levelHead – Augmented reality puzzle game

Despite coming of age; this demo remains one of my favorite examples of augmented reality applications. This one uses your computers camera (or an external one, no mobile versions that I know of) to view a cube with markers attached to each side. Through naked eyes, it’s a paper cube with cryptic symbols—but with the aid of cameras and computer program; digital metamorphosis produces something entirely different.

If you still haven’t already succumbed to skipping my ramblings—go watch the demo of levelHead by Julian Oliver! (embedded video below.)

levelHead Video

levelHead v1.0, 3 cube speed-run (spoiler!) from Julian Oliver on Vimeo.

Main points of fascination

  • Physical object interaction; virtual worlds are dependent- and intertwined with physical objects (the cubes) in the environment. (Opposed to displaying virtual objects that have no connection to reality, which in my opinion is removing the “reality” out of “augmented.)
  • The cube, simple as it is, gives the impression of a gateway into an entirely different world.
  • Simplicity. With the environment shaded and lit, the flat white character is simple and adds a mysterious touch to the experience.
  • The cube is the controller as well as viewer; an intuitive solution for containing the game experience entirely within a simple paper cube.
  • The game is easy to replicate if desired; all you need is the right program and a paper cube with printouts.
  • Considering the Future: Remember Myst? I can easily envision an entire game in that style: purely contained within a paper cube, or even interchangeable shapes such as orbs or other simple ones for different environments (perhaps even a few in-game tools).

LevelHead information excerpt

Using tilt motions, the player moves a character through rooms that appear inside one of several cubes on a table. Each room is logically connected by a series of doors, though some doors lead nowhere (they are traps).

The player has 2 minutes to find the exit of each cube, leading the character into the entrance of the next.

Work is also being done to use invisible markers such that the cube itself appears entirely white to the naked eye.

Visit the project page of Julian Oliver’s levelHead

Thanks for an inspirational game concept, Julian!

The AlloSphere: Visualizing data inside a gigantic metallic sphere

Stand inside the AlloSphere—a giant metallic sphere that displays real live images of scientific data. In the video below JoAnn Kuchera-Morin, creator of the sphere, demos a flythrough his colleagues brain. Simply awesome. See video below.

[If you see no video then click here to visit the post]

AI, Game AI and apparent intelligences

A subscriber of Think Artificial wrote to ask me about games and AI. In short, DF asked what my thougths are on AI in games and which ones I think are the most intelligent.

To answer this bluntly: Game AI is very different from it’s non-game counterpart, and it’s not my field of study. I’ve only compared modern games through a window. However, Alex of AIGameDev has superb coverage of AI in games and the top AI games of 2007, by community vote. The top of the line are Half-Life-2.ep.2 and BioShock.

But regarding Game AI in general: modern games are horribly void of intelligence. It depends on where you set the bar, certainly. There’s tons of AI in modern games compared to 5 years ago. But the first thing to note is that Game AI is not the same as AI. It’s a subset of it. Just like discrete mathematics are a subset of mathematics. And moreover, Game AI is a very specialized subset—it has well defined goals, models for construction and limitations.

When Pet Projects Demand Attention: Sneak Preview of My Untitled Game

A cropped screenshot from my game project
The past weekends I’ve been spending some time on a pet game project. Writing a small engine, building a storyline and creating visuals. When it comes to 3D games there’s a lot to consider, from aesthetics through software architecture to AI, and naturally, my curious mind has been venturing ideas in all these areas. Lately I’ve started to think that maybe the whole thing is worth more than just random jabs of code and color.

Puzzling with Portals

Screenshot from Portal
My favorite game of all time must be Myst — a puzzle solver that held me occupied for several months finding my way around surreal architectures. I’ve yet to find a game which has captured my attention to that extent, but there’ve been some that came close; and they all require either a puzzle solving aspect to it or a very original and compelling storyline for me to enjoy them (usually both). Unfortunately, that doesn’t leave many games that I can truly enjoy, but the recently debuted Portal looks like a strong contender.

Simulations Show Living Space Dust Might Exist

Living Spacedust ToonMy brother called me today to tip me off on some exciting news: An article the New Journal of Physics reports evidence that inorganic space plasma might form life like structures. Fantastic! Simulations created by a Mr. Tsytovich and his colleagues at the General Physics Institute, Russian Academy of Science, have provided evidence that under the right conditions, dust particles may allow plasma to self-organize and exhibit behavior normally associated with organisms, such as self-replication.

Evolving Lego Brick Structures

Now we know. Cross a genetic algorithm with your favorite toy from childhood (Lego!) and you get intelligent, biologically reminiscent structures. Dr. Pablo Funes and his team at the Dynamical & Evolutionary Machine Organization devised a very cool simulator that can be told to create Lego structures of various kinds, such as bridges, using evolutionary algorithms. The creative aspect provides interesting food for thought: the system is given a goal and the solution design is entirely dependant on the machine.

Evolved Lego Brick Bridge

Teachers Aren’t All Made from Meat

Everybody can agree that the number of teachers versus students significantly effects the quality of education. With a high number of students to each teacher, the courses have to be adapted to the group and less attention payed to each students characteristics, strengths and weaknesses. I’ve been aware of this pesty fact through my own experience of school and consider it a noteworthy problem of modern education. So, let’s mass produce teachers to come to the rescue.

Minsky Bashes Neuroscience

I just came across a relatively recent interview in Discover Magazine with Marvin Minsky, legendary professor at MIT and A.I. pioneer. In it he does a bit of bashing of neuroscience, which I feel I lack knowledge to comment on, but I’m absolutely with him on the claim that artificial intelligence is the way to understand the mind. Nobody can expect to understand the workings of the brain by handwritten formulas or tracing neural interactions — it’s too complex. We need simulations. I’m putting a small excerpt from the interview below, but you should really read the whole thing.

Neuroscientists’ quest to understand consciousness is a hot topic right now, yet you often pose things via psychology, which seems to be taken less seriously. Are you behind the curve?

I don’t see neuroscience as serious. What they have are nutty little theories, and they do elaborate experiments to confirm them and don’t know what to do if they don’t work. This book presents a very elaborate theory of consciousness. Consciousness is a word that confuses possibly 16 different processes. Most neurologists think everything is either conscious or not. But even Freud had several grades of consciousness. When you talk to neuroscientists, they seem so unsophisticated; they major in biology and know about potassium and calcium channels, but they don’t have sophisticated psychological ideas. Neuroscientists should be asking: What phenomenon should I try to explain? Can I make a theory of it? Then, can I design an experiment to see if one of those theories is better than the others? If you don’t have two theories, then you can’t do an experiment. And they usually don’t even have one.

So as you see it, artificial intelligence is the lens through which to look at the mind and unlock the secrets of how it works?

Yes, through the lens of building a simulation. If a theory is very simple, you can use mathematics to predict what it’ll do. If it’s very complicated, you have to do a simulation. It seems to me that for anything as complicated as the mind or brain, the only way to test a theory is to simulate it and see what it does. One problem is that often researchers won’t tell us what a simulation didn’t do. Right now the most popular approach in artificial intelligence is making probabilistic models. The researchers say, “Oh, we got our machine to recognize handwritten characters with a reliability of 79 percent.” They don’t tell us what didn’t work.

3D Morphable Face Animation

All I can say is wow.

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