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The Esoteric Beat: Tree, Scrawl, Orion

Welcome to 'The Esoteric Beat', the news report that provides new and unusual ways to think about games and culture. This week's column looks at tree-gamers, smart animat...
Welcome to 'The Esoteric Beat', the news report that provides new and unusual ways to think about games and culture. This week's column looks at tree-gamers, smart animation and sensory immersion. - "Lumberjacked is a project that makes it possible to play a computer game against a tree." We couldn't resist starting this week's column with that quote from the Lumberjacked! site. We're not quite convinced that this is serious, but if it is, then artist/developer Dan Young has developed a sensor system to be attached to any plant, which then takes the vibrations from the vegetable gamer and inputs them into the simple tree-axeing game he made using GameMaker. The tree, of course, will need a gentle breeze for his best game to be played. - Meanwhile over at the rather more sensible University of Washington, Seattle, some new animation research could provide an interesting device with potential use in games design. Games designers illustrating their pitches could find K-Sketch a vital tool as they try to demonstrate their ideas to artists and programs in animated form. The system allows users to turn sketches into simply animations using a tablet PC touchpad, by allowing users to select elements from a sketch and apply animation processes to them. The idea has broken previous problems in automated animation by the use of sophisticated AI which can identify different elements of a sketch and then apply the necessary motion 'physics' to them. - Finally this week we received the news that Phillips are intending to increase the sensory possibilities for gaming with the introduction of a set of peripheral devices called 'amBX'. The amBX group describe the device as "a full sensory surround experience", and state that "amBX-enabled games will provide gamers with the ability to use light, colour, sound, heat and even airflow in the real world during game play". The description of this system gets poetic: "Imagine the room of the future, where all electronic devices are amBX-enabled. The treacherous road to Saigon will turn your room jungle green, swimming with dolphins will splash it deep blue, Halo jumps will turn your fans on full, lightning storms will strobe your white lighting, and attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion will blast on your heaters." It does seem rather as if this 'smellovision' type hardware gets announced every few years, so it'll be interesting to see whether Philips can push this through from being vaporware to a device that really does turn your games room into that pulsing Far Cry jungle. [Jim Rossignol is a freelance journalist based in the UK – his game journalism has appeared in PC Gamer UK, Edge and The London Times.]

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