Verisimilitude and Decision-Making

Last week IVX presented “Speed Mazer IVX” at the Waikato University Open Day 2016. The creation of Speed Mazer IVX was a good time to reflect on how verisimilitude forms perhaps the key criteria for our production decisions.

Verisimilitude is the appearance of being true or real. Verisimilitude is the seduction that teases the audience willingly into the world of the work. Things present or things-expected-but-missing will affect verisimilitude. Verisimilitude is the macro-clothing in which the work dresses. It is an overall sensory experience that emerges from the aesthetics of individual elements.

There are always pragmatic considerations when creating installation works. No concept proceeds cleanly from plan to execution intact. In fact, the sign of a great concept is that there are more ideas for how to improve the work then there are available resources to do them all. Why is that?

The obvious answer is that not all ideas are good ideas so having more ideas means that creators do not become wedded to bad ideas just because they are the only ideas. Comparing ideas against each other forces greater articulation of the desired verisimilitude.

Speed Mazer IVX is a player vs. player maze racer controlled by guitar hero instruments. The simplicity of the concept meant quick buy-in by the audience, a sense of competition and an element of mastery. Having randomly generated mazes meant that players could not develop muscle memory to complete the task.

Initially, we had cosmos inspired backgrounds. IVX loves cosmos pictures – indeed, our last year’s Open Day installation was “Write Your Name Among the Starts”. However, during testing, it was apparent that the cosmos background images distracted from the competitive feeling of racing through a maze. We went with black backgrounds to give an 8-bit arcade feel.

We tried to add sound – which always goes a long way to elevating verisimilitude. However, there were problems with the sound library that were going to take considerable time to resolve. We instead elected to put the time into visual aspects.

The maze is bumped when a player hits a wall. The bump reaction signals to the player that they have hit a wall. The maze feels more real because bumps behave with believable physics. The bump reactions happen in 3D, but the 3D renderer limited what we could do with the walls (without more work). The positive verisimilitude effect of the bumps in 3D was greater than the verisimilitude of nicer looking walls, so we kept the bump effects.

Particles are spat out opposite to the direction of player movement. Some of particles are added to the opposing player’s maze, and each player spits their colour. When players are concentrating on their own maze then still get feedback that the other player is nearby. Particles also help build up a visual intensity proportional to the speed at which the player moves through the maze. Getting the right feel to the particle fields were the subject of much experimentation.

Initially, we wanted to have the player’s represented by a shape that would change direction as the player traversed the maze. While this might have been a great idea, it was judged as having a lesser effect on the verisimilitude so was not attempted as the deadline approached. Other ideas; random maze wall art, generative backgrounds, power-ups, a cheat mode, and more visual prompts similarly prioritised.

The functional aspects - making a heads-up maze racer than one side could win - did not take long to program. However, the bulk (probably 75% or more) of the coding time went into making tuning the verisimilitude to create the right experience for the audience.

Reflecting on our decision-making process during the creation of Speed Mazer IVX made me realise the central role of verisimilitude is to our work. We dropped ideas that broke the verisimilitude and prioritised our features against our limited resources (time) according to verisimilitude. I look forward to advancing this thinking more in future IVX work.