Imagined Worlds: Architectural Visions & The Megastructure

In a post WW2 society, there was rapid technological advancements and obsolescence became more of a common idea, as industries such as the American Car Market began to plan on when a model would be out of date. A good present day comparison would be Apple and Android smartphones as they released yearly models that claim to offer upgrades on the previous models, but they also only get supported via software and security updates for two or three years – obsolescence.

The influence of events like NASA landing a man on the moon in 1969 had a profound affect on young creatives, and many technological advancements happened thanks to the Space Race, echoing medicinal advancements due to the two World Wars.

Megastructures – a term later coined in 1976 by Reyner Banham – were concepts and buildings that were colossal in size and scope, potentially housing say entire cities inside of one structure.

Buckminster Fuller was one example of an early environmentalist and mega-structuralist, as he realized that natural resources were finite and that design and technology could offer solutions – an idea which some still use as a design principle today. One of his most famous examples was the Geodesic Dome (from 1954), which was constructed from triangles rather than rectangles and could be cheaper, lighter and stronger than traditional brick houses.

Some examples of mega structures in video games or popular culture – and examples of how art imitates life and life then imitates art – could be the Death Star from Star Wars, the Dyson Shell concept from science fiction, and the Citadel from the Mass Effect video games.

deathstar1-swe

A moon sized space station that typically houses a super weapon laser capable of destroying a planet.

h2a_mission_deltahalo

Colossal ring worlds with diverse and varied ecosystems, artificially built.

masseffect2citadel

Gargantuan space stations capable of housing civilizations.

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Imagined Worlds: Utopia & Dystopia

This week we were introduced to some concepts regarding Utopias and Dystopia, with all of us having to write down our “Utopian Demands” on a piece of paper, fold it up and hand it in. Based on the assumption that Utopia is an “ideal(ized) society” I noted things like;

Multiculturalism

Peace

Freedom

And a few more that I forget at the time of writing.

The term “Utopia” comes from Thomas More’s Utopia, originally written in Latin in 1516, and was written as something of a critique of Feudalism – the idea that society would be built around land holdings being exchanged for labour or services – although it was a patriarchal Utopia, so its not what I would assume/hope most people nowadays would think of as Utopian.

Utopian cities and ideals have been represented in various forms in “recent” history, for example: Le Corbusier was hired to come up with a blueprint, layout and plan for a Utopian version of the Indian city of Chandigarh. Welthauptstadt Germania was Hitler’s vision for a post WW2 renovation of the city of Berlin as an absolute example of a Nazi Utopia, via a restructuring of the city and society. Brasilia was founded in 1960 and built as  Utopia of Brazilian society, the ideal example and place to live.

Ernst Bloch suggested that Utopia was the expression of hope, “not only as emotion, but more essentially as a directing act of a cognitive kind”. He also suggested that there were two kinds of Utopias;

Abstract – Wishful thinking, but not prepared to actually do anything (typically emphatic people in a position of privilege).

Concrete – Wishful thinking AND with the will to actually do something about it.

 

How To Improve Pokemon II: after Su/Mo

So a while ago I wrote a blog about how I thought Pokemon should improve. It mainly focused on how I thought GameFreak should have a story focused more on discovery; for example you could be a young trainer whose parents are part of an expeditionary force to a new region where you discover an ancient/primitive culture and have more of a discovery element. Now I think this is quite like the first Mass Effect where Commander Shepard is very much the vehicle for the player as they are learning a lot of information for the first time, and this aspect in Pokemon would work the same way.

Having completed Pokemon Sun in about 40 hours (probably more like 30 if you count the hours I wasn’t having the 2DS open while doing something else) I have thoughts.

First off, GameFreak have improved on the general formula a lot. You play as a young person from Kanto who arrives in the Alola Region and you get greeted by the Pokemon Professor who suggests you learn about your new “home” by doing the Trial Challenge, beating the Kahunas of each Island and raising some Pokemon. If you break it down its still familiar but it works as a relatively fresh, new approach.

GameFreak REALLY need to dial it down with the tutorials thought because for about 2 hours or so it’s a little too cut-scene heavy, or at least it interrupts you to tell you about features that anyone who has played a Pokemon game before is already pretty familiar with. I think an option as to whether you’d played one of the games before would fix this and wouldn’t take much time.

The game is relatively linear but each Island tends to loop around a few times which makes it interesting as you might find a path blocked so you go “this” way, then eventually you come back and its clear. Kanto and most other regions have done this slight criss-crossing pattern and it works well but it does make me wonder about a non linear Pokemon game.

Of course the problem would be balancing but to be honest I would have little/no problem with a Pokemon game where it still had the current balancing (A city has a trainer with Level 20 pokemon, a Route to the North is Level 22, a route to the east is 30 etc) but just have NO ROADBLOCKS. It can be really infuriating when an NPC says “I’m sorry, I want to explore this area thoroughly” and you aren’t allowed to continue.

With the elimination of HMs (a godsend) and the use of rental Pokemon GameFreak could actually do this really well. For instance imagine if in a Gen 8 Pokemon you explore an Island and discover a Mountain. You can go through some tunnels but can’t climb some surfaces because you lack Rock Climb or maybe can’t move a giant boulder because you lack Strength, or a river has overflown and flooded a Route so you would need Surf to cross. These are in a sense roadblocks but in my mind it could allow GameFreak to take a leaf out of Castlevania or Metroid (Metroidvania) and allow you to go back to previous locations and and discover more because of a power-up or ability.

You could choose to go down a different Route and the level of the Pokemon might mean you don’t stand a chance, but the option is there and maybe you break through and reach a new settlement/town/city.

Also GameFreak need to majorly improve the presentation. The animations in Su/Mo are serviceable for the 3DS and since Pokemon Stars will be on the Nintendo Switch there might be hope but basically they need to improve animations and cutscenes. Cutscenes make use of more dynamic camera angles but they still feel fairly rigid, like GameFreak have only just started using them and haven’t really done intricate cut-scenes before.

The animations also hurt the story telling as a dramatic moment can happen and a character’s face will be non-plussed or rigid and its kinda laughable.

Ultimatley, Su/Mo are big steps in the right direction but I hope with Pokemon Stars or the 8th Generation that GameFreak do not stop with iterating and innovating on features and improve the series even more.

CTS – Authorship & Storytelling

Authorship and Storytelling are important aspects of design.

Authorship is about creating work and responsibility for the “whole” but typically we talk about authorship in regards to books because fewer people are typically responsible for that book.

So authorship varies depending on the medium as while Mary Shelley is the author of Frankenstein while someone like Martin Scorsese is the Director of Goodfellas but is not responsible for all of the authored content.

Roland Barthes suggests that when reading a book the reader is consuming text rather than articulation of a person so Mary Shelley is the author of Frankenstein but the reader does not necessarily read anything about Mary Shelley in the book so the relationship is independent.

Authors are rarely credited for there work. For instance many of us in the room will not be credited for things we work on because a collective of people typically work on a project (especially in video games) so the “Developer” could be Square Enix but hundreds of people will work on a game. It is impractical to name who is responsible for every individual aspect so in a sense the work that designers do is rarely credited to them.

Authorship is not the norm: It is an unusual thing that affords status to individuals.

Wim Crouwel 

Jan Van Toorn thought that you may not always be credited for your work but you are still responsible for it and present for it so you have a moral and ethical responsibility to work (or not) work with a design. He argued that you will always be present in your design.

If you design something you still have an ethical responsibility in design because you are creating something that will represent different things for different people. For instance if you design something for a controversial item, such as cigarettes, and even if you are not credited you still think about if it is ethical. However it is not always practical because you can’t necessarily expect someone to give up a job because they were told to design a cigarette packet and refused.

When you, as the author, are part of a team (like in games design), are you trying to connect the user to an idea or if you work in advertising you do you connect the user to the brand and make them want it? For instance in video games you might want to teach the player mechanics and you have to design a way to do that, while if you worked in advertising then for Apple they used to have adverts with people as silhouettes dancing so everyone could identify with the people dancing, having fun and listening to music because there was no identity of the person portrayed in the advert.

Critical Design

Critical Design is a way of a designer tackling an issue they feel passionate about and have something to say, for instance instead of protesting you could create a work of art that conveys a protest against something.

Design Fiction

Design Fiction is essentially fiction about how design might change in the future and how it might impact us. It is speculative and not really predictive but to think “If these are the trends we follow today then how will it change in the next ten or twenty years?”.

CTS Glastonbury Exhibit @ V&A Museum

For this week we were asked to visit the Victoria and Albert Museum in London and to see the Glastonbury Exhibit there. We had to talk about how it was designed (how we interpreted the design) to convey the purpose of the exhibit.

I have uploaded all the photos I took and will talk about them in the order they are presented. However first I will talk about the entrance to the exhibit, which on reflection I realize I did not photograph.

I found it quite confusing to find the entrance to the exhibit as from the entrance to the V&A there didn’t seem to be any immediate signposts (then again it was quite busy and my eyesight is comparatively poor) and although I eventually found the way to it, this was frustrating. However it is worth noting that eventually the exhibit is signposted by florally painted oil drums, empty (I presume), with arrows pointing in the direction you need to go.

I thought this was quite interesting as from what I know of Glastonbury it is sometimes associated  with what you could call liberal or “hippy” moods so the bright and colorful displays made me think that sort of way of thinking (I’m not sure how to articulate it properly) is part of the spirit of the festival. The actual entrance to the exhibit was quite small and nondescript, a few doors to open and then black walls with pictures, information or projection-enabled exhibits.

Photo #1 & 2: I wasn’t sure what the copper models were meant to represent as I couldn’t see a little stand with information on it and part of this display was cordoned off. However I think it is probably symbolic of Glastonbury Festival’s site, being based on a farm, with animal figures and trees and the triangular shapes possibly representing tents. As for the metal crab I have absolutely no idea.

Photo #3: You can see the (blurry) photo of a map of the Glastonbury site which shows various facts and figures about the festival each year. Some of these include the length of it (5 days), how many people visit, how much it costs, the size of the site and various other facts and figures.

Photo #4: This wall gave a bit more information about the purpose of the exhibit, to inform about “the sights, sounds and stories of the Glastonbury Festival” and take you on a journey through it.

Photo #6: The environmentally friendly messages give you an insight into the ethos of the organizers behind the festival, but I also noticed that the exhibit isn’t just plastered onto the actual walls of the V&A but instead on walls of black (cloth?) material and metal pipes, much like scaffolding and displays at the actual festival. I thought this was a nice touch and a surprisingly subtle way of giving you an idea of what it is like to be at the festival as its not something you will necessarily notice straight away, if at all.

Photo #7: A makeshift tent had projections of people at the festival on it. I noticed later on that when it displayed a scene of a rainy vista at the festival the sound system in the V&A mimicked this with raindrops. It wasn’t too loud but I thought it was a nice touch.

Photo #8: The walls were covered with newspapers scrappings, posters and more that served as a collage of how the festival and coverage of it has evolved over the years. I find exhibits like this quite hard to read so I assume that the purpose is less about the detail and more about showing off that Glastonbury Festival is a cultural event that has endured for decades.

Photo #9 & 12: You can see a wall where people had been asked to take post-it paper notes and write their DOB, what year they visited and who performed, to show what Glastonbury means as an event but also has meant on a personal level to individuals over the years. It reminded me of when I visited Japan years ago in 2008 and saw a temple where people took little wooden blocks and inscribed things on it, my Japanese friend told me that it was the equivalent of offering prayers or saying “Take care of my loved one”. It was a little overwhelming and although you can’t tell from the photo each stack of notes was quite deep so even from the limited people who have been able to go the exhibit it obviously has memories for people.

Photo #10: This photo shows another board of information explaining some of the thinking behind why “Pyramid” is such a symbol associated with Glastonbury (the main stage is called the Pyramid Stage, unless i’m completely mistaken).

Photo #11: This gives you a view inside the aforementioned tent, and people lay inside on beanbag/sleeping bag seats to recreate the tent and festival feeling. It was quite interesting to see and I imagine it holds more relevance to people who have actually been to the festival.

Overall I thought the Exhibit was actually a little confusing and maybe disappointing. As someone who only really knows about Glastonbury Festival anecdotally (from friends, family and accounts on the internet) I was surprised at how small the exhibit was. I also felt like there wasn’t a natural flow to the exhibit as the way I would have designed it, or the way I would have preferred, is to be slightly more “Glastonbury over the years”. For instance last year for CTS we had to visit the Science Museum and visit the Information Age exhibit. It was much larger than this but also confusing as there wasn’t a “Follow this path to see the evolution of technology over the years” and instead was a bit more patchwork.

Even though this exhibit was very small it felt confusing as well, however visually I got a strong sense of what Glastonbury was about and recognized iconography from it (the scaffolding/tent/pyramids) and I thought the use of projection and sound was very effective in making me subtly immersed in it. I would be interested to see what people who are more intimately familiar with Glastonbury would think of the exhibition.

CTS Non Visual Experiences

Non Visual Experiences

Since one of our primary senses and one we rely on is our “sight” it is a very important sense to take into consideration when designing things if you work in media or design industries, although other senses are important.

SIGHT – Visual (Eyes)

SOUND – Audible (Ears)

TOUCH – Haptic (Skin)

TASTE – Gustatory (Tongue/Nose)

SMELL – Olfactory (Nose)

Sound is also very important (music or talking/anything you can hear relies on this sound so it can affect video games tremendously) and can add atmosphere and depth to televisions shows and visual mediums and even art galleries sometimes use music to help set the mood or atmosphere for a particular exhibition. For instance I went to the Victoria & Albert Museum to see the Exhibition on Glastonbury and another Exhibition on Music had Rolling Stones’ “Paint it Black” playing.

Smell and Taste are hard to incorporate into designs as TV and Movies and Video Games don’t uses them as senses, but Touch is easy as controllers for Video Games typically have vibration features to convey haptic feedback.

I have been into sweet shops and they use sweet smells and bright colors to make it feel like a Willy Wonka esque candyland. I also went on a tour of the Cadbury’s Factory in Birmingham years ago and they gave us an ungodly amount of free samples which actually turned me off chocolate forever.

You could divide these senses into two groups; Contact and Distance senses. Contact senses require you to touch something, obviously, while Distance does not require this.

Distance Senses; SIGHT, SOUND

Contact Senses; TOUCH, TASTE, SMELL

These are not strict categories though as some could argue that smelling is a distant sense because you do not have to be near an object to smell it, but you could equally say that touching particles from the object with your nose makes it a contact sense. Honestly I think to argue about it to that degree is being needlessly pedantic.

Conservative estimates place the amount of scientific senses at roughly ten;

  1. Vision
  2. Hearing
  3. Smell
  4. Taste
  5. Touch
  6. Pain
  7. Mechanoreception
  8. Balance
  9. Temperature
  10. Blood Pressure

The more scientifically liberal minded believe there are thousands of senses.

Constance Classen “The Witches Senses”

Ocularcentric – Centred Around Sight

Cutaneous – Relating To, Or Affecting, The Skin

Somatic – Relating To The Body, Especially Separate From The Mind

Visceral – Relating To Deep, Inward Feelings As Opposed To Intellect.

 

CTS Stages of Action

Every action someone makes takes place during a period of time. Performing simple actions such as drinking from a cup or bottle involves someone having to know how to pick it up, how gravity affects the liquid etc.

The Gulf of Execution – How do things work?

When learning  a new action you begin to wonder “How can this work? What can I do?” and more.

Signifiers, Constraints, Mappings and Conceptual Models can be used to teach this.

The Gulf of Evaluation – What happened?

Once an action is performed you evaluate what happened and whether you achieved the desired affect.

Feedback and Conceptual Models can be used for this.

For example a child might not know how to use a light switch but over time they see other people performing the action and realize that pressing a button on a wall turns on a light somewhere. The reason why Conceptual Model is listed above twice is that you can see someone perform an action, like flicking a switch, but until you have performed the action yourself you might not know what the end result is. For instance I have a trio of light switches downstairs that turn on a porch light, hall light and landing lights. I’ve lived here for 24 years and I still get them mixed up every day.

Step 1 – Goal

What do I want to do?

Step 2 – Plan

How will I do this?

Step 3 – Specify

Decide on course of action

Step 4 – Perform

Perform action(s)

Step 5 – Perceive 

See what changes have occurred

Step 6 – Interpret

Understand changes compared to prior to action

Step 7 – Compare

Have i achieved my original goal

There are 3 levels of processing information. These could be called;

Visceral

Fast/Basic/Subconscious/Reflexes/Immediate Feeling

Behavioral

Subconscious/Reaction/Anticipation/Expectation

Reflective

Slow/Conscious/Judgments/Decision Making

Designers tend to concern themselves with the reflective process as it is where people form opinions about things and you want them to think positively when reflecting on the stimulus.

Root Cause Analysis

Asking “Why?” until you find a root to a cause, for example “Why is a child being annoying?” and you can use this to try and work out the design process and thought behind something.

Knowledge

In The Head – Knowledge in the head is knowing what you know/memory: for example I lost my glasses case, then i remember where i left it.

In The World – Knowledge int he world is shown through signs, like a zebra crossing sign or “No pets allowed” etc.

These can be interchangeable as for example when learning to type you learn the keys and eventually over time you can touch type and not have to look down at the keyboard at all.