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Pre-rendered 360 backgrounds for mobile VR are super useful and look great

This is actually a repost of a blog I wrote in the summer for my Oculus Launchpad demo and at this point I think a number of people have used the same technique but eh whatever, here's a cool thing!

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I’ve got a cool technique to tell you about that makes it look like a bunch of 3D particle systems are running in the game but they are really 2D movie magic. Cloudrise is set on a gas giant planet and I really wanted the surface to look alive with photorealistic roiling clouds. This kind of effect is not hard to achieve with the Unity standard asset particle systems, but since the game is getting released on GearVR we can’t have a bunch of 3D particle systems running on the phones without seriously overtaxing them. Soooo the work around I used was to create a scene with the surface of the planet exactly how I wanted it complete with a gazillion particle systems running. Then I put a virtual 360 camera in the middle of the scene (VR Panorama 360 PRO Renderer get it, it's awesome), captured about 10 seconds of 360 video of the particle systems running, took that 360 video and dumped it onto a video sphere in the scene I wanted the effect in, looped the video, and voila!! Huge 3D particle system background still looks 3D but is now 2D and manageable for the phones. How’s that for high level graphics compression B-)

I’m going to monkey around with the 360 videos a bit more (there’s some rendering artifacts when the videos loop) but overall I’m pretty pleased with the effect. 

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Memes basically function as emotional determinatives not unlike those in Egyptian hieroplyphs

Sooooo, I've been meaning to write about this for awhile now and want to get it done before the Bedhouse Games blog becomes overrun with Oculus Launch Pad dev posts (what what!? how awesome is that ^_^). 

I unironically love memes, gifs and pics alike. If presented to the proper audience using memes can cut down on the amount of text needed to convey emotional meaning by between 50% and 80% (I made up that stat, but I'd wager it's close by some metric). What makes them so useful? Basically memes, treated as a linguistic element, are providing the same functionality as determinatives such as those present in Egyptian hieroglyphs. Determinatives are ideograms that are used to mark semantic categories of words which help disambiguate interpretation. Glyphs that are homophonic (they sound the same but have different meaning) are common in Egyptian hieroglyphs, and the determinative is the unspoken glyph that comes after (or sometimes before) the phonetic glyphs and tells you which word or concept is being referred to among similarly sounding words.

In English the same differentiating function is executed via spelling: plain and plane, night and knight, you get the idea. 

Memes execute the same function by modifying the meaning of whatever text they are posted with, often times making it such that hardly any long form expository text is needed to convey emotional subtext. For example:

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Obviously the first instance of "Fine" means something completely different from the second thanks to the Wojak and Dark Stare Rage Face memes.

How did this become a thing? I don't know for sure, but I think it's due to a combination of posting from mobile, character limits, ease of organizing downloaded images, and the rate at which memes are shared (and thus are understood by wide audience) has something to do with it.

Anyways, I'm not the best wordsmith (and I don't aim to be) so the use of supplemental memes appeals to me and I wish I could use them on the regular in emails and such. We'll see what the future of communication on the internet holds for us on that account ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

* If anyone is wondering how I know about Egyptian hieroglyphs it's because I took a class on it in undergrad, it was a good class. 

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Vector 2017 has further convinced me that small indie scenes generate more innovative games

**Writer's note: I'm super busy right now so this post is rife with... errors. I'll come by and clean things up when I can, but I mostly wanted to get this out before much more time pasted. -MW

A few weeks ago I attended Vector for the first time, and lemme tell you, this is one of the best video game events I have ever been to. The speakers were amazing, the talks were amazing, finish it off with perfectly timed interludes and you've got pure conference magic. I still haven't fully digested everything :-P  Do yourself a favor and go next year if you can!

While I was looking over the games in the student showcase, something struck me that also struck me at GDC earlier this year. It seems like smaller indie scenes are more likely to produce innovative games than indie scenes that are huge and saturated. It could just be that the part of my brain that holds all of my biology knowledge is leaking, but this very much reminds me of peripheral isolate speciation and how evolution is more likely to happen in peripheral communities. 

Here's just a few examples off the top of my head: Nour, That Dragon Cancer, Witcher, Samorost...

List is not exhaustive and I need more data points to say anything definitive, so if there are any dear readers out there who could leave game title and city that the lead dev lives in the comments section (or tweet them at Meredith) I'd be most obliged. Right now my theory is based off of my personal anecdotal speculation, but if we had more data points I could whip up a nifty graph and see what's what :-D 

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A Modest Proposal for Improving Working Conditions in the Video Game Industry

**Note: I realize this is a bonobo and not a chimp, but I couldn't not use a picture of Kanzi. He's my favorite research ape of all time. 

**Note: I realize this is a bonobo and not a chimp, but I couldn't not use a picture of Kanzi. He's my favorite research ape of all time. 

Most of us are all too well aware of how the video game industry has a terrible reputation for badly exploiting workers leading to burnout and physical/psychological breakdown. Clearly some much needed reflection and management overhaul is needed. The way I see it, if it's illegal to do to our closest nonhuman primate relatives, chimps in this case, it should be illegal to do it to humans. Therefore I purpose using the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC) guidelines for using chimps in research as a reference for how to not abuse your employees in the workplace. The IACUC guidelines place strict restrictions on how many hours a day research chimps are allowed to do tasks, and stipulate many requirements for environmental enrichment and social enrichment, which by the way includes making sure that no chimps are allowed to harass and bully other chimps regardless of how important the bullying chimps are to research outcomes. When the chimps get sick or suffer psychological distress it matters, things are done to help them get better, etc. etc. Just image if the human workplace was held to the same standards.

This blog post is written primarily as satire but at the same time let it sink in a bit that a great deal more consideration goes into the health and wellbeing of research chimps in the US than for a good number of people working in the video games industry. If you were a research institution that got caught housing and working chimps the way that many game devs are you'd be looking at loss of funding, huge fines and possible jail time (depending on the state and the severity of abuse outcomes). 

So next time you, dear readers in management, find yourself in a quandary as to the ethical nature of your workplace practices ask yourself, "If these were chimps and not humans, would I go to jail for the conditions I'm forcing them into?" If the answer is 'yes', then it's time to make some changes.

 

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Our Pandemic: 1918 Demo at Virginia Tech's ICAT Day, or how I got to thinking about using video games to build empathy between multiple players

On May 2nd Dr. Tom Ewing and I manned our table at Virginia Tech's ICAT Day to showcase our very first demo of Our Pandemic: 1918. The final release date isn't until 2018 but we figured ICAT day would be a good opportunity to gauge audience reaction to the game's concept while it's still in developmental infancy, so we cobbled together the opening scene game jam style and put it out there! The demo was well received and we found and solved a lot of bugs by rapidly prototyping solutions both in Unity and on paper as the day went on.
    
Thing that struck both Tom and me the most was the fact that the people who really got into the demo were those whose families were directly affected by the 1918 Flu Pandemic. There were about three people who had a great grandparent or great aunt or uncle that died in the pandemic, and one who had an aunt that was a doctor at the time (yes one of the first legit female doctors in the US). I myself had heard stories from my grandmother told to her by her mother, about how one of the families on their block lost ALL of their children during the pandemic (it was a big family, 5 kids in total I believe).

The whole thing reminded me of a conversation I had with Navid Khonsari, the creator of 1979 Revolution: Black Friday, at the Games for Change Summit back in April. He said that one unexpected outcome of the game was how it served as a way for parents and grandparents who had lived through the Iranian revolution to talk to their children and grandchildren about what happened. Side by side. It's sometimes easier to talk about difficult subjects side by side rather than face to face, at least it's easier for me. Using video games to facilitate discussion between players in the same room on potentially tough topics is an angle on gaming that I hadn't really thought about before, as my focus had been on building empathy in solitary players through games but I now see that building empathy and understanding between multiple players is a natural fit. Games like 1979 Revolution: Black Friday as well as That Dragon, Cancer and Loving Life fit into this space and with luck Our Pandemic: 1918 will join their ranks.

 

 

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