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I'm Jon. I've been reading Destructoid since at least August '08, but only decided just recently (as of May '09) to start being an active community member. If you want to know more about me, feel free to read my intro forum post.

Long story short: I'm a grad student who enjoys video games and video game related news, but doesn't get around to actually play them that often. That's probably why puzzle and rhythm/music games are my bread and butter, since they're pretty easy to pick up and play. JRPGs used to be #1, until it dawned on me that I no longer have time to hunker down for hours at a time.

To anyone with a PS3 and a love of puzzle games: I bet you I could kick your ass in Puzzle Fighter and Critter Crunch with a probability of 50%. Game on!

Following (8)  

Rinse and repeat.

Hadoukens are my bread and butter because theyíre the only thing I know. A kill count of five smells like victory, even if everyone else is playing to twenty. In the battles between orcs, humans, and night elves, I was off in the corner creating my own undead civilization without a care to what my opponents were doing. In the most literal sense, I do not play well with others.

I know I canít be the only person that feels this way, as a recent paper published in the journal Expert Systems with Applications proposes a way to make gamers like me a little more tolerable to play with. ďTwo-player adaptive video gamesĒ: an incredibly unassuming title with incredibly grand implications. The research comes from Jesus IbŠŮez and Carlos Delgado-Mata, two computer programmers at Pompeu Fabra University in Barcelona. Using Pong as their prototype, they encoded a set of parameters that can vary with each playerís gaming prowess. If one player is consistently doing poorly, the game is designed to help out by increasing the length of the paddle or decreasing the speed of the ball as it moves towards that side.

Ten pairs of players were matched so that there was a clear disparity in their skill level. Half played the game with the adaptive mechanism in place, while the other half did not to serve as a control. After ten minutes of game play, all players took a survey detailing their experience playing the game. Unskilled gamers reported less frustration while proficient gamers reported less boredom compared to the control groups. Both parties reported more enjoyment if the game contained the adaptive component.

This is science at work.

Obviously, this kind of handicapping wouldnít be used at tournaments with prizes on the line, but imagine if this idea could be worked into all sorts of competitive games. Basic punches and kicks do a little more damage. The hit box for head shots is more forgiving. For those of us that wished our significant others played more video games, this could serve as a vital stepping stone towards that goal. Rather than have them watch passively as you decimate online or virtual opponents, they play against you directly and enjoy themselves that much more. Mutual gaming bliss looms on the horizon.

That is, until you look at the game from a philosophical point of view. Are you playing with the person by your side, or are the two of you playing simultaneous single-player games against an arbitrary opponent? If youíre the better gamer, would you get frustrated that you canít unleash your full potential? If youíre the worse gamer, would the difference in skill level between you and your opponent bother you? Theyíre all legitimate questions to ask. It ultimately comes down to what you expect from your gaming experience.

Perhaps the most important result in the research study is that both parties were much more likely to play with each other if the adaptive mechanism were in place. Isnít replay value one of the hallmarks of a well thought out game? Maybe you donít need that authentic tÍte-ŗ-tÍte experience, so long you have fun in the process. Getting rid of that initial frustration lowers one of the biggest hurdles for people unfamiliar with games. Someday, maybe your gaming partners might graduate to the point where they no longer need the automated handicapping. Those days are still far in the future though, so in the mean time, Iím sticking with what I know.

Any takers?

Adaptive Two Player Video Games (journal article, subscription required)
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Hi everyone. I don't post a lot in the c-blogs because I find that I don't really have a lot to say about video games. I did a monthly musing once, and it was a fun exercise, but it still wasn't directly about video games. I've always been a science nerd, and I'm now starting to go towards my goal of making other people science nerds too. Or at least appeal to the inner science nerd in everyone.

Back at Pax Prime, when Niero announced his plans for expanding Dtoid, I thought about creating a science community. N33t launched, and needless to say, there were problems. I did start a group at the time, but because of said problems, it didn't really amount to anything. I'm still kind of hung up on wanting to start that community, but that's a long way from now. So I'm starting small and I set up a science blog. It's really bare bones right now, with me posting random science news I find interesting, but I figure it's good practice for me if I want to break into science journalism and media. I'm trying to reach people who aren't familiar with current scientific research but want to know more about it. Also, I think it'd be useful for actual scientists, since when I worked in a lab, I was incredibly tunnel visioned and didn't see what was going on in other fields.

The majority of posts are going to be biology oriented, but I'll definitely try and get some posts in other fields as well. I'm hoping to update the blog three times a week (two posts and a news roundup). I would love constructive feedback (beyond getting a better blog layout, as I have no idea how to make my own Wordpress themes and paying someone else to do it isn't feasible right now), and readers. Let me know what you think either through the forums, PMs, or e-mailing me at the blog. Thanks for checking it out!

And uh..sorry if promoting my blog is uncool here. I just figured that it's best to get the word out with as many people as possible. I'm a real community member, I swear.

The lovely Procyon hosted a NARP this weekend. If the Swiss Family Robinson played video games, this would be it. Highlights include:

- The Christmas explosion next door
- Wii Sports HD
- Neo Kobe Pizza (it is delicious)
- Serving, breaking, electric boogalooing across two floors
- Loco for Four Loko
- Chocolate chip pancakes

Congrats for first-time NARPers Sam, Brian, and John for coming on out. At least, I think those are your names. Sorry if I messed those up!

Sadly, I only took a handful of pictures, but videos are like 1000 pictures or something. Beware, I had a Four Loko and some other boozeahols, so I come off especially loud and obnoxious.


More Youtubes

On October 20th and 21st, the Brain Science Institute aimed to bridge the two disparate fields together by hosting "The Science of the The Neuroscience of Aesthetics". The two day symposium brought famous artists and performers and neuroscientists together to engage in discussions ranging from the biological mechanisms of color processing to the complex coordination required in jazz improvisation. How did the whole thing fare? Hit the jump for details. 

There's a common idea that science and art are opposites. To some extent, it's justified. They attract different personalities and encourage different skills. Painters that follow strict rules and analyze every brush stroke often produce sterile imitations of art. Scientists that experience a stroke of luck in one experiment can't make any valid they need to ensure that what their results are replicable. The BSi aimed to repair this schism and show that both scientists can be creative and that artists can be logical. A group of ~300 patrons from both sides attended the events at the American Visionary Arts Museum and Baltimore Museum of Art to gain some perspective. &nbs
On October 20th and 21st, the Brain Science Institute aimed to bridge the two disparate fields together by hosting "The Science of the Arts: The Neuroscience of Aesthetics". The two day symposium brought famous artists and performers and neuroscientists together to engage in discussions ranging from the biological mechanisms of color processing to the complex coordination required in jazz improvisation. How did the whole thing fare? Hit the jump for details. {{page_break}}

There's a common idea that science and art are opposites. To some extent, it's justified. They attract different personalities and encourage different skills. Painters that follow strict rules and analyze every brush stroke often produce sterile imitations of art. Scientists that experience a stroke of luck in one experiment can't make any valid conclusions: they need to ensure that what their results are replicable. The BSi aimed to repair this schism and show that both scientists can be creative and that artists can be logical. A group of ~300 patrons from both sides attended the events at the American Visionary Arts Museum and Baltimore Museum of Art to gain some perspective.    

The problem is that with such a wide range in both audience members and topics, the mission of the symposium was often times lost. Many of the panels kept science and art  in isolation. Powerpoint lectures looked as if they were lifted straight from a professor's lecture notes. Appropriate in a classroom setting, but off-putting for this event. Similarly, several artists could not analyze their thinking behind their artistic choices, giving very little information beyond "I did this because it looked nice." Furthermore, they seemed to lack the curiosity to find out why their art is capable of captivating their fans. Luckily, there were a handful of people that truly embraced the nature of the event from both scientific and artistic perspectives.

William Stoehr gave a very thoughtful approach to the elements of his portraits. He employs opposing color mixtures in his portrait's eyes to achieve a subtle shimmering effect, similar to how red text on a green background pops out and demands attention. In using a garden hose to drench part of his canvas, he saw the resulting change in luminance and how it fooled around with depth perception. As he later pointed out, he didn't realize the biological basis behind these phenomena until speaking with visual scientists. They were perceptual processes that could be traced back to how the retina is structured to process color and how parts of visual cortex assemble three dimensional constructs from two dimensional inputs.

Jonah Bokaer presented his choreography in a similar manner. Using software that can generate all types of three-dimensional body movement, he sought those that looked impossible. The digital mannequin's arms were twisted to look as if they were dislocated. Its limbs regularly passed through its torso. With those videos in mind, he aimed to reproduce the impossible movements, resulting in "False Start". He challenges the viewer's own ideas regarding body control, contorting as if some undetected force is throwing him about stage. By bringing ragdoll physics to life, he causes a cognitive dissonance in the viewer's perception.  

Finally, Charles Limb best exemplified how to properly engage the audience as a scientist during his panel on musical creativity. Instead of adhering to a strict presentation order (starting with background information and his own lab's research and then talking to each musician one by one), he approached it like naturally engaging conversation. Charles' research is interesting and worthy of the spotlight on their own, but on this day it served only to highlight the intricate cognitive nature that governs jazz improvisation. 

It's unreasonable to expect a Freaky Friday resolution to the symposium. Complete and thorough understanding between the two parties is impossible in only two days. Nevertheless, though each speaker was capable of generating interest during his or her own talk, there was often times a large disconnect linking the sensory information to its aesthetic value. For an inaugural event, it achieved its baby steps. Here's hoping they take long strides in future years. 

[First, a disclaimer: This isnít about video game music. Heck, this doesnít even have anything to do with sound. Iím just having some wordplay fun with this monthís topic. Hopefully you find it interesting, informative, and a little thought provoking. If you donít, then at least Iíll know you have spent a couple of minutes reading my blathering, and those few minutes are like oxygen to a narcissistic person like me.]

Noise is more than the static coming out of your speakers. It's television snowís warm glow as it flickers in and out. It's a dream where disparate aspects of your life converge with no logic neatly tying it together. As a broad generalization, noise is what occurs when a given number of sources (be they sound waves, pixels, or neurons) change their outputs in both a random and completely uncorrelated fashion. Randomness is a fairly easy concept to understand. Each source is capable of producing some finite number of outputs, and each output is equally likely in a random system. Correlation, however, requires a bit more explanation.

To illustrate correlation, look at five letter words in the English language. We have five sources capable of twenty six different outputs. Now, whenever we see the letter Q in a word, every person would predict that the next letter is a U (unless youíre a Scrabble fiend familiar with the sweet sixteen). Show me "Q _ _ _ _ " in a crossword puzzle, and I will have the balls to write, in pen no less, a U in that second slot. Thus, the appearance of Q is correlated with the appearance of a U. In a system with zero correlation, however, no such predictions can be made. Imagine a monkey banging on a typewriter. The appearance of a Q on his manuscript does not tell you any meaningful information. Youíre just as likely to find an X or V then you would a U immediately following. At best, your predictions for the next letter are due entirely to chance. This typewriter is only producing noise.

So who cares? Whatís this got to do with video games?

Itís not the games themselves, but the people who play them. Compare the video gaming demographic of twenty years ago to that of today. The number and percentage of people who admit to playing video games has sky rocketed. According to a survey published by the Entertainment Software Association (ESA), nearly two thirds of American households report to playing video games in 2010. What was once considered a fringe part of pop culture is now commonplace. With this increase comes an increased correlation between gamers and the public. Not only do the ideals and values of current generation influence the direction that games take, but the converse holds true too: games of the current generation can influence the direction that society takes.

This isn't exactly news. The nay sayers of gaming have always believed that they corrupting the children. Kids are phasing out face to face contact with virtual interactions. They're being exposed to hyper violent scenarios that leave them desensitized to the real violence that occurs in their own neighborhoods. They're encouraged to be sedate and lazy, leading to the obesity epidemic in the United States. Blah blah blah. Why not just portray games as hoodlums punching kids in the face and then taking a piss in their Cheerios?

All of us at Destructoid disagree with this, I'm sure. Through some way, video games have helped us become better people. We've learned abstract problem solving skills, improved hand eye coordination, made new friends, etc. There's a myriad of reasons that we can cite to say how video games have improved our lives, but realistically, are we going to convince any non-gamer of this fact? We probably won't, but a handful of others are willing to champion the cause and show that games are capable of promoting positive changes across multiple aspects of life.

Jane McGonigal spoke at the TED conference in February of this year. In her talk, she shows how gamers are incredibly productive and intelligent within their fabricated universes and proposes ways to translate that productivity to the real world. Though we might question her logic at times throughout her presentation (and cringe at her overuse of the phrase "epic win"), there's no questioning her intentions She wants to help gamers with their reputation. More than just a pretty face and earnest speaker though, she is a game designer that specializes in alternate reality games. I'd recommend listening to her entire talk, but if you're only interested in her work, fast forward to 16 minutes in.

World Without Oil, released on April 30, 2007, puts 1700 players in a world that had to cope with a sudden oil crisis. They're encouraged to blog, photograph, and video tape the methods they used to adapt. Jane has kept track of the players since the gameís end (June 1, 2007) and observed how their in-game strategies have crossed over into their present day behavior. Her most recent project, Evoke, placed the players into the more proactive role as agents sent to solve current world problems: poverty, food and water shortages, cultural extinction, etc. At the end of the gameís run (May 12, 2010), players were encouraged to create an Evokation, a plan of action targeting a specific problem in a particular region. Six of these Evokations will be presented at a summit in Washington DC at the end of this month, where both the game designers and officials from the World Bank will attend. Together, they will all work on turning their Evokations into funded projects.

Now Janeís games have noble goals, but are they really games? You could consider them more akin to grandiose social experiments, and you'd certainly have a case. Many people play games as a way to detach from reality rather than engage in it. While immersive environments or captivating storylines are one means of escape, there are times when gamers favor simplicity. The thrill of having a good run, narrowly evading waves of enemy space ships or holding out for the line block to complete a long overdue tetris, is incentive enough to play.

Two professors at the University of Washington, David Baker and Zoran Popavić, know how powerful that incentive is. They created Foldit, a game where players attempt to figure out the three dimensional structure of proteins. They took the core concepts that govern protein shape (hydrogen bonds, electrostatic interactions, and several others) and abstracted them to a basic set of rules. Biochemists aim to minimize the energy required to hold a protein's shape together while players aim to maximize their score by doing the same thing.

The Foldit creators have succeeded in taking a complex task that could only be tackled by specialists and made it approachable to anyone familiar with a puzzle game. Even more surprising is that high ranking players can find a solution that surpasses current computer algorithms for solving protein conformation problems, both in terms of accuracy and speed. Knowing the structures of these proteins helps scientists across multiple fields of biology, from cancer research to neuroscience. Ever since the result of Folditís success has been published in Nature (a highly regarded scientific journal), the research community has taken notice of gamers' insight.

Evoke and Foldit have both engaged thousands of players, but thousands is still just a small sliver of the population. Is it possible to have a socially relevant and noble game reach hundreds of thousands, possibly even millions of people at a time? Even game companies that regularly produce blockbusters struggle to regularly achieve those numbers. The ESA and other organizations, however, are not only searching for a game that satisfies both criteria, but are offering grant money to aid in their development.

Though the United States is an industrialized nation, it's been struggling in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) education in children. One of President Obama's education platforms was not only to improve their knowledge, but also to renew their interest in those fields. The National STEM Video Game Challenge, which issued a press release only a couple of days ago, is one such way to do so. The contest calls for developers to ďdesign mobile games, including games for the mobile Web, for young children (grades pre-K through 4) that teach key STEM concepts and foster an interest in STEM subject areas.Ē I can personally vouch for educational games and their impact on my decision to choose science as my career. However, I didnít know many people that had both a PC and a copy of Turbo Science. By focusing on mobile gaming, the contest removes the hardware/software barrier of entry. Kids can be exposed to these games in their schools, and should they enjoy it and want to play more, can go their libraryís computer lab and continue to play.

Let me state that though these games have gotten positive results thus far, it is by no means concrete evidence. Optimistic as I am, I need to see proof that these projects are even capable of their lofty ambitions. Show me the results of the Evokation that resolves to transform a squatter village of 20,000 in South Africa into a sustainable community. Show me the scientists who cite Foldit as instrumental to their research when they discover a cure for Alzheimerís Disease. Show me test results and science fair projects after the ESA finds, funds, and distributes their games across the country. For all we know, all of these projects could fail.

But thatís not what I came to write about. Iím here to highlight that even the possibility of any of these goals is far beyond what designers could comprehend at the genesis of gaming. Pong may be a pop cultural landmark, but it meant virtually nothing to the American public. Today, some designers are banking on their games stirring about change in other sectors of society. Even the slightest increase in correlation will be a milestone because it signifies that games are can no longer be written off as frivolities. They've finally transcended to a higher level, where they can be considered more than just noise.
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Unfortunately, I got very few pictures of last night's events, and this recap is by no means a complete record of what happened.

- During the breakfast ingredient run, Cataract died a little inside because the supermarket horsie was out of order. They should just shoot him and make cyber glue out of what remains.
- It was like Saturday Morning cartoons when we came back, if the cartoon were Grandma's Boy and the breakfast was pancakes. From scratch, because that's how I roll.
-."I'm looking for a Jaggi, but I have no idea what they look like." "YOU KILLED SIX OF THEM!"
- Anyone who gets the fire wand in Four Swords automatically gets to be an asshole for the remainder of the stage.
- Surgery is tough work, but when you get into a groove, it's nothing but beautiful and must be accompanied by a brosplosion.
- A squad left the party in search of Double Downs. 4 people acquired and consumed them. Two people thought they weren't that bad, and the other two kept complaining, "BLAHBLAHBLAH THAT'S LIKE SOOOOOO SALTY I CAN'T BELIEVE I DID THAT AAAGGGHHH." Not saying where I was in that group of four, but you can take a guess.
- Hearing Mario do the play by play in Pacman Versus. "Green has GOT IT!"
- "Upper left, go to the upper left. Now lower, lower, lower. Go to the right. RIGHT RIGHT RIGHT GOT IT YESSSSSSS" [paraphrased]
- Double Dragon: The Movie (the game) is a game you can play. Windjammers is too.
- "I think Raul Julia died because they made this game." "Yeah, the stroke was really more a side effect."
- Matt Razak: epitome of dedication. "Can we do car bombs in half an hour? I need to upload this video for dtoid."
- carbombs x 10, and a toast to Niero for making the site we know and love.
- All six ladies of Sexy Poker were conquered in 2 hours and 22 minutes by the lovely Adam Dork.
- Everyone would be perfect for "In the Movies" if we were all disembodied heads. Tino may upload our results later.

Sunday Morning Shenanigans:

- Frosty's dog bed is very comfortable.
- "Who pooped on the ceiling?!"
- I may finally have found some Critter Crunch converts. Also, "WHAT THE HELL OH MAN I'M TRIPPING BALLS."
- Procyon also lives in Silent Hill, as evidenced by the neverending waves of fog.
- "From this angle, it just looks like the beard is pre-chewing his food for him."
- Adam Dork is incapable of eating oranges.
- Awkward man hugs all around to round it out.

I'll upload Hibachi pictures to flickr later just so people can see that the NARP consisted more of me wandering around the woods. I'm sure them movie trailers are going to surface at some point too.