Film, Television and Scenography

Finland’s first computer games professor

11.04.2012

Finland will see its first computer games professorship in Aalto University.

As a joint Assistant Professor for the Department of Media Technology in the School of Science and for the Department of Media in the School of Art and Design, Doctor of Science and Master of Arts, Perttu Hämäläinen started his five-year appointment on March 29, 2012.

The research field of computer games will inherently bring together the key areas of expertise of the two departments, from programming to visualisation of information and from user interface design to animation. During his time as Assistant Professor Hämäläinen aims to combine the strengths of the School of Science and the School of Art and Design and foster research of which game design companies can make use.

– By combining technology and design, one can be the first to discover completely new experiences, applications and emotions, summarises Hämäläinen his vision.

Programmers of embodied games: off to modern dance classes!

In both his research and in his job in the game design studio Virtual Air Guitar Company, Hämäläinen has specialised in embodied user interfaces between human and computer. In embodied games the player controls her character with the movements of her own body without any control devices. The movements are transferred into the game via camera. This computer vision Hämäläinen has been developing for the past years in fighting and action games.

– Now the improvement of computer vision is only a matter of maximising performance capacity. For my own research the most interesting thing is taking the interactivity in embodied games further, tells Hämäläinen.

Believable interaction is not only based on realistic modelling of the player’s movements or on the lifelike audiovisual clues constructing the game world. Hämäläinen is convinced that artificial intelligence and machine learning will soon revolutionise the game industry.

– Artificial intelligence is needed to make the interaction as authentic as possible. The characters in the game should know how to improvise, to act in ways that the designers could have not anticipated.

Game designers and programmers should also feel the movements they convert into code in their own bodies. At the same time they can also discover the limits of normal human beings and be able to transcend them in the virtual world.

– Just like actors need courses in gymnastics, programmers of embodied games should be made to practice modern dance, breakdance, yoga, Pilates – whatever that would deepen their bodily sensations, encourages Hämäläinen.

Hämäläinen himself has been active in several forms of marshal arts and has danced for years, and he believes the experiences can be seen and felt in the user interfaces he has created.

Kuva: Tapio Reinekoski

An animating programmer?

There is an obvious bottleneck in the process of game development according to Hämäläinen: creating test versions of games takes a lot of time and work. For example character animation is arduous and while creating prototypes, new animations are required instantly, not with a days’ lag. Hämäläinen wants to come up with content production tools, which would enable programmers in design studios to create 3D animations of adequate quality for the test versions of games.

– Studying and researching 3D modelling in the Department of Media surely repeatedly raises the frustration of not being able to do things more easily. Recognising and knowing your way around the bugs in software should not be a part of the job prescriptions of animators and 3D modellers, says Hämäläinen.

Innovations in content production tools for games would tremendously cut down the amount of unnecessary work. The computer games education in Aalto University strives to achieve this by seating programmers, designers and artists at the same table and encouraging them to study and try each other’s work.

Companies necessarily still won’t see the benefits of strenuous basic research; ready-to-use products and marketing on the other hand are rarely the primary goals of academic research. Hämäläinen however believes that a common interest can be found.

– Through the years I have grown ever more critical when it comes to corporate collaboration. Researchers have to understand the underlying logic of the corporate world in order to make collaborations work. If scientific knowledge can be inserted into companies, for example as novel software products innovated by researchers, game design studios can achieve an unprecedented competitive edge, believes Hämäläinen.

Companies not always have the scientific know-how or the time to focus on developing single features that may demand, for instance, heavy computation.

– Creating new genres is the job of universities. Then again, games have to be made so that new research problems can emerge.

Further information:

Perttu Hämäläinen
perttu.hamalainen [at] aalto [dot] fi

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