Low fidelity

albertLogic tells us that, as technology improves, software becomes more complex and versatile, and as hardware becomes faster and more accessible to users, we’re going to see a corresponding improvement in the quality and realism of the applications that we use – particularly those that are the most popular, with the biggest followings.

Which just goes to show that logic – when applied to human thought processess – can be intrinsically flawed.

Take a look around at some of the most popular gaming platforms and you’ll find that, in recent times, a rather queer inversion seems to be taking place. Blocky, 8-bit style graphics, simple platform games and cartoonish, featureless avatars are suddenly all the rage – take away the improved frame rates and higher resolution, and any time-travelling gamer from the 1980s would feel right at home. There’s a distinctly retro feel to the digital diversions that people are buying-in to, and from a technical point of view, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.

Why, when we can have lightning fast, almost-like-the-real-thing graphics, 3-dimensional surroundings and virtual characterisations that could perform better at the Turing Test than some people i know, do so many people opt for the simple arcade-style games and uncomplicated virtual environments that could easily pass for the classics of games past?Side-scrolling, city building, platform-hopping, 2-dimensional affairs, populated with pixellated sprites in primary colours and building patchwork environments out of simple, blockwork primitives are every bit as popular today – perhaps more so – as their distant cousins – the lavishly featured, graphics intensive, MMORPGs, with scintillating and sexy avatars that move every bit as fluidly as a well-lubricated cheetah wearing Reeboks.

Despite the march of technology, we do seem to be seeing a bit of a rebellion against the slick, sleek and supposedly better options that we now have the capability to enjoy. Some of the responsibility, i’m sure, lies with mobile technology – something so ubiquitious and all-pervasive is bound to shape the sort of pursuits that people will gravitate towards, but i think there may be more to the story than just that.

torley10_001Technology has maybe reached something of a plateau – if anything, it’s possibly become too smart for its own good. Take a look at 3D TVs… or – more to the point – you probably haven’t, since the majority of those whom you might think would be completely enamoured of such things have pointedly shown complete disinterest. The venerable BBC, last year suspended 3D programming indefinitely, citing a ‘lack of public appetite’ and companies are quietly holding back development of the technology in favour of 4K UHD and curvy screens. Have we perhaps reached some sort of technological event horizon? Up until now, technological improvements have seen exponential growth – a process that has drawn us ever deeper into a techological singularity, and now we have reached that point where – despite ongoing improvements – our appetite for development has slowed to a crawl as we cross the event horizon.

Perhaps the pace of change has simply been too rapid and our need to develop a familiarity with those things that motivate us has overcome our desire to move on to newer and better pastures. Whilst technology is trying its damndest to drag us forward, we are digging our collective heels in and saying, “No! Give us the time to enjoy a bit of stability and to establish a status quo first!”

Human beings have a inbuilt need to establish foundations and to build familiarity with the world around them, even down to the level of recreation and computer games. When we’re presented with constant and unabating change, even if it is for the better, we struggle and – in some cases – flounder badly: just look at the negativity that surrounded the change from V1 to Viewer 2 and the way in which so many people clung on to the old, less advanced – but familiar – viewer they knew and understood. Change, for many of us, is a difficult thing to embrace and we’ll try to avoid it at all costs, but – like taxes and death – it is inevitable, which doesn’t necessarily mean we’ll sucumb to it gracefully!

What about sl? Well, we find ourselves in an interesting position: traditionally, the pace of development of sl has been slow and, indeed, many lament how far behind other contenders in similar fields it has fallen, (nevertheless, it is still the ‘brand leader’ as far as virtual worlds go). That slow pace has worked to our advantage – if you like, we’ve been gently cajoled along the path of improvement, rather than driven with a stick. Even now, there’s still a long way to go before we can say that sl is anywhere near the technological event horizon, and so, i predict that sl will survive and will still be just as popular in the future as it has been in the past.

As for the proposed SL2… who knows? Will it – or indeed, will HiFidelity – be a technological step too far? Will it shock our virtual sensibilities and ask too much of us, and will we dig our virtual heels in, shun its shiny newness and stick with the sl we know and love? There will always be the danger, i’d suggest, that anything too cutting edge is simply going to be too much for us and LL will have to show a great deal of insight and market awareness if the next generation sl is not to go the way of 3D TV.

Only time will tell, but my gut feeling is that we like our prims and dodgy frame rates far too much to be willing to sacrifice them in their entirety to the god of technological progress – no matter how much we might profess to be all for it!

s. x

Then take me disappearin’ through the smoke rings of my mind
Down the foggy ruins of time, far past the frozen leaves
The haunted, frightened trees, out to the windy beach
Far from the twisted reach of crazy sorrow
Melanie – Mr Tambourine Man

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2 Responses to Low fidelity

  1. I blame cell phones, even at their best they are fundamentally low rez (not so much because of some theoretical performance numbers. Just how much can you really see on a tiny screen?). Minecraft looks damned near as good as SL on a tiny screen!
    SL is basically a desktop/laptop app. Hopefully LL realizes that the hardware technology will move forward and eventually the tiny screen limit will no longer be such a driving force.

    • Very true. i hadn’t really considered the display size issue, but you’re absolutely right, and it’s not just the issue of what you can see either – there’s only so much dexterity that even the daintiest fingers are capable of when it comes to manipulating on-screen controls.
      We have seen a bit of resurgence of interest in devices with larger screens of late, possibly driven by the sort of applications that are now finding their way onto tablets, and filtering through to smartphones and the like. Maybe that’s a trend that will continue, although there’s a practical limit to useful portable sizes.
      Personally, with the advent of non-rigid batteries and flexible screens, i don’t think it’ll be too long before we start to see roll-up or foldable devices, where screen sizes can effectively be much bigger – and that can’t be a bad thing.
      However, since i enjoy the luxury of dual 26″ monitors, i’m going to take a lot of persuading before i’ll consider scaling down to anything even remotely portable!
      s. x

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