THEATRHYTHM: Legacy of Music Contest Entry

Just a quick post – my old roommate and I decided to be a bit silly and enter the THEATRHYTHM: Legacy of Music Contest, sponsored by Square Enix. Here’s what we came up with!

Here’s the official contest page:


Having and Taking: Opportunities and You

Some wonderful 90s clip art to set the mood. No, wait, keep reading, it gets better, I promise!

Just a short post tonight, on something I was thinking about this evening.

When people say to me that they “had an opportunity” to do something, I usually cringe a little. This statement, to me, represents the problem I hear a lot about from recent grads – I didn’t get what I wanted out of my education. And usually, the talk shifts to what was wrong with the institution, or the lack of pertinent classes, or some other complaint. And I usually end up mentioning how I didn’t really feel this was the case.

To me, college is one of the most amazing times because opportunities literally flood into your life. Emails from faculty, the school, the dean, everyone all flood in and offer chances to try, to do, and to learn. Each one is a different potential chance to grow as a person, to do something great, or maybe just to have fun. But alas, we often train ourselves to block out these opportunities – into the spam filter they go.

This is all fine and good for a while, but after enough time passes, I think we begin to stop seeing the myriad opportunities all around us. We get so used to blocking and filtering – relegating all of the new opportunities to the “had an opportunity” bin, instead of the “took an opportunity” one.

And I think this is the key difference – “having an opportunity” means nothing to me. It means an opportunity presented itself, but we decided that we would do the only thing to assure we would never capitalize on it – we let it slide past. If, however, we take these opportunities, we suddenly create the potential to have success with them.

And this is a radical, radical difference. Having is a fleeting sense that something passed by – taking is jumping in and saying “let’s give it a shot”. And there’s no guarantee that taking an opportunity bestows success. It may turn out that we would have spent less time, energy, and money by letting it pass. But, as i said before, this is a dangerous path. The easier it gets, the more likely we will turn down something truly great.

So get out there – TAKE these opportunities, and expand the potential of your future!

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Welcome to the Uncanny Valley

Population: All.

The uncanny valley is coming. Perhaps it’s already here. And I’m not sure anyone is ready.

Now, before you go and dive into the fallout shelter or zombie bunker, let me explain where I’m coming from.

First, let”s define terms: the ‘uncanny valley’ is a term from the realm of robotics that is used to describe a series of phenomena experienced when dealing with almost life-like human analogs. It specifically refers to an unsettling feeling that accompanies interaction with an almost perfect humanoid robot. They key to this concept is ‘almost’ – that is, there are things about the robot that are extremely lifelike, but also things that are off or incorrect in some way. Sometimes these things are fairly obvious – a strange eye twitch, an unpredictable motion pattern, or a speech flaw. But many times, the feeling accompanies much less tangible features. A common example from pop culture is the animated film The Polar Express, which featured animated characters made using motion capture from real actors. This early use of motion capture with animation created characters that seemed off to many viewers, giving the film a somewhat creepy vibe.

Tom Hank’s slightly creepy conductor in The Polar Express

I imagine you are all now saying, “but Dustin, I’m not in an animated movie, how does this effect me?” Well, as is common in new media realms, the term uncanny valley has now begun to describe a broader range of things, modern technology included. I would like to briefly address what I see as ‘The Uncanny Valley of HCI’ – a trend that will affect all of us relatively soon.

So, we now know what an uncanny valley is, now let’s apply that idea to HCI (that is, human computer interaction, or how people interact with technologies today). Now, we all are constantly interacting with technology every day – from cell phones and computers, to iPads and projectors. And we’ve developed some fairly robust methods for interacting with and controlling them. There’s the tried and true buttons and switches, the classic keyboard, with which I am writing this very post, and the recent newcomer, the touch screen. All of these things have become standard ways to interact with our technologies. They weren’t always this way – the first mouse connected to a computer was an extremely revolutionary idea, but we have come to seem these methods as some of the most efficient means for interaction today.

The first computer mouse – a wooden block with a button on top.

However, times are changing once again. Technology has advanced to the point where previously impossible means of interaction can now be implemented reliably. From voice and speech recognition to motion and gesture control, we are reaching a point where we can use most of our physiology to control our technology. And that’s awesome, right?

Well, I am going to argue that for a duration, we will enter a pretty extreme uncanny valley because of these new technologies. For instance, I can tell my phone basically anything, and it will do it’s best to figure out and complete my request. Pretty awesome, right? The tech of the future. Or maybe not. I have encountered two problems with this tech – one which can be solved, ironically, with better tech, and one broader, more open question.

The first is the inability of the system to complete my requested task, reliably, more efficiently than I could just do it myself. Text entry is so fast, and the UI for my phone so streamlined, that there is seldom a scenario where one key phrase communicates my actions as quickly, and most importantly accurately. Now, this is a problem that tech will come to solve – speech recognition will get better, processors will get faster, and I will learn how to best query audio based UIs in time. However, this does not solve a second, more overarching issue – I’m talking, aloud, to my phone.

Well, duh, of course I am. That’s what speech control is, right? Well, yes, but consider this: the last time you took a call in public, how did everyone around you react? Were they happy? Excited? Annoyed? Upset? I wasn’t there, but I would guess thrilled wasn’t on the list. People naturally feel annoyed by the business and intrusion of others, an issue compounded by the one sided nature of phone communications. Now, imagine, for a moment, every person on the street speaking to their phones, about any manner of things – sending messages to friends, scheduling dinner, taking selfies – all messages spoken aloud. Pretty annoying, I’d wager.

And yet, one of the most fascinating devices currently being developed as ‘the next leap in personal computing’, Google’s ‘Glass’ wearable computer uses audio as a core piece to it’s operation. Living in the area of the nation I do, I see people using Glass somewhat regularly, and it always feels like they are muttering things under their breath, likely trying to wrangle some function out of their new toy. Now, I know Glass is in beta, and certainly not in a final form, but I can’t help but wonder what happens when we all have Glass (or some other device) on our face – how does that effect social norms? Is it suddenly ok to just sort of mumble through life, absorbed in my own computing world?

The movie Her (a fantastic film, which you all should see), presents a world where voice tech has indeed become the norm, and everyone has an earpiece.

And this is just one isolated technology. We are now beginning to see gesture based systems, where users merely wave their hands to control digital interfaces, virtual reality headsets and experiences, where users feel fully immersed in a simulated environment, and even sense based systems to share smells with your tweets. The realm of possibilities for what is possible for people to interact with their technology has exploded, and there is a lot of new tech coming down the pipe.

In the end, I mostly wanted to say that I am really excited to see where these new technologies will lead, but I am also wary that the market will be flooded with a lot of new and different tech, and not all of it will work as well as we’d like. Until norms, standards, and even social conventions get caught up, there will be a lot of weird and ineffective systems being tested in the market, which will likely make for a rocky few years in HCI. So buckle up, and get ready to try some new and exciting tech – just keep an open mind and you’ll be all set.

Welcome to the Uncanny Valley. Population: All.

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Star Power – The Rise of Famous People in Games

As many of you may have heard, the soon-to-be blockbuster MMO/FPS/RPG Destiny just finished up it’s open beta. This multi-week event allowed gamers from around the globe to try out many of the different parts of the full game, including epic story missions and fast-paced PvP. Many of my own friends took to social media to express their love (or hate?) for this new experience. There was one commonality between many of their posts, though – an appreciation and joy of hearing one of their favorite stars own voice in the game, as a major character. Yes, that’s right, Peter Dinklage, the actor behind the devilish Tyrion Lannister in HBO’s adaptation of the Game of Thrones series, is the voice of the player’s digital companion – the Ghost.

DInklage Ghost

Dinklage as Tyrion on the left, and the Ghost from Destiny in the middle.

And he’s not the only one – many well known actors and actresses are getting involved in games lately. Nathan Fillion, famously from cult classic TV show Firefly and more recently crime thriller Castle, also lends his chops to Destiny as the hunter Vanguard. Elijah Wood stars as one of the two protagonists in Double Fine’s point-and-click adventure Broken Age. Jack Black has leant his incredible voice to numerous titles, most famously the rock themed action game Brutal Legend. And my current celebrity favorite, the amazing Kevin Spacey, is starring in voice (and likeness!) in the next game in the Call of Duty series.

Digital Kevin Spacey in Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare

This is an extremely incomplete list – a longer (though older) list can be found here. Suffice to say, there has been a massive increase in the casting of famously film and television stars for digital roles in games.

And this is a very interesting trend. On a pragmatic level, many of these talented people have excellent voices, and are skilled in delivering lines, so they naturally make good voice actors in games too. Another boon has been actors exposure to audio recording practices within similar settings, such as for animated movies. However, there are a few other interesting points to reflect upon as well.

For one, the increase of talent from other sectors in games speaks to a growing connection between these increasingly similar industries. Though movies and television have been around far longer, games have become as big of a business in a much shorter time – this creates some tension between creators. However, at the end of the day, these are all creative mediums trying to engage with audiences, and it’s encouraging to see film stars beginning to see the same potential in games that they see in film.

This also points toward a desire for games to convey increasingly more powerful and immersive narratives. By using those who have been empowering powerful and deep characters in other settings to bring characters in games to life, games are striving to build experiences on a new level. As someone who believes in games as the next step in media evolution, I am excited to see so much new talent entering the realm of games.

Finally, there is a financial point to be made here. Famous actors do not come cheap. And games are already extremely expensive to build. So clearly, there has been a case made that paying for top talent in games is a positive and rewarding expense. It’s sometimes difficult to get game publishers to support paying additional funds for the more…polish effects in games, especially when there is less value in adding a star’s name to a game box than a movie poster. But it speaks volumes that budget is being allocated to this explosion of talent in games.

In the end, there’s a lot of good reasons why famous people are invading games – they’re talented, they make our characters better, and yes, they sometimes draw in additional players (KEVIN SPACEY – IF YOU READ THIS – HI!). It’s an extremely exciting time to be in games, and I’m sure there will only be more and more connections built between these growing creative industries.

And that’s awesome.

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Being the MVP

Recently, I moved to Portland, OR. As a recent graduate, I am still working on getting enough experience to be taken seriously for full time jobs. So when a position as an intern in my field became available, I went. However, this position is only a summer posting, so I’m living in some more…temporary accommodations. This short time frame also limited the amount of my personal possessions I wanted to ship across the country. So I did my best to pack everything I might need for a summer into 3 bags – a backpack, a larger checked bag, and a smaller carry on bag. This left little room for nonessential belongings, so I was really negotiating with myself about what items to bring. “Maybe…no socks…and then I can stash an HD monitor in here!” Alas, I couldn’t get away with everything, so most of the suitcase was actually filled with important stuff. Luckily for me, the place I’m staying, known as a ‘guesthouse’, comes fully furnished, so I really only needed to bring personal items anyway.

One interesting thing that I was not aware of was the inclusion of a television in the package deal. Now, this is by no means a great TV. Maybe 27 inches diagonally, with a glass tube screen, and (amazingly!) s-video support. Has access to cable and also includes a small DVD player hooked in. Even comes sitting on an old school swivel mount to fight glare from the windows. All in all, a great piece of 90s TV tech, but a little outdated for 2014. However, it has one extremely important feature – a series of auxiliary jacks for attaching various devices through the good old RGB we all know so well. Now, this is certainly not new technology, but it opens a very important door – this TV can support having my PS3 (carefully stashed in my carry on bag) jacked into it for playing games. Huzzah, I can now game on a console!



My current gaming setup. Glass and plastic.


I’ve been trying out some different games lately on my new found gaming setup, namely Assassins Creed 4, Wolfenstein: The New Order, and the Destiny beta. And one interesting thing has become clear – modern games do not support all technologies equally. Now, I’m sure your thinking, ‘Well of course they don’t!’. And I agree with you – this doesn’t seem like much of a revelation. However, as a game developer, it reminded me of something I often forget – the MVP.

One of the first things I learned at my new job was that there are a ton of acronyms that every industry uses for things, and I don’t know a lot of them. One of the first that I became familiar with was the concept of the MVP – the Minimum Viable Product. Now, I know all the sports fans (do I have any of those who read my blog? No idea.) probably said MVP was Most Valuable Player, but we’re talking product development, so the acronyms switch. The MVP refers to the absolute minimum a system must be to be considered a usable product in the marketplace. It sets the watermark for what must be included in the product for it to be a success. There can be plenty of additions beyond the MVP requirements, but without meeting them, the product cannot be considered done.

Now, how does this concept relate to my antiquated TV and PS3 hookup? Well, as a bit of a technophile and self admitted graphics snob, I have not used a CRT display in probably 10 years. I had the first HDTV in my house, the best PC monitors in my apartment, and demand 1080 phone screens in each cell I buy. So, naturally, I began to consider the graphical fidelity and game quality I was getting to be the MVP for the game. Whatever I was getting was what everyone saw, right? Dead wrong. As game developers, we want as MANY people as possible to experience the cool stuff we make. This means supporting a variety of technologies, physical abilities, and (especially) internet speeds. So having the forethought to consider use cases beyond the obvious power user on the fastest everything is extremely important to good game development.

So why bring all this up? So you’re not the MVP for once and had an epiphany, woohoo. Well, I have a bone to pick with game design because of this experience. Text is really important to game design these days. In fact, reading text is one of the most important part of a lot of games, especially from a lore perspective. From notes on the wall, to clues in a journal, to the words a German officer is speaking, we read a lot in games. Anyone want to take a guess what CRT displays showing modern games on them have a hard time displaying? Text. So in each game I pop in, I miss a staggering amount of context, because the text is illegible.

So all game developers should take time and energy to make CRT specific graphic settings, right? That’s your demand, isn’t it, Mr. Blog-Writer? Well, no. I actually think it’s fine the way it is. The market for CRT users is falling, and the text is sort of readable, as long as you squint a little. However, I do think that remembering that not all users are you, and don’t all have the ideal setting for playing your game is an important lesson to remember. Knowing your MVP-the minimum context a player will need to enjoy (or even just use) your game- is an important part of game design. The more your game does to make it easy for the whole world to play, the more that everyone can enjoy it as you intended.Because at the end of the day, your MVP Minimum Viable Product) will determine who your MVPs (Most Valuable Players) can be.


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Why I Always End Up Alone at the Movies


An awesome local theater I had the privilege of attending tonight.


I always end up alone at movies. No, it’s not because I hate crowds, only go to movies at weird times, or have no friends – good try though! I always end up alone at movies because I always watch the credits through to the end, even after everyone else has left.


Now, I’m sure you may be thinking, “well, yeah, I do that too, because the best part of the movie always happens after the credits roll”. And in fact, this is sometimes true – a quick nod to a sequel, a minor bit of fun, bloopers – these things can often be found at the very end of movies. There’s even an entire blog devoted to informing savvy movie viewers about these ‘hidden’ surprises, so they can plan their evening accordingly.

However, that’s not why I stay.

Now maybe I’m some sort of romantic. Maybe I’m crazy. But for me, the credits are the place where the HUNDREDS of talented people that come together to make an awesome movie receive their due. Each and every one of them had a hand in making this wonderful piece of media happen. And, in my opinion, they worked extremely hard to earn their 2 seconds of screen time.

Reading their name is the least I can do.

As someone who is working, and hopes to continue to work in the ever-growing field of media, I am constantly striving to build, create and develop new and different experiences for people. And someday, when I’ve put my blood, sweat, and tears into something that I feel is worth it, I hope that someone might see my name on one of these lists. That, for the briefest of moments, I can connect with those who’s lives I’ve now become a part of.

Maybe I’m some sort of romantic. And maybe I’m crazy. But at the end of the day, watching the credits of a movie is the least I can to to say “Hey, you. Yes, you, the one who poured some part of your life into this craft. Thanks. It means a lot.”

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On War – A Brief Overview

ImageKevin Spacey in the new Call of Duty, which directly addresses some of the theory of war.


Some definitions and reflections I wrote recently about war from a variety of texts – a subject that has been on my mind especially in light of the growing ground conflict in the Ukraine.


Define war:

War, the inherent struggles of humans in all consuming conflict. War is the overwhelming desire to impose one’s will upon others, through force. Be it ideals, beliefs, or even just pure subversion, war stems from the human differences we perceive between ourselves, and the overwhelming desire to ensure we are correct. By going to war, we say, “I believe in my ideals so much, that I am willing to sacrifice the most precious thing I have – myself – in order to prove I am correct. War is often conceived by a paltry few, and spread to the masses, sometimes readily, sometimes not. But in the end, a war must be supported by the majority, or it will, ultimately fail.


Should there be rules and laws surrounding war?

There is a certain irony to applying laws and rules to war, as it is, and likely always will be a savage, animalistic act. The act of taking a life, or many lives is not one that should be taken lightly, and rules and laws attempt to make this point more obvious. But, by applying rules and laws to war, those who make the rules are always favored, and rarely can all agree on the terms to which a war will be fought. And often enough, those who wish to engage in war cannot abide by those rules set in place, for they were disallowed from the process. It is all well and good to say, “We, as industrialized nations, will abide by rules about casualty numbers and types of technology we can and cannot use”, for they have certainly advanced the mechanization of war. But for those who fight with farm tools and natural materials, these rules mean nothing – they have no means to do so otherwise. It stands, in my opinion, that while we would like to make war a legalized, procedural event, there is little hope of that ever becoming a true reality.


Response to the Law of War Handbook

I thoroughly enjoyed this reading. Being taken through a brief history of the rules of war was quite refreshing and enlightening. This reading did a great job of boiling down the points into concise statements, with lots of references to known and popular events. Though there was little in the way of opinion, the facts were carefully chosen to provide what seems to be a common ground that worldwide laws of war are based on. I also liked seeing statements referencing the lack of a perfect system, solidifying the fact that this is a hotly debated topic even today. Overall this reading’s author was concise and informative, and presented historical facts well.


Response to The Art of War

“Know thy enemy”

SunTzu may be one of the first prolific writers about the theories of war. As such, he presents a very interesting view about war as an Art, already qualifying it as more than just conflict, in his mind. This art, he reasons, should ideally be quick, decisive, and overall efficiency. In this excerpt, he speaks little of morality, other than acknowledging its presence in considering war. His theories about war seem to mostly boil down to using tactics that are the most beneficial to wage war, often reducing the costs associated with it. By making decisive victories, there is minimal bloodshed, allowing the victor to easily take control and resume normal activities quickly. Several times, Sun Tzu bemoans inefficiency and poor planning, as they can lead to less than effective military campaigns, which are also likely to be more costly. Almost all of what is presented in this excerpt points to Sun Tzu being motivated to maintain “rules of war” for purely a tactical advantage – keeping captured soldiers alive bolsters the military, not harming civilians keeps the populations happy and removes them as a factor in planning.He does speak with a sense of honor that should be carried by those who make war, but it is unclear if this is a product of the society from which he came, or actually another tactical belief he held. Summing up Sun Tzu seems to point toward using efficient tactics to crush the enemy, which may also lead to more “honorable” warfare.


Response to The Prince

“It is better to be feared than loved, if you cannot be both”

Machiavelli speaks in this excerpt about the political side of war. Describing first that war both the right and obligation of “Princes”, which I interpret as those rulers who also were responsible for leading their troops into battle, he speaks about the facts of using war as a tool for a princeship, as it assists in gaining and maintaining power. He then moves into the more interesting commentary, concerning the things that a prince should concern themselves with on a political front, as well as in terms of their relationship with the people, including their fighting force He speaks on a very practical level, describing very honest, human characteristics that can and should be leveraged by the “Prince” to ensure their reign of power. This focus on “the war at home” is a very important component, as Machiavelli points out, because without the support of the people, through love (or more likely, fear) the “Prince” will not remain so for long. Machiavelli asks the reader to consider the political scene as well when waging war.


Response to On War

“War is the continuation of politics by other means”

Clausewitz is primarily concerned with ensuring that their is little  “sugarcoating” applied to war – it is not an art, but rather, an unfortunate political maneuver that falls within the realm of human nature. He wishes to present war as honestly as possible, citing that humans seem to have little interest in actually preventing war, using current firearms development as evidence for the human desire to continue improving conflict. And in many ways, he is correct. The politics of war are a massively tricky thing, a game played by many, but understood by few. It is certainly Clausewitz’s opinion that war is an unfortunate reality, but he offers little in the way of suggestions to improve the situation.


Response to Sherman

Sherman’s letter to his superiors echoes a lot of the ideals that were being formed about war because of the US Civil War. His plans to evacuate Atlanta before laying it to waste seem to show that he does feel remorse at the atrocities that have become the norm during this brutal conflict. And in his later letter, he sounds even more worn out by war, and is ready for things to end. It brings an interesting human element to the topic of war, where the horrors of the act are not lost upon those who are asked to commit it. Sherman’s reflection is especially powerful, given his known tendencies for complete destruction of the enemy.


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