Thursday, February 14, 2008

Code, The Cave, and Interface

So... the Cave. Amazing.

It wasn't exactly what I was expecting; when I first heard of this “virtual-reality cave,” I pictured what many would have pictured, in the mid 1990s: a large, clunky helmet and unwieldy gloves. But something that the operator said struck me – something along the lines of “… with these lightweight goggles, you’re not enclosed. You’re part of the world.” Something to that effect.

John Cayley spoke about how modern society sees so much graphical and audio manipulation in new media, but not text. The first piece that we saw in the cave (the title of which escapes me) illustrates the kind of possibilities that he’s likely referring to. I saw words literally fly off the page, the “driver” attempting to re-attach them to the story; words simultaneously latching onto different sentences and others, drifting off into oblivion…

The fact that this entire experience was done without the aforementioned “VR Helmet” was part of what sucked me into it in the first place. Not knowing the interface was even there allowed me to just fall into the world presented by the Cave. Had I been forced to don a ten-pound reminder screaming “THIS IS NOT REAL,” the Cave’s amazing immersive capability would have been woefully (and literally) weighed down by a clunky interface.

Speaking of interface… I had a look at the Cave Writing GUI. Not bad. There were controls and easy settings for each parameter, integrated multimedia import – apparently, the interface was easy enough for a 1st-semester “Cave writer” to create an entire program the night before a final. I also got a look at the hard code, which our operator was using to run the program from the same Linux-equipped terminal. It looked like a strange mixture of DOS and HTML – the only two other text-based headaches I’ve had to deal with in my limited sphere of computer knowledge. I think the code there was XML; still, it was fairly incomprehensible. Such a factor shouldn’t limit one’s creativity. I’m glad to see that the GUI is letting individuals overstep those boundaries. (Granted, the GUI only offers limited functionality to its users compared to hard coding, but c’mon. It’s still cool.)

On one final note, going back to Rez, the synaesthesia-emulating Dreamcast/PS2/Xbox 360 (in HD!!!) video game, where you play a hacker trying to restore functionality to a computer, Eden: If you look closely at the upper-right hand corner of the screen, you can see code being processed simultaneously with your actions. Attacking enemies, obtaining power-ups, even changing levels – all have commands attatched to them. Makes you wonder how much less fun the experience would be without the game itself, which, in essence, is just a physical representation of the act of hacking – if you will, an interface.

I gotta get back to playing that damn game.

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