Magic made real – Future technologies beyond Minority Report

February 20, 2010

If I had the choice, I´d love to live in a world full of fantasy and magic – you know, with all kinds of exploration and cool visual elements. Unfortunately, there is no such thing as a Mana Tree or something else that helps us using magic. But there is an alternative way, a way made possible by our modern reality. Or near future reality, to be more precise. It´s advanced technology that has the potential of creating a world full of seemingly magical elements.

I wanted to talk about this topic for a long time, since it is something that could change our world on a fundamental basis. Originally, I planned to use the anime “Dennou Coil” as a sole example for what I´m going to talk about, but I´ll gladly admit that I underestimated fellow tech-fans. It´s because of those people and their commitment to their joy of exploring new technical advancements that I can provide you this article today. From here on, I´d like to simply present you three actually under-development examples of projects that could bring us closer to a world of fantasy, using technology instead of mana.

The main feature of the anime “Dennou Coil” was that the characters in that fictional reality all are wearing glasses. Special data glasses, that are made of a transparence material, but let you see virtual content that is integrated into your surrounding real world seamlessly. It isn´t explained in detail of how it worked in that anime-series; one could imagine that the glasses work in combination with very precise GPS-technology and miniature camera-tracking devices. That way, the glasses allow the characters to see virtual pet dogs running in front of them as if they existed in reality. All that while the real environment is also integrated into the digital world, meaning that your virtual pet dog won´t be able to run right through a real tree or wall. Now imagine that instead of integrating a virtual pet dog we´re integrating a giant dragon and you finally get a grasp of what I meant when I was talking about making magic real.

The first of the three real “existing” examples (set in quotation marks because they´re either just concepts, yet, or rather far off from being available for mass usage) that I´d like to show you comes from some Israeli comedy TV-show. It isn´t a realized concept and the video is “fake”, to say so, but it shows off a really great concept. Instead of sleek glasses like those from the above mentioned anime-show, here you have to wear a rather big apparatus, consisting of a camera and visor. The camera captures the environment, while the visor integrates virtual content accordingly to the camera´s input data. As can be seen in the following video, that allows for shooter-games to take place in reality. Poor paintball-manufacturer would probably lose their jobs – but it´d be awesome nonetheless. See for yourself:

Video: Augmented Reality Game Example – Future of Augmented Reality Gaming

The next example is something that is actually worked on for mass market usage – and, according to the leader of Oblong Industries, being used in companies already. That company´s leader is John Underkoffler, who created the concept of the popular Minority Report´s computer system for Steven Spielberg´s movie. He founded Oblong Industries and then attempted to make the fictional idea reality – and succeeded. The project´s name is g-speak and works exactly like you would imagine it, if you´ve seen the Tom Cruise-starring movie. The technology used for g-speak goes beyond mouse and keybord and let´s the user interact by just their fingers´ movements. Videos can show this better than words, so just click the next link and scroll down a bit to find two videos, showcasing the g-speak-technology. Maybe he´s a bit overly confidend, but Underkoffler said he thinks the average PC-user might be able to get this technology in about five years. It´d be great if true, but it is already great to see someone working on this stuff at all.

Video: Minority Report is real – the g-speak technology

I guess you think how anything could top the above stuff. But here comes Pranav Mistry, a genius guy from India, and his project SixthSense. Again, just watch the video below to see exactly what it is, though only a few words: The SixthSense-technology consists of a mobile camera-and-projector-device that you wear somewhere on the front of your body. Meanwhile, the tips of your pointy- and middle fingers will have to be marked by the use of color. Pattie Maes, who works together with Mistry at the MIT Media Lab, said that you could just color your fingernails and it´d work. What SixthSense does, is that it recognices typical gestures of your hands and inputs data accordingly. The most impressive scene from the demo is when Mistry does the usual photo-taking gesture, just the gesture without a camera in his hand, and the picture IS taken. Now, that is only part of what makes this technology so groundbreaking: With help of the projector ANY surface becomes your operating area. You can browse the photo you have just taken moments ago, or you could write or do whatever you want. The final, and most important, part of SixthSense, though, is its real-time connectivity to information. You go to the super market, grab a box of eggs, and on the surface of the egg box, it´d show you if the eggs are from an ecological friendly producer. And you could click onto the information on that surface to gain further information. This really makes it a connection of the real and the virtual world. And now watch the video to see even more fascinating stuff. Unfortunately, Pattie Maes is more realistic about future release dates for this technology, and it might take ten years or more for SixthSense to arrive on the mass market. On the plus side, Pranav Mistry said how this technology wouldn´t be more expensive than your typical cell phone and would be easy to mass manufacture.

Video: Pranav Mistry presenting SixthSense-technology at TED

So this is the technology to watch out for. Who knows, maybe it´ll be videogames that will help one of these technologies to reach the mass market. We already have the Wii´s gesture controls, that have been improved upon by MotionPlus just last year, and Microsoft is even closer to the above concepts with its upcoming project Natal. We cannot know for sure, but however way, knowing that technology like the above IS in the works makes me incredibly happy – and excited.


E3 is over – Where are the games? – and – The day waggle became cool

June 3, 2009

Well E³ as an expo isn´t over, yet, but the big three conferences are. And to come straight to the point: I am disappointed. Let´s be clear, though: This year´s E³ is a dozen times better than what we had to go through last year. Then again, that should have been expected.

What i´m so disappointed about is how few new games had been announced. And don´t call me out on this one naming some small puzzle-download-games. I don´t care about those. I´m talking about big games that i can sink into, that grant me an experience. But what did Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo show us?

Microsoft started with a broad showing of popular IPs. In the end, Kojima´s Metal Gear Solid: Rising was the only new game, though. Sony…hm, ah, there was The Agent from Rockstar and a couple of PSP-games, though it´s yet to be proven how well a Resident Evil works on a handheld. Nintendo showed the most new games, but…it was like Mario, Mario and Mario again. Seriously, i was about to shout when Cammie Dunaway spoke as if it was great to have more Mario games…well, then she showed Mario Galaxy 2, so that´s good, but still… Oh well, Metroid: Other M should be considered a half-megaton, but not for me, as i hate Team Ninja´s hack and slay-games, and i am not interested in a Metroid Hack and Slay.

THEN there is the sad part about the past two days: Waggle became cool.

I am a Wii-owner sind end 2006, and i always love the idea of motion controllers, i even made a bad picture before Nintendo even unveiled the Wiimote. But for the past 2,5 years, as a Nintendo-fan you got ridiculed all the time by bitter Sony-fans about how crappy motion controlling is, about how it kills gaming and how they don´t want to move after they come home from work. Guess what, NOW they´re fighting on all the internet boards, fighting for THEIR motion control is better than Nintendo´s. Give me an effing break. At least Microsoft has a different approach and i hope they use their Natal-camera more for supporting traditional games than trying the “without anything in your hands”-crap. There´s a reason why the Wiimote works and Eyetoy bombed.

NERVNow, let me point out something else: If i was Microsoft, i´d badmouth Kojima so much that he has to go out of business. What kind of kindergarten was that when he said at Sony´s conference, the PSP-MGS is the “true next MGS”? As if he was making fun of MS that he announced MGS: Rising the day before. The next thing is Capcom developing a RE-game for PSP. WTF, the Wii gets only On-Rail-shooters, and the PSP gets a, probably, real RE-game? Give me a break. People say that Nintendo doesn´t help third parties enough, but they gave them 2008 and the whole 2009 without any Nintendo-competition. That is more than any of them could ever want.

At long last, let´s talk about what i liked. Yeah, there were things i liked. First of all, looking at my E³-predictions, Microsoft delivered. Not only was ME2 shown, but also Molyneux´ Project Dimitri, now called Milo, was revealed. If this thing works as it was shown, it´ll be revolutionary. Also, there was a nice trailer for Endless Ocean 2, so Nintendo delivered that. Of course, i´m anticipating Mario Galaxy 2, but it´s coming out in 2010, so it´s too far away. A game that looks at least as good as FF12 is Monado: Beginning of the World from Monolith Software…which Nintendo didn´t mention at all, sigh. Looks rock solid, and has active battle system, yay. Then i´m a bit hyped for Silent Hill Wii. Looks very immersive, maybe a bit too immersive for me. And that´s it. There are other interesting games, but i have yet to see more of them. Biggest disappointment is maybe Red Steel 2, which, from watching a developer walkthrough, doesn´t really use MotionPlus for 1:1 sword-controls. At least in the videos he never moved the sword slowly, only made fast swings. Oh well.

In the end, Miyamoto mentioning Zelda Wii and showing a, most likely, completely irrelevant painting of Link and a girl in a blue robe is enough to make me feel satisfied. But it´s not enough to make my brain stop and think: Nintendo, what are you doing in Kyoto? There are only 2 new Wii-games by Nintendo themselves. Are they developing other games secretly for future times? Are they working on fewer games with more manpower for greater quality? Or did they fire many of their inhouse developers? Really, something´s fishy, and i´d like to know what.

Now let´s wait for 2010, because as of now, Nintendo won´t be releasing a big game in 2009…at all.