Objects in Mirror May be Closer Than They Appear:
Possible Low Resolution Rendering of Virtual Spaces

The interactive and versimilitude of visual cyberspaces is usually measured in number of polygons generated per second--but do they have to keep looking like polygons? I question if extending the realm of real-time 3D solids is the best or only field of computer graphics to continue to generate virtual worlds.

A wide variety of art historical and visual studies research can inform and inspire cyberspatial algorithms, not just those of Renaissance perspective and space. Some artists of the 1890s (Aubrey Beardsley, Eugene Carriere, Odilon Redon) created arresting, sensual black & white artworks in their own evocative and mysterious spaces while respecting the limitations of prevalent low-resolution publishing and printmaking technology. If these works inspire cyberspace designers, watch for virtual "BeardsleySpaces", worlds of demented and decorated wiry curiosities clad in flat blacks and starched whites that meld beautifully into their solid backgrounds.

As I was extremely impressed with the conception and design of the Macintosh desktop hypermedia construction kit HyperCard, I see the same visionary elegance in its outgrowth HyperScan. HyperScan, intended for rapidly slapping imagery into HyperCard, was designed by Bill Atkinson (apocryphally, over a weekend) to ship with the Apple Scanner. It offered sixteen different imaging dithers for a variety of different graphic looks to the scanned image, all in the 72 dots per inch resolution of the Mac screen. Plenty of visual variety, I suspect, for a cyberspace.

Has anyone experimented with a real-time virtual world with no more resolution than an early Macintosh? Bit-mapped screen images generally have memory requirements greater than those of shaded polygons--but what about in lower screen resolutions, and in black & white? What are now perceived as limitations in sensual quality might convey "only" as much information as a very grainy black-and-white film? Some adult film artists have discovered the Fisher-Price Pixelvision 2000, a camcorder for children available from 1987 to 1989. I believe that black & white, and lower resolutions, are insufficiently pursued as avenues to convincing virtual worlds. Avenues that might be a comfortable tradeoff that boost processing speed and power.

Software engineers might create a " dark and dirty" black-and-white real-time virtual world replacing the cool flat poster-color arenas of current systems. Rather than one made of color surfaces I'd like to try entering a somewhat ambiguous space generated in ever-changing random monochromatic dithers. Not how much processing is possible, but how little resolution and color is required for convincing depiction of spaces within which we can move? The murkiness of the peppery dither might simulate the shifting haziness that the human eye experiences in low-light conditions. The result--like all cyberspaces--would be highly stylized, but not necessarily "unreal" or unpleasant.

© Mike Mosher 1991



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