6StringMercenary

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Dashcam + Google Maps + Dev Kit = Custom Neighborhood Race Tracks?

A Concept of User Generated Racetracks in Forza or Gran Turismo

Appreciating Good Video Game Entertainment

Right now my XBOX 360 kit is stashed away in a large blue Rubbermaid bin, and on top of it is another bin storing my Microsoft Force Feedback Wheel and Pedal combo that I got used at a Goodwill Computer Store for $10. While I consider myself a Racing Game fan first and foremost (Forza, Need For Speed, etc), I do like variety — for the past year or so if I’ve wanted to play a game, I fire up the Nintendo Wii and play a couple rounds of an old Tiger Woods game in Career Mode. My dude has all the cool stuff now and I’ve almost broken 60 on a PGA Tour Course.

Truth be told though, with recent music and writing projects I haven’t played that game in probably 3 months as well. Games are fun, I like them, but I sometimes kick myself because the time I spend could be used on some creative projects. Time is the one commodity that can’t be bought. Also, as my Dad pointed out long ago, “Hey even if you win and you’re the very best at that game, what do you get for it? Like in real life?” He wasn’t trying to be mean or pick on games, just point out that at least even going to Dave & Busters and playing Ski-Ball you might walk away with a souvenir or whatever.

So don’t get me wrong, I really enjoy high-quality video game experiences, and if it’s Automotive-oriented, arcade or simulator, well consider me totally interested. Probably like a lot of others, I have tons of boring responsibilities to spend money on and then make sure the rest doesn’t slip away in the wind of impulse purchases. That’s why there’s no new XBOX ONE or PS4 or Oculus or Samsung VR kits in the house —I could probably save up and get one, but then I’d be compromising other purchases that make me happy on the regular (ex: Miller Lite, Beatport, Guitar Strings) so I just, well, live with it. No sweat!

When Good Ideas Refuse to Go Away

Now and then I bring up stuff that makes people blink, kind of freeze, either because they have 1) No clue what I’m talking about but are interested to find out more, or 2) They can’t believe I actually recall or have heard about the topic as well. Here’s an example:

While at the time I didn’t think it was the most pleasing or satisfying game I ever played, “Streets of SimCity” by Maxis made an impression.

Cover Art for Reference Purposes (Source: Wikipedia)

My hopes were pretty high for this game I think, and I did spent hours and hours in it — never could quite get the online multiplayer to work very well if I recall correctly. Was around the time between going from 56k dial-up to a Cable Modem though, so I’m hesitant to blame the game on that front. The value though in the concept was this:

One of the game’s main attractions was the ability to explore any city created in SimCity 2000 by car in a cinematic style.

Talk about cross-over! While I didn’t have SimCity 2000, I do recall Streets had a built in editor included. That, of course, reminded me of how much time I could kill with Excitebike in “Design Mode.” In the same vein, I tried out some extreme ramps and crazy stuff that I’m pretty sure led to a handful of crashes. My impression is that the racing and driving mechanics were quite fussy for keyboard or joystick control (I think I had one at the time) so the entertainment was more in the level-building-exploration than doing formal course-like racing competition.

Just Because It Could Be Done — Should It Be Done?

This is a quick “Disclaimer” break before moving ahead to the main portion, the main idea about to be described. I’m aware there are concerns with Privacy, Data Mining, Data Retention, and Behavioral Psychology involved when considering making digital renditions of Real World locations. Even in the context of making information resources in the US, like Maps, numerous voices participate in discussions regarding what is reasonable, what may be off-limits, and that sort of stuff. We live in a society, and society has some expectations to take into account — no real surprise there, right?

Basically, I get it, I know the “implications” could be a concern in the long-term, but for the sake of kicking around a creative idea, at this point in time, I don’t give a shit. If you give a shit, great, good for you! If the idea I describe reaches viable deployment conditions eventually in the future, well, then I highly encourage you to engage in giving a shit through the proper channels at that time. Presently they’re not high on my list of things to think about, and thus I really don’t feel compelled to explore them now.

To Quote the Great King Arthur in The Holy Grail, “Um, Uh, How Does it Work?”

Using some informal language and style, the following description is intentionally vague, conversational if you will. I’m not mapping out a technical kit, but rather identifying some pieces and areas for connectivity; my concept is about understanding what technology tools are available, what kind of handshakes / data transfer / processing might be needed, and how that would in turn be made available to the Creator and Gamer.

Step One: It’s a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

Got a GoPro? High-quality Dash Cam? How about an XBOX Kinect and a Laptop? A late model Smart Phone with HD video capture? Okay, great, now the easy part — get in the car. Oh, right, you do probably need a car for this. Hm, maybe a bicycle would work too. Anyway…

The idea here is to have a variety of video capture input sources. A GoPro would have high quality, but a Smart Phone might also be able to run an App that includes some gyroscopic data capture as well. Both could be useful, one perhaps more so than the other. Because the goal is to capture the realistic nature of the route, the vehicle with the device should be driven within the safest parameters possible — obey all speed limits and road signs, as a given. As a fundamental principle, the safest, smoothest drive will give the best results down the line.

Step Two: Let’s Compare Notes

With the visual data captured, either via video device or through a Smart Phone or Laptop, the data will be initially processed on the user device if possible — framing, tweaking brightness or contrast to fit a desired input condition standard, then down-sampled to a smaller file to transmit.

To accompany the file, the Creator must log in to an online system, powered by a major Map content owning partner, and plot out the route on a map that was driven and is reflected in the video content. The purpose of the video content is to fundamentally be a “check” for the route — in theory Step Two & Step Three don’t need Step One input, but for the sake of being thorough, I’ve included it as a baseline, because, in theory, if devices continue to advance then it might be possible to bypass the Map content system, but that feels really…uhh…far away to me.

With the video content and the actual map guidance, the online processing system consults its database of Map Content — such as the kind Google Maps may possess — and creates a custom race track file through some artistic license. Rather than try to 100% commit to “realism” or detail, I guess for a variety of reasons but mostly in thinking about efficiency / overhead, the Map Content could be processed in two ways:

  1. Have certain building types or styles correspond to a library of Game Assets that are vast / growing / etc and used as the visuals for the Map Content when seen in game — the buildings or houses or grass fields might be off in some ways, especially with really unique things, but on the whole, the result is impressive and highly usable in the racing game.
  2. Use some kind of rendering filter trickery to use the Map Content to build a much more accurate but less-refined in game experience — the buildings and fields will be accurate but only insofar as they work when in the context of racing around at high speed when things tend to, you know, get blurry as vehicular velocity climbs.

Step Three: Ain’t Nothing Free

For all the groaning about DLC and subscription service type fees, which I do understand and I do not want to claim are unfounded in the AAA sector, the only way I think this is a viable service is through paying a decent “Fee Per Track” or on a “X Tracks Per Year” basis.

Given some additional infrastructure investment, disclaimers, blah blah blah, there’s maybe even a chance to set up an international online archive where tracks can be shared among a gaming community. This way people can, in some respects, experience the game in a vastly different environment than where they live. See the world, meet new people, and burn rubber!

Isn’t This Encouraging Bad Driving Behavior?

As an avid motorist who now, for a litany of reasons, drives an incredibly plain, boring, practical, efficient, modestly safe, paid-for, Toyota Corolla daily, there’s no way this game can have any more of a negative effect on the way people of today currently drive. Do highly aggressive speeders pose a risk? Generally speaking, yes. Do distracted drivers pose a risk? Oh hell yes.

As a person who enjoys driving, I really dislike being on the road with most of you people. If I want to enjoy motoring, I’m going to do it far, far away from any of the lumbering and weaving SUV, Watch-Me-Cut-You-Off-Tesla, Audi-is-German-for-Lunatic hazards out there on the road. Nothing personal, but for those of you riding my ass then pass me to go 54 in a 35 because you’re too stupid to understand that going 43 will hit all the green lights for the next 4 miles, look, I just give up. The point I’m going for, and will stick with on this subject, is that bad driving behaviors are everywhere and that’s why car insurance is mandatory; it’s sort of like if you stop and think about it, we’re already so terrible, there’s not a lot lower we can go.

The internet was made for cats…and watching people wreck their Ferraris!

Why U No Patent?

Time and again I get into spats about Copyright Reform and whatnot, because I believe the system is in need of genuine overhaul. Constructive overhaul. A difficult — but possible — balance between Content Creators and the Innovators and Technology Firms that enable Audiences to Compensate those involved. While I have issues, by proxy, with how the Patent system works, I do grasp how practically different they are.

This idea isn’t eligible for Copyright, because Copyright doesn’t protect ideas. It can protect expression of ideas, but only insofar as it protects the words on the page as the thing for sale, not what’s being discussed. Kind of wonky, I know, but that’s why it’s distinct from a Patent. From my research, I have a good handle on how Patents are, fundamentally, descriptive technical essays that are designed to protect an idea. I can dig it.

I do have a list of things I intend to Patent in the future, but they are much more personal, unique in nature — I think this concept being put forward is extremely derivative and incredibly reliant on existing technologies and future work to be in any way viable, but not a valid business model for a Start-Up. Would it be worth the effort to find the right ears to “pitch” it to inside of Turn10 or Polyphony Digital?

For all I know, they might have this kind of concept in development as of this writing, which, uhh, if so, umm…can I have a go at it?!

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