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Constructing Artificial Emotions: A Design Experiment
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Constructing Artificial Emotions: A Design Experiment

October 26, 2007 Article Start Previous Page 4 of 9 Next

It can be a strange concept to wrap your head around. When you read a romantic book, your response is as much due to your past experience with romance as it is to the contents of the book. It is very likely that another person, one who has led an unnaturally lonely life, might read the same book and not be moved at all.

As a traditional author, your goal is to describe experiences that are relevant or highly correlated with experiences that your audience might possess. This is one very powerful technique for creating meaningful, emotional impactful media. This isn’t anything new. Much of what game artists and writers do involves the creation of relevant stimuli.. All those detailed graphics, booming sound effects and cliched story lines? That’s relevant stimuli, baby.

Technology: According to our little theory and building up on the lessons of emotional memories, you can predict the characteristics of highly effective relevant stimuli:

  • Detailed: The more detailed you can be, the more likely you’ll light up a rich network of nodes.
  • Personal: The more you can get someone to empathize with an experience, the more likely they’ll link it to their own personal memories.

Bacchus doesn’t rely on plot or well-rendered NPCs for its relevant stimuli. Instead it focuses on making the fantastical ‘spiritual’ experiences in the game personally relevant and highly detailed.

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The detail comes in the form of traditional imagery and sound effects that references common culturally relevant spiritual symbols. The ornate costumes worn by the player avatars are intentionally laden with various religious icons, glowing colors, angel wings, etc. The choral sounds are intended to recall childhood experiences with church choirs or even pop culture representations of spirituality found in movies or on TV.

Movies and books are typically limited to piling on the detail and hoping that it strikes a chord. Games have the opportunity to make all these details much more personal and relevant to the moment at hand.

The primary technique you see in Bacchus is known as "avatar mapping", where the player's actions are mapped onto an in-game character. It stops being about watching a costumed religions icon and much more about interacting and participating on a personal level with a religious situation.

  • Capturing movement data: In the next twenty years it should be feasible to build high dynamic range digital cameras that take crisp 20 megapixel shots at high framerates. Add in range-finding technology, a beefy processor and some multi-person image processing software and you have a system capable of tracking the subtle movements of an entire crowd in real time. Simple versions of this are already happening with the hardware like the EyeToy or Nintendo Wii-mote.
  • Mapping movements onto an avatar: All that detailed movement information can be mapped onto a 3D model in real-time. This technology exists today and will only get better. Check out the video below and extrapolate the fidelity that will be possible a decade or two into the future.

    Fix8 example

  • Voice mapping: Just as your visuals can be altered, so can your voice. When a hundred people yell out the same phrase in a crowded room full of pumping noise, the computer isolates a single voice. That single voice is converted to text, timing, inflections, emphasis and volume information. It is broken down its components and reconstituted. If an old man wishes to sound like a young boy, a middle aged woman, or a monster ripped from the studios of Hollywood, all it takes is the flip of digital switch. You talk and someone else instantly says your words.
All this is a crapshoot. If I’m lucky, I’ll actually trigger the recall of an actual spiritual experience.

Article Start Previous Page 4 of 9 Next

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