Procedural Metacognitive VR – Podcast Episode 30

Welcome to Citizens of Tech, your dose of science, gaming, and general nerdery. Ethan Banks and Eric Sutphen are your hosts. And you can find all of our shows at

In today’s show, a new scifi virtual world, traveling to Alpha Centauri, virtual reality, thinking about thinking, and more love for Tidal.

No Man’s Sky – Procedural Sci-Fi Exploration


no mans sky - procedural exploration

  • Well, almost infinite… only, not really.
    • You really can’t have “almost infinite”
    • Eh, let the marketing folks sort it out.

So what’s the big deal?

  • Open world
  • Sci-fi
  • Think Minecraft with jetpacks, spaceships and a seemingly infinite world
    • Mining, resource gathering
    • Exploration
    • Combat with NPCs
  • Navigate via a galactic map that gets updated as you and others explore the galaxy and upload the results to the central database.
  • NPCs have factions that your actions impact
  • NPCs also have languages – you’re not necessarily going to jump right into meaningful dialogue. Instead players will have to engage in language building efforts:
    • Actions – helping them solve some problem to establish good will
    • Learning word for word translations
    • “Rosetta stone” type artifacts to boost language knowledge
  • Free-market trading system for goods and resources
  • Procedurally generated
    • Whether a distant mountain or a planet hanging low on the horizon, you can go there. You can fly seamlessly from the surface of a planet to another, and every star in the sky is a sun that you can visit. Where you’ll go and how fast you’ll make your way through this universe is up to you. It’s yours for the taking.”
    • Want to go somewhere? Go for it – you’re limited by your ship’s hyperdrive engines and fuel capacity, but you can get there… eventually.
    • Everything is generated via RNG and deterministic algorithms – planets, stars, life forms,
    • Using a 64 bit seed number “Hello Games has estimated that with their 64-bit seed number, their virtual galaxy will include over 18 quintillion planets.”
    • 90/10 model of planet habitability
      • 90% of planets are uninhabitable
      • 10% are habitable
        • 90% of those are mundane
        • Remaining planets will have varying ecosystems
    • The developer, Hello Games estimates 99.9% of planets will never be explored by players
    • Due to the size of the galaxy “chance encounters” between players are highly unlikely while exploring
    • Instead, players will congregate in logical locations, much like in the real world – centers of trade, etc.
  • Offline and Online play are seemless due to the procedural nature of the galaxy – the seed number is the same, so the features, flora, and fauna are the same as it’s all generated on the fly. There’s actually no server-side storage of the game world. You must be online to register your “finds” to the galactic atlas, though. Players get name recognition for discoveries.
  • What’s the point?
    • Much like Minecraft, most of the “point” is what you make of it
    • There is however an underlying lore to the galaxy and by following it you are nudged toward moving from an “outer rim” planet toward the center of the galaxy.
    • This can be done in around 40 hours if you play it in a “Point A to Point Z” manner like a mad person
    • Again, the actual way people play will vary by individual temperament
      • Some will set up trade routes
      • Some will catalogue all the various flora and fauna of entire planets
      • Etc.
  • Available for pre-order now for PS4 and Windows (no XBOX!?!) for $59.99 USD
  • Release date: 3rd week of June (different days depending on where in the world you live, but all happen that week)

Teeny-tiny ship to go to Alpha Centauri?

  • Breakthrough Starshot is the name of the project.
  • The big idea – take something very small that’s loaded with sensors, make a ton of them, and ship them off in sort of a swarm.
  • Cheap to build.
  • Needs power, though. That’s a concern with no clear answer yet.
  • Propulsion is via a light sail and a ground-based (I think) laser array shooting at it in the 100GW range. 20% the speed of light in minutes.
  • Pluto in 3 days!
  • Technical hurdles? You bet. At least 18 of them. But Stephen Hawking and other brainboxes are on the case, so start writing your Breakthrough Starshot fanfic.
Photo credit:
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Virtual Reality – It’s here and you will be assimilated (the content creators hope).

  • We’ve discussed VR headsets a bit in the past
  • ILM has created a virtual Tatooine using the Unreal Engine 4 and the HTC Vive
  • You are on a mission to protect R2D2. You’re holding a lightsaber, and using it to defend the little guy against various attacks. Creators seem to think this is what the VR experience was made for.
  • So, is VR the next step in immersive gaming experiences?
  • Eric is awaiting the arrival of his Samsung GearVR headset
    • Used a co-worker’s
    • VR has certainly come a long way since the Nintendo Virtualboy graced my retinas with 384×224 black and red multi-tone graphics back in 1995!

Speaking of the Virtualboy…

  • As you may recall, we discussed “CHIP” the “Worlds first $9 computer” – well now they’ve released the “Pockulus” which is a $49 Virtualboy emulator
  • It actually fits on your face… like without setting it on a table
  • Primary use is for “homebrew” games, but I’m sure it’s not hard to acquire copies of the official Nintendo carts… all 14 of them in North America, 19 if you go for Japanese titles.

That’s so meta! Metacognition: Thinking about thinking

  • There are known unknowns and unknown unknowns, so how do we know what we don’t know!?
  • Animals, such as Chimpanzees, Rhesus Monkeys, Dolphins and even Bees (to some extent) show evidence of this trait.
  • Researchers at a Paris university set up this experiment
    • No speech required
    • Show a toddler (19-21 months old) a toy prior to hiding it
    • Wait 3-12 seconds to let the child’s mind wander
    • Ask the child to point to where the toy is hidden
    • 80 children – 10 “test runs” 50/50 split on being shown where it was hidden or not
    • All children had a parent or guardian present
    • Half the guardians were instructed not to help
    • Half told to help, but only if the child looked at them for help
    • Children with help available succeeded more
      • 66% success vs 56% (statistically significant)
      • 14 of the children with help available didn’t use it – results suffered accordingly
    • Flaw: the children were actually taught that they could ask for help, which makes it hard to know if they would spontaneously do so or not.
    • Ultimately the fact that they know when they don’t know and seek guidance/assistance is the key here.
  • Self-awareness is an interesting concept
    • Artificial Intelligence
    • Machine Learning
    • Neural Networks
    • At what point does a program become self-aware or exhibit traits of metacognition
    • Google DeepMind AlphaGo has shown some uncanny adaptability – obviously a far cry from meta-cognition, but shows that we’re headed in that direction
    • Deep learning neural networks are becoming a thing – streams of unqualified data are analyzed in real-time (not batches) and analyzed much as a human brain would.


Tidal (Again)

  • “Reminder Threads” started cropping up on multiple forums related to Kanye West’s “The Life of Pablo”
    • “Don’t forget to cancel your Tidal trial before it expires”
    • “Here’s the step by step guide to cancelling Tidal”
    • Sooooo Apparently it’s a pain to cancel
  • They actually extended trials by another 30 days “for people who joined to listen to TLOP”
  • CFO and COO were recently terminated
  • They’re on their 3rd CEO in a calendar year
  • The fact that Kanye would release his latest album exclusively on a streaming service seems insanely short-sighted and like it will only drive piracy levels up.
    • These sentiments are being echoed by many
    • Bloomberg actually called Tidal “a disaster”

Today I Learned

  • Kaiju is a Japanese word that means “strange beast.” And today you learn, dear listener, that I sorta liked Pacific Rim.
  • On the Smithsonian channel on Roku, I watched a David Attenborough special. From there, I learned that arthropods are from the phylum Arthropoda. Arthropods include a whole bunch of critters, including arachnids, insects, and crustaceans.
  • The writer of Jurassic World and the Director of Netflix’s Daredevil are joining forces to bring us Pacific Rim 2 …. Just not till August of 2017.

And with that, fellow Citizens, our show comes to an end. See you again just as soon as our robot overlords permit!

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