The London Design Festival 2011 ends this weekend, at the Victoria and Albert Museum.
The London Design Festival 2011 ends this weekend, at the Victoria and Albert Museum.
Nice design for this Android tablet version of Firefox. I really like the landscape tab interface, above.
Rio Karma MP3 player (2004).
This was before touch screens, when we had to rely on hard keys provided somewhere around the screen. The huge majority of hand held devices come with the controls at the bottom, below the display.
The Karma did the opposite, and that was daring. It was surprisingly comfortable, as the thumb would effortlessly meet the wheel and buttons located at the top, making the player very natural to use. But not everyone liked how it looked.
An example of product that didn't sell as much as it deserved, just because we're usually not ready to buy things that look too unusual, even if they're a delight to use. To be fair, the Karma was probably not ideal for lefthanders!
Actually I really like this new logo. At first glance, I found it had nothing special. Now the more I look at it, and the more I find it's... an aircraft. With a nice red tail. Peaceful and dynamic at the same time. Really nice. Staring at it, I really can't find anything I'd like to improve here. That's a pretty good feeling.
New shots of my new favorite game.
See also in this blog, the first series.
Google just released Earth 6, with the Street View feature. I haven't found how to disable the Drunk Effect option, but I confess I had much fun taking these screenshots. Art for the lazy! Random art continues to fascinate me.
So, where in the world? As far as I remember: Paris, Hong Kong, Tokyo, Honolulu. Not in this order, that would be too easy. I've got another series of these, for a future post. In the meantime please drive safe.
Stunning visual representations of Inception's twisted story.
Inception by Rick Slusher (see fastcodesign.com for large version and details).
Shahed Syed's version below, not less remarkable (see his website).
If anyone knows whether this has been done for Twelve Monkeys, drop me a mail, I'd love to see that. Also, if you liked these movies, try the brilliant novels by Christopher Priest, in particular The Affirmation and The Glamour. There's another one titled A Dream of Wessex, which seems to have directly inspired the script for Inception.
Note: in French these books are respectively titled La Fontaine Pétrifiante, Le Don (or Le Glamour), and Futur Intérieur.
Last week, on the 14th, mathematician Benoît Mandelbrot died.
Digital artists widely honoured fractal geometry, his major contribution. In a nutshell, fractals are curves made of smaller replicas of themselves. Maybe I should say in a seashell... You know, the story of the tree that forks into branches that fork into branches that... Mandelbrot's statement was that some chaotic things in nature look so only because we fail to see the laws that organize them. Easy in the case of a tree, but Mandelbrot claimed that clouds, rocks, galaxies obeyed similar repetitive patterns.
There are funny things to note with these strange objects: a fractal shape normally can't be measured, because any section you attempt to start with turns out to be more sinuous than you expected, looking at it carefully. So you need a longer ruler. No matter how close you get to the object, there is always a new bend that bends into more bends, and so on. As a result the 'coast' is always longer than it seems. Another trick is that it's impossible to say how much you have zoomed in, since the shape is self-contained and repeats itself at all scales. So it's a looping zoom. Scary, isn't it?
The theory of fractals has been tried in various fields, where they help us understand how complex phenomena evolve, and whether they could be predicted or generated artificially. Various degrees of success have been obtained in biology, medical research, finance, cinema (special effects), radio-transmission, astronomy, etc.
Above: a real Romanesco cabbage (photograph from Fourmilab)
The Sentinel is a strategy game written by Geoff Crammond in 1986. It is a masterpiece that demonstrates that with the right design, it's possible to turn a technology constraint to your advantage and deliver something brilliant.
Note: screenshots used here are from Zenith, the 2009 remake of the game (see below)
You wake up on a mountainous island, represented in 3D. You're not alone, there's the Sentinel guarding the land. The Sentinel is a creature located on the highest point of the island; it continuously scans the whole land in a slow rotation, a bit like a lighthouse. Your goal is to "shoot" the Sentinel, then take its place.Problem: whenever it finds you in its field of view, the Sentinel starts pumping your energy. When you have no energy left, the game is over. So you constantly need to escape from the Sentinel's stare. Why not shoot the Sentinel as soon as the game starts? Because what you need to shoot is not the Sentinel itself, but the base it stands on. This assumes you see it from above, which requires that you are located a bit higher than the Sentinel; when the game starts, you stand at a low point.
How to move? Actually you can't really. You are a kind statue or robot fixed to the ground, or more exactly you wear the robot. Your only way to move is by teleporting yourself from your current robot shell to a new one, that you can create remotely. When not moving, you can still rotate - as the Sentinel does - to look around for objects to absorb, their energy being required for you to create the robot shells.
So your life cycle is simple: find a place to move to, create a robot shell there, jump to it, absorb objects around to rebalance your energy capital, find a new place a bit higher, create a robot, move to it, and so on, until you can climb high enough to absorb the Sentinel.Atmosphere
Despite the very abstract representation of the world, the game soon manages to put a huge pressure on you. This is mainly because you can only move slowly while constantly at risk of being caught by the Sentinel's eye. Sometimes you won't be able to find a place where to jump next, and start to panic! The feeling is like wearing a heavy diving suit and painfully looking around for a place to hide into, knowing that the sharks are coming.About the design
Keep in mind it's 1986 and the basic home computers The Sentinel is meant to run on are not able to animate plain 3D vectorial scenes easily. So 3D views can be generated, but not well animated. Crammond leverages this constraint and designs the entire game based on it. He seems to come up with two key ideas, that helps him overcome the impossibility of complex animation:
Crammond can't use animation, therefore he invents a world where it's natural that bodies don't slide from A to B, but disappear from A and re-appear at B. What's amazing is that you barely notice all views are static; this is because in this world, you simply don't expect things to move. Similarly, it's not confusing to see the camera moving by bits rather than in a continuous motion: look at the Sentinel, she too scans the land sector by sector. In this world, that's the way objects rotate.
The rules of the game themselves are beautifully designed, all based on the simple principle of energy management (absorb/spend). You can absorb any entity provided you can see the square it's on, and this applies to trees, the Sentinel itself and even your abandoned robot shells. The graphics and the interface are elegant and minimalist, just like the rules.
Once you win the first land, you are randomly hyperspaced to one of the 9999 remaining ones... Lands are computer generated rather than explicitly defined, and as a result the whole application can be stored in a file that, once compressed, weighs no more than 24 kilobytes (Amstrad CPC version), which means about 5% the size of this blog post. You'll never get more value per byte!
Playing The Sentinel today
To try the game today your best option is definitely Zenith (2009), the rewrite for Windows by John Valentine that remarkably preserves the spirit of the game. Valentine's adaptation is superb; it sublimates the timeless elegance of the original, essentially by keeping the plain graphic style. Zenith adds realtime animation of the camera, and many subtle details that make it look very contemporary.
Yet, it's interesting to note that, while animation improves the usability, the overall gameplay is not significantly enhanced. This confirms the genius of Crammond's original design: The Sentinel is a virtual reality game that does not require animation to feel real.
Above: The original Sentinel for Commodore 64 and Amstrad CPC, by Geoff Crammond.
Wikipedia article about The Sentinel
Case study: An overview of Zenith, by John Valentine (about game design)
The Sentinel demo (YouTube) - Atari ST version
A good description of the game by A. Manwaring
An interview with Geoff Crammond
KotH, for iPhone
I like the works of Yang Liu, a young Chinese graphic designer educated and based in Germany. In 2009 she published a funny and smart little book called East meets West, where she uses strong metaphors to highlight differences between the chinese society (red pages) and the german one (blue pages).
For most topics, the german version applies to the western culture in general. Except for the one where Yang Liu suggests that Chinese people are less sharp on time than the Germans. Maybe, but not true anymore when compared to the French!
Particularly striking are illustrations for topics "Me", "Sunday on the street", "Boss", "Travel" (an eye for Germans and a camera for Chinese) and "Dealing with problems" (picture above).
Yang Liu also designs beautiful posters.
Via Brain Pickings