You're a miner. You've been a miner all your life. You chip away at one meter square blocks and harvest the floating objects that appear. Sometimes you catch a glimpse of something--a void?--in the spaces between the blocks, but you can never learn anything about it, so you learn to accept it as just part of the fabric of your universe.
Using the materials you mine, you build houses and farms. You fight creepers and zombies. You sleep when you have to, and you eat to keep up your energy. You build cactus walls to protect your home. Your creations become more and more intricate as your complex sprawls. You visit the far lands and puzzle at their strangeness, though with what you know of your universe, the one you've inhabited as far back as you can remember, you feel deep inside that they are somehow mathematically, even philosophically inevitable.
Eventually, you build redstone computers on a massive scale.
Am I describing the life and times of Herobrine? Maybe. If we could imagine Herobrine as a brain-in-vat type intelligence, the example would fit quite well. What I'm trying to illustrate (and I'm aware that I'm not the first person to do this) is that Minecraft does, in fact, constitute a complete universe.
If we assume that our Herobrine has never received and can never receive any sensory input aside from appearing one day at his spawn point, and that as long as he continues to exist, the entire understanding of reality he establishes in his mind will concern only Minecraft, with no outside interference, then Minecraft is, indeed, a universe. We may say it isn't 'real', but who cares what we think. The experience we have of our own universe is precisely like this from our perspective. We only say it's 'real' because we don't know anything else. Our Herobrine has nothing to go on beyond Minecraft. To him, it's as real as this keyboard in front of me, and the universe as we experience it would be alien and inexplicable to him; overwhelming even--madness-inducing.
Early last year, after about a year of working for Bohemia Interactive on VBS2, mainly travelling around on airplanes running training courses for military simulations folks, I finally embarked on a project that had been buzzing around in my head for over twenty years.
I'm fairly sure it was the catalyst of working in the simulations field that helped me realize that the time had actually come, and I actually could pull it off, but it had been a long road. When I wrote my first novel, which I started when I was nineteen (it shows its age!), I needed five years of research, which included joining the army and becoming an infantryman, before I could say I had the needed spark to finish it. The relative quality of these projects notwithstanding, no-one can ever say I don't take my research seriously.
The spark for this one came in the form of the Simulation Hypothesis.
I've heard it called a number of things. Theory, argument, hypothesis. It's an old idea, and the Matrix got a good deal of mileage out of it. As a narrative device, you can see it in works like The Truman Show and Dark City, among many others (Source Code and eXistenZ come to mind).
My favourite exploration of it is Nick Bostrom's. Do yourself a favour and read it, if you get the chance (or haven't already). He assigns three propositions equal weight.
I received my Oculus Rift Dev kit in September of 2013, so I've had it a while. Lately, since the folks at Kunos have fixed their world-scale problems, I've started playing Assetto Corsa with it. I've also for quite a while been an avid iRacer, and their Rift implementation is among the best I've seen. I play racing and driving games with a force feedback wheel and pedals and the rift, and flight sims with a force feedback stick. The sense of reality is mindblowing. When the car hits a rough patch of road, you feel it through the wheel, and this synergizes with the visual feedback of really being inside a three dimensional vehicle to produce a level of immersion that's just uncanny.
I remember VR's big moment in the nineties, when everyone said it was about to be the new thing, that it would change the world, and that it was devices like the VFX1 that would usher it in. Of course, nobody paying attention at that time really thought either the hardware or the software were there yet, except the perenially carelessly ignorant folks in the mainstream media and hollywood. For my part, I wanted a VFX1 really badly, but at the price they were asking, nobody was going to pay for an incomplete technology. The discussion about viable VR has been a long one, but the problems are manifold; latency, judder, and accurate positional tracking being among the biggest hardware hurdles. There's no way in anyone's imagination that a three pound device was going to be solving any of those problems in 1994 the way the Rift DK2 has in 2014, even if the software had been suitable, which it wasn't either.
If VR is ever going to take off with a public that, in 1994, got its news from Bryant Gumble, it's going to have to have no barriers to entry, and it's going to have to be more than a gimmick. It has to be easy to use and the presence has to put you there in a way that you aren't going to say things like 'my view is jumpy,' or 'I'm gonna be sick.'
So step one was just a case of waiting for the hardware and software to arrive that would make it possible to solve the problems, and then to throw money into integrating them in such a way that they threw up as few barriers to entry as possible. The next problem would be deciding whether the sense of presence was going to be enough for it not to just be a gimmick.
In my opinion, the Rift, aside a few UI issues, is a pretty concrete preview of viable VR that fits these criteria. I'm an advanced user, so barriers to entry are not really a problem for me, but as far as presence is concerned, when I tear through a lap at Monza or Imola with my Lotus Exos, I'm there, and it's what I've been waiting for since Geoff Crammond's original F1GP, which I modded like crazy.
In my first post, I established an example in which I posited Herobrine as a 'brain-in-a-vat' intelligence inhabiting Minecraft in such a way that he could never know that the outside world exists.
I supposed that in such a situation, Minecraft would constitute a universe. The Simulation Hypothesis, which I delved into in my second post, is a philosophical exercise and a narrative device in which we imagine that the universe in which we live is a simulation. I'd like to examine a few of the finer points of these two ideas, and so leaving aside for now the idea of who the creators of such a simulation might be, let's examine some of the ways such a thing might be structured.
First off, what is Herobrine in our example? The idea of a brain-in-a-vat is really just another construct. While we could do so, it's not necessary for us to imagine our mind as an actual brain in a vat. It might be something like Neo and the rest of humanity in The Matrix, or it might be something emergent. The construct is helpful because it allows us to get quickly to the idea that a mind encountering only one set of universal rules is not going to have accessed anything outside of them and so it will, among other things:
a: Accept things that are consistent with the rules it has learned.
b: Reconcile things that aren't if they become consistent as time goes on.
We've put a colossal motor in it, we've done everything we can to make sure you won't be able to steer, and there's no safety gear. The rest is up to you.
Like most people who have been following the development of VR lately, and specifically Oculus, my first reaction on hearing that Facebook had bought Oculus was, 'oh hell.' A bit late now, I guess, but as an owner of a Rift DK1, I wanted to weigh in.
Shortly after the announcement, I started reading the doomsday predictions. People were saying that Zuckerberg would ruin it. They were saying that it would never be released, or that Facebook would turn it into a walled garden, or that they'd lose the vision and make it too expensive, or a thousand other things.
I just want to say that everyone I know who had something to say about this said it on Facebook. I legitimately hate to say it, but the privacy concerns I hear about Facebook tend to come from people whose personal info is actually very well cared for and who don't have anything anyone wants anyway, or who simply don't know how to use Facebook's settings. The other concerns seem to be about how bad Facebook is at providing that now-essential service all the people complaining would be even more upset about having to live without, and the essence of them seems to be about some preference for a previous layout they liked more than whatever the current one is. In the balance of things, unless you're in some silly way tempted to unplug from the amazing digital world you're the beneficiary of, Facebook really isn't all that bad. Also, news flash: to whatever extent you do now, you never had any privacy before anyway, and it's not going to go back the way it was. You are going to have to learn to deal with it.
Back to the Rift discussion.
Facebook is actually a lot like Steam. It's just a platform. It's just a vector. It's just a conduit. Facebook isn't [the horrible litigious] King.com, and they didn't create Candy Crush (of course, neither did King, but that's neither here nor there). Facebook just provides access to customers for the people who develop the apps. In the case of Oculus, the Rift may have been intended eventually to be a platform rather than just a peripheral, but now it only really needs to be what it already is: a USB device for which developers can create content that it can be used to enjoy. Facebook doesn't need to do much of anything but reap advertising revenue by placing themselves between devs, customers, and the Rift itself.
This was a sudden inspiration. I did a sketch one day, and then I thought, as much as I want to leave this one to the reader, the image of the tuxedo and the rifle just stuck, and I went ahead and painted it. This is the primary protagonist, Alton Ely. A scanned pencil sketch painted with a Wacom tablet.
This is the concept sketch for the rifle Alton is holding in the fist image. It's a hybrid caseless assault rifle, using a conventional propellant to fire a saboted dart into magnetic rail acceleration, quite like the 'Chemrail' from Elysium. If you've seen that movie, the effects of such a rifle are very dramatically and realistically displayed. Basically, you don't want to get in front of this sort of thing. The hybrid design solves a whole host of the engineering hurdles that arise when you try to produce a manportable railgun. The biggest problem with today's chemical propellants is that the muzzle velocities reach a hard limit. Since magnetic acceleration is frictionless, it has the potential to increase those velocities by a huge margin. In this case, you fire a magnetic round with chemical propellant (but no brass casing, like the HK G11) into the second stage, which consists, essentially, of a pair of magnets which use a massive current to accelerate it to an even higher velocity.
It's all pretty macabre, but when you're writing novels sometimes you have to get that way.
So, I decided to go ahead and make a 3D model based on the concept image of the hybrid rifle from my last post--the rifle Alton Ely is holding in the character study. This is still strictly work in progress, there's no patina and no stamping or anything, and certain components' geometry is not completely finished yet, but I think it's a successful WIP so far. As you can see, I've made some substantial changes to the design, but the spirit remains intact.
Here is a link to a larger image: Hybrid Rifle
And again, here's the original concept for comparison.
The rifle model is now as complete as I'm probably going to make it. Compare its state now with this post, where the geometry was almost totally complete, but I hadn't yet done any UV mapping or made the textures. Now the UVing is done, the textures are on (including specular, reflections, and normal maps). I'm possibly going to rig this up to run in ArmA 3, but that depends on whether I get back to playing that one. At 11,000 polys, it's pretty much perfect for ArmA. I can imagine configging it to have the same weapon effects as the ChemRail in Elysium, because ArmA III has some seriously good numbers. I can configure projectile weight, muzzle energy, velocity, an a couple of other things, and the game will give me realistic performance. Since this is a 35 ounce tungsten carbide rod travelling at 3500 meters per second, and you can tune the rate of fire up pretty high, you can imagine it'd be pretty spectacular.
Here is a link to a higher resolution version of the image.
About halfway through A Lion on Heaven there is a scene on an island on the Olympus Stanford Torus in which our heroes and heroines are the victims of a stoutly repulsed tactical assault, carried out using a pair of MH12 Dropships, stolen from Olympus Security.
After writing that scene I found myself wondering if I could translate the clear image of that craft that I had in my mind's eye into a concept image. To that end, I made a sketch, and then went on to produce this:
The MH12 is a transatmospheric spacecraft, intended for police work and for tactical drops from orbit into atmosphere, where it behaves like a VTOL craft. It basically serves the same purpose in the futuristic world of The Glimpse as both the UH-60 Blackhawk utility helicopter and the A-10 Thunderbolt Close Support Aircraft. It has two big variable geometry hybrid engines (rockets which aspirate when in atmosphere) and a complex system of RCS (reaction control system) thrusters for maneuvering both in and out of atmosphere. Yes, it's a spaceship, but it has wings because when it's on a planet it has to be aerodynamic. It's basically a military spaceplane, in contrast to the civilian liner at the beginning of the book.
The basic process of this image is as follows. I've simplified a few stages--especially the overpainting, which took forever.