Sitting in the Cosmodrome

30 July 2014

Destiny

That’s me, sitting on the ground in the Cosmodrome in Old Russia.

The Cosmodrome is an environment from Bungie’s Destiny. I played it during its public beta last week.

One of my favourite things in Destiny is its sit down button.

The directional pad is used to ‘emote’ in a very limited manner in the game. Two of the emotes are very specifically non-verbal forms of communication, useful for players without headsets: you can wave, either into space or at another player, and you can point. I used these quite a lot with both strangers and friends.

One of them is daft self expression: the dance button. This is probably the most popular emote; it feels like many players hadn’t played enough MMOs to have had their fill of daft emotes, and so the idea that one can just dance – not just on your own, but with other people – for no reason other than you’d like to is a new and exciting one.

It’s actually how dancing ought to be, when you think about it: a fun thing you can do whenever. There was lots of dancing in Destiny.

My absolute favourite emote, though, is sitting. And the main reason for that is the sitting down animation.

If pushed, I’ll take the female sitting down animation over the male one for one simple reason. Male characters look more like they’re sitting down to kill time, staring either into their hands, or just above them – it’s hard to tell, and it feels critical. It’s how you might sit by a campfire with friends (if you were looking up) or in a dreary queue for a gig or festival (if you’re looking down).

The female characters, though, always look like they’re sitting down to look at something. Which is so apt, for Destiny; the skyboxes and vistas the game presents (when it’s not throwing Dregs and Thralls at you) are beautiful. They’re the sort of things you want to take in with friends; pass time watching the day-night cycle. I love seeing the massed Guardians in the Tower, all sitting at the edge, watching the clouds roll across the sky. What are they doing? What are they talking about in their Fireteams and Private Parties?

The idea that sitting is active – that you might sit to do something with your friends, not to indicate an absence of activity – is a lovely thing to be reminded of. It applies tenfold – no, far more, hundredfold at the very least – to the world outside Destiny.

I like that my Guardian reminds me of this every time she sits down.

But sitting down also had a functional purpose for me: I’d also sit down in Destiny to indicate I’d wandered away from my games console.

There’s no pause button in Destiny – it’s always online – but there are enough quiet areas of a map, especially when you’ve cleared out enemies, that you can just sit down and wander away with few ill results. You might even discover how lenient Destiny’s respawning is (as long as you’re not in a Darkness zone).

I was playing with some New York friends at the weekend. They were playing pass-the-pad, and I was on my own. They didn’t have a headset, so we IM’d on our phones to explain the things we couldn’t show with a point or a wave.

Could we pause 30 secs while I put the kettle on,” asks my friend. And why not? There’s nothing around threatening. I say that I’ll go and do the same and wave when I’m back.

I push down on the d-pad, and I/my Guardian sit(s) down for a break. I wander into the kitchen to make tea and toast.

I’d been meaning to write about how much I liked the sitting in Destiny – the “looking into space” aspect of it. And today, somebody else reminded me the other reason that its sitting felt important to me.

Jenn Frank is right when she describes how infuriating her husband’s behaviour is when confronted with a game that has no pause button.

She’s entirely right to be annoyed. Reading her post, I recognised a kind of bad behaviour it’s easy to slip into – and remembered what I used to do about it.

I know that whilst online games of all shapes and sizes encourage you to keep playing – and have no pause button – they also have a reasonable number of safeguards against it in their systems. Or, at least, they should. World of Warcraft has towns, safe from attack; PVE servers, where other players aren’t a threat. Lots of ways to park your character (although not, say, in dungeons or raids, just as all the multiplayer shooters I played lock you in for the scope of a single game). I had no idea how anybody played on a PVP server – it seemed to require permanent, always-on concentration.

Back in the months I played WoW, whenever I wandered away or alt-tabbed for a bit, I’d make sure my character sat down, showing the world they were absent. A little bit of playacting – something better than afk.

I’m glad it still works in 2014.

You can do it almost anywhere. Take a step back. Find a quiet corner. Down on the d-pad. Your Guardian will sing a campfire song, and you can sign that rental agreement, hold the step-ladder to the loft, and talk to your relatives on the phone.

Sit the heck down.

  • "I wonder if the use of the calibration pose will fade to the point where it becomes retro, included only by nostalgic programmers who that want to create that old 11-bit flavor of early depth cameras in their apps. Will we eventually learn to accommodate ourselves to a world where we’re invisibly tracked and take it for granted. Will the pose fall away in favor of new metaphors and protocols that are native to the new interface world slowly coming into existence?"

Waving at the Machines

21 May 2011

There was a line in this blogpost about what it’s like to QA Kinect games that really caught my eye.

The cameras themselves are also fidgety little bastards. You need enough room for them to work, and if another person walks in front of it, the camera could stop tracking the player. We had to move to a large, specially-built office with lots of open space to accommodate for the cameras, and these days I find myself unconsciously walking behind rather than in front of people so as not to obstruct some invisible field of view.

(my emphasis).

It sounds strange when you first read it: behavioural change to accommodate the invisible gaze of the machines, just in case there’s an invisible depth-camera you’re obstructing. And at the same time: the literacy to understand that there when a screen is in front of a person, there might also be an optical relationship connecting the two – and to break it would be rude.

The Sensor-Vernacular isn’t, I don’t think, just about the aesthetic of the “robot-readable world“; it’s also about the behaviours it inspires and leads to.

How does a robot-readable world change human behaviour?

It makes us dance around people, in case they’re engaged in a relationship with a depth-camera, for starters.

Look at all the other gestures and outwards statements that the sensor-vernacular has already lead to: numberplates in daft (and illegal) faces to confuse speed cameras; the growing understanding of RFID in the way we touch in and out of Oyster readers – wallets wafted above, handbags delicately dropped onto the reader; the politely averted gaze whilst we “check in” to the bar we’re in.

Where next for such behavioural shifts? How long before, rather than waving, or shaking hands, we greet each other with a calibration pose:

Calibration pose

Which may sound absurd, but consider a business meeting of the future:

I go to your office to meet you. I enter the boardroom, great you with the T-shaped pose: as well as saying hello to you, I’m saying hello to the various depth-cameras on the ceiling that’ll track me in 3D space. That lets me control my Powerpoint 2014 presentation on your computer/projector with motion and gesture controls. It probably also lets one of your corporate psychologists watch my body language as we discuss deals, watching for nerves, tension. It might also take a 3D recording of me to play back to colleagues unable to make the meeting. Your calibration pose isn’t strictly necessary for the machine – you’ve probably identified yourself to it before I arrive – so it just serves as formal politeness for me.

Why shouldn’t we wave at the machines? Some of the machines we’ll be waving at won’t really be machines – that telepresence robot may be mechanical, but it represents a colleague, a friend, a lover overseas. Of course you’d wave at it, smile at it, pat it as you leave the room.

If the robot-read world becomes part of the vernacular, then it’s going to affect behaviours and norms, as well as more visual components of aesthetics. That single line in the Kinect QA tester’s blogpost made me realise: it’s already arriving.

  • Now that Net Yaroze has closed its doors, Edge catch up with some former Yaroze developers; they have some interesting things to say on the state of games education in particular.
  • "[Our heroine's] name is Marta Louise Velasquez, and she’s quite possibly the most unpleasant female lead character in the history of gaming. She’s also what makes TD2192 worth remembering." Indeed, I have many. She did not lead a happy life, I'll give Richard that.
  • "Critical thinking is the key to success!" Professor Layton is on Twitter. Officially. This is good.
  • why do it? To borrow from the site's About pages: "First, it will help you find shows that others have not only watched, but are talking about. Hopefully it'll throw up a few hidden gems. People's interest, attention and engagement with shows are more important to Shownar than viewing figures; the audience size of a documentary on BBC FOUR, for instance, will never approach that of EastEnders, but if that documentary sparks a lot of interest and comment – even discussion – we want to highlight it. And second, when you've found a show of interest, we want to assist your onward journey by generating links to related discussions elsewhere on the web. In the same way news stories are improved by linking out to the same story on other news sites, we believe shows are improved by connecting them to the wider discussion and their audience." Dan Taylor explains Shownar from the BBC's perspective
  • "Shownar tracks millions of blogs and Twitter plus other microblogging services, and finds people talking about BBC telly and radio. Then it datamines to see where the conversations are and what shows are surprisingly popular. You can explore the shows at Shownar itself. It’s an experimental prototype we’ve designed and built for the BBC over the last few months. We’ll learn a lot having it in the public eye, and I hope to see it as a key part of discovery and conversation scattered across BBC Online one day." Matt talks about Shownar on Pulse Laser.
  • "Shownar tracks the online buzz around BBC shows. It's an experimental prototype and we want your feedback." What I've been working on in the first three months at Schulze & Webb, and is now live. Exciting!