechanics that constantly provide me with feedback about my progress. For instance, with each monster killed, my experience bar rises just a little bit and each stronger foe, i.e., bosses or champion versions of regular monsters, drops some potentially valuable loot. Of course, seeing my PhD thesis evolve is also rewarding, but it takes a lot of more effort and is less entertaining to look at a polished section than just to charge into a horde of monsters with my barbarian. As a result, the game is highly flow inducing and thus ideal for forgetting the thesis for a few minutes.

Naturally, playing other games is great, too. I very much enjoy to escape into the virtual worlds of Minecraft or of Astroneer. However, in contrast to the segmented gameplay of Diablo 3, these games often keep me immersed for a very long time. By experiencing the gameplay in short units, I find it easier to set myself a particular goal for my quick break, e.g., reaching the next waypoint or solving a quest.

In conclusion, computer games that provide a simplistic or creative gameplay are ideal for achieving a quick break from very demanding tasks to regain some energy. However, to have an efficient break, it is important that the game provides the gameplay in short units. This could be a future research direction: design an ideal game that supports a thesis writing process.

Finding of the week #324

A Long Weekend with my PhD Thesis

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 even more about the final push towards finishing the PhD thesis.

This Thursday was a bank holiday and so I took Friday off to gain four consecutive days at home. As I am currently doing the final push towards finishing the thesis, these four days are great as they allow me to focus on my thesis uninteruptedly. Today is already the third day of this long and intimate weekend with my thesis. Thus far, my plan worked out well as I could make some great progress: most of my primary goals are already completed!

Also, I received feedback from two friends at work which I already implemented in my thesis. Asking others to proofread such an important text is always helpful. Over time, one simply overlooks typos and other minor things. I am super thankful for every comment I receive despite causing even more work that needs to be done.

While this might sound great to an outstander, it does not feel like this right now. Friends who already got their PhDs fully agree with me and confirm that it is a very stressful but good approach to finally get it done for once and for all. As already stated in last week’s entry, it requires a lot of discipline continue working on the thesis while simultaneously facing the usual chores.

By now, I read this text so many times that I just do not want to see it again, but there are still a lot of things left to be checked, unfortunately. Despite giving me a lot of time to focus on the thesis, this long weekend makes me feel as if I am stuck in some kind of hamster wheel or working on a Sysiphean task.

Thus, I cannot stress enough the importance of having an activity that completely distracts one from the thesis. This might be counterintuitive at first, but it really helps to regain some energy which, in return, is beneficial for the writing process. In my very case, it is endurance sports, i.e., running, cycling or swimming. During these acitivities, I can forget the thesis for a few moments and sometimes even find new inspirations to solve some leftover problems.

In contrast to most other articles I wrote in this blog, the last two entries are not related gaming. Instead, they are about the process of working on a PhD thesis which is a very demanding task. I mostly write them to document my finals steps before submitting my thesis, but I also hope that it will give some other researchers some inspiration and the energy to continue on working on their projects.

Finding of the week #323

The Final Push

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 final push towards finishing the PhD thesis.

Finally, after a very long time of hard work, I am in the process of polishing the text of my PhD thesis. In the second half of the month of January 2019, I changed to a cumulative approach, i.e., a thesis that consists of all my papers and a short text describing the theoretical background, the connection between the individual papers, and my overall contribution to my field of research. Since then, I was continuously adding new contents to my thesis to finally reach the status of „content complete“ on March 15th. After reaching this important status, I started to polish the thesis by carefully reading through it, re-writing major parts, and adding further contents to some other sections to eventually compile the final version.

More than two month have passed since I began with this final push. Overall, it is a quite an exhilarating feeling to work on this last big manuscript. I notice a strong motivation to carry on to finally reach the end of the long road to PhD. After having chosen my personal deadline to submit the thesis by the mid of June, the work on it feels like the crazy last week before the end of a deadline for a conference submission. It is all about finding potential issues or inaccuracies that could compromise the thesis and removing them by finding more precise explanations or arguments. It is the time of completely being absorbed by science. A state of flow and strong stress at the same time that results in a very rewarding moment of silence once the deadline is over.

While working on this project is fun, it simultaneously is a very demanding task. It feels like an endless stream of new things that need to be done before I can finally submit it. This stream as well as the fact that I work on the text on the daily basis in addition to my regular work slowly exhausts me. It requires a lot of discipline to ignore the ever growing attractiveness of other activities and to continue working on this thesis. Sometimes, it is just the knowledge about the last final push that motivates me to put some more hours into it.

However, there are also some great moments that cause a very rewarding feeling. For instance, I was super excited as I finally finished the theoretical background section and realized that everything really starts to come together. Additionally, just scrolling through the thesis and seeing all the papers that I crafted during my time as a PhD student is an overwhelming feeling. It shows me how far I have come and that the last final push should be doable if I just keep on working.

In the end, the last sprint to the finish line is a weird situation. It is a time of simultaneously experiencing a strong motivation and an increasing exhaustion at the same time. It is a very special „first time“ experience.

Finding of the week #322

A Good Presentation

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 a few simple guidelines that can help to prepare and to give a good presentation.

Giving a good presentation is a challenging task. One not only has to convey the relevant information of a certain topic, but also gain the attention of the audience. Providing too many information at once can be problematic. The audience then is still trying to comprehend the first few inputs while the speaker already is addressing further information that base on the previously given facts. As a result, the audience soon is lost and cannot follow the speaker anymore. Giving not enough information or just trying to make the presentation very entertaining might keep the audience’s attention, but will most likely not convey the intended message. In this way, it is important to find the sweet spot between providing the right amount of information at a time and still keeping it interesting to maintain the audience’s attention.

The probably most important thing of a good presentation is to evoke interest in the audience right from the beginning. This can be achieved by presenting a central problem or question at the start of a presentation. This approach then motivates the audience to think about the problem and to try to figure out an answer for themselves. In most cases, the given problem is quite complex and hence the audience is engaged in the talk to figure out how it was solved.

Personally, I then like to tease the audience with a short video that presents the core topic of the talk but avoids to be too specific. For instance, when discussing the effects of playing a serious game, it is beneficial to just show a few gameplay situations. This video gives the audience a better idea about the topic and helps them over the course of the talk to link the presented facts to the video. As a result, it is easier for the audience to follow the talk and to develop an understanding for the topic.

Following this introduction, one should present the underlying motivation for the project and embed the topic in a broader context to facilitate understanding. Subsequently, the presenter can start to discuss the own work and to present the results. The talk should be ended with a conclusion and an outlook for future work to give the audience an idea how the presented concept could be even improved. Finally, it is critical to answer the question presented at the start of the talk. This not only closes the story arch, but also provides a great opportunity to present the audience a take away message. The take away message contains the core findings and concepts of the presented topics. This take away message, as it is the last information given to audience, will stick in their heads and make the talk feel more relevant.

For presenting all those different segments of a talk, one should follow a few simple guidelines.

1) Rather use visual information than text. It is easy to just put a few bullet points in a slide. However, every bit of text that is shown during a presentation might distract the audience from the actual talk. Subconsciously, the will start reading the text and potentially stop listening to the presenter. In contrast, visual information are easier to comprehend and, more importantly, are more interesting to the human eye. As a result, using graphics maintains the attention of the audience and facilitates understanding.

2) Use the slides just as an aid to convey the information. The slides during a presentation are not intended to contain the same information as the talk itself. Instead, they should be used to either highlight key concepts or to provide the audience with examples for the orally given information. This not only makes the talk easier to understand, but it will also make it more entertaining.

3) Use the slides as a canvas and be bold. When throwing a slide at a wall using a beamer, one suddenly has access to a huge canvas. To take advantage of this canvas, it is important to use most of its space. Putting in a small image just in one corner of it makes it look very small and unimportant. Thus, try to consider fullscreen images or at least large images. This again will make your talk feel more substantial and more entertaining.

Of course, there are many more guidelines and important things to consider when preparing a presentation, but when keeping these three simple guidelines in mind, the resulting talk will keep the audience’s attention high. Also, the audience will have no difficulties to follow the talk and to understand the presented information.

Giving a good presentation also is even more important when speaking at a large event with several days of presentations. Over time, the audience gets exhausted and it becomes difficult for them to focus on a talk when it is not well made or visual appealing. Thus, by putting more effort into the preparation of a presentation, one can even keep the audience’s attention high during a talk on the last day of long conference.

In conclusion, this article presented a few guidelines that can help preparing a presentation that will gain and maintain the audience’s attention and facilitate their understanding.

Finding of the week #321

Being Part of a Huge Community

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 take a look back at CHI 2019.

CHI 2019 took place in Glasgow, UK.

Over the course of the last few days, I attended CHI 2019 – the biggest CHI ever with 3855 registrations in total. During the ACM CHI conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, 703 papers were presented. While the first and the last day featured 3 time slots, the other two days even provided 4 time slots for the paper presentations. During a time slot, a maximum of 14 sessions simultaneously took place. Each session featured 4 presentations, thus resulting in the ultimate challenge to find a quick path between the various rooms to attend all presentations that were of personal interest.

Having returned home after these last few intense days, it still feels unbelievable to be part of such a large and amazing community. Following the motto of CHI 2019 – „Weaving Threads“ – the conference not only was about presenting significant scientific results, but also about making new connections and meeting new people.

CHI 2019 is the prime conference for the field of Human-Computer Interaction

This idea was fascilitated by the organizers who scheduled a „Newcomers reception“ on Sunday, a „Conference reception“ on Monday, and a „Glasgow Science Centre Reception“ on Wednesday. During these special events, all attendees could meet up and discuss their latest experiences. Furthermore, the organizers offered the opportunity to sign up for a special „lunch@chi“ event. The event was intended to give experienced and new attendees the chance to get together in one of the nearby restaurants. Finally, many parties were hosted over the course of the conference and provided further networking opportunities.

Looking over to the conference center

Looking back at CHI 2019, I am still impressed by the overall CHIndness of the attendees. Everyone was friendly and open for a discussion. In addition, after having made several new contacts, it nearly felt like coming home when I got back to the venue in the morning. Every time I grabbed a coffee took a break to walk through the open areas, I ran into one of the new friends and was having a fun conversation.

In the end, I will never forget these amazing six days I spent in Glasgow to attend CHI 2019.

Finding of the week #320

The Importance of a Good Mid-Game

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 providing a good mid-game to keep players excited over the course of the entire game.

The gameplay of a computer game can be separated into three distinct phases: early-game, mid-game, and late-game. During the early stages of a computer game, a player mostly has to learn the different game mechanics as well as the game controls. Also, players only have access to a few game mechanics, resources as well as technologies or skills. In this way, the early phase of a computer game often is very challenging as players have to find a way to overcome challenges with limited resources only.

When transitioning to the mid-game, players have gained access to most resources and the majority of the available game mechanics as well as technologies or skills. In this phase, players are challenged to improve their effectiveness and efficiency in their gameplay. For instance, when playing Factorio, players are challenged to transition from their first preliminary base to a very efficient base that has a high output of materials needed for the late-game.

Finally, once reaching the late-game, players have access to all game mechanics and technologies or skills. In this stage, players benefit from the work they put into the first two stages of the gameplay as they now can rapidly produce needed elements or tackle the most difficult challenges. In case of Factorio, a player can set up new production lines with ease as they mostly have access to an ever increasing number of produced goods. Thus, the late-game is the phase in which anything is possible and the potentially most epic events will take place.

As a result, players are challenged to find their way into the game during the early-game and to overcome the most difficult challenges during the late-game. During these two phases, players experience the greatest fun when playing a game. However, the mid-game often is connected to less exciting moments as players do not need to carefully think about their next steps anymore but also cannot tackle the highest challenges of the game. Thus, it is critical to provide players with some fun moments or clear tasks during the mid-game to keep the gameplay exciting.

Recently, I experienced a very good mid-game as I played Astroneer. I already researched most of the available technologies and visited all celestial bodies at least once. At this point, I thought that I will have an easier time from now on. However, as I wanted to transition to end-game technologies, I realized that producing them requires a lot of different resources that only can be found on a few planets. Thus, setting up bases on the surface of different celestial bodies suddenly became important.

Astroneer turned the mid-game into a very exciting phase by challenging me with a completely different objective. Until this point, I merely was exploring the solar system and bringing needed resources back to my base on the homeplanet. With the sudden need to set up bases on other celestial bodies, the entire gameplay changed and resulted in a high excitement on my side.

By changing a player’s focus from one aspect of the gameplay to a completely different aspect when transitioning from the early-game to the mid-game, the gameplay can remain exciting despite having gained access to the majority of the game mechanics. This can be achieved by providing a different kind of gameplay for each of the three phases. While this might be a challenging game design task, it is very beneficial for the overall enjoyment of the computer game.

In conclusion, by providing different levels of gameplay for each of the three core phases of a computer game, each individual phase not only feels different, but also increases a player’s overall enjoyment.

Finding of the week #319

The Way is the Goal

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 common approach of using guides and walkthroughs to beat a computer game.

When trying to figure out how one can complete a certain task, using the internet often is a valuable source of information. There are tutorials and video guides for almost every topic which explain the performance of an activity in detail. Reading or watching these information allows for the development of a comprehensive understanding.

In this way, searching the internet when tackling a new activity has become a common approach. Instead of first trying to figure out a solution to a specific problem, one prefers to look up information right away as it is more convenient. This is a good approach for crafting things or cooking meals as it can save materials and result in great outcomes.

However, searching for guides and walkthroughs for activities that are supposed to be challenging seems rather weird. Here, it is not about achieving perfect outcomes, but about the ability to find creative solutions. Strangely, many computer game players quickly refer to guides when they encounter the first difficulties during their gameplay. It seems that beating the game is more important than putting the own skills and creativity to a test.

Naturally, the decision how to tackle a difficult computer game is up to every player. Those who intend to be challenged most likely will avoid to use guides at all costs while other players who just like to experience the story might use walkthroughs. Things only become complicated when the two player types meet each other.

This was a common problem as I played World of Warcraft as my raid group constantly used guides instead of trying to figure out how to defeat a specific boss. Currently, I mostly experience this problem either when uploading gameplay videos to YouTube or by watching Let’s Play videos or streams of other content creators. Here, viewers often provide (unwanted) tipps how to successfully play the game.

As a result, it would be great when players who just like to experience the story accept the fact that others like to be challenged and to come up with own solutions. Also, seen from a game design point of view, it would be interesting when players would try to beat a game on their own, especially when it is designed to be difficult.

In conclusion, while it is a valid approach to use walkthroughs for a computer game, it takes away some aspects of the overall gameplay experience. Certain computer games are designed to be difficult and overcoming the challenges is part of the experience.

In the end, the way is the goal.

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.