Saturday, 25 May 2013

Interaction Design

I would like to think that I've been fortunate enough to have been born at a time when video games and all other technology have become major parts of individuals lives. Some people may not agree, but as well as providing people with enjoyment and entertainment there is no doubt in my mind that technology provides so much more. It can save lives and make life so much easier for anybody and everybody.

Today, one of the first things to consider with the development of new technology, (although sometimes you wouldn't think so, *cough, Windows 8 *cough), is how a person will interact with it. Companies now spend millions in development of interaction with their technology whether it be software based in user interfaces and AI or hardware base in the peripherals we use such as controllers, cameras a keyboard or the remote control for your television.

In recent years video games in particular have had huge developments in interactive design, particularly home video game consoles. I’m a Playstation gamer and have owned my PS3 from day numero uno and it has delivered me many new interactive experiences, some of which were complete surprises. The first 'device' in order to interact with the Playstation as many of you I’m sure will be aware is the controller or 'game-pad'. The game-pad is what the user will hold in their hands in order to control a device. Over the last 20 years or more, Sony have spent millions, if not billions in the design of their controller, the most recent being the 'Dualshock 3', as do many other companies. Companies will strive to deliver the most 'ergonomically' designed controller possible to make it as comfortable to hold for long durations, yet it is impossible to please everyone and designs change drastically from device to device. But as mentioned, since owning the Playstation3 I've also been treated to a few surprises in terms of interaction with the video games I've played. With the PS3 also came the introduction of the new Playstation Eye camera which tracks players movement with no need for a controller at all. A game called Operation Creature Feature is a particularly memorable game. The game presents you with one whole level on the screen where a number of strange looking creatures reside in one corner and their final destination awaits them on the other, very similar to Lemmings, but the levels are much more artistically advanced to say the least. By only using your hand, which the Playstation Eye tracks, you have to pick the creatures up and guide them through the obstacles each level presents without dropping them and thereby killing them.

Just after the PS3 Playstation Eye had been released, I also bought a game called The Eye Of Judgement. I'm a geek so bear with me here. The game is actually a card based game similar to Pokemon or Magic the Gathering, but with an extremely impressive twist. The game is packaged with a game mat, a square divided 3x3 into nine equally sized boxes and a small stand for the camera so that it looks directly onto the play mat. When a card is placed onto the mat, the camera reads them, and all of a sudden a creature or monster jumps out of the card on the screen as if actually in the room with you! Once two cards are placed onto the mat the game will cut to a scene where the two creatures will fight each other! This will only happen if the cards are facing each other though, as the camera will even read which way the card is facing and the creatures will also face in that direction, so another element of strategy is added to the game-play. What is perhaps even more impressive is that if you hold a card in your hand underneath the camera the creature will still jump out of the card on screen, and you can then turn your hand to turn the creature around and view it in a full three-dimensional space.

More recently the Playstation Move was introduced as another peripheral device for interacting with the games console. Unfortunately it has received very mixed and at times negative reviews. It is a very similar device to the controllers for the Nintendo Wii, but is claimed to be much more accurate. You hold the Move controllers in one hand, similar to a stick, and can play similar games to the Wii such as sports games like tennis, but the controller has another ace up its sleeve, or on the end of it if we're going to be literal. The controller has a small ball on the end of it which glows, different colours for different players, which, when used in conjunction with the Playstation Eye camera, is used for extremely accurate motion tracking. Games such as EyePet, fully utilise both the Playstation Eye and Playstation Move controller. The game gets the player to, ideally, sit on the floor in front of the television with the camera set to face the player and an area of the floor. When the player taps the floor, a small cute, monkey/ dog hybrid creature jumps out of the floor and the player can interact with the creature in many different ways. The game, probably since a Tamagotchi, is the first true virtual pet experience and the player must wait for their creature to hatch from an egg and then continue to care for it, by feeding it (with Playstation buttons), playing with it, (draw a picture on a piece of paper and hold it up to the screen and the pet will copy your picture and then turn it into a real object on screen!), as well as wash it and dry it. The real interaction is when the player does come to do any of the above things though, when drying the creature for example, using a Playstation Move controller, the camera will replace the controller in your hands (on screen), with a hair dryer! The technology is quite amazing, by rotating the controller and turning it, there is no way of telling on the screen that you're holding anything other than a hair-dryer and at first it is utterly mind blowing!

My most recent experience with new interactive technology, which I was saving for a separate blog but is probably better placed here, is 3D. Again, it has received mixed reviews, and again, many negative, but most people have only experienced 3D films, and most people have only experienced them at the cinema. Me and my wife recently bought ourselves a new Samsung 3D smart TV and watching a 3D blu-ray on the Playstation, with the active shutter 3D glasses that the television uses, the films are truly awe inspiring. Avatar, The Amazing Spider Man, The Rise of the Guardians, Brave and more are just beautifully presented in 3D. Even I was extremely cautious about 3D initially, and I'm usually the first to get suckered in to a new technology, but five minutes of watching a 3D movie on a true active shutter television, on a true 3D blu-ray disc and I assure you, you will converted.

Because the Playstation 3 uses blu-ray discs though, it is the first ever games console to fully present 3D specific games, which have been developed specifically to fully utilise the 3D technology. Gran Turismo 5 in 1080p, 60fps and 3D! Now that is a recipe to truly blow anybody away, the experience is just unbelievable and the depth it adds to the viewing experience is just indescribable, you truly have to see it to believe it! But the most recent game I had the pleasure of playing right through in 3D, was Uncharted 3 Drake's Deception. At a point where I didn't think games could get any more immersive, technology once again swoops in and proves me wrong. The 3D environments are so detailed and impressive, and enemies laser sights come right of the TV and I found myself ducking out the way! It has been one of, if not the most impressive, interactive gaming experiences I've ever had, and I honestly cant put into words how it looks and how it feels when playing, so I implore you to pick up a PS3 and a 3D-TV, or find a friend who has one and try it out, it is an amazing interactive experience!

What will technology bring us next? I cant wait! 

Operation Creature Feature - PS3

Eye of Judgement -PS3

Eye of Judgement -PS3

Eye Pet -PS3

Eye Pet -PS3

Uncharted 3 Drake's Fortune, 3D - PS3

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