All is well, time for a break…

I just completed a drive from Austin, Texas to North Central Kansas and back, in three days, alone. Funeral trip, but not the point of this post… at best, I averaged 60 mph and the trip, just under 800 miles took about 14 hours each way. Never mind that I drove straight through – it was a bit cathartic and frankly I enjoyed it.

But here’s the question, what to do in the down time isolated on a planet? Never mind the travel there and back, but is music or television programming enough? How many hours of entertainment can be packed and stored in a space constrained vehicle? What kinds of entertainment are necessary?

I love to drive with books on CD. Listened to the entire unabridged “Deathly Hallows” Potter book for the second time this last trip. It was entertaining, but I still found myself drifting between the “zone” driving the car, emotions surrounding the funeral and family, and the material, being read read to me. Remember that I am driving, so must stay concious and aware, alert for road hazards and traffic jams (there is STILL a log jam South of Oklahoma City on I-35!). And, when I needed to – I grabbed the phone and chatted with Howard and my wife. Helped to keep me focused and awake, as well as let people know generally where I was. For myself, the key to successfully driving long distances are keeping my mind sharp, having something as “company” – in this case the CD book, and short breaks every couple of hundred miles to stretch, hydrate and consider the next leg.

When you are done for a day, or sitting out a horrible storm, do you sit there and twiddle your thumbs? Break out a book and pass the time? Take a nap? or are you alert, monitoring systems at the console hoping that the incoming 50 subzero C weather front won’t freeze up your water supply?

There is an issue here to address: keeping your mind sharp and alert while relaxing and enjoying yourself, on a volume/mass/energy budget imposed by your circumstances. We take it for granted that we can jump onto the internet and access news, YouTube, etc. or come home to the Television. We can grab a cell and be instantly connected to loved ones, friends or the contractor that cannot seem to finish his job.

While this is not a necessary mechanical element of the simulation or game, it is necessary to bring in the context of these elements into the artwork, to make the simulation feel more real, more homelike. We can break this down into a few categories:

1. Casual entertainment: music or news in the background, short games to break up the time, but don’t require 100% participation or can be left easily to deal with an issue.

2. Focused entertainment: Entertainment that requires concentration, like reading or a favorite television series or movie.

3. Casual Social outreach: Things like IM, or quick phones calls

4. Formal Social outreach: Church, Work, News, etc.

What are the analogs to these issues that are important for survival (mental and emotional) for a long term stint in planetary isolation?

Screenshots of planetary environments!

I added a picasa widget that will feed a random image on the right panel. If you want to see more, either refresh your browser, or click directly onto the image, hyperlinking you to a higher resolution view in the Picasa service. Feel free to comment!

Other Colony (like) games…

I must say I haven’t been very impressed with the quality of the other space colony / settlement sims out there. They tend toward the cartoonish or focus on a particular element and that becomes all of the content quickly. As for the graphics – it drifts from pretty raw to downright rough, understandable in one sense, but given the vast possibilities, I am amazed how open this market might actually be.

The video above is the most promising title that apparently is out there – although I cannot find the game itself, and would be interested in it – even to learn what NOT to do. Also – this is a cut sequence and doesn’t show any in-game play, or I missed it. This is getting a lot closer to the Colony concept, but far further advanced in technology.

The rest, either don’t work, are isometric, or in something like java that highly limits the immersive graphics environment.

Seen any good colony – space exploration games?

An Art conundrum…

Developing a game such as colony, that is seeking a customer, begs the question on the art “skin.” Unfortunately, most potential customers see the artwork and quality of animation and content as the sum of the game, despite the innovations “under the hood.” Most developers and engineers can quickly shed their bias based on art and see the fundamentals that are exciting, innovative or just broken and give a more objective qualification… so the conundrum is creating a demonstration that meets enough of the art needs (without hiring a full team of artists) to sell a conceptual product.

The first questions that come to mind are the intended targets for players. Are they kids, young enough to need super simple and stylized graphics? or hard core simulation space fanatics that want the n-th detail and very complex and realistic simulations? Art plays a key role here…

Additionally, it is untenable to create a “real” mining experience, as an example. Most MMOs simplify resource gathering into single tools to harvest single nodes of resources. While a dwarf with a pick-axe can do a lot of damage, a man in a pressurized suit would have difficulty with a manual tool… not to mention the risks and limitations on strength. Do you take an analog, such as a moisture harvester and make it really simple to operate? How does the player interact with the object… and does it FEEL genuine enough to be a simulation?

Flight simulators have set a very high bar for “simulation.” Players can even fly only by controls and the models and interactivity have been worked out over the last 12 years. So what is the paradigm for a futuristic simulator statement? We know that the sum of activities to survive on a colony in space are highly complex and require many specialized engineers to implement. What can a single person do, what are the baseline parameters, mechanics and so forth… and if you solve that, what should it look like?

We have been doing a lot of close analysis of the results of the Mars missions from JPL and NASA. Certainly that is a good start, but is the complexity and “alien’-ish imagely too difficult for a 8 year old to grasp? Should the simulator have strong mechanics underneath, but feel more like a video game? How does the art reinforce the complexity and dependency of the systems?

I have two pictures in my head… one of a grimy space pioneer with very realistic and complex models and animations that even simulate gravity and environmental effects… and another of a cartoon space man that bebobs around the colony doing his thing…

<Insert the proverbial “?” popup over my head> 🙂