How do we say what we mean?

Post-it Notes.

I find neon coloured notes a fascinating medium for communication. They are bright and can stick to anything, as they are intended as attention markers. In our world of constant transmission of information from all types of sources: electronic, paper, spoken, etc. it is hard to make out where to look. And post-it notes make it easy to know where the attention should be.

In books and textbooks notes allow us to point out and bookmark the most important facts, or the ones that are the hardest to remember, or the ones that were missed in the text, but said in class or found out somewhere else. They encourage more engagement with the original media by allowing us to add more to it, something that came from outside the original. They encourage putting thoughts in words and sticking them to the right places. A very useful media indeed.

However, they are also anonymous and small. There is no conversation between many members of a culture that can happen on a post-is note. Post-it notes keep it simple but that doesn’t allow for too much interaction between people. They are a one-sided medium that allows for engagement with future and past self, but not so much with others.

This has a power in our culture. The anonymity is something that for the most part has gone away, forbidden by culture because it allows for giving up responsibility. There is a reason our society has decided to put an author underneath all ideas, opinions, and thoughts – be it plagiarism, honesty, credits, accountability. Post-it notes can go against this they allow for skipping these virtues. On the one hand, there must be ways to not follow the herd and having this medium of adding information in such an obvious and concise matter is a good option. On the other, it can evoke the worst parts of humanity with it. Hate-speech, treats, false comments, distractions are vices that society struggles with and post-it notes can facilitate them.

This is an example of how post-it notes can be used to do bad.

VR.

Virtual reality is an amazing new media. Amazing because it is so new, a completely immersive way to communicate ideas that has never been seen before. And thus has both good and bad implications.

For the most part right now it permits a one way communication – from creator to audience. I believe that in the future with things like PhotonNetwork and other assets for communication (be it facebook, chat interface, some twitter sort, being able to change the environment) people would be able to leave their mark and use it as a multi-communication channel. Because it is so realistic it will multiply the effects of both virtues and vices. Beautiful, useful creations will be more easily sharable and so will be spreading around mean and awful things.

It encourages thinking about reality as a very personal thing that can be manipulated. I think that this is a perspective that people should adopt, because it will help them understand it and employ it. Additionally, having something that seems real but is not will allow for more experimentation and less consequences, which can serve to release tension in people and teach them how to act in the real world. I think that culturally it can serve to create a very clear action-result relationship, without damaging individuals. This is the good way it can go.

And there is a bad one which is the exact opposite. People will lose the connection between action and result, and thus lose the value that it has. It will seem as if anything that you do is okey to be done because consequences are unforeseeable, unlike in the VR world. But this seems to be happening now anyhow, so VR has the potential to induce the distinction, so I have hopes it will be good.

Progress on Beta 1

Finally, sun lit my house too. We started writing the plot and ark of our game. Before that in the team there wasn’t much focus on storyline. However, now we have the arc.

The story line has been shaping very well – it is a dystopian futuristic space colony plot. The Earth has been left behind, along with all of its surviving citizens, and now has an enemy in the face of the galactic colony that started from the old world.
The characters are the Phoenix Empire, the space station manager, the player, the scientist from the old Earth, the radio broadcaster.

About 300 years ago on Earth there was a war that has unclear origins and sides, in which nuclear weapons were used that damaged the planet and its atmosphere. Moreover, because of the radioactive fallout big portion of the population died and the future of the living was marked by genetic mutations and famine. At that point humanity had advanced enough to have started slowly colorizing the near planets and had space home in the orbits of different planets. There were inhabitants of the space-home which had taken permanent space residency, but it was still an expensive way of living so they were only the chosen few. The story told to the citizents of the space nation about the happenings on Earth is that because humans were divided they fought against each other which brought destruction to the planet, made it uninhabitable and unescapable, so it is supposed there are no survivors. In reality the war wasn’t because of division on Earth. It started as a conflict between the powerful and rich inhabitants of space didn’t want to comply to the motherland’s law and didn’t want to share their extraterrestrial resources with the poorer population left on Earth, so the nation which started the galactic project helped them to wipe out the Earth and it’s population. Planning took years, the last valuable resources from Earth were taken to space and then masking it behind a political agenda they destroyed their brothers.
The Phoenix Empire is the new intergalactic human nation that has started from the orbital colonies around Earth. In the last 300 years they have been drifting away from the Solar System creating stations in further planets even galaxies. The government is run by computers with human intervention by a board of directors, chosen by the population every 10 years. After they left Earth, many were doubtful about the events on the planet, so the story about the divided humanity was fabricated by the then-people in charge in order to keep peace on the colony. Although, it is not a totalitarian government in charge and the free media is one of the major ways for the citizents to have a voice, the story about Earth echoes through time. With the advance of technology and civilization interest in the origins of the human kind wasn’t present. However, the newly elected government is worried that such interest can arise and thus decides to go back to Earth and finish what their ancestors have started by diminishing the planet.
The space station manager sends the player, or first human satellite on a pretend mission of space exploration that will be broadcasted and added to history books in the Empire. However, unknowing even to the manager, who is in contact with the player, there is a bomb attached to the spacesuit that is to be detonated once the destination Earth is reached. There is no knowledge available to the mission control and player that they are in the Solar System from which their kind originated.
In the orbit of Earth the player and the space station which is receiving the recording, see a satellite and hear a recording that is playing from it. The recording and the satellite are proofs that humans have survived on Earth and have continued to develop after the attacks. They also proof that they don’t know the attacks were organized by the colony and think that they have been left behind and are searching for the others if they have made it.
The player knows little of this in the beginning of his journey and has to go through challenges in order to get to the final destination – Earth. On the way he sees artificially created objects, which hint at the survival of the old world. Once he gets to Earth she/he starts to realise what is happening and recalls a speech made in the Empire about the origins of humanity and the old world and realizes that there is a discrepancy between the reality and the stories told. Then he there is a malfunction of the trajectory of his path and he uncontrollably starts going towards Earth’s atmosphere. Then there is a message that pops up and asks if he wants to detonate the bomb that will be the end of Earth.

Sound and Alpha

Opening of a drawer, screeching of a door behind you. I don’t need much more than that to freak out, no visuals, no story – just a noise behind me. Gives me goosebumps even when I play it on my computer from youtube. I love this sound effect because with very small sound you can raise someone’s heart rate like crazy. It is disproportionate and very effective – I love it.

Project –
The project is going super well. My teammates are creating some awesome things in terms of design, sound, and experience. I have very high hopes even for alpha.
My part – making an environment for now, is going also very well because of a free asset that I found which has many, many elements of space that look amazing and I wouldn’t have been able to do them on my own for sure. So, I am combining things to make them look pretty, ordering them and mostly trying to fill in all of the space around the user without making the space super full of things. This however poses a problem of optimisation because of the big space that has many many prefabs, particle systems and etc. So, my biggest problem is combining a full and beautiful environment that can actually run without lagging because it is so heavy. For later versions most probably different prefabs will be triggered only when the player looks as them (raycast yey!) so that it is not so heavy on the machine.

Cities and Signs (4) or Sin City

In the description of the city of Hypatia Marco Polo tells the story of his first encounter with the place, how he wondered around and what he was searching for, rather than give a direct account of the city’s architecture or construction. Although, Calvino tries to evade just mapping out a city, he rarely relies on Marco Polo’s interactions of a place in order to give the city life.

However, Hypatia’s account is given almost exclusively by the story of Polo’s adventure there. This sets the first important point about the city – it is not the architecture that makes this place special but people’s interactions with it. Marco’s account is lead by his discovery not of beautiful ladies but of suicide corpses, which points to the unhappiness that the place brings to its citizens. The fact that the corpses are left outside on the open, not hidden or buried, points to the awareness of the act and maybe even the need for it; it also points to the ignorance of the living citizens of their fellows’ lives. Such an environment reminds either of business that doesn’t allow for time for funerals or that the people choose to be ignorant. As Polo proceeds to the sage, the reader slowly realises that “sage” doesn’t have the usual meaning here. It symbolises someone indulging in a library’s gifts. Then Polo understands that the place is a place for indulging, for enjoyment, for passion and happiness. He sees that the citizens have in Hypatia anything and everything that they might ever want. The only problem is that such a place is very hard to leave – the only way to do it without having regrets would be to let go of oneself forever – jump off the high towers into the waters and become food for crabs.

The library is falling apart, which again shows the ignorance of the people who live in Hypatia. If the place for knowledge is left to rot, probably so is the whole city. Only things that could bring pleasure – gardens and park, are kept. The streets are probably damp, full of trash and empty of people, as they have no where to go – they are already in the best possible place. The palace is also left to rot, only prisoners working there, no ruler is to be found, which points to the possibility that he is also indulging in some garden or another. However, the existence of a beautiful palace, staircase and dome show that there was greatness in the city in the past and that there must be something or someone, probably the prisoners, who are working to keep up the heaven for everyone else. The remote papyrus cabinet also points to a long history of the place. It seems that Hypatia is not what it used to be.

Living the minimal life

My whole childhood I have been collecting junk. I have been buying and keeping things for no apparent reason at all and then dumping them in my room. When I started living outside of home, mainly hitching around, I realised the value of having a small amount of things, because you must be able to carry them on your back. Fit them in a single backpack and then carry it around with you (thank God for Kindles!). This changed my perception on material things and their use.

Although, I haven’t stopped myself from collecting things and dumping them in my room, it got a lot better on its own. What I posses now in my actual bedroom (back in Bulgaria), are either things from before or things that I haven’t gotten around to throwing out – yet. But moving to university in the UAE made things so much simpler. I had only two suitcases allowed and my obsession with clothes and shoes (they are not junk to me) made sure I won’t be brining in any other items of questionable value.

5 Objects

Thus to describe the atmosphere of my lifestyle here is very easy: my bedroom is white, my sheets are white, my walls are white, my candle is white. As a proper human fitting in the collective all of my things are white, so that is the first very important contributing factor to the atmosphere – a white bed. I have a fluffy light purple blanket, which is to me a symbol of the fact that there is a soul living in the room, and so it is an important part. A laptop next to the pillow to represent the “stay in bed but on the internet” life that I live. The plain above mentioned candle to show my love for the night and fire.

This description of the atmosphere comes quite close to the reality of my bedroom right now. However, there is a part of it that cannot be portrayed but only represented by a symbol – there are clothes literally everywhere, on the floor, on the bed. Everywhere, but the actual wardrobe. So, I decided to represent the openness of my love for clothes by an coat hanger.

In five objects I can give a pretty solid representation to my reality, which makes me feel that I manage to represent the atmosphere quite right.

2 Objects

In order to represent the atmosphere of my bedroom with only two objects I will pick the fluffy blanket and the laptop. This way I am removing the effect of the all-white environment which suggests a room similar to an asylum room, which is key to the atmosphere here. However, I still keep the feeling of solitude and also a suggestion of my window to the world – the laptop.

Primitives

By using only shapes I can keep the atmosphere of my room. I would use a semi-transparent sphere to replace the room, bed, and blanket, which provides comfort and solitude. On the side of the sphere there will be a rectangular cut, or “window” that will stand for my laptop and my engagement with the world.

I feel that a sphere with a window for an “eye” is quite the popular si-fi concept and quite well resembles both the atmosphere of my room and also my whole being as well.

Up is Down and Down is Up

The unlimited possibilities of VR turn out to be a problem from me rather than a liberation. As times passes and I have to come up with more and more ideas about VR I am realizing how limited my mental space has become. Although, I have always been on the creative side in writing, coding, creating in any possible way, my brain has become limited by the limited resources that I have (I guess that is just growing up and facing reality does). And now this new VR opportunity presents a mind-bothering issue.

I mentally went through any superpower and magical thing that I can think of and then on my own found them all to be already existent in one video game or another, not necessarily in VR. So, I set out to think of something which would engage more senses in VR and would thus make use of how real it all seems once you put the headset on. Seeing and hearing have been engaged for decades now, movement is engaged in HTC VIVE as well. But I wanted to dig deeper, engage the unseeable – our sense of spacial position and balance.

Readily in my mind came the movie Inception and how by manipulating spacial position the characters were able to do many things. And then into mind came the concept of the impossible staircase.

Relativity
July 1953
Lithograph
27.7×29.2cm

The only way to go through this maze is if you are able to rotate your space according to the position of the next staircase. “Up” and “down” become not something set, but something you have control over. In this manner one becomes more aware of their vestibular sense. In real life almost no one (except of aeronauts and people using fly machines) pays much attention to this sense because special equipment is needed in order to affect it. For us the sky is always up and the Earth is down. However, like everything these concepts are subjective and not set, but for evolutionary purposes we have gotten used to calibrate according to these two big objects that are always in sight.

Thus, a game that makes you break the tradition of up and down can cause some trouble for most people. It is incredibly important for coordination and balance to know which is where, so when this certainty is removed many people might feel sick. But just like any other sense or muscle you have to go through the pain and trouble in order to improve. So, I feel like this has an application in body training and also poses a challenge.

It is also a challenge to make. For the past week I have been trying to create a level of impossible staircases and it is very hard for me to imagine everything in 3D while imagining to change my spatial rotation. Using other softwares like TiltBrush allows me to better imagine how it might look like, but it is still a struggle to open up my mindset to remove the usual concepts of up and down. Which makes me believe even further that having a way to learn it (like in such a game) will bring us closer to unravelling our full human potential.

As a second interaction me and my group discussed scaling of the world, similar to the beginning of Alice in Wonderland. This makes the design of the level even harder; however, it also works very well to present an “out-of-the-box” way of thinking. It is an interaction that again messes with one’s mind-set about position and control over the world that they are in.

Fire All Mighty

Life

My idea behind the creation of my first project for Cardboard had many dimensions – social, humanitarian, and pure joy of creation. I portrayed a calm night in a forest, with a full moon in the distance and peaceful background of night bugs singing. This whole utopia was extended by a not-so-utopian factor – it was all on fire. There were fires burning everywhere around the player, their sounds blazing and covering the peaceful melody of the night. The only possible interaction with the environment was to shoot out more fireballs, thus making the player unable to prevent the disaster from happening, she could only make it worse.

In the social context lays the first interpretation of my project. It is about the literal destruction that humans cause in Nature. It is our involvement that only makes it worse, as we are unable to turn back time and prevent the disaster from happening in the first place.

The second interpretation of my project is a little bit more subtle. I imagined this forest as a mind map of human brain and consciousness with its sulci and gyrus as the terrain, a mountain, on which ideas, trees, grow. When destruction, or depression, or any other mental condition takes over – the fires – often times the individual cannot stop it from happening by rushing to take some action, shooting fireballs in my example, and should stay calm and just take it all in; let it flow through them. To me this is a very important issue, both because of my own recent and not so recent struggles, but also because I have come to realise that many people suffer in their everyday lives because they are not willing to stay calm and let go. I wanted to show this struggle and also give a way out of it – listening to the peaceful sounds, looking around and enjoying what one has. This works in the context of NYUAD because we live in a desert so such forests are not present but they are still highly appreciated by many here.
Of course, it can be interpreted also as the inability for humans to prevent entropy and a metaphor for our ongoing struggle. This is a more dark interpretation, but still a valid one.

Lastly, I enjoy forests and fire, and I wanted to experience it. Virtual reality allows to interact with fire like never before, like a superpower, and to be able to manipulate it in previously impossible ways. It empowers people, which makes them feel good.

On the topic of creation I will now say a few words about the actual code behind the project. For the fires spread around the forest I used a free asset available in Unity Store, which had the fires and their sounds already prepared for me. The background, the terrain, the forests and the moon I made using already existing in Unity options. For the realistic forest sounds I used a free recording from a forest I found online.

Shooting the fire, my interaction, was naturally the hardest one to make. At first I wanted to use the Fire Assets’s options; however, I learned that reading someone else’s code and being able to understand, and use it, is not always the most straightforward thing and I was unable to do it. So, I did what my professor recommend me – “Why not make it yourself?”

Thus, I created a particle system that I connected to the Cardboard trigger with an if function, so that only when you press the trigger it fires. Then I got the position of the player’s view in order to make the particles shoot in the right field of view. Using the position and rotation of the camera I told the particle system to go in that direction with the Instantiate function.

My biggest problem was making the particles move uniformly in the direction in which they were shot, because by default they spread around. In the update function of their script I added a transform.forward function multiplies by the time it takes them to travel, which I could control. Then I used a material and sound effect from the Fire Asset to attach to my particles so that they look like little fireballs.

If I had to work more on this project I would do the following:

  • make the fires in the forest appear gradually for the purpose of player immersion
  • make a single particle when triggering the button
  • make the particle induce fire where it lands – this would be made by checking if there is anything on the way of the particle with a Raycast function and then triggering a fire asset or particle system on a spot, defined by the location of the original particle, when the raycast function returns a small distance 0.4f(for example)

First Contact (or my favorite interaction)

When you touch another human being there are a lot of ‘defences’ that trigger. Personal space, peripheral neurones, societal concepts, personal understanding of the matter and many more. For the most part, especially since I have been living in a muslim country, I have learned that touching someone is too private for many and it is not a great way to establish first contact. Handshakes, a manner of the West, serve exactly the purpose to break these defences and force people to establish a more intimate and honest interaction, however, not everyone is used to this manner.

So, I have learned to establish first contact in another way, a more distanced way that allows people to remain calm and mindful in the interaction – giving them an object. It is almost the same as a handshake, however, the spacial distance that the object provides and the inanimate touch that it gives make the interaction process more subtle and smooth, without the explicit feeling. Of course, the more subtle something is the less people notice it, so you can say that often times this interaction is one sided, but not always, which makes it even more exciting for me to participate in.

An example of such an interaction is the mythological story of Prometheus who gave fire to the people. It was one sided and included no physical contact but it is the greatest gift from the gods to humanity and it is essential for their survival. Like the Doors sang “come on baby, light my fire” there is a lot to giving things to people that stays below the surface of explicit interactions. My personal favourite is giving someone a lighter. It is a very mixed-blessing interaction to being with – satisfying a desire, and poisoning at the same time. Its importance is overlooked by most people because it is such a small mundane event but I see the irony and thus very carefully consider people’s involvement in it.

Furthermore, giving something to someone unexpectedly or without him asking, is also beautiful and unpredictable in results. The moment you stretched arm meets the other person’s, even with the object barrier in between, you kind of get connected. In many sci-fi works there is an object that symbolises this connection, that serves as a transmitter better than a normal touch. I think having a special object to emphasise the importance of making a connection, amplifies the interaction and minimises the feeling of it. So it is a thing for people who care.

What a Beautiful Place

My favourite environment has been already described not once, but many times. It functions in the Bible, in the Hobbit, in Lord of the Rings – it’s a heaven.

Hidden, in a valley surrounded by mountains with an ancient virgin forest, untouched and unexplored by man, lays a stone villa. It has big halls, with no windows, that let the light breeze and the sunlight in at all times. It is two stories high, and on top there is a wall that functions for protection. From the yard in front of the building, you can see and hear the waterfall that comes pouring from the mountain on the East. It is lost in the branches of the trees, but if you walk a bit towards the little chapel, you can see the river that it creates. You have to walk on a small bridge that crosses the river, to get to the chapel. In it you will find stone etchings of the stories of heroes long dead, and an empty altar in the middle of the circular room. From there, the trees hide most of the villa and all of the benches laid out in the beginning of the forest, where the trees are not as tightly packed.

If you go back and start walking towards the West, with the villa on your left, you will soon start to sweat, as the elevation increases rapidly. In a hundred meters you will reach a junction of forest paths – one goes up towards the mountains, one deep into the forest, where you would need a light at any time of day, and one carries you by the side of the valley, behind the villa and further on even behind the chapel. If you take this road you will end up on the river side, and in an hour at the bottom of the waterfall.

In Tolkien’s Middle Earth a place similar to this is named Lothlórien and it is the last place where the ancient race of the elves reside in the third age. Legolas describes it as “the fairest of all the dwellings of my people. there are no trees like the threes of that land. For in the autumn their leaves fall not, but turn to gold. not till the spring and the new green opens do they fall, and then the boughs are laden with yellow flowers; and the floor of the wood is golden, and golden is the roof, and its pillars are of silver, for the bark of the trees is smooth and grey” (Lord of the Rings).

3D Map of Fujairah – Project 2

On my second long weekend in Abu Dhabi, after I had explored Dubai, I went to a more new area of the UAE – Fujairah. Although, not as big or as popular as the cities on the West coast of the UAE, Fujairah is quite well developed but still has elements from before. Firstly, it is not very densely build yet, although there are a lot of construction sites. This results in more open air areas and thus emphasises the lack of human presence, generally quite common for the UAE. It is very tranquil, especially in contrast with Dubai, and there aren’t many commercial attractions. There are however, a number of historical locations such as forts, museums, archeological sites, and a heritage village.

The reason I went all the way to the other side of the UAE is that I wanted to dig deeper into the life before the oil and the money, when the economy was pearls and air conditioning didn’t exist. Fujairah was so far given me the best insights into that life, for two reasons. The contrasting underdevelopment supported with an influence on history. I visited almost all of the cultural and historical places except for the bullfighting arena. I learned about the people who lived there 7000B.C. or 3000B.C. and how they lived. I saw some of the lives of the pearls, the houses and dresses that people had. Their boats, weapons, and utensils.

In order to perceive the sharp contrast with the near past and to understand about life in the desert and the culture that it creates, I decided to solidify my knowledge about the place. I took out my tourist map that I found at my hotel in Fujairah and decided to make it my canvas for recollection.

I wanted to show to the dynamic between modern style architecture and heritage that exists in Fujairah. I decided to show it in 3d using SketchUp Pro 2017 and some models of buildings I found on the internet specifically in 3dwarehouse. I thank yiorgos for his models.
I created a mosque on my own and edited the rest of the buildings so that they fit on a map. I have chosen only buildings that I have seen and remember as part of my journey, but not everything. The map lacks the concentration of skyscrapers on the East side of the city. I have only put the building of Commerce which is in the beginning of the highline. I have put a famous hotel – Hilton, which resides on the shore and is important location for tourists as the area is populated with a number of hotels. The Fujairah fort is surrounded by the museum and a modern hospital. I have added Al Badiyah Mosque a small, old mosque that is now a tourist attraction and resides North of the center.

SketchUp Pro 2017 is quite had to navigate because unlike Photoshop it doesn’t have layers that allow for separation of all objects. The forms that are inbuilt are limited and details and more complicated structures have to be worked out by hand. Otherwise, it is very simple so easy to get used to, and does a very good job with simple models.

Despite all of this, I feel like the map is missing some objects in order to fully transfer my message of coexistence of the old and the new. I think that the bullfighting arena should be included as a token of incorporation of tradition into modern society. The museum, so old that in itself creates historical interest should also be included. Moreover, on the Eastern side of the city a few more of the modern building should be marked. And lastly, the new mosque Sheikh Zayed, the second biggest mosque in the UAE, represents the integration of traditions in modern society. I am currently working on creating the model itself and I will update it on the map when it is ready.

For me this extended 3d journey into the history of the UAE both in Fujairah and online, has given insight into the modern Emirate culture. It has set, like a history course in Middle school, a base understanding of the changes that a society has faced and is facing in a particular place. This time the place was the UAE and it was completely different from the one that I knew back home, so the lesson has been an important one. I hope you enjoy my map and if there is any interest for any continuation just write me a comment or an email and I will share the file.