Sunday, October 08, 2017

Future of Story Telling (FoST) Expedition Report

The Future of Story Telling (FoST) is a fascinating experience held on Staten Island in NY (Oct 6 - 8).  As a Gamemaster who is looking to the future of the hobby in relation to Professional Gamemastering I was curious to see what new developments are in the works for VR and AR, and see if anyone at all is considering tools for Gamemasters.  I also wanted to meet people and plant some seeds for future reference there. Unfortunately, I only had one day that I could attend and that was Friday Oct. 6.  So my intrepid and lovely Adventure-Associate, Ling, and I hoofed it over yonder Verrezano Bridge ($17 toll, omg!), and within 2 hours we were at the event, starting at 11am.  We stayed until they closed at 6pm and we certainly had only sampled about 1/3 of what was there to see.

Object Normal
David Lobser

The Birds!  Ok this was totally 100% fun.  It was certainly and by far the most creative use of VR I saw there, and the most entertaining.  The actresses were absolutely adorable, and Ling and I now have our 'secret' bird calls which we will use periodically going forward as secret passwords.  Hehe.  Anyway, it was a lovely time, and I totally recommend this one, but sign up early!  It gets booked fast, and we were very lucky to squeeze in at the end of the festival day when we replaced a couple of no-shows.  Lucky!

TwoBit Circus

A game where one person gets inside the VR and plays the Monster trying to protect his treasure from the thieving adventurers (the other three players).  I didn't get inside the Monster (my girlfriend did, though), but I'm told it was fun ... you reach out and grab the little thieves with your giant claws and give them a squeeze before they can get your gold back to their ships.

Quantum Interface

Innovation in Headgear design.  The idea was to find a solution to the vertigo experienced by many VR users.  It worked nicely, and I got the hang of it immediately, though my girlfriend who isn't a computer gamer by any stretch of the imagination, and with little experience, was able to get the idea after a few tries.  I'd say it's pretty intuitive once you get the idea, but the initial WTF may be steep for some.

Mech Bird
Tatiana Vileca do Santos

This was a very artsy installation in the VR Realm.  At the point where I pressed the button and flipped the room so I was on the ceiling I "got" the Vertigo Effect.  Woah.  Now I know what they mean. It can be really disorienting. I tried it several times and each time the visual effect was so strong I almost fell over.  The Vertigo nausia lasted for another 20 minutes after I left it.  That said, the scene was interesting and very Salvatore Dali-esque.

Apora Gen
Roman Miletitch

This one is probably the most interesting from the Professional GM Society point of view.  He had an installation where you draw a scene on paper with colored pens and each color represents a type of terrain.  Blue is water, Green is forest, Red is lava, and yellow is a barrier of some kind.  When you draw it on the map an overhead scanner reads the map and automatically adds the terrain in the VR World where people in headsets can interact with it immediately.  So for GMs who want the freedom to create their own Worlds on the fly and have players in an Interactive VR / AR environment, there may well be something to this.  I spoke with Roman and pitched him my idea for GM tools and he was interested.  I will follow up with him soon.

Layne Button

This one was a short show with a surrealistic touch to it.  Spaceship was involved.  You stand on a platform in a VR helmet and watch a vista of desert with some musicians and a tornado / storm heading straight for you and ... it was weird and interesting.  It's a mixed reality combination where the platform rumbles, and you feel like you're moving a bit.  The audio was great, and the visuals spectacular. But my girlfriend's video got stuck about 80% of the way through, no one knew, and she didn't figure it out until after ... she thought that was part of the show.   So like for many of these installation, I should mention, there were glitches along the way.  Most of them felt like DYI projects at a Maker Fair, with the exception of a few that were done by large companies like Microsoft.

Starship Commander
Sophie Write

This was a fun game using AI with voice and VR Helmet directional controls.  You can talk with your AI co-pilot, as questions, and go on the mission.  You fight space gooks, and destroy a battle station.  It was fun, but ... of course ... the AI was not that great, and the co-pilot didn't really understand what I was asking and so after a while I gave up on that part and just ran the mission.  You use your VR helmet to look at enemies and the ship automatically shoots down whatever you can keep your target cross-hairs on for long enough.  Fun stuff, but not really quite there yet.  Proto-type level.

Mashup Machine
Ben Cole

This one was also another potential GM-Tool candidate, though it would need some substantial resources to bring it to bear on our line of thinking.  What it does currently is allow the user to dynamically create virtual scenes like a game, via interaction with the Mashup Machine's AI interface.  It prompts and guides you based on some questions both you and the AI ask one another, and the result is a series of video game scenes.  The AI gets smarter as more people add their thoughts and concepts to the scene creation tool. This concept could be very helpful for GMs who are in the business of dynamic story generation.  Very!  But it has a ways to go from here to there, and no budget to take it in our direction as of now.  Still though - very worthwhile to keep an eye on this one, and ping them on GM Tools development news.

Hololens Exhibit / Show
Tero Pankalainen

For this one you wear hololens headset and watch 3D movie that takes place around you.  It looks very vivid and is AR, not VR, so you can still see everything else around you as well.  But the superimposition of items and characters looks very clear and distinct, and I'd even say "solid".  The story was a bit silly, but the graphics demonstrate the potential.  I could see this being used for AR style games where GMs build maps and players interact with them around the living room table, just like a miniatures map but with obviously far more potential and flexibility.  This could be something to poke at further in the future, Pro-GMs.

Feel the Night - Exhibit in VR
About JauntVR

The Microsoft Booth was demonstrating a couple of VR systems.  The headset was very smooth feeling, and light weight.  The sensory aspect was also smooth and I didn't get the Vertigo feeling from other installations, but that may be because the action in this one was slow.  But still I got the feeling that the motion in the VR was calibrated to go smoothly so you wouldn't likely get a sudden movement that disorients you.  Hard to explain.  Anyway, the show was interesting in a very basic simply dumb down almost nothing to do sort of way.  Or I should say rather that the artwork of the scene was pretty, though there wasn't much to interact with.  You play a giant who takes light poles from a local town in the desert and lift them up to the air and let go.  They then explode into streaks of starlight, or something.  "Returning the lights to the stars", the assistant of the booth explained, awkwardly.


We stumbled across MindShow, which allows you to jump inside any of a number of VR Characters inside a scene and control them.  The controls are really intuitive and easy to pick up, though a bit klunky to actually use.  Not terrible, but the interface could be a little bit easier to handle.  Even so, the concept, if not the implementation, is certainly compelling from the Pro-GMs point of view as this shows how it would be possible to jump inside of NPCs and play them.  All that would be needed is a live GM'd virtual world to do so in.

Here's the resulting video - I'm the cat.

We also roamed around the the Tent City, which had another 30 or 40 demos, most of which were booked solid for the weekend already.  I would imagine that since we showed up on a Friday we were among the lucky ones who had a relatively light crowd and so we could actually get into a lot of demos without too much waiting.  Even so we couldn't get into the more popular ones, such as Tree, wherein you go inside a VR character of a Seed in the forest and grow yourself to become the tallest tree around.  I would have liked to try that one as it came with "Smell-a-Vision" as well (a girl with a spritzer sprays you with odors of the forest while you play.

We pass through the "VR for Good" tent which has demonstrations of various VR / AR applications used for social justice type purposes, mostly regarding holocaust survivors of various ethnicities around the world, deforestation, and the like.  Not sure how necessary VR is for those messages, but the demos were nevertheless compelling and do tug on the heart-strings.

The food court was good, but don't wait to hurl yourself into the crowd there at noon to 1:30.  If you show up at 2, like we did, you will find slim, but tasty pickings.

The campus / park on which the event takes place is the Snug Botanical Gardens, a place worth seeing on it's own anyway for the beautiful architecture and lovely gardens.

In Conclusion

From my point of view as the representative of the Professional Gamemaster Society, this was very interesting, though I have to admit, I didn't feel like I'm seeing much movement in our direction at all. In fact, overall, I have to say that most of the efforts still feel like Works-In-Progress more than finished products, and the concepts are fascinating, but I didn't see a single one that would be useful for us GMs out of the box.  Of course that said, I do think I planted some seeds of thought, got some really wide eyed looks, and heard a lot of this comment, "Wow, you're ideas are about two levels above where we're at at this point, but we'd love to participate in something like that when we get further along."  So there was interest, but no one has even imagined the potential for live GM'd virtual Worlds out there.

Which is why, once again, I recommend interested people get going with the tweeting, posting, commenting, recommending and insisting on such tools.  Because as it happens, if we don't pester these guys about this idea, they will follow the usual train - which is to create Static-Story VR / AR games that have absolutely zero to do with Live-GM'd Virtual Worlds and pretty much leave our vision out in the cold.  Why?  Simply because they never thought of the idea, and therefore have no plans to build anything along these lines at all.  So if you want to see the kinds of tools that help you with GMing in VR / AR environments starting to pop up in our future, it seems we collectively need to start putting the word out - "We need these kinds of tools, please, and pronto!"  The future is in our direction, in theory, but only if we successfully push for it.  Otherwise we'll all just be playing VR versions of DOOM for the next 100 years.  And that would be a crying shame, imo.

The FoST is a really fascinating view into the future of VR / AR.  Let's make sure that we are just as much a part of that future as everyone else! Tweeeeeeeet!  Tweeeeeeeet!

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