All posts by Awesome Sauce

Virtual Reality: Its History, Implementation, Growth, and Trade Offs

Virtual Reality

Its History, Implementation, Growth, and Trade Offs

Audrey "Danielle" Talley

James Steele

Matthew Ferguson

Logan Dowd

1st MAY 2016

Business Writing (ENGL- 463) Final Project

Used By Permission (via Danielle Talley)

The term “virtual reality” (VR) was one that was not coined until 1987, and it can be generally defined as “a believable, immersive, interactive 3D computer generated world that a user can explore to feel that they are there, both mentally and physically.” Within the past few years VR has made its way into mainstream society, having a massive growth in its technology between 2012 and 2015. Though many primarily associate VR with video gaming and entertainment, it is also used in medicine, education, architecture and more. With its rise in prominence though, there have also been debates between the pros and the cons of VR due to some users experiencing negative side effects. After learning some history and background of VR and assessing the various pros and cons, one would have to decide for themselves their stand on VR and if it is something they might be interested in trying. Though it was not called “virtual reality” until 1987, the concepts and technology behind VR have been around since the mid 1800s. In 1838, Charles Wheatstone’s research demonstrated that the brain processes two different two-dimensional images from each eye into a single object of three dimensions. This research is what inspired the creation of the first real VR device, the Stereoscope, in 1838 as well as it is what serves as the basis for all visual VR technology that is used today. The Stereoscope used two different 2D images side by side to create the illusion of the viewer seeing a single 3D object, giving the user a sense of depth and immersion within the image. The design principles behind the Stereoscope are still used today in lower budget head-mounted VR devices. Many devices like the Stereoscope were created throughout the early 1900’s, and in 1950 a cinematographer, Morton Heilig, created an arcade style theatre cabinet called the Sensorama that stimulated all of the senses, not just sight and sound like earlier devices had done. The Sensorama featured stereo speakers, a stereoscopic 3D display, fans, smell generators and a vibrating seat. It was intended to fully immerse the user into the film being shown, and it is this idea of complete immersion—engaging both the body and mind by stimulating all of the senses— that drives many VR devices today. In the 1960s the first VR head-mounted displays were created, they were connected to cameras and included motion tracking so that the displays were synched with the head movement of the user. In 1965 Ivan Sutherland wrote a paper describing his “Ultimate Display” concept that could simulate reality to the point where one could not tell the difference from actual reality; this paper became a core blueprint for the concepts encompassing VR today. In 1968 the first head-mounted VR device that was connected to a computer, rather than a camera, was developed. It was called the Sword of Damocles, and it employed very primitive computer-generated graphics of wireframe rooms and objects. It wasn’t until 1993 when Sega announced its VR headset for the Sega Genesis console that a VR device had been broadcast to consumers. However, due to technical development issues the device never made it out of the prototype stage and was never released. In 1995 the Nintendo Virtual Boy was released as a 3D gaming console, but due to poor graphics, lack of software support and it being uncomfortable to wear this device was a commercial failure and was discontinued the following year. After this device, the development of VR devices and technology seemed to drop off until the 21st century. It was not until 2012 that VR reemerged into the public eye, when the VR company Oculus was founded and the concept of the Oculus Rift was born. Between 2012 and 2015 there was a massive growth in VR technology—in 2014 Project Morpheus for the Playstation, Google Cardboard, and the Gear VR for Samsung phones were announced, followed by the Microsoft HoloLens and HTC Valve & Vive being announced in 2015, along with the long-awaited disclosure of the Oculus Rift release date. It is devices like these that truly encompass the completely immersive and interactive concepts of VR, occupying both the body and mind while responding to the user as the user responds to the virtual environment. Though there are many various types of VR technology and devices, it is the fully immersive type of VR that is most prominent today. In general, these devices use headsets that employ two screens—one for each eye—and stereo sound. For tactile feedback, data gloves can be worn to allow touch and handling of virtual objects in the virtual environment. These devices are often considered for use in entertainment purposes, but there are a surprising amount of practical and important uses for VR outside of the entertainment industry. Even though VR is just starting to gain mass adoption with consumers, it has been a part of the medical field for many years. Medicine has always been an early adopter of new technology and VR is no exception. From surgical training to rehabilitating stroke victims, VR has proven to be a huge benefit to the medical field. Starting in the late 1990s the medical industry began using different types of VR. In the emergence of VR, medical simulations were built with basic computer graphics on a screen and executed using a mouse and keyboard. This gave doctors a useful but rudimentary tool to practice procedures without even touching a patient, as well as it gave rehabilitation patients an effective and stimulating way to work out and help improve their mobility. Although the rudimentary type of VR in the 90s was useful, it was not powerful enough to accurately simulate every aspect of a surgery to a degree that it could be considered a legitimate way to train a surgeon. With the recent development of new VR technologies though, it seems that VR may become one of the most effective and efficient ways to properly train new residents. VR can be used to simulate surgeries to allow surgeons to practice procedures and train residents without the need to hold a real scalpel. Not only are routine surgeries virtualized for practice, but surgeries that occur less often or variations that occur in that same surgery can also be programmed into the simulation. Having residents practice these uncommon variations in routine surgeries can help them prepare for the times where those issues could show up in actual surgeries so that they will know how to handle them. The repetition of these simulations could also help improve the skills of the trainees as well. In his article, Grantcharov talks about a few studies that compare training surgical residents using conventional techniques and training them using new VR techniques. He states, “In a randomized, controlled trial of 16 surgical trainees, those who had received VR training for laparoscopic procedure were faster, made fewer errors.” So through training using VR the residents were able to complete the surgical procedure with fewer mistakes and at a faster time than those who received conventional training. Virtual reality is currently being used to treat phobias in people whose fears are becoming a detriment to their daily lives. There are two new free applications that have been released by Samsung on the Gear VR that claim to help treat phobias. One is called Samsung BeFearless, which is promoted to help people who have a mild fear of heights reduce their anxiety. The application places the user in different situations that each has a differing level of exposure to heights. One situation is where the user is in an elevator that is made out of glass so that you can see through to the street outside. The user walks into the elevator and it starts slowly ascending. It then asks the user to gage their anxiety level. If the user says that their anxiety level was low then they are given another virtual situation with a higher level of exposure, which includes looking over a cliff or looking out of a helicopter a few hundred feet in the air. The other application is called Public Speaking Simulator, which places the user in different public speaking situations. One scenario puts the user in front of a huge audience in an auditorium where they can give a speech. Another puts the user in a virtual board meeting in front of a few listeners. The virtual crowd also reacts to the users voice; for example, if the user says “um” too many times or speaks too quickly the audience will let the user know by their reaction. There is also a center for the treatment of phobias using VR called the Virtual Reality Medical Center, which uses VR exposure therapy and physiological monitoring to treat panic and anxiety disorders. They treat specific phobias like fear of heights, public speaking, thunderstorms, and agoraphobia. They claim that their treatment consists of putting the client in a controlled environment using a VR headset like the Oculus Rift where they can generate different environments related to the patient’s specific needs while also controlling the level of exposure. Using VR in conjunction with therapist consultations, patient can develop personalized practices that can help them take control of their anxieties if they are exposed to the stimuli in their real life. Virtual reality can also be used in the rehabilitation of stroke victims. One of the major side effects of a stroke is the loss of motor functions in the arms and legs of the victim. VR may become a great way to help rehabilitate the victims of a stroke so that they can regain partial mobility in their extremities. VR gives the patient a repetitive task that is stimulating enough that they don’t get bored and eventually lose interest in completing their rehabilitation. These repetitive tasks help improve the strength of the patient over time. VR can also be used to easily simulate daily tasks that the patient is having difficulties accomplishing because of the limited use they have of their body or limbs. The more the patient practices the task the easier it becomes for them to perform it when they are outside of the controlled environment. These simulations can be as simple as having the patient walking through a virtual park, to an accurate simulation of driving a vehicle. An article in The European Journal of Physical and Rehabilitation Medicine talks about the possible uses of VR in rehabilitation. They explain how risky activities that occur in a person’s daily life, such as crossing the street, can be simulated in a medical center so that the patient is never put in harm’s way. The authors also collected the data from 37 controlled trials to show the effectiveness of using VR as a tool to improve the mobility in patients undergoing rehabilitation. They did varying test each with VR applications and without them. For example, they would put the patient in a 3D virtual environment of a grocery store. The researchers had them practice grabbing different virtual items off of the shelves and placing them in baskets. They had another group not using VR doing a similar activity of grabbing objects and placing them in baskets. They found that the patients who used VR were more motivated to do the tasks than those who did not use them. They state, “virtual reality intervention was found to be a more effective approach than conventional therapy in retaining upper limb function.” Though there are many wonderful uses and benefits of VR, there are also widely reported negative effects resulting from the use of VR devices. One of the most dangerous and blatant issues with VR is its effects on our health. Three of the most common side effects of all visual VR devices are dizziness, nausea, and headaches— all of which I have experienced myself after trying out the new Oculus headset. The immersive display can instantly take a user out of their environment. Combined with the motion of both the graphics and the user, this is enough to trigger physiological responses. The actual visual mechanic exacerbates these negative reactions: two different pictures are displayed and the user’s brain is responsible for splicing the images together. Even a slight discrepancy in angle or orientation of the images will impact the user negatively. Some extreme cases can result in flash backs or even permanent brain damage. However, even if the user doesn’t have any physical side effects, it can still impact their perception of the real world, which can lead to some harsh consequences. There are also some unfortunate psychological short-term side effects to complement the nausea and dizziness. The environment can seem so real that the user can become stressed or scared during the game. For example, if the user was playing Five Nights at Freddy’s (the VR version) they might actually become fearful of their life. That extreme sense of danger can trigger some nasty side effects or even a heart attack. The life like display, though appealing, can implant aggressive thoughts into the user’s subconscious. In one study participants reported having aggressive thoughts after playing a VR game, although most gamers do after playing an aggressive game; further research is needed to test long-term effects. However, it is important to note that the previously stated study was conducted over 20 years ago. A more recent study conducted over a course of 15 years by a Stanford University professor confirms, “Virtual reality can change how a user thinks and behaves, in part because it is so realistic.” However, VR aside, most gamers can get immersed in any game they play often; immediately after playing any game, some gamers will adopt temporary characteristics of that game and long term game play can lead to a blur between reality and a virtual world. More studies are needed to contrast the long-term psychological effects of VR versus normal gaming. Pulling back to a more abstract perspective, VR causes a few ethical dilemmas that should be fully addressed before it becomes a household standard. The ethical issues range from the distraction they will cause users from the real world, emotional detachment due to extreme violence in such a realistic setting, misinterpreting reality and VR, to virtual crime. Though some seem harmless, the graphic nature of the gaming industry can influence extreme results that seem unfathomable. For example, if someone were addicted to playing virtual Grand Theft Auto, it is completely possible that the user might blend the virtual world with the real world and start driving over hookers to get their money back. This might seem a bit far-fetched but it’s not uncommon for a gamer to be so immersed in a game that they try to implement, or at least think about implementing, functions of the game in real life. The last point about virtual crime is particularly interesting. What if the character you play in a virtual world was raped by another user’s character and you were left psychologically scared: the virtual rape was just a psychologically detrimental as an actual rape. Can you hold the other user accountable for their actions? How about the game studio for allowing that feature in the game or the VR manufacturer for enabling the situation? These physiological and ethical concerns of VR are more realistic than they appear. To understand about how many people can be impacted positively and negatively, a graph of data was found displaying the number of active VR users worldwide in millions. This data was recorded and projected from 2015 to 2018, using different groups to represent who is using VR and their level of technology aptitude. The different groups were early majority, early adopters/light gamers, and innovators/hardcore gamers. Innovators/hardcore gamers would represent those who use VR with top-notch accessories to fully enhance their experience. The better and the more equipment used, for example the sensory pads used for virtual gaming on a PC. Unlike innovators wanting the full experience of VR, early adopters/light gamers would be using VR in gaming. This group may use just a headset and the console game itself, not the full body virtual practice. And lastly the early majority or the general population includes those who use a mobile device or a basic head-mounted display (HMD) unit. This also could include those companies and businesses using VR for therapy or rehabilitation. In early 2016, about 46% of users are expected to be using a PC to access VR, usually associated with the innovators. The other devices surveyed are consoles at 28% and mobile devices at 26%. Early adopters and early majority, most of which are using the mobile version, generally use these devices. Although in 2018, early majority and mobile devices are expected to include 90% of virtual users worldwide. In a graph of the total number of users, displaying in 2014, the innovators consisted of about 0.2 million, and the other two groups did not register enough users to make the graph. This is probably due to lack of information on VR and the previous issues regarding VR. In 2015, the numbers ranged from 1 million to 2 million, with the innovators and hardcore gamers on the low end of the interval, early adopters at about 2 million, and about 4 million in the majority group. In 2016, the general population is expected to rapidly increase to 26 million with the early adopters rising to 13 million and innovators to 4 million. In 2017 and 2018, each group is projected to double in both years from the previous year with 2018 displaying about 114 million early majority users and 41 million early adopters and 16 million innovators. With the new, improved methods of using VR the numbers are projecting to increase with the assumption that the general population will follow the social trend and eventually purchase a device capable of VR. This rapid increase of users would not only aid the improvement of treatment and rehab, but this increase would generate a great amount of revenue. Even for the sale of head-mounted displays worldwide alone, there is a significant rise in revenue. According to another statistical graph of recorded and projected revenue from HMD sales alone from 2015 to 2018, assuming the same groups represented as stated before, the software sales of VR generate the most revenue. In 2015, the groups’ revenue spanned about 125-350 million with early majority on the high end of the interval and innovators on the low end. In 2016, number spiked and early majority and early adopters produced over a billion dollars in revenue with innovators producing 420 million. In 2017 and 2018, revenues are expected to reach over 2 billion for the early majority with the early adopters still earning about 1.2-1.3 billion each year. And in both years, innovators are still producing about 440-485 million dollars. The more money that is generated from the sales, the better and more improvements can be made to both hardware and software and eventually benefitting everyone associated with VR. Looking at both hardware and software, disregarding the different types of users, VR’s revenue is estimated to produce about 3.8 billion in 2016. Comparing the projections of 2016, the sales of HMDs are expected alone to produce almost 3 billion of the 3.8 billion total generated. This 1.5 billion dollar increase from the 2.3 billion generated in 2015, it can already be seen that VR is reappearing and succeeding with today’s technology. After 2016, the rate of increase is expected to drop off to about a 0.5 billion increase in both 2017 to 4.6 billion and in 2018 to 5.2 billion. Through the numerous current and projected users and the amounts of revenue that could possibly be generated, VR could be back to stay this time with its new improvements. Being able to treat and rehab with VR will open many more doors and options for those who struggle with certain fears, phobias, and the incapability to perform certain tasks. These projected users will also bring a downside to VR, including the questions regarding health risks, moralities, and ethics. There has always been some form of technology that questions these same issues but VR creates bigger issues due to the fact that the user is actually in the experience. So morals and ethics in question are not just see on a screen from a distance, certain activities in VR and especially gaming could make the user more likely feel what is happening. For example, as previously mentioned, murder in VR would impact the user in a different way than just murdering on a gaming console with a controller. In VR, the user would actually see their “own hands” murdering someone. As any technological advancement, there has to be balance, in this situation, will people balance VR and actual reality or will some users become so addicted to VR they never leave the headset and assume VR is actual reality. Although the negatives could be drastic, the upside could also save someone’s life through surgical training. It is clear that there are many aspects and factors behind virtual reality, some of which are positive and beneficial while others are seemingly negative and potentially harmful. However, there is not enough long-term research to determine if VR itself would be more good than bad or vice versa. It is clear that VR will continue its rise in prominence in mainstream society so for now it seems that user discretion is the only measure of these pros and cons. Whether someone would benefit from VR or find entertainment from it is something that they would have to try and figure out for themselves.

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The Evolution of Artificial Intelligence in Gaming

Take one of your favorite games that wasn’t co-op online, now take the computer-generated enemies and make them push-overs. Not too much fun when it’s actually done. People want a challenge when they are playing a game, something to feel accomplished about. Whether it was the challenge of beating all of “Skyrim” with only bare-hands, or surviving in “F.E.A.R”, the computer will try its best to take down even the greatest of gamers. But how has the programming behind it changed? How has it become what it is today? How is it used in various games? Artificial Intelligence was first used in computers in the 1950’s to outplay humans in a game of chess and checkers. Chess and checkers were used as a base because the games are easy to access for a computer, checking if a piece was there or not, and then deciding what do to do based on those situations. The computer would learn by playing itself over and over to look at patterns and within a short amount of time it could play against and beat many players. The first time one of these computers beat a person at chess was in 1958, but most people think of “Deep Blue” from 1997 being the biggest win for machines. While playing chess is mostly algorithmic, the hardware was too primitive at first to be able to do anything faster, but as hardware was able to be advanced, the programs have become faster and faster while playing.Deep Blue Fast-forward about thirty years from the first chess machines. Games have become more mainstream to the public with the advent of the Nintendo Entertainment System along with personal computers, among the many games available are RPGs. While most games have some form of A.I, RPGs have possibly the most use of it, having to counter the player in everything he/she does. Among these games there are the “Final Fantasy” series, the “Fire Emblem” series for Japan only at this time, “Dungeons and Dragons”, “Dune II”, and “Warcraft.” Outside of RPGs the first-person shooter genre had also gained better playability. “Half-Life” is known for being one of the best FPS games for its time, and its ability to cause ambushes to the player, strategically handling CPUs to heal each other and cover fire, and hilarious NPCs.Half-Life From my own experience against some of gaming’s greatest minds, “Fire Emblem: Genealogy of the Holy War” and “F.E.A.R” have some of the most notable A.Is. “Fire Emblem” games can be a cakewalk when the player learns how to use the weapons triangle/magic triangle (if there is one) and what makes each class useful, but for not only the length of the chapters but the enemies are indeed intelligent. Each squad of enemies for each castle has its own A.I, so what one castle in the chapter does will probably have a mostly different pattern, or in some cases the player characters (even those with major holy blood such as Sigurd) can be ambushed and killed by ten or fifteen enemies in one enemy phase. “F.E.A.R” is one of those games that not only is smarter than the player in many cases, but makes you fear what may happen next. The game taught me that I was pretty bad at FPS games, but that enemies know what they are doing. Enemies can surprise players by jumping through windows to startle the player or using surrounding elements such as bookshelves or crates to take cover. While in FE the enemies often fought independently from each other, “F.E.A.R” was able to keep enemies in groups, sneak around, ambush the player, or take cover. “F.E.A.R” is often noticed for being one of the best games with A.I and is definitely a great game to play. Today, A.I has become a crucial part of game design. From enemy generation and control to creating impossible challenges for the player. The Carolina Gamer’s Club was able to host an A.I competition as a part of Indie Bits, a festival held to celebrate southeastern independent interactive media, showcasing the use of many programming languages such as Java, Python, and C# to create the best A.I for a game that focused around four enemies fighting each other. We had some success with it, but our hopes are to expand our venue with it and market it as a great chance to test student’s coding skills.Now thats what I call AI A.I has become an interesting topic over the years, from human-robotic interactions such as with Kasparov and Deep Blue or imagined interactions such as with David Bowman and HAL 9000. Its usefulness in computer controlled enemies makes it an indispensable tool for game developers to give a player a tough but fair challenge. Ultimately the future of A.I programming may come from a video game, or the next iterations of chess, it is all up to programmers.   Banangineer [Judson James]   Works Cited Middleton, Z. (n.d.). The Evolution of Artificial Intelligence in Computer Games. Retrieved from http://web.stanford.edu/group/htgg/cgi-bin/drupal/sites/default/files2/zmiddleton_2002_1.pdf   Larson, E. (n.d.). A Brief History of Computer Chess | The Best Schools. Retrieved from http://www.thebestschools.org/magazine/brief-history-of-computer-chess/  

Video Games that are Just Hard

Challenge brings people into something more than anything. Maybe there are no save points in the game or the game is so long that it feels rewarding to finally get to the end. Everyone has their opinion on what the hardest game ever is, but there are a few games that stand out as staples of games that make you feel like some games in today’s market are much easier. Some games take skill, when I asked a few gamers about what they thought the hardest game was and almost everyone had mentioned ‘Ninja Gaiden’ and how it was nearly impossible to beat. While ‘Ninja Gaiden’ is certainly a hard game, I can’t talk as much about it since I personally haven’t beaten it. When I think of games that require more skill than anything to beat, I always think back to fighting games like the original ‘Mortal Kombat’ and ‘Tekken’ games. The original MK had an overpowered Goro that not only had an above average damage scale, but also keeping outstanding agility compared to other characters, making it seem like Shang Tsung, was much easier in comparison. Through the years Goro has become more of an average player, now being strong but slow. In Tekken, Heihachi Mishima, the final boss of the game, always seemed to be the most difficult character in an already difficult game to play. He is always faster than the other characters and the combos don’t stop, making this character seem impossible to beat. These same elements are found in other popular fighting games such as ‘Street Fighter’ fighting against Sagat and with anyone in ‘Street Fighter II Turbo’. Fighting games in general deserve more prominence for being the some of the most difficult games skill-wise, and games like these are reason enough for it. MK Some games take dedication; one game I always remember thinking “man this game is so slow! Why aren’t I doing anything exciting?” is ‘Dragon Quest 7.’ JRPGs are my favorite games to play, but this game made me want to just drop it and move on. The game focuses around a world filled with continents that were consumed by some plague in the area at different points in time, after fixing the problem in the area, the continent would show up in the present day. This seems pretty straight forward except I had to do this for over 160 hours through about 18 continents, level grinding, a really slow and ambiguous intro, and repetitious plot events through the game to get to the final dungeon, which took me another 30 hours of gameplay to grind my levels and job classes enough to make it through the Dark Palace. If I had never played this game, it would look like a beta for ‘Chrono Trigger’, but at least that game didn’t take me until the end of time to make it through the game. At the end of my first play through of DQ7, I had over 200 hours of gameplay and I was glad to finally be done with it. DQ7 Some games are made beautifully, but are both long and difficult because of the nature of the game. ‘Fire Emblem: Genealogy of the Holy War’ is one of those games that kind of takes forever but is still interesting. ‘Fire Emblem’ games typically revolve around one conflict which leads to short, but many chapters. This game however makes the one conflict into many, having extrodinarily large and immersive maps that could keep someone busy for a while. To add more difficulty to the mix, there is a generation gap between chapter 5 and 6, which means that whatever progress you had with characters in the first half will be lost in the second half (excluding the inherited skills and weapons). This game was hard, but it was able to make a hard game fun and appealing to its fan base. Some games I think people made just to make you want to throw the system out a window because they are so hard. Games like these are infuriating to many people, such as when I have -34 lives at the end of the first level of ‘Cat-Mario’ and the simple unplayability of some games because they are simply designed for you to lose.Cat-Mario Some gaming series in general are just considered hard enough to make a few games intentionally easy for the player. I already talk about the ‘Final Fantasy’ series enough as it is, but ‘Final Fantasy Mystic Quest’ was directly aimed at us in America as an “introductory RPG.” While this game is considered an oddball to many of the FF fan base, I want to say that while this game was certainly different, games shouldn’t be made intentionally easy. There is a difference between making ‘Super Mario Brothers 2’ easier because “the Japanese version was just so much more difficult” (Dr. JJ Shepherd) and intentionally making the game easy. Giving the player a challenge is what keeps most players going.Mystic Quest So have they gotten easier over the years? Older games seem much more difficult because of reasons such as not being able to save, poor controls, or really hard enemies. Most of the newer games on the market are designed for co-op or online competitive games, leaving many RPG and fighting games to having challenging enemy AI in this market. While we don’t have games that make you restart the game at the end, make you look specifically for a bracelet and redo the entire journey to kill the final boss again as in ‘Super Ghouls and Ghosts’, some modern games such as ‘Devil May Cry 2’ and ‘Dark Souls’ are definitely not casual and easy games like Candy Crush. I wouldn’t say that there is a hardest game per say, that’s all up to the power of the player, but the player knows what keeps that a challenge will always keep them coming back. [Banangineer] Judson James

Is VR Gaming Just a Fad or is it Much More?

In the modern age of gaming we are in our eighth generation of gaming consoles, with Playstation, Xbox, and Nintendo putting up the console war against each other. But here enters a new challenger, no it isn’t PC master race, it’s Virtual Reality Gaming. Oculus is known for its Oculus Rift, if you recall an article I wrote a few weeks ago for E-Week showing off our club to the community, I mentioned that Dr. Shepherd was displaying his Virtual Reality “Pac-Man.” The idea of being able to experience the action from a first person view as if you were right in the action sounds cool, it sounds like the future. However, it’s simply too good to be true, many people have said it hurts their eyes and can cause headaches. I think that the idea of Virtual Reality is perplexing, but I’m going to see if the pros of it out-way the cons of it. When someone first showed me the Oculus Rift, I was filled with both excitement and a worry. The first gaming application that came to mind was one of Nintendo’s biggest flops, the Virtual Boy, the gaming system that had you look into an LED eyepiece that displayed a 3D game. The main problem with this gaming system was that many of the side effects from playing it are the temporary loss of the color red from your vision and headaches, making this system pretty unsafe to use. Although it is twenty years later after they discontinued it, and our visual technology has vastly improved since those days, but I still think the idea of having a monitor so close to your eyes can’t be good for your eyes and could still probably cause headaches. Is this technology going to have the same unfortunate demise as the Virtual Boy? Nowhere near as likely, but it is still a possibility to me. VirtualBoy When a fellow student showed me her new Samsung Gear VR, it looked cool, but still I couldn’t help but to see problems with it. The layout included having the actual Gear VR piece to look like a set of goggles, and using a Samsung smartphone to provide the display, and having the phone screen quite close to your face when using it. Every time I see someone use one it makes me think about that old saying “Don’t sit too close to the TV or it will ruin your eyes!” Granted our screens don’t emit radiation anymore, it can still provide eyestrain regardless, having to focus on a screen so close to your face. After looking at the warnings that companies such as Samsung and Oculus give out, such as eyestrain and to not use heavy machinery, which are common sense kind-of things, but people don’t read the safety manuals. I’m not saying that VR sucks, but I’m simply saying that the risk is still there. Like I mentioned earlier, Dr. Shepherd made a Virtual Reality “Pac-Man” game that used the Oculus Rift as the controller, so of course there is a gaming aspect that we could talk about. I would love a VR Skyrim, Legend of Zelda, or Tekken game where you were thrusted into the world of the game, as would many gamers. VR would take first person shooters to a new level of immersion of the environment, it would take fighting games such as Tekken and Street Fighter and make it feel more as an epic battle. But of course this technology wouldn’t work on all games, while VR makes first person games much better, third person games wouldn’t need it. Since third person is obviously the spectator point of view, it just doesn’t feel like it is needed. So overall, VR would be cool for first person games, but kind of pointless for third person. Street Fighter 1st Person Am I saying VR is bad? That isn’t what I’m saying, but I think that the hype is just a little too much. Sure the gaming possibilities would be very interesting, but I still see a connection between VR gaming and the Virtual Boy, which is why I haven’t fully embraced the concept. I want a little more research into the side effects of it, if people I know personally are getting headaches, nausea and eyestrain I don’t want to have to deal with it myself.  Perhaps it is a fad in gaming, maybe it isn’t, but it will definitely be a nice tool to look into for first person game design. Banangineer [Judson James]

The Crash and Revival of Video Games

Most people know that video games have been around for a while, and there have been many successes, and many flops, but could you imagine a time where video games were so bad that their maker had to PERFORM A BURIAL for them?! Yeah folks, you read that right. In 1983, many of the Atari 2600 consoles and many cartridges were buried by its owning company, Atari, because one of the cartridges, “E.T The Extraterrestrial”, considered one of the worst games ever made, had experienced one of the biggest commercial failures in gaming. This incident in gaming history is known as the North American Video Game Crash of 1983, but you have to wonder, what did gaming do to dig their own grave, and how could it have revived? Atari 2600 After looking at my periodic table of gaming, I counted FIFTEEN different gaming consoles, how could anyone possibly market a single game to all of these different consoles? On top of this problem, could games have been made so bad that they wouldn’t make it? Again, “E.T The Extraterrestrial” is considered the worst game of all time by critics. It probably wasn’t the only bad game at the time, but if this is called the “crash of video games” then there must have been too many bad games for the time. So I said that there was a crash right? But why do we have video games today if we didn’t recover from the crash? Because Japan sent us the glories that are the Nintendo Entertainment System and Sega Mark III (SG-1000 was put out of its misery because of its inferiority to the NES). With games such as Super Mario, we had games that would later save the industry from such a tragedy and bring video games into a better light. NES and Mark III From 1985 to 1995, the NES and Mark III gave us many beautiful memories for its lifespan, but why would games stop after seeing how popular the Japanese systems had become? When 16-bit games came about, we were interested by the Sega Genesis and the Super Nintendo Entertainment System, with beautiful games such as Sonic the Hedgehog, Final Fantasy IV (II in America), Phantasy Star, Super Mario World, Mega Man X, Earthbound, and Earthworm Jim. Gaming has continued to improve and improve, thanks to setting a standard of where our games will be played and other gamers talking about great games. Before the big crash we had a flooded market of countless gaming systems, but thanks to Nintendo and Sega, we were able to have a center of where our games were going.  So was a burial of video games and consoles REALLY needed? If Atari thought that it was necessary we really can’t argue with them, but as a result of “E.T”, other business failures and with how flooded the video game market was, it wasn’t surprising that the industry crashed. But after Nintendo and Sega saved us, where are they now? Sega left the hardware business after the Dreamcast was released and Nintendo is close to releasing their newest creation, the Nintendo NX, to compete with Sony’s PS4 and Microsoft’s Xbox One. Will Video Games have another crash? I personally doubt it; the industry is only going to get stronger in years to come. Banangineer [Judson James]  

To be the Very Best, Like No One Ever Was

Most gamers will read this title and immediately know what I am talking about, because there was time in almost every gamer’s life where they wanted to “Catch’em All” and go on their own Pokémon adventures. I started mine with Pokémon Yellow when I was four years old, fifteen years ago, when my dad gave me my first video game because he was frustrated with it. At four years old I couldn’t entirely grasp the concept of Pokémon, but I know that I enjoyed walking around with Pikachu and showing my dad even a four-year old could outplay an adult. I’m more sentimental about Pokémon games than most other games because I have played Yellow, Silver, Crystal, Fire Red, Emerald and many more at least twenty or thirty times, each time exploring the ultimate Pokémon teams while doing various tasks such as hanging out with friends or watching a movie (or the Pokémon anime). I’ve invested more time into Pokémon than any other game, and for the twentieth year anniversary of this beloved and well-known series I want to share my experiences with it and why it draws me closer every time. Ask anyone who plays Pokémon what their favorite Pokémon is. Most people will either tell you it is Pikachu because that’s the only Pokémon they actually know, a Pokémon that they think is aesthetically pleasing, a Pokémon they find sentimental, or a Pokémon that they think is the most powerful. You can fill your party with Pokémon who you find to look the coolest/cutest, Pokémon you have sentimentality for, Pokémon you think are the most powerful, or any other Pokémon you want. One of my personal favorite Pokémon to use is Lucario, because he looks awesome for only being 3’11, I think he is one of the most powerful fighters in any Pokémon game, and I love using him in Super Smash Bros. You don’t have to have a designated character or skillset in Pokémon, you can have your own combination of awesome, strong, cute and strategic Pokémon that you want. Your combinations are endless, and I’ll elaborate with my first play-through of Pokémon.Pikachu Quote My first true start to finish play-through was in Pokémon Silver. Being six years old, I of course chose the Pokémon I thought was the coolest, and it didn’t take me five seconds to say “Buh-Bye” to Chikorita (but it is adorable) and pick Totodile. I mean come on, it’s a small crocodile and it was my way of being the Crocodile Hunter. Eventually I ended up with Feraligatr, which is Totodile’s final evolution, Gengar because I thought it ghost Pokémon were the greatest things ever, Espeon because I got an Eevee from Bill the PC guy and it evolved during the day to my surprise (evolves with happiness), Ampharos because I wanted Amphy from the Lighthouse, Pidgeotto because I wanted something that could fly but quit leveling it up, and Geodude because it was my favorite Pokémon at the time. I chose these because they were the coolest Pokémon in my opinion, not because of some strategy, I chose them because I thought that crocodiles, ghosts and rocks with fists were awesome.Geodude Quote Pokémon is a fun game to play, but it can also be used as a mental exercise in my opinion. Any new-age Pokémon player knows that the online battle scene has been plagued with people who spend countless hours EV training and specialized Poké-Breeding in order to get the ultimate Pokémon, Pokémon requires strategy. Many of the main series Pokémon games are pretty easy, but I’ve played plenty of fan-made Pokémon games and online battles that are insanely difficult, you have to know what your Pokémon are good at and what types are best against what. When you start the game, you know your rival will always have the Pokémon that beats yours in typing, if you pick the grass type your rival will get fire, if you get fire your rival gets water, and if you get water your rival will pick grass. You have to know how types react with each other and if the side-effects are worth it, Overheat is a powerful fire attack but it makes your Special Attack go way down and makes special moves much weaker. Similarly with an attack like Double-Edge, it’s powerful but you lose health in the process. There are thousands of variables that you have to take into consideration, the games are designed this way because the developers want to challenge you and keep you on your toes. Of course I’ve played most of the series several times each so I have a decent understanding about most Pokémon moves and what type combinations work for each one, but when a game is constantly evolving you have to keep up and it adds new challenges and new strategies. This factor of strategy and thinking ahead and planning each play-through never bores me and helps me with planning ahead and thinking things through.Teams I made Most of Pokémon is memorable to me, I can remember the first time I caught Mewtwo I was jumping up and down in my seat on the bus from school, and I remembered the first time I randomly ran into a legendary Pokémon in the grass and much more. Pokémon I feel is more memorable than some of the other games I’ve played not only because of the great story writing, but because the game is also geared towards playing the game with the variety of Pokémon you want. As a kid catching Mewtwo in Pokémon Yellow felt like I conquered Mt. Everest, it was such a difficult battle but there was no Pokémon in the entire game that could possibly match its power. But imagine walking through the grass all happy-filly and you come across Entei, a legendary Pokémon. If you haven’t done any insane level grinding at this point in the game you probably are only at level twenty-five or somewhere near it and you come across this powerful level forty Pokémon and you have no idea where it came from. You decide you want to catch it and as soon as you toss a Pokéball or try to attack, it will run off to who knows where, now imagine that irritation as you try not to angrily throw your Gameboy at the wall because you could have added him to your team. Of course every Pokémon Master has their memorable battles. Despite my love for Pokémon I have to complain about the cheesy gym leaders and how they seemed a little cartoony, that is until you came across Lorelei. Lorelei I would say is the first serious and intimidating trainer in all of Pokémon, the Elite Four is not a joke or a walk through the park when she tells you that “your Pokémon will be at her mercy”, like seriously she threatens you and challenges you without the ability to go to a Pokémon Center unlike the gyms where they didn’t want to look impossible to beat. Also speaking of Elite Four, you have Lance in the same game at the end of the Elite Four, and the first trainer in the entire game to use the mighty dragon type. Even if you beat his team of dragons, he comes back as the champion of Johto in Gen Two, and this time around he has three Dragonites (all which are below level 55, when Dragonair evolves) which are all powerful along with Aerodactyl, a literal dinosaur Pokémon, Charizard and Gyarados, these four species of Pokémon are pretty much the most powerful Pokémon at this point in the series and this one guy has ALL of them. Unless you have ice type moves you’re up a creek with this guy.Lapras VS Dragonite Quote If I am talking about truly memorable battles, I have to include my favorite one: You vs. Red. This battle is my absolute favorite because it is you vs. the kid that took down the Team Rocket as well, you too became the Pokémon Champion like him, and Red did everything you did in the game before the game even started. This battle represents the old vs. the new, two people who had never met each other until that point had done about the same thing story-wise, except with in different regions. From someone who has been playing since Gen 1, this is the ultimate Pokémon battle unless they somehow integrate Red into later iterations of Pokémon. Gen Two games have a low level cap so you’re not supposed to be able to level up much past level fifty unless you did some level grinding. In almost every play-through of this generation I’ve done I am usually around the mid to upper fifties, but what does Red give you? A level 81 Pikachu, the first Pokémon he ever raised is naturally his highest leveled, but come on Nintendo that was rough for a first-grader. Even to this day I see this battle as truly one of the best moments of all gaming history because of its significance to the game, and the series, and because it is essentially the old vs. the new of two people that have had very similar adventures communicate the best way they know how, through battle. Red Quote Look at the fan base that Pokémon has generated, look at all of Reddit and many other social media outlets, you can’t go anywhere without seeing Pokémon or something Pokémon related. Pokémon has gotten so popular that when someone mentions Pikachu, almost everyone knows what you are talking about, or if you start to sing “I want to be, the very best” you will probably get “like no one ever was!” or the rest of the song following it, go online to gaming forums and you’re bound to find some fan art or a fan-made Pokémon game that may or not be similar to official games and are often much more difficult. The game has spawned more than one anime series, a card game, countless promotional toys from restaurants, comics, books, movies, countless lines of toys and clothing, if you can think it there is probably something with a Pokémon related logo on it. Pokémon has become one of the most popular things in the world, because it is loved by just about everyone and people who play Pokémon might argue over which Pokémon is better or might talk about their favorites. A professor (not a professor in Pokémon) once asked me what compelled me to spend hundreds to thousands of hours into a single game, how one game could change how someone saw the world, how it could inspire and keep someone playing for years. Ultimately I want people to see how Pokémon is my personal favorite game series, and possibly compel those who have never played it to at least try it. Even if they don’t like it, everyone will have their own opinions. I’ve only played it for fifteen years, and there are others who are even wealthier in knowledge of the subject than me, but I still love Pokémon, I won’t stop playing it any time soon and I probably won’t stop ranting about it either. Maybe your favorite Pokémon is Scizor, Salamance, Greninja, or Lucario; mine is Dragonite because it is a true powerhouse, but if he isn’t available I will always try to get a dragon type (Followed by Espeon, Lucario, Charizard and Greninja). With how revolutionary the gameplay became in X and Y, I can’t wait to see what Nintendo decides to do with the new Pokémon Sun and Moon. All I know about Sun and Moon is that I am waiting to see how it turns out. To a gaming series that has become much more than a game to me and millions of others, Happy Twentieth Anniversary Pokémon.Train On Banangineer [Judson James]  

E-Week, a Time to Inspire

E-Week, the National Engineers Week, is a time to honor the men and women who create the next big thing, celebrate how they make a difference in the world; E-Week gives an opportunity for engineers to reach out to the next generation and inspire them by showing what engineers get to do. The University of South Carolina participated in E-Week by having children of all ages go around the College of Engineering and look at the different fields and applications of engineering. We, the Carolina Gamers Club, participated by showing off games made by fellow Gamecocks. Kinect Pong Many children came to see us, some even came multiple times, and of course, the parents loved it too. Children could come and play our games, such as Kinect-Controlled Pong, Lost in the Middle Kingdom, Peppermint Story, and much more. At the same time, the parents would ask many questions about game design, our experiences at the University of South Carolina, and ask us how we could get their children involved. One of our members was even making his own game in the room to show kids and parents what it was like to make a game. Seeing the smiling, happy faces of the kids made our day, and may even spark an interest in programming, art, music, or game design. VR Pac Man We didn’t simply inspire kids, we were able to talk to a few parents who loved what we were doing and tell that all of the games came from the University of South Carolina. We had plenty of parents ask about how the video game industry worked, what their kids had to do in school to be able to do these kinds of things in school and what strengths could be applied to game design. Some parents too were gamers and asked us for our recommendations and gave some of their own, some parents would ask about how they could use video games for education, but overall we had many positive reactions from parents. Talking with Parents As a part of E-Week, I remembered why I fell in love with Game Design, because I wanted to be a part of something that I could share my passion for video games and help make one myself. By showing kids that you don’t have to be a professional to make games I believe we have made an impact for them, telling them that anyone who sets their mind to something can do anything, whether it is making art, music, programming the backside of the game, whatever it is it can be done. Big Picture Banangineer [Judson James]

Video Game Music and its Impact on Others

Music, maybe it’s a song that perfectly gives a tranquil mind while running around in Fisherman’s Horizon, maybe it’s a song that lets you know you screwed up and you should probably run, but regardless there is always that one song or soundtrack that sticks with you. To me, most boss music and sad music stand out the most, because they pump me up or make me open my ears and listen to the beauty. There have been countless nights where I will simply listen to video game music while studying, enjoying everything from the calming town music from Final Fantasy, Pokémon, or Dragon Quest to morose music such as “Midna’s Lament” and feel goose bumps with the melodious piano.  As Plato once said, “Music is a moral law. It gives soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, and life to everything.”   What makes video game music so memorable? Maybe it was the environment that you in when you listened to it, maybe you had to fight a difficult boss and you said “screw it.” and quit the game. Many of my favorite tracks have been from boss battles where I struggled time after time to beat, “Challenge” in Final Fantasy X stands out to me because I always remember the countless times I tried to beat Seymour Flux and ended up frustrated and ready to throw my controller at the TV because he would banish my Aeons in one attack. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wDdDaZuMWko Perhaps it’s the music that shows a touching moment that stands out the most?  “Midna’s Lament” is my favorite morose song because of the powerful and melodic use of piano, and always reminds me of the dark tone of the game but still gives me goose bumps because it speaks to the listener, it communicates a beautiful sadness. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8Nq-gEG-E04 Maybe you just want to walk around in a town to relax and feel at peace? Try something relaxing from the Hyrule Theme from Ocarina of Time, or maybe Lon Lon Ranch from the same game. Everyone loves these kinds of songs because they are relaxing and don’t put the intensity that fighting music puts on someone. These songs stand out to us because we might have had to sit through them. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zsPS5ubApoE And of course we have the classic “I’m on an adventure!” kind of music, and every great RPG has to have this music or else it’s not the same! The Hyrule Field Theme from Twilight Princess has a much more adventurous feel to it than its Ocarina of Time cousin, the Twilight Princess version is more of a heroic fanfare and as such feels more adventurous. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pRHoPxAfy_Q Everyone has their favorite songs in video games. Many people I talk to like the music from Minecraft because the ambience fits, although it isn’t particularly memorable. Final Fantasy games often have my favorite songs, at least five to ten of them stand out to me because of sentimentality, beauty, preference, music quality, and instrument choice. Pokémon often has appropriate music for everything, and anyone who plays the games always have their favorite battle music (mine is the Champion Battle music from Gold and Silver). But music is an auditory impression of a situation, and of course, it gives life to a situation in a game.   Banangineer [Judson James]

Open Ended vs. Linear RPG

RPG, or Role-Playing Games, unlike many other forms of gaming, has had that special essence of fantasy that you simply cannot experience in other games. The feeling of being the Hero of the Tri-Force, a gangster or a Warrior of Light, it is a feeling of some different from the boring day to day life we all live. There is, however, a major difference between two groups of RPGs, you have Linear RPGs such as the Final Fantasy, Dragon Warrior/Dragon Quest, Tales, or Pokémon, sagas, versus Open-Ended games such as Dungeons and Dragons, Skyrim, or Grand Theft Auto. The Linear games I mentioned all share the fact that you play as the protagonists in the story and while the characters may be customized a little (i.e. the Job System in many Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest games), you still have to play the same events every time you play in order to progress through the game. Meanwhile the Open-Ended games are, as in the name, open-ended. Let’s delve into Open-Ended Games first, with examples such as Dungeons and Dragons, Skyrim, and GTA. Dungeons and Dragons has to be the most recognizable RPG to most people, since the game has been around since the mid-Seventies, I’m not very knowledgeable about the topic but I know that when I think of Open-Ended RPG, DND always is the first thing to come to mind. Most people know what Skyrim is, or at least you know someone that has been addicted to this beautiful game, once you get done with escaping your execution you can seriously do whatever you want in this game. Want to go out and buy a house? You can do that! Want to go out and become a world class thief? Go ahead! Want to murder literally EVERYONE (aside from children and people who essential to the plot, and if you do they will come back to life and act like it never happened)? If you’re asking for the village to ravage you absolutely! You can either choose to be a masterful magic user at the College of Winterhold or go out to be the true Dragonborn and kill Alduin, or whatever your heart desires in this great Open Ended RPG.   Skyrim Some people may not see GTAV as the same genre of game as DND or Skyrim, but you’re still in control of Franklin, which technically means you’re playing his role. If there is anything that I have learned from my roommates (other than I am absolutely horrible with driving games) is that you can either make it big and be a pimp character in the game or you can be that really sadistic character that beats up old people in front of liquor stores before getting beat in the hood. I would still say that GTAV is still an Open-Ended game because you still have the ability of doing whatever you want really and there isn’t a set path of things you have to do in the game. Linear RPGs may have a strict and to the point way of getting from A to B in many games, but I see them more as stories or plays that have to stick to the script in order for everything to go right. Final Fantasy VII has one of the best stories in my personal opinion, but in order to kill Sephiroth in the end you still have to go through the bombing mission, the first several hours of the game in Midgar, and the rest of two discs to even come close to killing one of the most sadistic god-complexes of all gaming (although if you had Knights of the Round you would kill him in just two summons or one w-summon). You have to play the game in sequential order in most cases in order to defeat the final boss. Some games such as Chrono Trigger may give you the option of fighting the final boss fairly early on but it is still a process to get to that point. But anyone who was wanting to fight the boss around level    10 has to be either doing New Game+ or cheating. Chrono Trigger Pokémon, however customizable your team may be, still has to follow a specified path to get to the Elite Four and Champion in the form of challenging Gym Leaders. Pokémon however gives you the option to customize your team the way you want it, whether you want to have a team filled with only Zubat or a team that would guarantee you victory or a team of your favorites. Pokemon Whether you’re a fan of Open-Ended because of the larger variety of options of what you can do, or if you would rather stick with a game that makes you stay with the story, both are always great options. Open-Ended RPGs will bring you more options and may not have an ending depending on what it is. Linear RPGs always never leave me bored because of the immersive and unforgettable stories and great characters. It’s all up to the gamer to decide on what they want to play.   Banangineer [Judson James] Citation
  • Skyrim – Actual Gameplay from The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
  • Chrono Trigger – Actual Gameplay from Chrono Trigger
  • Pokémon – Actual Gameplay from Pokémon Fire Red
 

The Glory of the Mode 7 Graphics Mode

The Mode 7, for those who know about it, they instantly think of the SNES and how it could make a pseudo 3D effect. For those who don’t know, play F-Zero and look at the background (brownie points if you don’t crash) and notice how the background will rotate and re-scale when you turn. Although it may not be as obvious of 3D graphics like Fallout 4, for a system that was released in America twenty-five years ago it’s not too shabby. FZero But why the name Mode 7? Because the SNES had EIGHT graphics modes, from zero to seven (as a computer starts their numbers with zero) and Mode 7 happens to be the last one. The Mode 7 is also a single background layer, so it can be rotated and resized easier than a multilayer graphic mode, and if you look closely into the background the skies may seem to never end. FFVI But of course a beautiful piece of hardware has its limitations, other than not having 1080p 3D figures in the games. Mode 7 only works on backgrounds, nothing else and as such some rare instances where if an object needs to be 3D, it has to look identical to the sprite. Since sprites cannot manipulate the power of the Mode 7, say in Super Mario Kart you’re driving on the track and an object, say the pipes in Mario Circuit starts getting closer to you, you see some jumps in the animation. In the early to mid-1990s, it was awesome to play F-Zero, Super Mario Kart, or Final Fantasy VI and see what your eyes perceived to 3D because you saw an endless background when you played. Until other great inventions such as sixty-four bit processing showed us that three-dimensional video games were indeed a possible option in the gaming world. But we have to bask in the greatness of the Mode 7, because it is a major part of gaming graphics history, it gave us a step between flat, eight-bit fields to sixty-four bit figures. The Mode 7 is obsolete in 2016, but it still amazes us that it could do so much in its time. Mode 7 Banangineer [Judson James] Credits