Thesis: Realism


Organizing Ideas

It seemed like the more I research, the more I spiral into hours of reading potentially relevant books, the more related terms I find. I made this diagram to try to understand all these connections I was uncovering and how they relate to my game/piece.

The sentence in black describes what I have been making, and certain words relate more to certain concepts from my research (and ultimately, certain areas of study). For example, the ideas of illusion and perception of space relate more to the element of surprise and the element of space in my project. Basically everything relates to “visual”, so assume that there are a million lines branching off from that word. I left those out for clarity. 


I think it’s ok that the word “affect” is vague, at least for now. Right now it just means interesting reactions, whether they are emotions or unexpected ways a player understands their own perception or something else. A lot of the research I’ve found in design, film and animation theory connects perception to realism. This is something I want to pay more attention to, because the overlap in questions of realism between different mediums has been really interesting.


I’ve previously mentioned my class on cognitive sciences. I’m also taking a helpful class on animation theory and history. The class has been great for helping me find more concrete/searchable connections to my thesis and understanding their context. Recently, we’ve been looking at how animation was changing after World War II. Animators such as Chuck Jones and those from the UPA were taking inspiration from new art movements and exploring things like flatness, self-referentiality, abstraction and illusion. I plan to read more on why animation is argued by some to be a particularly effective form for exploring these ideas. What are the functional and convention-related differences between animation, games, film and paintings that change how we perceive realism and abstraction? 


Realism and Rules


Here’s a potential transition where the two images on each end are representational and relatively realistic. The middle is more abstract. It’s not meant to represent anything except the formal middle point of two scenes. What is the difference between transitions like this and transitions where there is an illogical/surreal shift but there is no point where anything you see is not “referentially realistic” (Prince, 92)? Will the latter feel more or less like a violation of the established reality? My theory is that in a medium where fantasy is common and accepted, maintaining “reality” is less about having real references and more about consistently following rules. A player will accept that flying is possible in the game world as long as they know how flying fits into the logic of the world. In this way, they can create expectations of future events in this world based on a kind of consistency they are reasonably comfortable won’t be violated. 

Research on Realism

I am finding a lot of sources that connect perception, space and realism together, especially in the areas of film and design theory.

I found an essay by Stephen Prince called “True Lies: Perceptual realism, digital images and film theory.” The essay is from 1996 and Prince mostly writes about the rise of photo-realistic imagery and how this should effect film theory. He breaks down the realistic imagery label into “referentially fictional”, “referentially realistic” and “perceptually realistic” (92). Breaking down realism is really important, because it can mean so many different things. In the same book, I found an even older essay by Rudolf Arnheim (film theorist, perceptual psychologist; basically a key theorist on the perception of media) who writes about relationships of spatial continuity (32) and “constant of size” (27) to realism in film. 

Another source is Justin Morris’s “Then one day I got in” (2012), which is specifically about games and realism. It connects some previously mentioned Lev Manovich writing to film theorist André Bazin’s ideas of “cinematic reality” (23).

Work Cited

Arnheim, Rudolf. “Film and Nature.” 1933. Trans. L.M. Sieveking and Ian F.D. Morrow. Film Theory: Critical Concepts in Media and Cultural Studies. N.p.: Taylor & Francis, 2004. 25-39. Print.

Morris, Justin. “”Then one day I got in.” Computer Imaging, Realism Tron.” Cineaction 89.89 (2012): 22-28. Academic OneFile. Web. 28 Jan. 2017.

Prince, Stephen. “True Lies: Perceptual realism, digital images and film theory.” 1996. Film Theory: Critical Concepts in Media and Cultural Studies. N.p.: Taylor & Francis, 2004. 85-97. Print.



Thesis: Perception and Story

Is story important to the project?

I’d like to say yes because I think a story can guide that experience in an engaging way, and because I’m interested in weirder ways stories can be told. Adding a story would be an opportunity to explore more figurative or poetic ways of storytelling in games, which I could potentially use past my studies at OCAD. 

However, story may detract or distract from the rest of the project project, as the player may be overly focused on interpreting what is happening in the context of the story. Challenges or goals could also detract from the experience in the same way. I often find myself ignoring all irrelevant (albeit beautiful) aspects of games in order to figure out their system to try to win as quickly as possible. 

I still think there’s something compelling about how a story may or may not fit into this project. I was excited by what could be implied by minimal information in those credit sequences. There’s something about a shape used to communicate two drastically different ideas that triggers my imagination; for a second you’re believing something impossible. 


I’m also finding a lot of possibilities for storytelling in my research. Olly Moss’s movie posters show how visual similes can convey a key concept from a story. Visual similes create visual metaphor and can communicate a relationship between two ideas, though you could say that about film cuts too, and they don’t usually require a clever transition (see writing on montage), just the juxtaposition of two ideas. I also still think there is something interesting about using a shift between different viewpoints to communicate themes of isolation, distance, or disorientation. 

Disorienting tricks bring to mind ideas of:

  • Waking dreams
  • Otherworldliness
  • Magic
  • Involuntary memory
  • Visual triggers to imagination

Inception and Paprika touch on the dream thing, using perceptual tricks to portray the plasticity of dream reality. The lack of clear consequence and the  deceptiveness of a world you’re unsure is a dream or reality can be really frustrating. This brings up the ideas of trust and suspension of disbelief, as mentioned in the previous post. 

Additionally, I mentioned in my literature review that Pabst’s Die Dreigroschenoper uses disorientation to show characters’ delusion and create an awareness of spectatorship, as

“the film demonstratively and self-reflexively draws the spectator’s attention to framed reflections and mediated images that disrupt the spectatorial experience in explicit terms by forcing the spectator to become conscious of his or her act of watching. “(Heidt)

Visual Misinterpretation and Misinterpretation as a Theme

In addition to potential story themes, my research has reminded me of the process of reading stories, (and of interpreting information in general). More specifically, of how misinterpretation of phrases can trigger one’s imagination and create interesting understandings of texts that rely on one’s own experiences.

One of my super-old thesis ideas was to make a game environment that reflected a child’s misunderstandings and misinterpretations of the world. One could walk into a room as the child, knowing it’s a room the child could never have entered in real life, and see what they imagine is inside. The world would be distorted/shaped by their interpretation, and one might see how our understanding of the world is shaped by how we need it to be seen.

The idea of misinterpretation or alternate interpretation ties into illusion, and ambiguity and a lot of other things I’ve been looking at. It also relates to the topic of perceptual biases, which I’m learning about in that cognitive science class.

Work Cited

Heidt, Todd. “Double Take: Béla Balázs and the Visual Disorientation of G. W. Pabst’s Dreigroschenoper.” Seminar: A Journal of Germanic Studies, vol. 50 no. 2, 2014, pp. 178-196. Project MUSE. Web. 14 Oct. 2016.

Thesis: Perception

Mapping and Re-focusing

This week, I drew a map of the subjects of interest to my thesis and how they relate to each other. It seems as though the idea of perspective or viewpoint shifting is not what I’m most interested in. I thought back to a starting point of my project: the idea of turning a clever visual comparison into an interactive experience, and the idea of representing the wonder I felt at watching animated credit sequences in the context of a game.

Previously, I was focusing a lot on the idea that the shifts were switching between different spatial relationships, but I wasn’t doing a lot of research on how this was being accomplished.

I want to understand what happens when one is continually experiencing transitions that make use of the fact that the game is a 3D space represented in 2D. (Transitions that may require one to understand the space as 3D, then as 2D, then as 3D again.) How does this change the interpretation of the space and the general experience of the player? What is the difference between achieving this in a 2D medium vs. an interactive 3D one?

Shigeo Fukuda

Recent research on the history of minimal poster art led me to Shigeo Fukuda. He was an artist known for creating posters emphasizing anti-war, using illusion and simplicity (Heller, 1). Fukuda’s posters have a lot of visual strength. They are simple and evocative. They remind me of my fascination of visual minimalism in posters and comics and how they can create a very strong sense of a world. (My next post will be about how story may or may not fit in with the project)


Left: Fukuda, Shigeo. Victory 1945. 1971. N.p. Winner of the Warsaw Poster Contest
Middle: Fukuda, Shigeo. Exhibition Keio Department Store. 1975.
Right: Cooper, Clay . End gun violence initiative for the AIGA. 2013. N.p.

Visual Perception

Visual perception is a large area of study. There are a few books from the OCAD library I’m reading to get an idea of the key theorists and to find the most relevant sub-areas. From my research so far,  I can guess that these areas are:

  • Perception of 3-dimensional shape
  • Perception of space
  • Visual illusion and cognitive biases
  • Ambiguity vs. specificity of visual information

One of the books is called 3D Shape : Its Unique Place in Visual Perception, written by Pizlo Zygmunt, a professor from Purdue University (Indiana). Zygmunt includes a history in the theoretical understanding of the perception of shape, including key theorists such as Hermann Von Helmholtz.


A Necker cube is a good example of a multi-stable image (I’ve written more about multi-stable perception in a previous post), and is often used when talking about visual perception. I found a relevant paper by psychologist Richard Gregory on perceptual illusions. Around page 172, Gregory differentiates between optical/sensory illusions and perceptual illusions, which he explains come from “misinterpretation by the brain of sensory information”. He includes images of the Necker cube by Swiss crystallographer and geographer Louis Albert Necker, who described it in a letter as “a rhomboid (which) reverses in depth, sometimes one face appearing the nearer, sometimes another.” (172).

In addition to this research, I am taking a class on cognitive science, where a lot of these ideas are discussed.


Have people been researching or theorizing about how ideas in visual perception apply to games or interactive 3D experiences?

Lev Manovich’s The Language of New Media has a chapter called Illusion, Narrative, and Interactivity where he compares different types of media and the types of illusion they create. Manovich explains that in 3D game worlds, elements such as the GUI appearing after cut-scenes and  “level of detail” (where objects gain lower poly models based on their proximity to the player character) constantly reveal the machine behind the illusion (206). Manovich explains that “as the user navigates through space, the objects switch back and forth between pale blueprints and fully fleshed out illusions. The immobility of a subject guarantees a complete illusion; the slightest movement destroys it” (206). Questions about suspension of disbelief could connect theories of visual perception with game design. Challenging the way a player perceives the game world, a designer may wonder how their relationship to it differs from other games, and what affect this may have on things like engagement or spatial presence.

Manovich’s book is also a link between games and film. For example, he goes on to compare the experience of illusion in interactive media with that of traditional film, which he claims “aims at all cost to maintain the continuity of the illusion for the duration of the performance” (207).

I’m still looking for more research that could link visual perception ideas with game theory or design ideas.

Works Cited

Gregory, Richard  “Perceptual illusions and brain models” Proc. Royal Society B 171 179-296. Published to web January 3, 2008. Web. January 18, 2016.
Heller, Steven. “Shigeo Fukuda, Graphic Designer, Dies at 76.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 19 Jan. 2009. Web. 18 Jan. 2017.
Manovich, Lev. The language of new media. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2002. Print.
Pizlo, Zygmunt. 3D shape: its unique place in visual perception. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2010. Print.

Thesis: Shrinking

(Updated to include videos)

In the prototype for the Dec. 1st critique, I tested two different kinds of transitions where:

  • It seems as though you are changing (in this case, shrinking) relative to a space
  • It seems as though the environment is changing (in this case, growing).

From here, I can observe how peoples reactions may differ. I’m especially interested in their:

  • Sense of control
  • Orientation/disorientation
  • Spatial understanding/confusion



The first transition was technical improvement on the lake shift. It took a frustratinghallstoryboard.png amount of time (and lessons from friends) to figure out the Unity side of this. The transition still isn’t completely smooth. For example, sometimes you will see the edge of a platform appear beneath you. However, I now have a better understanding of how to affect the camera script, which has unlocked possibilities for other approaches to scene changes.

I also added a script making the hall and sky change colour as the player walks forward, essentially giving them control over the time of day. The next step to strengthening the shift between the school and the mystery book world is sound and shadows.



The white sections are invisible meshes Unity uses to know where the player isn’t looking. (Something tricky will always happen behind them)

Creating the second scene also required learning a new tool. Instead of using triggers to see where the player is looking and standing, I’m using meshes to see if the player is not looking at a spot (a spot where something needs to happen). This method is more straightforward and does not rely on a specific screen size. In this scene, the space changes shape and grows larger as the player walks and looks around inside. It uses 7 different room models, positioned in the same spot.

Later, I may add in a small time delay to ensure a gradual transition that prevents changes from happening all at once. Delineating the walls is another issue. I used a light for this demo, which does not achieve the flat shaded look in the other scenes.With the shape of these 7 rooms, it is impossible to follow a dark-light-dark-light pattern of “artificially” lighting the walls. A solution may be to add features such as windows or decorations to each wall.







Thesis: Making Spaces

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Here is some furniture I created for the inside of the cracker/raft house. The objects are less informed by research and more informed by playing around and seeing what looks good. Sometimes weird proportions can make the item seem oddly cute and handmade to suit the needs of the person that uses it. I’m finding it really enjoyable to try to make objects that bring up questions and generate story.

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It’s easy to get attached to certain pieces that don’t fit in with the other objects. I was conflicted between some more traditional looking pieces and some more modern ones.

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I did a lot of research on specific historical interior design styles. Using this research, I’ve been modeling and getting feedback from others to try to create settings that evoke the feeling of being in a distinct era. It’s harder to find references for, say, Europe in the 20s, that show the homes of the less wealthy, but the OCAD library is a good resource for books that at least write about the home-lives of general populations.