Having been born a time when it is common knowledge that the world is round and not flat, it seems absurd to think otherwise. It seems that the most genius developments in history are the ones that seem the most obvious to us in hindsight. Naturally, I feel the same way about Sim City, The Sims, and Spore. Will Wright, the creator of these brilliant games, or rather, software toys, because their open ended nature, is a well known figure around the SIGGRAPH community. I was eager to hear him speak on Monday.
Will grabbed our attention instantly by showing images of cute, fluffy kittens. He informed the audience that, although the talk was called Playing with Perception,he would actually be talking about his cat, Argon, who's picture he had uploaded to KittenWar.com, a site where the masses rate the cuteness of cats. Will's cat won some comparisons and lost some, and the end result, as he accurately calculated, were that his cat was in the 65th percentile of cuteness. He presented a very scientific model. He uploaded different pictures of the same cat and compared the results with the first picture's. He found that people liked smaller cats, softer cats, and that the direction of the pupils and the poses made significant differences. And what does this have to do with computer graphics and interactive technology? Well, everything.
After a lengthy analysis of the cute factors of cats, Will broke full swing into his ideas about perception. Why do individuals perceive things the way they do and how do we think about interactive media in a way that incorporates the end user? The production pipeline for developing games is very linear in it's overall structure. It moves from executives, to middle management, to the creative types, to the engineers, and into production, but do the guys at the top, or even the designers really consider the subtleties of perception? In most cases, probably not. It ties back into what individuals believe defines cuteness, or toughness, and how those perceptions affect there responses to stimulus in the media.
We have come into a time when we are not only dealing with technological advances. On top of the rapidly developing tech side, we must now consider where technology meets psychology and be better designers. We have to consider the specific audience. One factor may be age. Will hypothesizes that there is some kind of information absorption constant that, when divided by a person's age, gives us an idea of how much information a person can process per second. Of course, the mathematical postulation here was a joke, but the underlying concept of designing for an audience and understanding that audiences needs at a very deep level is fundamentally important.
Will also talked about visual imagery and gave us some insight into a way to better understand it. He divides images into to categories: captured images and synthetic images. The former means photography from real life, and the latter encompasses paintings or man-made imagery. He also divides these categories into secondary ones: actual and imagined. Each of the first two categories can fit into either of the second. Actual captured images are real photographs of real things things, actual imagined images now encompass photo-realistic CG, actual synthetic includes paintings of actual objects, and imagined synthetic images are cartoon representation of fantasy.
Will believes that we are letting these categories blend together and that we are moving into the most interesting area, which is a combination of all of these. New techniques and tools like HDR and tilt shift photography really stomp on the line between real and synthetic and open new doors to creative freedom and playing with perception. When an image is real, but doesn't look real, how do we perceive it differently, as opposed to an image being synthetic, but looking real?
Overall, Will's talk was a brilliant and thoughtful glimpse into theories of perception and game development. He is a man who makes the most complex thoughts seem obvious and apparent and the world would be a slower moving place without him.
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