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Fog of Learning

March 12, 2009

In video games, there is something we call the “fog of war.” It is that information which lies just outside of your avatar’s or agent’s field of view. As the player, you might be able to see the terrain just fine, but unless your in-game character can see over the hill or around the corner of a building, it doesn’t matter. No one’s seeing anything.

I raise this point because I recently discovered this:

This is a painting from Andy Warhol’s Death and Disaster series, and I had never ever heard of it. How could I know about this artist, his iconic work, and be utterly unaware of the existence of this entire series? Upon reading about it and viewing the works, I leaned back and felt exactly like I’d just moved my ship out into the blue in Civilization Revolution. The clouds cleared, and there was new stuff there to be explored. The experience of discovering Warhol’s work was very similar in both metaphor and feeling – it was the fog of learning. This analogy to “fog of war” seems more pointed because I teach here at an art school and this knowledge is always quite close to me.

Perhaps you don’t know who Dani Berry is. Click on it, look and come back. See how it felt? If you know who she is, maybe Richard Garfield will work for you.

In a game world, removing the fog of war is as simple as walking in that direction to look. Gaining knowledge of this series was no different. There were no complex problems to solve. I literally Googled it because it appeared in something I was reading about another artist, Gerhard Richter. The pictures in the link are actually paintings. They are blurred, perhaps, because the incident is being remembered or being forgotten or both or something else entirely. There is reason.

So, all this information is right over there, just barely over there, underneath the cloud. I am fascinated by this most obvious point. What do you suspect is just off of to the right or left for you, and how might it affect you as a designer, artist, game theorist or programmer? The salient point here for me is that I have not veered much for 27 years. I have lived games, all games, all the time. There is, of course, my fascination with Irish and Irish-American history and Irish-American identity, but I was born into that, and it comes naturally. Even that finds its ways into my games.

So, I am veering and pursuing another degree in Art History, because I like where the ship is going. You veer, too.

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. March 12, 2009 7:10 pm

    (Yes, I am still making games. There are 4 in design at the moment.)

  2. Chris Pioli permalink
    March 13, 2009 2:36 am

    I never imagined art history could be relevant to video games. Then I saw how Greek sculptures, ceramics, and painting evolved as they were able to develop better tools and refine techniques, it reminded me of the progression of graphics in video games… From Pong, to Pac-Man, to Super Mario Bros., Ultima, all the way to the realism in Call of Duty 4.

    And I never wanted to take an art history course. I just said “well, I’ve got all these studio art courses… I need three art history courses to get an art minor, so why not?” It was nice to go to a school with a lot of humanities requirements for science majors, because as a game centered individual, I found relevance to it in everything from philosophy to sociology to psychology to religion. A game designer is trying to make a unique experience for the audience, and it can come from so many places.

  3. March 13, 2009 1:03 pm

    First thing to pop into mind is the artificial hindrance in formal learning, rather than the actual unknown. I’ve seen times where the fog of war got to be annoying. Maybe that’s why it came to mind. I like your comparison much more.

    Yet, I think there is more to this than just the known and unknown terrain. If you want to get to a certain piece of land to make it visible, there are sometime terrain obstacles to get around. Sometimes after going all the way around it still isn’t accessible to you. Then there is being able to watch the actions of the people. With the fog in place you don’t know what is currently going on there. I’ve found this last one a lot.

    The Greek sculptures and tools reminds me more of upgrading tools, but that’s just me.

    Social sciences are very applicable to game design and novel writing, another interest of mine. Geography and economics are another set of social sciences to add. Geography isn’t just about the physical landscape. Societies, cultures, religions and languages are also a part of geography. Economics in and outside the games are always something good to have a better understanding of.

  4. March 13, 2009 6:55 pm

    We put a button in our scheduling system named “fog of war”. Any task that has serious “unknowns”–particulary engineering tasks–gets tagged with this modifier.

    Whenever a task on the schedule is tagged with FOW, the scheduling tool allocates extra time. It also marks dependencies that rely on the FOW task so we know in which direction the cloud lies, and when two tasks have equal weight in the tree it schedules the FOW task first so we can clear unknowns as soon as possible.

    By making everyone actively aware of where in the schedule the unknowns are the whole process goes much more smoothly.

  5. Jacek Wesołowski permalink
    March 14, 2009 6:15 am

    Over the last few years, I’ve grown a habit of always clickg my friends’ links to their favourite music. It gets me exposed to all kinds of strange sounds. I always try to imagine what kind of activity a given piece of music would fit best. Usually, strange ideas tend to come to mind.

    One particular benefit with regard to computer games is that “strange music” provides endless variety of patterns of pacing, other than your standard “fight-explore-fight-explore-etc”. Also, the range of emotions is much wider than that of adolescent hero fantasies.

  6. March 14, 2009 12:58 pm

    One of my favourite pass times is surfing wikipedia. Though the information is arguably flawed, it proves to be a nice framework for further study. In addition, surfing through links and tags on the sight exposes me to a multitude of information in a wide variety of subject matter. One thing that I’ve always thought about games [both digital and non-digital], is how much general knowledge and experience plays into their success. for instance, an author who only reads pulp fiction most likely won’t be inspired to write anything other than pulp fiction. If a game designer simply plays games, all their games will most likely look like those other games. Variety is the spice of life, or so they say. Similarly, variety is the spice of everything.

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