Bending time in virtual space

2006.08.02 (Wednesday, August 2)

“If we are going to build synthetic worlds, it makes some sense to populate them with both live people and simulated characters. The simulated characters can be a sort of automated tour guide… recordable avatars give you a way to capture the interactions in a social setting and play them back for later study.”

Croquet-Bento, from the post “Robots/Animatronic Avatars/NPCs for Croquet,” proposes video capturing an avatar’s POV and playing it back to simulate presence, content and interaction separate and apart from its actual occurrence. Virtual worlds will be able to resonate with both sentient and non-sentient content so as to increase the frequency and density of stimulus and interaction, while not putting too much pressure on server-side load (lag). But, aside from the graphic, artistic and technical requirements to pull this off, the world must also be socially prepared for the active presence of robots and cyborgs.

At issue with the proposed method of video play-back bots, will be the the world’s sense of temporal continuity. In metaverse environments like Second Life (SL), time seems to advance in a linear, progressive and regular manner. This is ostensibly similar to real life (RL) experience, but is not a necessary quality of all media based environments. Cinema, for example, uses devices to either accelerate, slow-down or jump-cut the temporal continuity of a situation. Acceleration is used to augment the amount of information (action, story-line…) contained within a specific duration; slowing-down time is so that a scene can be spatially deconstructed to better visually orient the relationships of objects and context; and, jump-cutting is to juxtapose to seemingly discontinuous scenes (flashbacks, dreams, simultaneous events..) so that the narrative thread of a story can be constructed. While these devices seem obvious to us now, early film going audiences were quite disoriented by these techniques that were first employed early in the last century.

“The architecture of Croquet makes it straightforward to capture all the messages for a given avatar as you drive the avatar around the space, and then later inject those messages into a robot avatar to do the playback of what happened.”

In order to insert a simulated presence based on a specific, past tense event, it will be necessary to incorporate the idea of elastic time as a component of the world’s media. Time will have to be able to move both forward and backward, be paused, accelerated and put in slow motion. And this will have to be seamless, integrated into its very fabric.

The world must also be capable of capturing not just the sensory information, sound, images, but also the parametric data, “…motion and gesture,” that is the language of these transformations. As discussed in my post “Rezzing Procedural Space,” this information can integrate the logical structure of a scene and account for its composition in terms of the objects and their transformations. This becomes another way of recording it, and eventually playing it back.

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