Friday, August 8, 2014

Tetris Effect, and other distractions

This is an annoying week. Three or four times a year an anemia hits me. It can linger for almost a week, and nothing seems to make a difference; exercise or sleep in, eat or change diet, medicate or ignore. You know what it feels like after significant blood loss or trauma? Or the first few minutes after giving blood at the blood bank? Try feeling like that all day. Hard to get much done.

I've torn apart a third-party model in the process of making it printable. I think I have an airtight base mesh now. The next challenges are getting the thicknesses to where they can be practically printed in 3d (not too thin, but also not to thick -- because you pay for every CC of material you use).

Also struggling with the engineering of my Prop Light Source, or whatever it is I'm calling it. Basically an Arduino-compatible integrated with driver circuitry for high-power LEDs. How this is different from anything else out there, is most of the existing lighting solutions are smaller -- in the 20-40 ma range. For theatrical use, I need the 3-10W range. (aka 750ma and up). 

I'm looking at lots of data sheets now, and there are some very nice off-the-shelf constant-current drivers, but they are all designed for larger voltages (typically 16V) And it seems cleaner to instead use boost power supplies, which are also available in convenient packages with minimal external components. Or...I could build my own, using the PWM outputs as pulse sources, but I'm just not a good enough engineer to figure out current detection and limiting loops on my own.

And since I'm feeling so sickly, spending a fair amount of time just reading archaeology blogs, or playing Tomb Raider. Going through Legend now. Which after the quality of the models and controls of the later games is a bit of a hurdle. Combat feels particularly awkward, especially as there is significant animation lag when you try to jump out of the way of something (as in, she goes through almost half a second of "gathering my legs under me preparatory to jumping" before she actually jumps). 

I'm seeing ledges around town now, just as I spent a while seeing portal-able surfaces. The most noticeable Tetris Effect for me, though, tends to be collectibles. I'm seeing arrow reloads and salvage boxes everywhere. Just as during Half-Life I'd see supply crates around town. 

The way I think this works, is; after you've been playing for a bit the power-ups get put in hind brain. Your attention is on plotting routes, tracking enemies, and so forth. Your peripheral vision is scanning all the while, applying hind brain pattern recognition to the memorized shapes. And in those odd moments when you aren't actively jumping or shooting, you run over the ones you spotted to pick up a few more points from them.

It is the very low-level, almost-instinctual level at which you put this that makes it stick with you outside the game.

Tetris Effect also refers to thinking in game terms, of course. Classically, in trying to manipulate sofas and house guests in your mind to see how they might stack. (One suspects that Douglas Adams might have been playing a lot of Tetris when he wrote the first Dirk Gently book...?)

And I can't say I've consciously noticed any of this. The problems and solutions of the games I've played are both so contrived, and so alien to every day experience, there doesn't seem to be any cross-over. Which is jus as well. I'd hate to have my instinctual reaction to meeting a stranger to be swinging an ice axe at their head!

As a sideline, the puzzles in Tomb Raider 2013 are quite nice. But on replay, you remember most of them (worse, I watched a bit of a run-through while deciding if I wanted to try the game, so I never got the chance to address some of the puzzles as a completely unique challenge). 

Combat takes such primacy in many games because there's enough variation in what you can do, and enough emergent behavior in the AI, to make it fresh (fresh within limitations, that is). And it is relatively easy to add more, once you've established the meshes, combat values, and AI.

As physics engines are getting integrated, more physics challenges are also available to break up the monotony of doing the same challenge the same way. These are all aspects of a multi-body problem; add enough elements, and the possible variations becomes staggering. Whereas most puzzles -- and most platforming -- has only the specific alternatives the level designers put in.

I believe that the Tomb Raider games do not have an overall physics on their universe, not when it comes to climbing. That is, no part of the engine analyzes edges to see if it is possible for Lara to cling to them. Instead, every actual climb-able element is painted in on the level map. So, arbitrarily, one raised brick could be a hand-hold, another not be. The better Tomb Raider games provide enough of these surfaces that there is more than one route to each goal; that breaks things up a bit.

But it still becomes largely rote. So far combat -- and driving -- seem to be the major ways to let the level itself generate fresh play. Everything else is scripting, and limited by the patience of the level designers and the budget of the game.

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