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Do you dream of a World of Warcraft simulator?

Dawn Moore

Years ago, before vanilla WoW became vanilla WoW, a friend of mine made the passing comment, "If only I ran as much as my night elf. I'd be in amazing shape."

I've been dreaming about a World of Warcraft simulator ever since.

Mind you, I'd suffer the fate of Pheidippides if I ran a fraction of what my night elf runs (I'm a terrible long-distance runner), but I suppose that's what makes the idea of a WoW simulator so appealing. Of course you'd be awful when you first started, but over time you could expect to get better. In my overly optimistic imagination, I saw hardcore raiders becoming sculpted athletes, sprinting from left to right to avoid boss abilities.

But in the absence of a holodeck or some other form of simulated reality, is a WoW simulator even feasible? I got my first look at an answer in 2010, when researchers at the USC Institute of Creative Technologies released a video demonstration of their Flexible Action and Articulate Skeleton Toolkit (FAAST). The middleware toolkit allows motion control to be integrated into games without existing motion control support, by translating gestures into mouse and keyboard inputs. In the demonstration video, a Microsoft Kinect is used to control a mage running around Dustwallow Marsh. Awesome, right?

At least that's what I was hoping when I read the title. I remember feeling a bit let down when I watched the demonstration and saw how the gestures were actually integrated. Instead of walking or running to move his character, the demonstrator simply leaned his torso forward or back; to turn or travel in a different direction, he made a grab and pull gesture with his hand.

I realized then that a WoW simulator couldn't be achieved by simply hooking the game up to a Kinect. Even if walking and turning could be precisely translated to in-game movements, it doesn't account for the fact that you need a lot of space to walk and run naturally. Even given that, you still might strafe into a wall or run into your own monitor. I figured you'd need some sort of omnidirectional treadmill to make it work, if such a thing even existed.

Less than a year later, I found out such a thing did exist when The Gadget Show built their own video game simulator for the FPS title Battlefield 3.

The Battlefield 3 simulator was unbelievable, immersing the player in the game from every angle with a projection dome, surround sound, and even paintball guns that fire when you're shot in game. It was the perfect platform for a WoW simulator, except for one, big thing ... FPS games don't have four action bars worth of spells and abilities. How was a simulator going to account for all those keybindings?

The FAAST demonstration had implement the different keybindings by using a variety of large arm movements, but they weren't ideal. They looked more like Y.M.C.A. dance moves than the fluid casting animations I imagined emulating. Plus, what if you were a melee class? To get an immersed, role playing experience you'd want to pantomime armed combat with swings and turns, not stick your right arm out every time you want to use Primal Strike.

Recognizing then that WoW might be too complex for simulation, I tucked away my dreams. Until a couple of weeks ago, that is, when it came tumbling back. I had been casually scrolling through my Facebook feed when I saw a post from a friend about something called a MYO. He said he had no idea what he'd do with it, but he'd pre-ordered one anyway. I decided to check it out.

It turned out that the MYO was a motion control armband that detects movement by (supposedly) measuring electrical activity in your muscles. In the promotional video, various small movements are demonstrated as possible inputs, from turning the wrist to snapping fingers.

Watching the video all I could think about was the WoW simulator. (Actually, that's a lie, I did briefly think that guy in the kitchen is a total noob if he needs to rewatch directions for slicing up chicken breast.) If the MYO worked as it claimed, all those fluid gestures I imagined using to cast spells and hack up monsters would register as inputs.

The only thing left to account for after that are interface mechanics, like targeting and inventory management, but honestly, I'm not sure I'd want those aspects of the game anymore. After all, if the point of the WoW simulator is to put yourself in your night elf's shoes, you have to consider that your night elf doesn't navigate the goods at the auction house by browsing through a database. Instead she'd stands there and inspect all the goods on display.

Looking at it from that angle, I suppose WoW in its present state wouldn't really work as a simulator game. But who knows? Maybe in the future we'll get a new and improved World of Warcraft that does support motion control and simulation. Heck, maybe we'll get it in the next generation of MMOs. Maybe one called Titan? I can dream.

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