Finding of the week #255

Train Any Knowledge You Want

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 can be used to learn any knowledge in a highly motivating way.

Acquiring new knowledge not only requires a learner to memorize and understand theoretical information, but also to gain experience with its explicit application. This often is achieved with repetitive training allowing for the experience of new problems that demand the application of the learning content. However, in many cases, repetitive training can become boring, is expensive or even dangerous. As a result, computer-based simulations are developed that allow learners to practive the knowledge in a safe environment.

Computer games are a special form of simulations as they not only encode a particular knowledge in their game mechanics but also allow for an adjustment of its abstractness. Computer games not necessarily need to simulate every detail of a knowledge and hence can present and demand it in a more intuitive way. This also is a critical element of making a game fun to play and highly intuitive. That way, players easily can gain experience with a particular knowledge on a meta level or focus on a particular aspect without being overwhelmed by its complexity.

However, like real training simulations, computer games can also encode all aspects, information and principles of a particular knowledge. Thus, they achieve an accurate simulation of it which potentially is enhanced with some additional rewarding gameplay elements increasing the motivational aspects of using the game for a knowledge training.

In conclusion, computer games can be utilized to demonstrate and to demand any knowledge. Moreover, they can also demonstrate the knowledge’s application in a meaningful way by embedding it in a narrative or using it as a means to solve puzzles. This potentially increases a learner’s motivation to tackle the virtual training exercises as the knowledge’s pure theoretical aspects are then hidden in the gameplay.

Finding of the week #254

The Joy of One-Button 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 how even one-button games can show a high entertainment rating when the conditions for flow are met.

Recently, a colleague installed a very simple game on the Apple TV connected to the large monitor standing in our meeting room: Jump Drive. During the gameplay, players are challenged to navigate a constantly forward flying star ship through the map that features moving obstacles. At first, the obstacles challenged us with simple movement patterns. Over time, however, the patterns and amount of obstacles got more complex thus achieving a significant challenge. Ultimately, the goal of the game is to collect purple diamonds that are used to unlock new ships or new challenges.

Although the gameplay might sound relatively complex, it remains very simple as a user can merely activate the ship’s jump drive that rapidly propels it forward by pressing a button on the Apple TV remote control. Thus, players are challenged to time the activation well in order to gather the maximum amount of points without colliding with an obstacle. Also, this very limited gameplay already shows high flow inducing properties as players are constantly facing new challenges, receive immediate feedback and follow clear rules. As a result, this little game achieves a high entertainment value.

Naturally, Jump Drive is not a game that can be played over a longer period but it can cause a helpful distraction that increases one’s creativity during stressful or cognitive demanding times at work. Also, as we mostly play this game together with a couple of colleagues, a certain degree of competition and excitement arises. We are cheering for the active player when they have a run or try to find out who can survive the longest.

Ultimately, the simple computer game Jump Drive demonstrates the importance of flow inducing properties as this state of mind even turns a One-Button Game into a very exciting activity.

Finding of the week #253

Inspiration and Hope

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 can inspire and give us hope which especially is helpful during rough times in our normal lifes.

Computer games, like any other medium, can inspire users and give them hope to believe in themselves. This can especially be helpful when they go through a rough time in their real lifes and need some motivation to continue finding a solution. However, in contrast to music or movies that only reach a listener or viewer in a direct and emotional way, computer games can also inspire players by challenging them to overcome dire situations or even save the entire world. Thus, games provide an incentive to actively take part in a meaningful process that often is much greater than the player’s role.

For instance, the games of the Mass Effect series put the player into the role of a star ship’s commander who is sent through the Milky Way galaxy to stop an aggressor from eradicating all organic civilizations. During this adventurous journey, the player often has to make important decisions that affect and change the game’s narration. In addition, the player meets a lot of virtual inhabitants of the galaxy that ask for help and thank the player in a very emotional way. As a result, the player not only changes the lifes of many others, but can also save all civilized life in the galaxy.

By playing a central role in such a meaningful process, players often start to feel powerful as they can change the world when they put enough effort into the gameplay. This motivating feeling is even enhanced as computer games induce flow by providing clear goals, immediate feedback and a constant stream of new challenges that increase in difficulty. In the end, players can get into the mood that anything is possible and nothing can stop them. This mood ultimately can give them hope to be able to solve their real problems and/or inspire them to tackle the problems in a very energic way or with a new approach.

Finding of the week #252

Optional Goals

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 way how optional goals are implemented and advertised inside of a computer game.

Computer games often provide additional goals to encourage players to carefully explore the game world instead of simply following the main story line. The optional goals can range from simple collection goals requiring players to find special tokens in the game world to fully fledged side missions telling a unique story. Non-mandatory goals additionally increase a game’s replayability as players might have missed some of them thus experiencing a different story or discovering new and special places during a second playthrough.

However, optional goals are difficult to implement from a game design perspective as they are intended to surprise a player and inspire them to thoroughly explore the game world. On the other hand, optional goals also have a high chance of being overlooked by players even during a second playthrough as they need to be hidden in the game world. As a result, some hidden goals are rarely seen by players or players are not aware that a particular non-mandatory goal exists.

Optional goals (photos to take) in „Life Is Strange“

Therefore, game designers often implement achievements or other summary screens indicating a player’s progress towards having discovered all hidden game elements. While this approach guides players and motivates them to revisit specific parts of the game, it also reduces a bit the optional aspect of those goals as they suddenly receive a higher value. In addition, players might feel discouraged when they realize that they overlooked something and can not complete the game to 100 percent. Moreover, by implementing a collection screen a player can unlock over time, the surprising aspect of discovering something unexpected might be lost as well.

In the end, it is very difficult to find the right balance between indicating the existence of potential goals and simply surprising players. Personally, I would prefer to have the chance to be surprised instead of being aware of optional gameplay elements as this makes them more special and turns them into true secrets.

Finding of the week #251

Is it too late, already?

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 ongoing climate change and how its effects become more and more visible.

More than two years ago, I was celebrating that the Paris Agreement was adopted by all of the 196 UNFCCC member parties. Eleven months later, the Paris Agreement entered into force after being ratified by 55 countries that account for at least 55% of global emissions. Both events set a strong signal to globally act on climate change by reducing CO2 emissions and trying to limit the global temperature raise to well below 2°C on average.

Now, more than a year later, I am more concerned than ever before that it might be too late, already. Personally, I get the impression that, although many people are speaking of the climate change, no one really takes action against it. Furthermore, I more and more start to experience it myself as I see strong changes in my region’s climate. Currently, at the end of December and beginning of January, we are experiencing temperatures of around 10°C in Germany. Some years ago, temperatures were around or even below freezing for several weeks. In addition, we also experienced the first strong storm of the year that brought a lot of rain which potentially will cause some floods…

The effects of an ongoing climate change are even more drastic in Arctic regions which are especially vulnerable for the a temperature raise. Last year, as I travelled to Iceland, I could see how far the old glaciers have retreated from their maximum extend. In addition, the decline of the glacier mass starts to increase in speed thus revealing more dark soil which, in the end, even contributes to the temperature raise as it heats up in the sunlight instead of reflectng it.

In general, the changes in the seasonal global climate strongly indicate the ongoing climate change that comes along with very strong weather phenomena. It is time that we start to act now before it is too late. Maybe we still have a chance to preserve this planet for future generations.

Also, it is very important to raise the global awareness and to demonstrate the effects of an uncontrolled climate change. This could be done with computer games that visualize the effects and hence make it easier to understand what currently is happening with our climate.

We finally need to wake up.

Finding of the week #250

2017

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 year 2017 and try to summarize the most important events of this year.

This year is coming to an end and so it is once again time to take a look back and to reflect on the most important things that took place during the year 2017 in my life.

Accepting a job offer and moving to Würzburg

The probably most significant event of this year was the fact that I got offered a job from my PhD advisor which I accepted happily. This, however, not only resulted in a completely different involvement in the world of scientific work, but also in the fact that I had to leave the town where I lived for the last ten years. While the act of moving itself was not that challenging (except for finding a decent apartment), getting used to the new environment resulted in a few disappointments as the new town does not feature an easy access to vast forests and nature in general like the previous one did. Furthermore, I have not managed to find a decent running trail, yet, which also results in a bit of a disappointment on my end.

GEtiT: Gamified Training Environment for Affine Transformation

Working for my PhD advisor and his research group, on the other hand, provided me with a lot of great experiences, challenges and, luckily, rewarding moments. Unfortunately, despite of having submitting the key paper discussing the central theoretical model of my PhD thesis, my personal scientific work came a bit to a stall this year. This, however, is not due to the fact that I constantly was too busy to work on my PhD, but a result of the journal’s long peer review process. Hopefully, they will decide to accept my paper, soon, as this would finally allow me to start pushing things forward and finishing the PhD.

Using the HTC Vive

Research-wise, the year also had two busy months in stock for me, as a colleague and I managed to develop a demonstrator for VR interaction techniques, evaluate them and prepare the study’s results for submission within 1 1/2 months. Although very stressful, this project demonstrated our good team performance and resulted in a great learning outcome for both of us. Hopefully, the reviewers will agree with our paper …

Another important part of this year was getting more involved in teaching and the challenge of developing an interdisciplinary seminar. This seminar is intended to simultaneously provide students who study to become a teacher with the opportunity to deepen their school pedagogy knowledge and to develop a basic understanding of human-computer interaction and usability. While the development of the seminar’s contents often caused some intense discussions, the results indicate that such an interdisciplinary approach is highly welcomed by the students.

New friends

Working in a new environment also resulted in the chance to meet new people and to find new friends. Personally, I am very lucky that I work for two individual chairs and, as a result of this, I got the chance to meet a lot of great and amazing people this year. Some of them became my best friends over this time and I hope they continue to be an integral part of my life.

Thank you!

Iceland

Northern Lights

The year 2017 also provided me with the opportunity to visit Iceland for the fourth time. After having seen this beautiful country in summer, late spring and winter, we visited it during fall and were stunned by all the beautiful fall colors. My personal highlights of this journey were the trip to the Askia (I stood inside of a volcano!), enjoying strong Northern Lights, going on a day-long hiking trip into the Icelandic mountains and seeing once again a lot of fascinating waterfalls. On the other hand, this fourth journey not only demonstrated that Iceland currently is overrun by tourists, but also provided us with more drastic effects of the ongoing climate change. We need to start respecting our environment before it is too late!

Summary

Dyrhólaey

In sum, 2017 was a great year full of new experiences, new friendships and achieved goals. Of course, there were also some negative and sad moments, but they immediately vanish when I think about all the good things that took place. Let’s hope that the next year will be even better and that I can finally finish my PhD.

Happy New Year Everyone!

Finding of the week #249

Hiding Limited Behavioral Patterns

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 a game’s story hides limited behavioral patterns that would otherwise be noticeable.

Many computer games allow players to experience atmospheric and exciting narratives by presenting great and dangerous problems only they can solve. The presentation and the overall embedding of a game’s story is often achieved with Non-Player Characters (NPCs) that inform players about a particular problem, provide background information or react to a player’s actions.

An NPC’s reaction can be twofold: 1) The NPC can either react to a player’s successful completion of a task by thanking or rewarding the player, or 2) react to a player’s presence or recent accomplishments by simply acknowledging her existence or expressing the own gratitude or fear. In both cases, an NPC’s reaction rewards the user with positive emotions as they managed to potentially change somenones life or even saved an entire planet. In contrast to virtual items, emotions affect a player in the real world thus ultimately leading to a more intense gameplay experience and even a potential improvement of a player’s mood and general well-being.

Seen from a programming point of view, an NPC’s reaction merely follows the settings of a couple of variables that determine success or defeat and the player’s general reputation. This is due to the fact that simulating realistic behavioral patterns is currently still impossible and would require a lot of expensive development. However, as a game’s narrative normally provides players with clear goals they simply need to complete in order to progress with the story, this limitation is rarely noticed. That way, atmospheric and believable reactions can be modelled and subsequently activated when the required conditions are met. As a result of this, the player experiences the impression that the NPC really saw what the player did and hence feels emotionally involved.

In the end, by using NPCs to only inform players about great problems and rewarding them for their help without requiring additional interactions with them, technical limitations can be hidden.

Finding of the week #248

Individual and Creative Virtual Holiday Celebrations

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 a high degree of freedom and creativity can greatly enhance a player’s experience of a virtual holiday celebration.

Seasonal events implemented in a computer game simulate specific real world holidays by turning major traditions into gameplay elements or simply changing the environment by adding event-specific decorations. That way, the seasonal events not only reduce the distance between the real and the virtual world, but also allow players to celebrate the holidays directly inside of the virtual environments. This convergence between the virtual environments and reality also contributes to the overall holiday spirit as it avoids breaking the ongoing celebrations surrounding a player in the real world.

Feast of the Winter Veil

World of Warcraft: Feast of the Winter Veil

These special events are directly implemented by the developers of a game and are only active during a defined time frame. Outside of this time, the event is disabled and can not be accessed by players. While this is a very effective approach as it avoids implementing additional game mechanics allowing for player-specific ways to celebrate a particular holiday, it also shows the limitations of this concept. Players merely are passive spectators that, despite being able to complete event-specific challenges, can not directly influence the virtual celebrations.

A Christmas Tree in Minecraft

However, open world building games like Minecraft represent an exception as they allow players to freely change and decorate their virtual worlds. As a result, players can decorate their long-term projects inside of the games according to their personal interpretations of a particular event. Moreover, players are also in control of an event’s duration and hence can define how an event ends. This especially is important when these create games are played in multiplayer mode as this allows all players to collaboratively achieve a very individual and unique holiday celebration.

In the end, all virtual versions of a specific holiday can bring players closer together and achieve a convergence of the virtual environments and the real world. However, as holidays are also a unique and individual occasion, giving more control into the hands of the players can result in an even higher acceptance and interest in the events. Also, being able to experience unique and magical moments that result in great memories is essence of life.

Finding of the week #247

Believable Status Indication

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 a player’s status can be displayed in a virtual environment in a believable way.

The indication of a player’s status is a critical design element of many computer games as the information needs to be provided in a clear and easy way without visually irritating the player. Often, this is done using a 2D User Interface (UI) overlay over the actual 3D gameplay that contains bars or numbers expressing a player’s state. This non-diegetic technique, however, negatively affects the overall believability of the simulation as it adds an element to the gameplay that normally would not exist in reality.

In contrast, diegetic UIs embed the information directly into the virtual world thus making it to a part of it and increasing the overall believability. This approach is easy when the computer game simulates a real world activity, such as driving a car, flying an airplane, or operating other machines, that automatically provides a diegetic UI like a cockpit or other control interfaces. In such a case, the status information can be displayed in the same way as in the real world by utilizing the simulated indicators.

However, more creative and sometimes even magic approaches are needed when the game concentrates on the players themselves and lets them experience the virtual world from a first-person perspective. Normally, we have no indication of our current states in the real world aside from our senses. We know how we feel when we are hungry, cold, wet, injured, or happy. Encoding and conveying these feelings in a virtual environment, however, is not straightforward.

Therefore, due to technical limitations, metaphors need to be found that provide us with feedback about the states of our virtual bodies and inform us when we are affected by something. For instance, Stranded Deep indicates a player’s status on a virtual wristwatch the player is wearing. By simply pressing a button, the player’s avatar raises the left arm thus allowing the user to check their health and hunger. Take On Mars puts the players into a spacesuit that displays relevant health information directly into the players helmet like a Heads-Up Display.

This especially is important in the case of a Virtual Reality (VR) simulation that visually immerses the user by utilizing a Head-Mounted Display. In VR, using a diegetic UI is very important as regular 2D overlay UI can cause a high degree of distraction as it would always be in the player’s field of view independent from the player’s gaze.

Finding of the week #246

Complexity of Game Design

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 steep learning curve new (non-programming) game designers face when trying to implement their first ideas using one of the prominent game design frameworks.

Despite the existence of powerful game design frameworks, such as Unity and Unreal, the difficulty of developing even simple games still is relatively high. The reason for this is twofold: (1) a developer needs to posses a broad variety of skills while (2) the game engines must avoid to restrict the developers in their freedom.

During the development process, a game designer is required to come up with a good audiovisual presentation, to achieve a good usability and to technically implement game mechanics using one of the supported programming languages. Thus, new game developers face a huge learning curve at the start of their first project as they not only need to invent a good overall design, but also are required to combine creative design with technical engineering skills.

Game engines, on the other hand, need to provide a good support for various visualization as well as engineering approaches to avoid restricting the designs. Therefore, game frameworks must support powerful programming languages and 2D as well as 3D graphical assets. Ultimately, this approach creates the high skill demand as developers, in order to realize their game design ideas, need to create all individual elements themselves. Furthermore, developers are challenged to understand the complex game frameworks themselves before they can start to implement the first feature which creates an additional entry barrier.

As a result of this, new game designers often feel overwhelmed by the complexity of the game frameworks and, in the case they have never programmed before, even incapable of achieving anything. Therefore, more intuitive approaches are needed that allow for visual programming instead of writing plain code. This, however, is not easy as the visual programming interface is also required to allow for the same freedom as a traditional programming language.

For instance, Unreal’s Blueprint Editor allows for a quick and visual implementation of new features by representing functions as configurable and connectable boxes. However, in order to successfully utilize the blueprints, a basic understanding of programming is still needed as the editor follows the same rules as a normal programming language.

In the end, while the complexity probably can not be reduced as it would otherwise also affect the freedom, more creative approaches to make game design more intuitive and easier to understand are needed.