Sword Art Online: Is It Possible To Create A Fully Immersive Virtual Environment In The Future?

The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.

~Marcel Proust~


I’m not a hardcore gamer. It is not because I do not enjoy playing games, but simply because I’m easily addicted to it.

My first game console experience was when my dad bought us Atari 2600 (yeah… I know, it was ages ago!). My favorite games at that time were Pacman and Space Invaders. Years later, he bought us our first PC and I got myself hooked on the Prince of Persia game.

As I grew up, I played various other games – from PC to console to online games. I did play Hidden and Dangerous 2 once, a multiplayer, first-person shooter (FPS) genre. Unfortunately I have an extreme motion sickness which obstructs me from diving further into 3D games, including virtual reality games.

SAO1

Speaking of virtual reality games, this brings up the topic of discussion for this post: Sword Art Online (SAO). Yup, SAO is a light Japanese novel series written by Kawahara Reki, and have been made into an anime.

Putting the ‘anime-freak’ in me and the creativity of the story line aside, what impressed me the most about SAO is the world it was based on: virtual reality massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG). A subject that is really close to my heart; something that I proposed to do at the start of my PhD (not exactly on MMORPG but something related to VR games) before resolving to a natural user interface area.

A little bit of background on SAO. The story was set in the near future where humanity had finally created a complete virtual environment. By donning a VR helmet that stimulates the user’s five senses via their brain, known as Nerve Gear, players could control their in-game character with their mind. When the players logged in for the first time, they found out that they were trapped in the VE without being able to logout. The only way out was to clear all 100 floors and defeat the final boss. To make matter worse, death in this game means death in the real world as well.

Watching this anime made me think about the possibility of creating a complete virtual environment, that gives the feeling of naturalness to the users. With the current technology, we are still far behind from achieving that goal.

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When I did my research on natural interfaces, the first thing I looked for was the technique used to implement the interface. I had not done much research on VR games since my focus was more on a 3D manipulation technique. However, our goal was still the same – to make the interface as natural as possible.

So, what is a natural interface?

In my thesis, it was defined as:

“An interface that relies almost exclusively on visuomotor skills already possessed by users.”

In other words, an interface is considered natural if the user does not take long to learn how to use it. Not every action in the real world can be simulated as it is. Some actions need to be compromised with some tricks to achieve the naturalness in the interaction.

Why is the naturalness so important in the simulated world? To me, it gives the feeling of satisfaction. I played Tekken on a console, and loved it. I played EyeToy: Kinetic Combat and the feeling was overwhelming.

It is what engaged the users to the virtual world. After all, the VR world is the place where people would go to, to take a break from reality. To be what they can’t be in the real world. To make them feel belong in this universe.

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To arrive at the world portrayed in SAO where all of our five senses work as in the real world seems to be out of reach at this moment. Even with the 3D manipulation technique I implemented, the effect of a haptic feedback was omitted because that will require a whole new research.

But one thing for sure, the gaming industry is moving towards VR and AR experiences. More researchers will be investing their time in creating new technologies for this purpose.

It is only a matter of time before the world in SAO is no longer a dream.



The Art Of Writing
A Literature Review

The first step in the acquisition of wisdom is silence, the second listening, the third memory, the fourth practice, the fifth teaching others.
~Solomon Ibn Gabriol~

Literature review is an essential part in writing a thesis. So how to extract the necessary information from the article you reviewed?

backgroundStudy

In this post, I’m going to share on how to write a good literature review, a legacy passed down to me from my great supervisor ^-^

Here are the steps and examples – exactly in his own words (maybe with one or two additional words, where appropriate :D)

  1. Simple statement of what the researchers did that is similar to your work.
  2. eg: M. Chen et al. [1] built a 3D controller combining the Wii and several cameras. The aim was to develop a universal motion controller from current and cheap hardware that can perform general tasks in both 2D and 3D by simply changing its mode of operation.

  3. What were the authors aiming to do?
  4. eg: The authors stated that “the WIMP GUI may still be irreplaceable but 3D UIs will be superior when the interaction is taking place in a 3D spatial context”. Because of this, they suggested that the universal user interface should be something that can combine both 2D and 3D interaction.

    They implemented this interface and demonstrated how it looked for a couple of tasks including 3D manipulation of virtual Lego Bricks.

  5. Give a bit more detail which are needed for the next step.
  6. eg: In their demo application for 3D manipulation and 3D navigation, a lot of cues were used to tell the users what interaction they were performing. A red overlay is used if an object is graspable or objects are engaged but not correctly aligned. If the objects are correctly aligned, a green overlay will be shown and the user can press a button that will trigger the ‘assemble’ command. For 6DoF browsing in the application, the user needs to point the controller upward until a semi-transparent green appears which indicates the desired operation has been triggered.

  7. How is your work different?
  8. eg: This interface is very different from ours because of these additional and artificial cues. Also there is no report of user testing so it is not possible to see whether the universal interface is in any sense better.

  9. A gentle criticism. Not really needed, but it shows you have thought about what they are doing. For this case, it makes the point that these authors were not aiming at a natural interface in the sense that it is close to something already familiar.
  10. eg: A universal motion controller is an interesting idea but it cannot be said to be natural. It is a bit like having a common steering system for cars, bicycles and boats. It might be a good idea but we would need to see some evidence.

Simple much? These steps had helped me to focus on what to write especially when I had to rewrite my background chapter just a few weeks before my submission date!

Reference:
Chen, M., AlRegib, G., and Juang, B.-H. (2011). An integrated framework for universal motion control. In Proceedings of the 10th International Conference on Virtual Reality Continuum and Its Applications in Industry, VRCAI ’11, New York, NY, USA, 513–518. ACM.

PhD 101: If you have ‘the’ will,
you will find ‘the’ way

“Success is to be measured not so much by the position that one has reached in life as by the obstacles which he has overcome while trying to succeed.”
~Booker T. Washington~

Have you ever felt so down that you wanted to quit so badly?
~I had.

Have you ever thought that you had made a wrong choice in life?
~I had.

Thesis Submission Gift

Will you ever give up when facing with hardship?
~Nope, at least not until I try my hardest!

Completing a PhD degree is not easy, but it is not impossible. You don’t have to be a genius. I’m not. All you need is will and perseverance.

There are a lot of success stories fed to us – to boost our spirit and keep our motivation up.

Thomas Alva Edison had succeeded after trying for 999 times. Henry Ford broke five times before successfully founded Ford Motor Company. The Wright brothers finally created a plane that could fly after several years of hard work, not to mention tons of failed prototypes… and the stories continue!

And the latest success story? Brian Acton, who created Whatsapp with Jan Koum, had been rejected from Facebook and Twitter in 2009, and after years later, he and Zuckerberg are now sitting side by side. Yeah, Facebook bought the app for $19 billion.

These are all true stories shared to the world with hope that people will continue to strive. But to some people like me, these stories sound more like a fairy tale.

Why, you ask?

Because these people are one in a million. They made history. And I don’t think I’m gonna be that popular 😛

The truth is, I started my PhD for a wrong reason; I just wanted to keep my job as a tutor at that time. To make matter worse, I didn’t have a strong background in graphics. I didn’t know much about research. So yeah, reading successful stories won’t actually help finishing my PhD. Sometimes it made me more upset because deep down I believed I couldn’t be like any of them.

What I needed the most during that time was the right guidance. And this guidance was given to me by none other than my supervisor, Geoff Wyvill (and of course with the unlimited support from my family!).

He said, when he found out that I didn’t have the required background knowledge: “I will take you from where you are, and make sure you will reach the end.”

When I was disturbed by unpleasant comments from people who thought I didn’t try hard enough and blindly criticized me based on my Facebook travel photos, he said: “It’s okay. We will prove them wrong.”

When I had no idea at all where and how to start this PhD journey, he said: “Start from a baby step.”

So, what are the steps necessary to start your PhD journey, especially if you are just like me, who were utterly lost from the very beginning?

  • Topic, topic, topic
  • In business, you will think about location, location, location. In doing a PhD, identifying the topic you want to work on is important. Someone told me, just slightly before I started my study, to choose an easy topic in order to get a PhD, then once you have obtained the degree, apply for a grant to work on a topic that interests you the most.

    I’ll say, I completely disagree. A PhD is not just a piece of paper. It is more like your partner in life, for better or worse. You commit most of your time to it. So why not work on something that you love and can be proud of, and have no regrets later on? This is one of the reasons why my supervisor doesn’t decide the topic for his students; he wants us to do what we like and not what he likes.

  • Background knowledge
  • This doesn’t mean that you can’t proceed with your topic of interest without the background knowledge. It means you must be willing to learn, to do what it takes to gain the knowledge.

    Since I stubbornly wanted to work in graphics and games area, Geoff agreed to guide me, but with one condition – I have to learn to make my own physics engine. So he “released” me from doing research for about 8 months, made me sit-in in physics and graphics classes, and started implementing the engine right after the semester was over!