Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Virtual Worlds in The Black Desert

          And we're back, RocketFans!  I enjoyed the vacation, spent time with the family, had a great birthday (yes, birthday) and generally got to soak up vicariously the innocent joy of toddlers destroying wrapping paper and exclaiming over their new stuff.

         I highly recommend it.

           For my birthday, I got to go see the new 3D eyegasm Tron: Legacy.  I won't recap or review the movie; that's been done and this isn't that kind of blog, anyway. That being said, I thought since it's been awhile since my last major post (or any post, for that matter)  I would start a discussion on the role Virtual Worlds play in the twenty-third century solar system of The Black Desert.

           Virtual Worlds have been part of RPGs for a long time. For the most part, These worlds are part of a fantasy setting, but they occasionally existed in the sci-fi/cyberpunk genre.  The irony of this is that now conventional table top RPGs are being replaced by the on-line virtual worlds they inspired.  As popular as these games are, the interface is a simple keyboard-and-mouse, just as it has been since the days of Starship Titanic and the other early computer RPGs.  Not that the lack of cheap VR technology has stopped millions of people from becoming citizens of virtual worlds already...
Screenshot from Second Life

       So what will virtual worlds look like two hundred years from now?  There is no doubt in my mind that they will still exist; after all, they are already super-popular.  When the technology for full virtual immersion becomes available, virtual worlds will be ubiquitous and fully integrated into society.  This is especially likely when one considers the psychological rigors of life in space and on planets with limited ecosystems.

         When discussing the technology, let's break it up into hardware and software; or rather, how we will enter and interact within virtual worlds and how realistic those worlds will seem.  As for hardware, it looks like movies such as The Matrix are actually being conservative.  The technology to teleoperate robotic machinery wirelessly with nothing but thought actually exists right now.  Granted, it's only being used by monkeys, cats, an in controversial applications like Mattel's Mindflex game but the fact remains that cybernetic, hard-wired connections will not be needed for people to control either robots or virtual avatars in the future anymore than it's needed now.

 The End of Line Club in Tron: Legacy
          So, your brain waves can control avatars - what will the avatars be like?  Right now, most 3D avatars are low-poly models such as in the picture above.  We have the tech to render photorealistic models and backgrounds now, limted only by computer speeds and memory capacities make such true-to-life CG expensive and impractical.  But that's right now; it won't be long before even the most realistic and complex CG objects will be available for real-time interactions. Same with sound; it will be realistic.  Touch may take some time to refine so that it conveys information without causing pain.  I imagine that taste and smell will be the senses that take the longest to replicate; which may very well be the only way to  tell the difference between reality and virtual-ity.

        There are many, many implications of such realistic virtual technology, and as I've said before, when writing Hard SF it's important to think through the consequences of any tech that you introduce into a setting.  Will schools exist as they do now, or will everyone jack in from home?  Will prisons become endless bays of coffin racks that store inmates doing virtual time?  When the time before ubiquitous virtual worlds passes from living memory, will they still be considered virtual, or will the distinction between real and virtual blur and eventually disappear all together? Throughout the rest of the week (and maybe longer), we will continue to discuss this topic.  Hopefully, we'll eventually bring it back to RPG rules and get some useful game design out of it.

        I say "we" because your comments help make the setting of The Black Desert more realistic and most importantly, more fun.  So please comment on this post and any other that your agree with, disagree with or have a question about.

          Anyway, enjoy the post, and I'll see you tomorrow RocketFans!



  1. I swear it feels like I'm the only one in here some times.

    How to make virtual things both fun and an integral part of the setting?

    OK, to me that says you need ubiquitous computing and augmented reality almost everywhere. This is the lowest level of virtual realities and the one that most people interact with. Resolution would be fairly low, unlikely to have sensoria beyond sight and sound and unless some idiot whipped up a Langford Basilisk, not very dangerous. Used for everything from signs, to chats, to detailed menus and sensors.

    Getting beyond that, well, it gets trickier. The first big question is - can it be experienced at a greater time rate than the real world? If yes, then it can be interesting. This can range from accelerated schooling and training (especially if it can be used to build muscle memory and in conjunction with a training program) to hard rehabilitative time, to some mind blowing entertainments. It can also be dangerous as hell if it has full sensoria because you can hallucinate yourself to death.

  2. You know, I feel like I'm the only one on here sometimes, too:)

    I see Virtual Worlds as mostly separate from the ubiquitous, ad soaked Augmented World of everyday experience. I also think that for the total immersion experience without a hard-wired link to work, it would have to be in real time, no faster.

  3. ...It does occur to me that Trans-Humans, AI, and others with significant neural add-ons may be able to increase the clock speed. The human sense of timing is dictated by the re-uptake of a certain hormone in the limbic system; non-biological life and animals that are neurologically modified to override the limbic system would be able to alter their internal sense of timing. As for mainlines, a person's perception will not increase as it is an isolated function in their brain.
    I think ;)

  4. Hmm. Time to go dust off the User's Guide to the Brain, plus various other pop neuro psych books I'll fess up to owning.

    Anyway, back to the ideas at hand. I like the idea of augmented reality being entirely separate from the virtual realities. Yeah, they use many of the same technologies and techniques, but the level of information conveyed by AR pales compared to VR.

    Now, the 'fun' (read risky and occasionally dangerous) stuff. If you've ever read A Million Open Doors by John Barnes, there's a culture there that duels with weapons that induce tactile and visual hallucinations. These hallucinations are so vivid that you can be psychosomatically scarred by it, require months of care or just plain hallucinate yourself to death as the intensity of the sensation causes a cerebral hemorrhage or fatal seizure.

    How does that tie back to VR in BD? Well, if you've got a truly immersive set up and can communicate all types of information in it - especially without safeguards - guess what? You can do things that make the neuroducer gear from above look like party tricks.

    What else? Unlike cyberpunk, no one with a brain their head is going to allow key data to be accessed through an entertainment medium. On the other hand, hiding it in the medium to get to another person makes a lot of sense for adventures. Also, I could see VR being used for work, especially simulations or some exotic creativity enhancing aspects. At which point (trans-, post- and ortho-) human nature raise their ugly heads. People will sneak games into company systems, especially the IT department, so if those games have a security exploit attached, guess what? You might gate into a very secure facility where the IT manager is running the BD equivalent of a Quake tournament.

    Quicktime - I like the idea of making it hard for a mainline human to access and one of the advantages of transhumans and AIs. On the downside for them, they aren't the product of millions of years of evolution. More efficient, etc., but also more fragile.

    And that's all I got tonight.

  5. Ooh! I've got another idea I was reminded of after mentioning Blindsight. The crew of the Theseus in that book are all bleeding edge transhumans. Most of them by neurological tinkering - induced MPD for multiple minds in the same body, artificial senses (X-ray, etc.) replacing other senses (scent, touch, etc.), a sythesizer in the form of the narrator, and, oh yes, a resurrected human variant with a truly nasty form of autism that can be used to very good effect.

    Also, Scott Westerfeld's The Risen Empire and the The Killing of Worlds also make good use of mainstream humans using all their senses to interpret multiple things at the same time.

    How does this possibly relate to BD? Well, if folks are willing to the can surgically and theraputicaly upgrade to a transhuman status without gene tinkering.


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