Water and the Metaverse

Or maybe, ‘the Metaverse and all that shit.’ Anyways, this post is about my plans for 2019:

  1. Augmented reality game, think Fortnite (actually more ‘Metaverse’) meets water research (Actually, waste management). Or, visualising big data for everyday people.
  2. Faecal fungi
  3. Dream Zandvlei

Why these, together? It’s a matter of resolution. Dry sanitation is to me the first important step to really get to grips with our own waste, and the faecal fungi project is a fun way to management that bucket better. From there we need to improve the bigger system: how we use water, what we do with our greywater, stormwater and solid waste. The pilot for how to do that from the bottom up is the Dream Zandvlei project. Overall, to encourage more of this, we need to see how our actions impact the bigger picture, in a fun way. That is the Metaverse.

The rest of this post ponders the game thing a bit more.

In a recent article, Matthew Ball wrote about the phenomenon that is Fortnite. For me Fortnite has no appeal, I don’t want to play at shooting people, I’m more a farming sim and match-3 type of person. But the article hints at things that I think we really need to use to bring research to the people, as I tried to explain with a draft game concept, which for the moment I simply call ‘the AquaSavvy game’.

The second half of the article is about the Metaverse. “The term “Metaverse” stems from Neal Stephenson’s 1992 novel Snow Crash, and describes a collective virtual shared space that’s created by the convergence of virtually enhanced physical reality and persistent virtual space.”

Matthew says: “While Fortnite’s creator, Epic Games, has a history of developing and publishing games, game creation is more of an R&D and marketing investment behind the company’s core business: licensing its Unreal game engine to third parties.”

This resonates with my intention behind the AquaSavvy game: “Imagine having a game that for a large set of players exists only for the sake of fun, with another set of players using it for scenario planning, education, and monitoring initiatives.”

“Accordingly, it’s important to emphasize how story, or even IP, really, doesn’t exist in Fortnite. While there are narrative seasons which culminate in beautiful moments that are hotly anticipated and watched live by millions, these events mostly surround new features or changes to the game’s map. There are no characters, barely any objectives that don’t reset after 20 odd minutes of play, and no real explanation for what’s happening or why.” One of my concerns is what type of storyline to put in the AquaSavvy game. How do we pull data-geeks in along with people who like shooting and people like me who like to build things and look after horseys and fantasy monsters? It seems like the answer is you don’t, not in a coherent across the game sort of way. “Fortnite intended to merge specific shooter dynamics with the sandbox nature of Minecraft so that players could define their own style of play. “

“Still, Fortnite’s most significant achievement may be the role it has come to play in the lives of millions. For these players, Fortnite has become a daily social square – a digital mall or virtual afterschool meetup that spans neighborhoods, cities, countries and continents.” To state the obvious, water and sanitation service professionals would kill to have vibrant access to such a social square. Imagine if we can access city data in such a simulated multiverse…

The game engine behind Fortnite, “Epic’s Unreal Engine 4 is one of the most capable and mass-deployed engines in the world (games include Behaviour’s Warhammer 40,000: Eternal Crusade, Square-Enix’s Kingdom Hearts III, and Nintendo’s forthcoming Yoshi’s Crafted World). There’s very little from a mechanics or graphical basis that can’t be built into Unreal or built from it. It’s also rapidly being expanded into other experiences. For example, Fox Sports’ NASCAR studio is now entirely rendered live in Unreal, the engine is increasingly used in online or AR-enhanced virtual tours, in architectural modeling, and so on.

Matthew Ball’s article also focuses on the challenges that the Unreal game engine faces, so I’m not saying that the AquaSavvy game has to use it, but the article makes the possibilities clear, and from how he writes it, it sounds like Tim Sweeney, the CEO of Epic Games, who made Fortnite, gets where this could go. “Regardless, the Epic Games Store reflects a desire to use Fortnite’s 200MM+ accounts together with Epic’s balance sheet and game engine to become a new, ecosystem-centric platform…a goal consistent with an enduring obsession of Sweeney’s: the Metaverse.” I don’t understand what this means, but it sounds good.

“If you look at why people are paid to do things, it’s because they’re creating a good or delivering a service that’s valuable to somebody,” Sweeney told Venturebeat in 2017. “There’s just as much potential for that in these virtual environments as there is in the real world. If, by playing a game or doing something in a virtual world, you’re making someone else’s life better, then you can be paid for that.” So the good I want done here, is to monitor, and if needed go fix, anything from water leaks to persistent flooding to mapping benefits by installing, say, a solar geyser, or whatever. So bringing the benefits of interventions that often are invisible to the everyday person, closer to home.

“Further, there are a host of technical considerations. Epic’s ability to craft the Metaverse will depend on its real-time animation capabilities, as well as its human and virtual environment rendering capabilities – all of which are being rapidly built out today (with much of this subsidized by Unreal licensees). The Metaverse, after all, will require truly vibrant, extensive and functional representations of the real, non-real and unreal.”

“…the concept of the Metaverse means forging connections across and between numerous platforms, content and experiences: allowing a player to literally walk through a door as a Fortnite character and be in another world (and using a character custom to that world)” Imagine if we can integrate models between different disciplines – hydrologists, geologists, whatevers, and make it into the experience, and gain knowledge from players back into those models, bottom-up.

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