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The Holodeck May Be Possible, But It's Going To Need Game Designers

November 15, 2012 | Telepresence Options
By Mathew Kumar, GamaSutra,

Science fiction for many is mere fantasy and escapism, but Lee Sheldon--a writer and producer on Star Trek: The Next Generation and now an associate professor at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute--sees the fantasy of Star Trek's Holodeck as entirely possible.

With a seed grant, he and his team are working towards creating the Emergent Reality Lab, using modern technologies to create a "first-generation Holodeck."

Alternate reality simulations have long been created for military and medical uses, Sheldon said at a talk at the Montreal International Games Summit, admitting that his team are "not the first ones to do this."

He was, however, particularly dismissive of a recent Microsoft patent with similar aims, mocking the patent image's unrealistic living space--"If Microsoft wants the patent on that couch, they're welcome to it."

For attendees who were skeptical about the possibilities of a Holodeck using modern technologies, Sheldon summarised recent individual progressions in virtual reality, such as the "Cyberwalk" treadmill that lets the friction of the users feet move it allowing them to "walk" while stationary ("I love this--one of the problems with it is however that it costs ten million dollars") and the Montreal-local McGill University's haptic floor tiles.

Such technologies when combined, could work towards a Holodeck experience, Sheldon argued.

"You have 360 panoramic screens, 3D stereoscopic projection, surround sound, motion tracking interfaces that include everything from Kinect at the low end, intelligent virtual agents, omi-directional treadmill floors, compliant surfaces, adjustable air flow, temperature gradients, and Smell-O-Vision... why can't we bring back Smell-O-Vision?"

That's just technology, however. Sheldon appealed to the fact that game designers would add the important factors that would tip the combination into virtual reality: sustained narrative and contextual play.

"The Holodeck was not about the technology," he said, "but the narrative immersion."

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