Simulating the World to Engage with the World

2017-11-19 17:56:57

I wanted to collect some threads here as I read and explore procedural generation more. I have been thinking about how engaging with (either playing or creating) a simulation of the world encourages stronger engagement with the actual world. Some examples:

  • Ethan Edwards write-up in Seeds issue 2 of his project Edge of the Sphere which uses an iPhone camera and edge detection to produce a stylized view of the world and generate tones to go with it. He talks about how after exploring and developing an understanding of what types of shapes from the world produce interesting tones in the app, you can leave the app and that understanding where still hang around in your mind, layered into your view of the world, enriching your experience of it a bit.

  • This article on the water effects in the film Moana. Which ends with a quote from Erin Ramos, the effects lead:

    “You know it’s hard for me to go to the beach nowadays,” she said. “When I’m there, I’m looking at how foam dissipates, at how the water recedes back into the ocean, the cadence and the rhythm of the little breaks. I’m looking at how the beach itself is modeled to create the reef breaks, how the light affects the water, the clarity of the water itself, the colors. There’s just a million things going through my head.”

    “I don’t think it’s a bad thing,” she added. “I think it’s gorgeous.”

    I identify with that feeling. It's one of the reasons I'm most interested in exploring procedural generation myself. Aspects of the world I've taken for granted (especially those built up through natural processes) become much more interesting to me when I'm trying to imagine how to set up a system of forces to simulate them. One thing I enjoy about graphic design is the constant looking-out for inspiration, like in the lettering of shop windows, for example. This feels to me like that, but with a much wider range of things to draw inspiration from. (And, yes, probably I should also spend some time thinking about why I need to dissect and recreate something to appreciate it.)

I didn't consciously put it together this way, but those threads are good motivation for why I should keep working on my backyard simulator. Which aims to be a simplified simulation of some of the natural systems (plants) of our backyard and our (Me, Parvoneh, Prince the dog, Ernie the cat) within it. Working on the simulation will hopefully make me engaged and appreciative when I'm in the real thing.