Author Archive

December 3, 2012

Musical Instruments in the digital age – EigenHarp et. all

Now here’s a nerdy-cum-creative name if there was one! The EigenHarp is perhaps a precursor to musical instruments that I envision will roll out in this digital age of ours. The Eigenharp is a brand of electronic instrument made by Eigenlabs, a company based in Devon, UK, invented by John Lambert and released in 2009 after it had been in development it for eight years. The “instrument” is in essence a highly flexible and portable controller, with the sound being actually generated in the software it drives. Read more about this here.

Our very own Georgia Tech hosts the Margaret Guthman Musical Instrument competition and here is a link to the 2011 winner. Makes for excellent reading and watching.

Algorithmic Timbre?: Seeing all this has gotten me to ponder on why is there a discretization on the number of instruments that we have – timbre should be infinite right : maybe there are sounds that we have not just heard, and is it possible for computers to be used as a testbed for creating new instruments as a whole – this would mean being able to algorithmically define the timbre for an instrument with some parameters of sound that vary, and then vary these patterns to come up with a radically different sounding instrument.

December 2, 2012

Game music through the ages

From old-school Pong to modern-day Halo video games have definitely come a long way. What is also interesting to chart, is the variation of music over time in video games. With the ever increasing synergy between the video game industry and Hollywood, we are now at a time when we have movie industry veterans who compose for some bit-budget games – for example, Hans Zimmer of Gladiator and the Dark Knight fame, for COD: Modern Warfare, and game composers crossing over to the movie industry – Michael Giacchino who worked on Medal of Honor going on to work for StarTrek 2009, being a case in point.

Gamespot has a wonderful article on how video game music has progressed over the years @ http://www.gamespot.com/features/6092391/

Tags: ,
December 2, 2012

A lesson in music

Over the course of developing our project, we folks had to also educate ourselves in music theory, and what goes into making a good composition. <An aside: very much of a reversal to standard AI, isn’t it? 😀 We <the knowledge base> learn about the domain by some source <the internet>, and then use it to solve a problem<program the computer to play good music>.

Now, the answer to what goes into making a good piece of music is not very objective (and that’s why we don’t have new Mozart’s everyday>. However, we found that just by knowing the basic elements of music – the parameters whose variations creates the music – we were in a better place to tackle our project related to algorithmic music composition. Here we list down these parameters, and a good link to read more about them <for non-music folks :)>

Pitch: The frequency of the sound – this is what corresponds to the main tune or the melody, that lets us identify a song: http://music-theory.ascensionsounds.com/pitch-the-sound-of-music/

Rhythm: Rhythm is the temporal part of music – the manner in which pitches vary over time : http://music-theory.ascensionsounds.com/its-about-musical-time/

Harmony: Playing a single sound at a point, makes the resulting tune very simple. Music that appeals is one that is complicated to keep the mind engaged, and yet, not too complex so that it is overloaded with information. A number of pitches played at the same time constitute a harmony: http://music-theory.ascensionsounds.com/do-melody-and-harmony-suggest-that-music-is-from-outer-space/

Timbre: The tone “color” – this is a characteristic of the instrument. You can tell a guitar apart from a piano – that’s timber: http://music-theory.ascensionsounds.com/color-form-and-style-in-music/

The variation of the basic elements is what makes music sound good or bad.

November 1, 2012

Sonification and drawings

Facilitating meaningful interaction in two inherently creative fields simultaneously is bound to get everyone’s creative juices flowing. In our term-project, we are looking at ways of generating online auditory interpretations of drawings. This will allow interactions where the painting drives the music that is being played, which will in-turn <hopefully> influence some characteristics of the resulting artwork.

Some really “cool” prior work that has been done in this field, includes:

http://singingfingers.com/ : An approach based on embedding sound information in drawn objects, enabling replay.

http://www.earslap.com/projectslab/otomata : An innovative approach to music generation using cellular-automata.

Tags:
October 23, 2012

Beyond Fun: Serious Games and Media – The Four Slates of Educational Experiences

The second chapter of Beyond Fun: Serious Games and Media – The Four Slates of Educational Experiences talks at length about typical learning curve and methodology that educational simulations should/do have.

Overview

The author, Clark Aldrich, gives an insight into the challenges that a computer simulation that tries to impart an educational experience must overcome. The author states, that during such simulations, the user typically goes through four stages, corresponding to his level of skill in the simulation, and thus, educational simulations should follow a structured learning curve to ease the user through these stages.

The stages are intuitively related to the level of comfort/skill that the user has acquired with the simulation – something that they build up over time. The user starts in the “Locker room”, where, the goals of the simulation should be explained to the user, in simple linear terms. This allows the user to understand and appreciate the real world analogy, and progress to the second stage – the “Shallow end of the pool”. Like its name, the second stage should provide a conducive learning environment, relying on walkthroughs of particular situations that might arise in the simulation. The second stage should typically, treat such situation in isolation.

Once the user has a grasp on some of the techniques that might be applicable in the simulation, he is on the path to stage three – the “Deep end of the pool”. This is where most of the learning takes place, and users are presented with combinations of situations from stage two, and are tasked with applying these simpler solutions to increasingly complex scenarios. The final stage – the “free swim”, is one of unconstrained engagement, where players spend time developing their skills, pushing the envelope of the experience.

 

Musings

The stages presented by the author, pretty accurately describe the progression in almost any game that we folks might have played.I now draw parallels between what the author states about the stages, and Prince of Persia: Sands of Time, one of my favorite games.

One starts with the overarching story like and the basic controls (stage 1), is given a walkthrough of the types of puzzles that he might be required to solve (stage 2), and then solves interesting combinations of these problems to finish the game(stage 3). The player can, then, if she wishes, replay the game, with additional things in mind – collect all secret life-power-ups and weapons, etc (stage 4).

An interesting thing to note is in Prince of Persia, stage 2 doesn’t have an explicit ending, and, there is no explicit transition point from stage 2 to stage 3. Rather, the player is instructed in the walkthrough like fashion each time she encounters a new type of puzzle. This is actually essential, to prevent information overload, and to keep the game interesting by giving the user a chance to apply what she has picked up incrementally.

Stage 1 and 2:

 

Examples of intersection of stages 2 and 3:

 

October 18, 2012

Innovations in game mechanics and design

Game mechanics are an important part of any engaging game, and are, very often the difference between a game that just “looks good” and one that “plays out good”. I’ve been reading up on some innovations in game mechanics that have happened over the last couple of years in the indie game development industry. What follows is a collection of the links that I’ve read, and the videos that I’ve come across for games featuring novel mechanics. The creativity in some of these games that incorporate these new game mechanics is really astounding.

Primer: What are game mechanics: http://gamestudies.org/0802/articles/sicart

Articles and videos on games featuring innovative mechanics:

October 9, 2012

Newtonian Sketching

I had come across this very interesting video a couple of years back, and, since a number of people in class are interested in interactive sketching of some sort/for some purpose (architecture, games, animation, etc), I post this here for inspiration when the going gets tough!

The system, created by people over at MIT, models user-sketched objects, by <I’d guess> mapping them to some basic elements, which obey real-world physics laws, to create a simulate-able scene. The simulation can then be run, and one can watch how the action unfolds.

An aside: Similar implementations can be used to create highly interactive games, that might go a long way towards improving the way students study and grasp Newtonian physics, by enabling them to visualize how the concepts that they read about come into play in the <in our case not-so-real :)> world.

September 7, 2012

Pecha Kucha Game WOW – Blokus and Katamino Presentation Link

Team:Siddharth Chauhan, Emily Keen, Patrick Mize, Mukul Sati

The presentation for the same is here.

August 29, 2012

Katamino

Team:Siddharth Chauhan, Emily Keen, Patrick Mize, Mukul Sati

For the second class, held on the 28th of August, we played and analyzed the game Katamino

The game consists of a number of pentaminos, along with a couple of free/filler pieces, which are to be used to completely fill up a grid. In the two player variant of the game that we played, the players take turns picking up their pentamino pieces, with both of them getting a standard allocation of filler pieces. Then, when the picking is done, both players embark onto furiously trying to fit their pieces onto the board, so that they have a configuration that leaves no spaces, making judicious use of fillers so as to fill up small gaps that remain.

SWOT

Strengths:

  1. Game might finish off very fast. Still, there is the potential for the other player to finish her game before moving on. So, she learns as well (because of the speed with which the game finishes off).
  2. Level flexibility: Can be increased/decreased in difficulty depending on the players expertise.
  3. If a child is playing, she might actually use the game for a different purpose altogether and use it to instead play around, created shapes, somewhat akin to LEGO blocks. The game manual actually had such a photograph depicting shapes that could possibly be made. One can also extend the playing field (literally :)) to 3D, as we did:

     An elephant, a deer and a pentamino skyscraper 🙂

Weaknesses:

  1. Possible to memorize pieces. This means that the game will have less re playability value.

Opportunities:

  1. As noted above, the game can be made more difficult by increasing the number of blocks.
  2. Can play with handicaps. By one person having a greater number of squares to fill? Thus, can be used to bring together people of different expertise levels.
  3. Possible extensions: Can extend this to 3D.

Threats:

  1. People can memorize pieces, as stated above.
  2. Choking hazard less, but could arise with the filler pieces.

Digitization / modification:

Digitization of this would be difficult. The game is expected to be fast paced, so the moving around pieces with mice is not very intuitive. Can add pieces (perhaps come up with them randomly) – ensuring that they fit together.

 A modification for the digital world could be to increase the board size to make the game last for a longer time.

Katamino for good:

Katamino is a very “spatial orientation aware” game. It should be used for rehabilitation and for increasing directional and spatial acumen in young kids, and could be transition point for branching off into more complex puzzles.

August 24, 2012

Blokus

Blokus (Block us)

Team:Siddharth Chauhan, Emily Keen, Patrick Mize, Mukul SatiFile:Blokus.jpg

We played and analysed the game Blokus.

The objective of the game is to minimize  the number of squares that you have available to you at the end of the game, by planning strategically how to place them from the outset, while adhering to certain constraints imposed by the game.

SWOT

Strengths:

  1. It was the right amount of time. The game we played was over in about 20 minutes. Even a somewhat more thought out game would still take not more than 30 minutes perhaps.
  2. Learning curve is less. There are just a couple of rules governing the placement of your blocks.
  3. Still, once you get the hold of it, its got its nuances – strategic yet simple.

Weaknesses:

  1. No forgiveness in the game. The gameplay is essentially eliminative and unforgiving. If you make a mistake once, its difficult to recover from it.

Opportunities:

  1. You’ve got modifications possible. <Discussed below>

Threats:

  1. As with most other board games, the risk of missing board pieces, along with the pieces being a potential choke hazard.

Digitization / modification:

A couple of ideas we came up with are:

  1. We could make it easier in the digitized version by telling people where a particular piece might fit in. This would be useful in a lower difficulty setting.
  2. If only I could set this right – makes the weakness of being too eliminative a bit less by allowing you to pick up a piece and change it at the end game, and see where this leads to.

Blokus for good:

As Blokus is a very simple game to pick up, it can easily be used for engaging children in a fun-learning activity. It is also helpful in improving spatial awareness, and thus, could perhaps be used for patient rehabilitation.

Tags: ,