I recently travelled to present at a branch meeting of the BCS at Coventry. As a long-standing member of the BCS and chair of the BCS Animation and Games Development Specialist Group I often get to present on games related subjects. With my 451 Research coverage on Industrial IoT, AR and VR developments there are some interesting crossovers to talk about. There is much more acceptance of gaming, but as with all tech related things there are often far wider connections and overlaps between industry verticals than may initially meet the eye. I thought I would share the narrative and some of the examples from this latest presentation to highlight some of these crossovers.
Retro to State of The Art
I like to start game related presentations with a bit of history and there is a great one often quoted from ancient Greek writer Herodotus, who described the bronze age Lydians invention of games such as dice, which they played in an attempt to stave off hunger during a prolonged drought. Play is of course a great distraction. That is a little too retro for some, so I generally describe the rise of Space Invaders in 1978. Not the first video game, but probably the best known from the era. It was 10 pence a go in arcades, and there were a lot of machines and kids playing it in my seaside hometown back then. The great thing about the internet now is that these old games are preserved. ROMs and even type in source code listings get archived in game historical databases. I was pleased to see my first ever piece of paid programming work now preserved. I wrote a lunar lander in BASIC for the C64 back in 1984 and sent it to a magazine. They printed the listing and I earned £10 and a copy of the magazine. Of course, we can’t stay in retro land, things move ahead so I like to show some state-of-the-art footage from a newer game, I am still really happy with the Red Dead Redemption 2 video, as it is a modern game but again looks at a historical time. It is relatable to an audience who have seen cowboy movies.
“Yes, but I am not a Gamer”
Over the many years I have given talks and hosted meetings and calls on the use of games technology a response of “Yes but I am not a gamer” is often thrown in as part of questions. I don’t mind hearing that. Of course, that statement of not being a gamer is very often not true, and almost everyone plays something. It may not be high end AAA games but there is always games, sports or a way of life that is relevant to the conversation. I have started using the Sunday Times rich lost as an example, lots of people are interested/obsessed with who is where and, whilst money is not everything, it still is a major part of our culture, a high score table if you like. That also ties in nicely to the fact that revenue from games in 2018 was reported to be around $148bn globally. With $5bn in the UK alone in 2018 outstripping the music industry and the movies. It’s not a business to ignore, if those sorts of numbers float your boat.
Wider than “just playing”
Now the scene is set with games as an industry vertical we can look at some of the things that games technology and games thinking bring. Examples I used this time included, our company FitBit challenge at 451 Research that had us, in teams, pool our steps to compete in a virtual race along Route 66. As a globally dispersed company this brought some ongoing team building into place enabled by consumer IoT tech and online map API’s from a service provider. In part this provided cheaper health insurance premiums too. I have taken the quantified self a little further to lose a whole lot of weight through app-based recording of nutrition (generally scanning barcodes on food), combined that with weight tracking (wifi connect scales to feed directly into the iOS health app) and adding fitness tracking for heart rate and activity from an Apple Watch. Additionally, my IoT punch trackers (from Hykso) let me see how I am doing and increase my martial art training in Choi Kwang Do as scores and measurements have a positive feedback creating a virtuous cycle. All connected, all online.
In sports broadcasting Intel have their True View stadium camera systems that puts 38 5K cameras recording what happens on a football pitch. Then locally those 100’s of Terabytes of flat video data are combined to create a full broadcast quality 3D model of the action. This then allows a virtual camera to zoom, spin and fly around anywhere. If you have played or seen the FIFA football video games, this ability to see the world from anywhere is a key part of the replays and the experience. So now football is copying video game football. This idea of being able to manipulate the physical world like a virtual one is also a core part of the narrative in my Sci-Fi novels Reconfigure and Cont3xt, so I am always excited to see developments in this space. Whilst on the subject I also like to point out the covers of my books are built using the Unity game engine. The space like swirls are from a model of random planets and their rings, but of course I can position a camera anywhere in a 3d model to get the look I want.
Learning by doing
We all know that experience only comes from trying to do a task, and usually failing or finding some areas to improve the next time around. This does not have to be regarded as jovial play, though enjoying a task always helps. Using game technology to render scenarios safely, with both variability and repeatability is increasingly the option used to help train people in all walks of life. Pilots learn to fly in simulators (giant video games) that introduce them to situations that it would be unsafe and impractical to physically train for. Increasingly Virtual Reality (VR), which has clearly been driven as a game technology, is used to immerse people in situations for training from how to fix an air conditioning unit, KFC training staff on food preparation and police and armed forces rehearsing hostile situations.
Nvidia, amongst others, have also shown that it’s not just humans that be trained in a virtual environment. Using a complex photo realistic simulation of roads and traffic, it tests and trains autonomous vehicle systems as it’s able to introduce situations that the cars need to deal with, but may never see on physical road testing.
It doesn’t have to be all in 3D and VR either, you can learn and explore ideas such as in Democracy 3 which is a simulation of the impact of government policies that you put in place. Probably a few more people on both sides of Brexit could benefit from giving that a go!
AR is the UI for IoT
Yes! There it is, my much-used mantra for why Augmented Reality is important too. It provides a real-time way to see previously unseen data where it needs to be seen, typically coming from a machine or device in situ. All AR relies heavily on game technology. Understanding the environment around an AR headset uses depth sensing and camera technology originally commercialized for games consoles. The rendering engines for 3D content and the development engines to structure that content are very often game development ones, such as Unity and Unreal.
In our complex and busy world, it becomes very easy to quickly classify something, pop it into a mental bucket and forget about it. People in the games industry may not realize the other diverse applications of their skills. Those thinking they are not gamers or have no interest in the playful side will switch off at the thought of any association with play. With connected devices, and all the instrumentation we now have, its worth taking a look at any product, any business and part of life and seeing if games tech and possibly gameplay might provide some interesting innovative solutions for you.