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