Ask Hackaday: Did Video Games Influence Your Career?

Apex Minecraft hosting recently held a scholarship competition. The person who sent in the best essay would win a $2,000 scholarship.  The winning essay starts, “Five years ago, at age 13, I built an entire computer from scratch. Assembled from basic components: wires, torches, repeaters, pistons, and blocks, it was capable of rendering images to a display, multiplying and dividing numbers, and even calculating square roots.” I  had to read it twice before it clicked that he was talking about a computer built entirely in a fictional universe.

It’s no wonder that he’s now a freshman at college, pursuing a degree in computer engineering. After reading this, I started to reminisce. The first computer I ever had access to was my mother’s laptop. It had an install of QBASIC on it, and I remember using it to make a few text based games. Later on when we got our first family computer I remember spending hours getting no better at video game programming using QBASIC.

It went on and on. I remember doing AI for video games in DarkBasic. I remember doing physics and collisions. Eventually I found my way to html, then php, to make websites about games (which are too terrible to share with you). So when the time came to program robots I was absolutely fearless. It just seemed like such a natural extension of what I already knew that it never occurred to me to be thankful for the time I spent trying to make my own simple little games until much later.

In the end I am still occasionally making little forays into game programming when I want to learn a new language or get back up to speed. It never occurred to me that perhaps this was just the way I’ve always learned a language.

Later on in the winner’s essay he goes on to describe his minecraft community. They taught new players. They taught themselves. They hung out and became friends. The writer gained a sense of self as a user of computers, a teacher of skills, a good member of a community, and a solver of problems. Unlike some of his classmates he won’t go to college and have to learn if he’s good enough. He’ll already know. All it took was a silly block based game.

Did any of you have seemingly frivolous endeavors show up as a foundation for your life and learning far into the future? Tell in the comments below how this ended up shaping your career.

Real-Life Space Invaders with Drones and Lasers

We’ve seen a proliferation of real-life video game builds lately, but this one is a jaw-dropper! [Tomer Daniel] and his crew of twelve hackers, welders, and coders built a Space Invaders game for GeekCon 2016.

[Tomer] et al spent more time on the project than the writeup, so you’re going to have to content yourselves with the video, embedded below, and a raft of photos that they sent us. ([Tomer] wrote in and wanted to thank each of you, and his sponsors, by name, but that would be a couple paragraphs on its own. Condider yourselves all thanked!)
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D.Va For Real: Playing An FPS With Flight Sticks

[Rudeism] loves playing Blizzard’s hit game Overwatch. He wanted to make his gaming experience a bit more realistic though. One of the characters is D.Va, who according to game lore is a member of the South Korean Mobile Exo-Force (MEKA). D.Va pilots her MEKA in game using two joysticks. Overwatch is a standard FPS with WASD and mouse controls, so the realism ends at the screen.

d.va-thumb[Rudeism] didn’t let that stop him. He used two flight sticks to create the  ultimate D.Va experience. [Twitch recording link – language warning] A commercial software package called Xpadder allowed him to map movements on the joystick to mouse and keystrokes. The left joystick maps to WASD, left shift, Q, and right click. The right stick corresponds to mouse movements, E, and left click.

This isn’t exactly the tank style steering we’re used to from classic mech games like Virtual-On, but it’s pretty good for a software solution. It makes us wonder what would be possible with a bit of hardware hacking – perhaps a Teensy handling the analog and button inputs.

People have been coming up with interesting ways to play video games for years. Check out this hack with the classic Microsoft Kinect, or these arcade hacks.

Via Reddit

Evolving Storytelling to Marry the Ancient Skills with the Digital Age

Storytelling is an art. It stretches back to the dawn of man. It engages people on an emotional level and engages their mind. Paulina Greta Stefanovic, a user experience researcher and interaction designer is on the cutting edge of bringing our technology together with the best human aspects of this long tradition.

The information age is threatening storytelling — not making it extinct, but reducing the number of people who themselves are storytellers. We are no longer reliant on people in our close social circles to be exquisite story tellers for our own enjoyment; we have the luxury (perhaps curse?) of mass market story-telling.

Paulina’s work unlocks interactive storytelling. The idea isn’t new, as great storytellers have always read their audience and played to their engagement. Interactive storytelling in the digital age seeks to design this skill into the technology that is delivering the story. This is a return from passive entertainment.

This breaks down into interactive versus responsive. At its simplest, think of responsive as a video that has a pause button. You can change the flow of the story but you can’t make the story your own. Surprisingly, this is a new development as the ability to pause playback is but a few decades old. So you can pause a responsive medium, but true interactive experiences involve creation — the audience is immersed in the story and can make substantive changes to the outcome during the experience.

This equates to a power transfer. The creator of the media is no longer in complete control, ceding some to the audience. We are just at the start of this technology and it looks like the sky is the limit on what we can do with algorithmic interactions.

Video games are the forerunners of this change. They already have branching stories that let the users make choices that greatly affect the storyline. This industry is huge and it seems obvious that this active aspect of story consumption is a big part of that success. Even more intriguing is a “drama management system” (a new term to me but I love it) that results in a story whose ending nobody knows until this particular audience gets there. What a concept, and something I can’t wait to see for myself!

If you find these concepts as interesting as I do, check out Paulina’s talk below, which she presented at the Hackaday Belgrade conference.

A Look Into the Future of Slicing

I’ve had a few conversations over the years with people about the future of 3D printing. One of the topics that arises frequently is the slicer, the software that turns a 3D model into paths for a 3D printer. I thought it would be a good idea to visualize what slicing, and by extension 3D printing, could be. I’ve always been a proponent of just building something, but sometimes it’s very easy to keep polishing the solution we have now rather than looking for and imagining the solutions that could be. Many of the things I’ll mention have been worked on or solved in one context or another, but not blended into a cohesive package.

I believe that fused deposition modelling (FDM), which is the cheapest and most common technology, can produce parts superior to other production techniques if treated properly. It should be possible to produce parts that handle forces in unique ways such  that machining, molding, sintering, and other commonly implemented methods will have a hard time competing with in many applications.

Re-envisioning the slicer is no small task, so I’m going to tackle it in three articles. Part One, here, will cover the improvements yet to be had with the 2D and layer height model of slicing. It is the first and most accessible avenue for improvement in slicing technologies. It will require new software to be written but does not dramatically affect the current construction of 3D printers today. It should translate to every printer currently operating without even a firmware change.

Part Two will involve making mechanical changes to the printer: multiple materials, temperatures, and nozzle sizes at least. The slicer will need to work with the printer’s new capabilities to take full advantage of them.

Finally, in Part Three, we’ll consider adding more axes. A five axis 3D printer with advanced software, differing nozzle geometries, and multi material capabilities will be able to produce parts of significantly reduced weight while incorporating internal features exceeding our current composites in many ways. Five axis paths begin to allow for weaving techniques and advanced “grain” in the layers put down by the 3D printer.

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Hack The Steam Controller?

[willrandship] sent in a conversation from Reddit discussing the programming ports inside the Steam controller and their potential for hacking. From the posts and the pictures it seems the radio/SoC and the MCU can be programmed on the board, or at least they both have JTAG headers. The JTAG headers are in the form of “Tag-Connect” pads on the board so it will require the dedicated cable or soldering some hardware to the board temporarily.

From the pictures we can see a NXP LPC11U37F ARM Cortex-M0 and a Nordic nRF51822 ARM Cortex-M0 SoC with integrated Bluetooth low energy. There are only a limited number of Steam Controllers in the wild at this time so we don’t expect much in the way of hacking them thus far. There is a Steam Controller hackaday.io project just started for anyone who would like to contribute to the Steam Controller hacking.

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73 Computer Scientists Created a Neural Net and You Won’t Believe What Happened Next

The Internet is a strange place. The promise of cyberspace in the 1990s was nothing short of humanity’s next greatest achievement. For the first time in history, anyone could talk to anyone else in a vast, electronic communion of enlightened thought, and reasoned discourse. The Internet was intended to be the modern Library of Alexandria. It was beautiful, and it was the future. The Internet was the greatest invention of all time.

Somewhere, someone realized people have the capacity to be idiots. Turns out nobody wants to learn anything when you can gawk at the latest floundering of your most hated celebrity. Nobody wants to have a conversation, because your confirmation bias is inherently flawed and mine is much better. Politics, religion, evolution, weed, guns, abortions, Bernie Sanders and Kim Kardashian. Video games.

A funny thing happened since then. People started to complain they were being pandered to. They started to blame media bias and clickbait. People started to discover that headlines were designed to get clicks. You’ve read Moneyball, and know how the use of statistics changed baseball, right? Buzzfeed has done the same thing with journalism, and it’s working for their one goal of getting you to click that link.

Now, finally, the Buzzfeed editors may be out of a job. [Lars Eidnes] programmed a computer to generate clickbait. It’s all done using recurrent neural networks gathering millions of headlines from the likes of Buzzfeed and the Gawker network. These headlines are processed, and once every twenty minutes a new story is posted on Click-O-Tron, the only news website you won’t believe. There’s even voting, like reddit, so you know the results are populist dross.

I propose an experiment. Check out the comments below. If the majority of the comments are not about how Markov chains would be better suited in this case, clickbait works. Prove me wrong.