16.22, Wednesday 26 Jan 2011

UFO on Tape has become - in seconds - the iPhone game I want to show everyone. It's simple (you're trying to follow a UFO around the sky with a video camera), it's photorealistic (it looks like UFO videos ought to look), it's X Files (the aesthetic is grainy, darting), it's sort-of augmented reality (you have to literally move around to keep the UFO on camera, which makes it totally physically immersive), it never breaks frame and it's simple to understand (like Nick says, it's Steadicam Canabalt). Play it now!

All of which reminds me of Dance Central for my XBox Kinect. Mostly it takes a while for me to reach flow state, that mode what you're immersed and there could be a brass band in the same room and you wouldn't notice. It sometimes happens after a couple hours coding. It takes about 20 minutes reading, and about 5 minutes to get into it when dancing (if the music's right). But the UFO on Tape and the game Dance Central both get me into flow in seconds, like snapping your fingers and bam I'm under. Five minutes later the game ends and I'm like, hey where did the time go. It's maybe something to do with the physical involvement that the Kinect demands, something that I've previously called body thinking. The Kinect is this freaky device that stares into your front room with its infra red eyes, and snares your body into an equivalent virtual representation on the screen. You can't help but tumble into cyberspace. (It helps that my screen is a 4 foot tall projection on the wall.)

Swords to ploughshares

And so I conclude with two thoughts. First, that the Kinect is magical technology. As WW2 and ballistics gave us digital computers, and Cold War decentralisation produced the Internet, the technologies of mass surveillance and anti-terrorism gave us Kinect. It's swords to ploughshares for the 21st century. (src)

(Though let's attempt to forget Operation Plowshare from the 1960s, which proposed the re-use of nuclear warheads to create canals and make road-cuts.)

An interface can be a sandy beach, not a cliff

Second, this mode of interacting with technology - call it tangible or augmented reality or whatever you like - is worth watching now because it's low key and everywhere, and only likely to become more significant.

It's talking to your XBox to play a DVD. It's nudging your laptop to skip to the next tune. It's pinch-zooming photos on your iPhone to look closer and rotate them. It's spinning in your chair to point a pretend camera at a pretend UFO. It's a bit like acting. And it's a bit like playing Let's Pretend and being 6 years old. And it's restrained, non-superfluous, sensitive and attentive. And it makes a gentler edge between the world of computers and the world of my front room, less like a cliff between worlds and more like a sandy beach. And it's a lot of fun.

But it's not super high tech or dramatic or woo-woo-flashy like the Minority Report interface. I don't know what to call it. But it's nice and humble and human, and I like it.