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Neal Stephenson Reinventing Computer Swordfighting, Via Kickstarter 151

New submitter toxygen01 writes "Neal Stephenson, sci-fi writer mostly known for his books Snowcrash and Cryptonomicon, takes on revolutionizing virtual sword fighting with help of crowdfunding. Inspired by the little-known fictional universe of 'Mongoliad,' an interactive book he is collaborating on, his company is trying to develop hardware (low-latency motion controller) and software for realistic medieval sword fighting. From what is promised, it will try to be open for other developers by having API and SDK available for further modding." Very few Kickstarter drives have a steel longsword as one of the rewards for investing.
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Neal Stephenson Reinventing Computer Swordfighting, Via Kickstarter

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  • I don't think any game requiring proprietary hardware will ever be worth it.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 10, 2012 @01:32PM (#40275819)

      I said that, too, till I realized the recreational uses of motorbikes, boats, etc. are really all just games requiring very expensive proprietary hardware.

      When you think about it that way, the question (in my mind) becomes "does it require proprietary hardware that can't be used for other stuff" -- if it has the same flexibility to come up with your own uses (as demonstrated by the kinect (not that that's proprietary to one game), and as I'm sure this will be) as sporting goods, it might be worth it. If it's only good for that game, whether due to true uselessness for any other conceivable activity, or evil lock-down measures, then I'll pass.

      • And no DRM so limitless replay/resale. In fact, if a game that requires proprietary hardware still uses DRM, you know it's not about combating piracy at that point.
      • by suutar ( 1860506 )
        As described, the hardware seems like it would work for lots of things. Two-handed sword, sure. Axes, staves, maces, lightsabers, these are all obvious directions to expand. But there's more out-there directions; in Tron (the original) the control system for the flying things (Recognizers) was a horizontal bar; seems like this could do that. Or handlebars for bike games. Shrink it a bit, put it in some gloves, and you can do martial arts or Minority Report UI (until your arms get tired). Unless it flops, I
    • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 10, 2012 @01:37PM (#40275863)

      Everyone who bought a Rock Band or Guitar Hero controller disagrees with you.

    • by Hatta ( 162192 )

      Play some Steel Battalion and let me know. Better yet, try the controller with Mechwarrior 4 or Freespace 2 and let me know.

      • I haven't used the steel batallion controller, but I have played mechwarrior with a full HOTAS setup and it is tits. In fact, I have a full HOTAS setup now (well, my throttle is actually a Saitek Cyborg converted to left hand, but anyway) and I should probably play me some Mechwarrior IV Free.

        That doesn't mean that a dedicated controller is going to sell, though. Steel Battalion was not exactly a best seller.

      • by 0111 1110 ( 518466 ) on Sunday June 10, 2012 @03:47PM (#40277021)

        What do you have against Kickstarter? It's not fundamentally different from gambling or the stock market? Of course some people are going to use Kickstarter for take-the-money-and-run scams. That's just the nature of the beast. When you gamble sometimes you lose. An excellent reason to only invest in projects run by people you are familiar with and who you feel you can trust to complete the project and not just take the money. And before you complain about the word 'investment' the returns are not monetary. The return on the investment is some kind of creative project getting completed that would not otherwise have been.

        I believe that Kickstarter is a new paradigm. People are overly optimistic now. I think as more and more people get burned they will be far more cautious about which projects they choose to invest in. It won't kill the crowdfunding paradigm. It will just remind people not to be so stupid and gullible. And some dishonest people are going to make enough money to move to an island somewhere and never work another day in their life. People hold up liquor stores for a few hundred bucks. A Kickstarter scam is more like robbing a bank. So, yeah, there are going to be scams and they will get more and more sophisticated as time goes on. Caveat emptor.

        • I believe that Kickstarter is a new paradigm. People are overly optimistic now.... It will just remind people not to be so stupid and gullible.

          and i believe that kickstarter is a new and easier way for crooks to steal money. Come up with some popular idea, something people want and is feasible, put it on Kickstarter and walk away with hundreds of thousands of dollars.
          or if you prefer:
          1) come up with idea
          2) put on kickstarter
          3) get hundreds of thousands
          4) walk away = PROFIT!

          I really don't see this ending well, once attorney states general gets involved kickstarter is going to have to accept some of the responsibility, you just can't t

        • by makomk ( 752139 )

          It's not fundamentally different from gambling or the stock market?

          It's like gambling where the best case is that you get out something worth the amount of money that you put in and the worst case is that you lose it all, you don't know the odds, and there's no regulator.

        • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

          by DogDude ( 805747 )
          Kickstarter isn't about gambling. It's about giving away your money. It's not investing. It's not loaning. It's giving away money. There's nothing wrong with it, but it's pretty shocking to see the amount of money dumb people are willing to just hand over to other people.

          A Sci-fi author for 20 years? He doesn't have a$500K to invest in his own business? Riiiight.

          And here's a little secret for you, too: if somebody can't borrow money to start a business, then there's probably a good reason.
          • A Sci-fi author for 20 years? He doesn't have a$500K to invest in his own business? Riiiight.

            While this particular sci-fi author probably could come up with that kind of cash, I'm willing to bet that 90% of sci-fi authors could not.

          • I wouldn't be at all surprised if quite a few Kickstarter projects are actually using it as part of their funding, not all of it. It's a lot easier to get backing from a bank if you can go to them and say "we already have £x and n guaranteed customers".

            In the case of Neal Stephenson, he and his existing team have already done the initial prototyping and development. What they're funding for is the expansion of the team, continued development, and creation of a final product.

      • by Rakishi ( 759894 )

        And many other projects have delivered so your whole argument is rubbish. It's not a guarantee but you accept that going in and the likelihood of return is high.

      • by wootest ( 694923 ) on Sunday June 10, 2012 @04:09PM (#40277199)

        As someone who's currently reaping the rewards of both projects I sponsored on Kickstarter, I reject the insinuation that many or most Kickstarter projects are frauds.

        There are crooks everywhere. Kickstarter, by making it easier for people to collect money, makes it easier for those people just as much as the legitimate users.

        I understand where their position on refunds comes from even if I probably wouldn't be very happy about being in that situation. It's up to local law enforcement to deal with fraudsters, and as long as they've done reasonable due diligence (to the extent that they even can), I wouldn't be more comfortable if they suddenly had more power available to them.

        If you want to raise complaints about Kickstarter, why not complain about their policy of blaming the stalked woman for being stalked [rachelmarone.com]? Their reaction and their policy is entirely under their control.

      • Kickstarter is a scam.

        I'm not sure how you get "kickstarter is a scam" out of one person(s) with a kickstarter project made off with the money. That is like say Visa is a scam because some scammer sold you something using your credit card.
        Kickstarter itself isn't a scam. And people aren't trying to advertise kickstarter, but rather the cool product that someone is using kicstarter to push. The same way people don't advertise Paypal or Visa when they say "hey you should buy this cool new product (that can only be purchased usin

    • by yidele ( 947452 )

      famous last words.

    • Guitar Hero proved you wrong.

    • Didn't the original Mech Warrior have a proprietary controller (On a side note the new one will have an optional HOTAS controller as well and it looks awesome)? Both the Guitar Hero and Rock band also franchises put a dent in that theory as well.

      • It is only a dent if you believe that a GH or RB game was really worth 5 times more then another blockbuster game that just used a keyboard and mouse.

        Yes if money is little to no object then a proprietary controller is absolutely the way to go. For the rest of the world they would of been happier buying 5 others games and playing GH at their friends house.

  • by gl4ss ( 559668 ) on Sunday June 10, 2012 @01:24PM (#40275735) Homepage Journal

    air doesn't give feedback when struck.
    just kinect it, if you're swinging air.

    • air doesn't give feedback when struck.

      Tell that to all the guys who practice air guitar!

    • by alvinrod ( 889928 ) on Sunday June 10, 2012 @01:43PM (#40275915)
      This has already been discussed to death on Slashdot. I'm not going to dig for a link, but some other poster came up with a good solution. If you wildly swing through something physically, when your virtual sword has stopped, your character becomes staggered until they physically reposition their weapon to sync up with the virtual representation. Eventually you'll become good enough at recognizing how your virtual sword will interact with the enemy's virtual sword (or body) and you won't be wildly swinging through as though you could slice through them. Eventually you'll train your muscles to anticipate the impact of the virtual swords and stop mid-swing (at the point where the virtual swords would clash) and begin the next move, possibly pulling back for another strike or pushing forward to knock back the enemy. Hell, add the Kinect so that you can kick or so the game can incorporate other body movements as well.
      • Eventually you'll train your muscles to anticipate the impact of the virtual swords and stop mid-swing (at the point where the virtual swords would clash) and begin the next move, possibly pulling back for another strike or pushing forward to knock back the enemy

        Of course, doing that means the movements become stunted and artificial -- because the idea is always to swing *through* your target and not *at* your target -- thus defeating the purpose of making a realistic swordplay game...

        • by IDK ( 1033430 )

          In Snowcrash Neal Stephenson describes how professional swordfighting works. He explains that it is very important to stop just a few centimeters after you have gone through your opponent so the sword would not get stuck, which is what would happen if you tried to do this in real life.

          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by pjt33 ( 739471 )

            That's with a katana. Japan aside, swords in general weren't that sharp, and your aim was to knock down and injure the opponent. Better than blunt weapons, sure, but you didn't need to worry about them going partway into a bone and getting stuck.

            • by Anonymous Coward on Monday June 11, 2012 @12:08AM (#40279673)

              For instance, FIE (Olympic) sport fencing?

              It's certainly fairly different than with real sharps (you will be far more fearless obviously) but it can be instructive.

              Sport fencing originated as practice for actual swordsmanship---swordsmanship for one-on-one dueling combat, and not large-scale military melee which is completely different. For a game like this, it seems that simulating the 1-on-1 era (say 1600's-1700's with rapiers etc--personal weapons of the wealthy) would be a goal. As point weapons, they were quite sharp and very effective.

              If you've actually fenced some, you learn some things pretty quickly. Too many people's idea of combat seems to have been influenced by "theatrical swordplay" on stage & film. In theatrical swordplay, the combatants are too close together and the goal appears to be clanking their weapon against their opponents weapon in synchronized acrobatic fashion, instead of actually trying to hit the opponent.

              Things you learn from actually fencing:

              a) keep the pointy bit pointed at your opponent, not the air or the ground.
              b) don't flail around with your sword arm, you expose target area which a skilled opponent will hit, because he is keeping his pointy bit pointed at you and ready to strike.
              c) fencing is 80% legs and timing moving back and forth. Champion fencers win because they have stamina and explosive leg power and the ability to gauge distance appropriately. Sign of a master is one who can play with an opponents timing and distance, getting a rhythm and setting up the opponent's expectation, and then suddently strike explosively with an uncomplicated
              d) it's *very* tiring.

              • Sign of a master is one who can play with an opponents timing and distance

                When I fenced back in high school, playing with timing and distance was intermediate-level. Sure, we didn't expect freshman to have a good handle on it, but even our JV fencers were expected to fence intelligently using timing and distance manipulation as tools.

                The difference between our run-of-the-mill varsity fencers and our champions was NOT stamina and explosive leg power. We all had that. What set our champions apart is that

      • Thus training yourself to lose any real fight where you have to defend yourself.

        • Yes, any real fight that happens to occur while you're carrying a sword around. Most likely it'll be against law enforcement who are trying to deal with the freak with the sword, and will just tase your ass from a distance.

    • Yeah. This seems like a very expensive, roundabout, complicated and technological way of creating something that's significantly worse than waving a padded stick at a similarly equipped friend. For once I agree that kids should just "get out more" (as long as they don't come play on my lawn).

      • by gutnor ( 872759 )
        Basically the same thing could be said between discussing this on slashdot and doing it at the pub with your technically minded friends. See you there :-)
    • Maybe it's going to be historically accurate: there wasn't much edge-to-edge contact between swords according to many sword experts. I've heard it's a bit like explosion sounds in space movies: not realistic, but entertaining.
  • If I hit the other guys sword and I don't feel my elbow trying to tear itself apart when my sword hits resistance I'll still feel like I'm waving flashlights at my kid brother going "I got you! No seriously!"

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      My thought was: how realistic will it be if I do not have to worry about my adversaries really hitting me and killing me?

      Also, I am not sure the public wants this degree of realism. A real sword fight (even in training) can be very tiring..

  • We can do boffers in the back yard, and this cannot even rise to that, much maligned, level of realism. At least send old Neal over to the SCA for a few clouts in the head with a rattan and compressed foam 3 pound mace. Even THAT isn't exactly realistic, but it IS as close as you'll ever get.

    • Really? Some of us have done it with real (if blunted) steel weapons. I love my bastard sword. Once you have you won't want to waste time on a 'realistic' virtual version with some lightweight controller - or bit of wood or cane. Maybe a rapier would work but nothing weightier.

      TBH this isn't an input problem, just get a Wii controller and treat it like a sword. It's the simulation after you've read it. The next step of making it feel real is beyond most gamer budgets, they should just buy a weapon and join

      • Yep, I loved re-enactment fighting with mild steel weaponry, though I was best with a spear. (note: below observations are from dark age weaponry, viking/saxon era, not late medieval greatswords or renaissance rapiers).

        I guess the virtual version would work better with a lightsabre-based approach - hence no resistance feedback if you slice someone in half.

        You also need the feedback of the weight of the weapon, a steel sword is quite cumbersome to wield, the weight of it will drag you around so you cannot tw

        • It is arguable whether steel or rattan really gives you a better feel for the real thing. Rattan has the weight and balance. The thing with steel is you really do HAVE to hold back in some ways. Get out there with good armor and rattan weapons you can really go at it full tilt. Then again I've never fought with steel, perhaps there is something essential lost there? Can't say the steel weapons I've handled really felt that much different. Most available steel weapons are also rather questionable reproductio

          • With a steal broadsword, you really want to swing bring it to a stop about two inches inside the opponent. Any stronger, and it is in danger of snagging and you dying immediately after your first opponent. With a spring steal weapon, you pull the blade a couple of inches before it hits, but the movement is more or less the same. If they're wearing chain mail, then you don't even need to pull it much...
          • by thorgil ( 455385 )

            Try out Albion swords.... Really good... I highly recommend the Lichtenauer.

            • Yeah, I'm sure there are good ones. I hear they are VERY not cheap though. It is actually kind of hard to know what is and isn't really good either. VERY few people have any experience handling authentic non-reproduction period weapons. I've been told even most of the expensive stuff is not usually particularly well balanced (after all, these products are basically made to be display pieces and there's almost zero chance anyone that would know the difference will handle one).

              • by mvdwege ( 243851 )

                It depends a lot. Some expensive swords are meant for display, but there are also plenty of accurate replicas meant to be used in one of the historical schools.

                My instructor brought a few EUR500 swords along, and these were beautifully balanced. I also own a cheap 14th-century replica made by Darksword Armory [darksword-armory.com], which is very well balanced for a cheap piece, even if it is blade-heavy (which fits with the historical original it was based on).

                The only thing I can say is, hang around a good HEMA group, they'll b

    • by Imagix ( 695350 )
      Um, you might want to do a little searching about Neal first. Neal does work with properly steel longwords, not rattan and foam stuff.
      • Meh, don't knock rattan. It can be QUITE realistic. As I said above, the advantage is in not really having to hold back. Even dull steel is unfriendly stuff. It may be true that the majority of people fooling around with rattan weapons in the SCA aren't particularly serious and have no clue, but you can also find people who are very good and know there stuff. Believe me, fighting with some of them can be quite an experience.

    • by Kirth ( 183 )

      -1 uninformed.

      This is about real historic sword fighting, and as it looks, he's already got much more experience with it than any SCA types.
      THAT http://www.thearma.org/ [thearma.org] is how sword fighting really works.

      • Meh, I think you'd be quite surprised. There's a bit of a difference in the sort of fighting done. All I can say is that the quality of the expertise around this area back in the days when I paid attention was quite high, but far less focused on late period techniques. I assure you any of your guys would meet a quite unpleasant surprise in a circle taking on someone like Randall with a halberd.

  • by Trepidity ( 597 ) <delirium-slashdot.hackish@org> on Sunday June 10, 2012 @01:35PM (#40275853)

    There's been a bit of a transition in the use of Kickstarter. Initially the idea was to provide seed funding, to cover expenses for a project that someone wouldn't be able to do otherwise unless they got conventional funding (e.g. grants or angel investors). So, for example, $5k for supplies and a few months' rent to support an art project. Then there were perks just as thank-yous to supporters.

    It seems to be slowly transitioning to a pre-order system where the perks are the point, though. Neal Stephenson is a multi-millionaire; he does not actually need this seed funding to pay his rent and expenses. If he wanted, he could self-fund the entire project. So why would he use Kickstarter? My guess is to get early buy-in from potential customers, to validate the idea's appeal, to build buzz, etc. Essentially a business-strategy use of the platform rather than a seed-funding use.

    • That transition merely accelerated recently, and even then mostly for gaming-related stuff.

      For most product type projects, the rewards have been the main drive to backing. This includes short film, music albums, etc. Part of it is to help the creator realize their dream, but a huge chunk of it just to 'get stuff'.

      Only for intangibles has it really not been about getting stuff because, well, there's no stuff to get.

      Sure, there's been a few projects where realistically the 'stuff' is stupid expensive and no

      • Personally I don't see the problem. For a lot of those project managers they wouldn't be able to get the cash through regular channels anyway and Kickstarter lets them get their business off the ground. There are also loads of people who refuse to fund anything that doesn't already have some work put into it; eg, they don't want to bankroll someone's vacation. They want proof that the person running the project is serious and capable of doing the work.

        I think that being too focused on making sure you only d

    • by Trepidity ( 597 )

      Also, I should add, Gabe Newell is apparently on board as an enthusiastic backer. Gabe Newell has a net worth of over one billion dollars. If he thinks it's such a great idea, why not just fund the damn thing? $500k is pocket change to him.

      I assume it's some kind of hype move, but it'd sit better with me if they built it first and then hyped, instead of hyping vaporware while trying to get people a lot poorer than themselves to fund their experiment.

    • Neal Stephenson is a multi-millionaire.

      He's one of my favorite writers. So I'm happy if it's true, but how do you know this?

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Totally agree on the second paragraph. I'm actually currently putting together a Kickstarter project currently, and like Neil don't necessarily need the seed funding to do it. It's a few thousand dollars, I could just finance it myself.

      The thing is though, while I think I've got a good idea and a product people would like, Kickstarter provides a way to actually confirm this is the case. I can do the math such anybody who contributes gets one of the finished products, and assuming it gets a few hundred in

    • by Sycraft-fu ( 314770 ) on Sunday June 10, 2012 @04:19PM (#40277263)

      Let's say Stephenson is worth $5 million in reasonably liquid assets. Ok, fine, he could clearly afford to fund $500k for a project BUT that is 10% of his total funds. Not a trivial amount. Think about if I asked you to put up 10% of your liquid assets to something that might not make any money, would you be interested in doing so?

      Part of actually staying rich, once someone becomes rich, is not just blowing through money. No matter how much you have, you can easily spend it all in a short amount of time on shit if you try.

      Goes double if you aren't in something where you have guaranteed income. He's made a lot of money because people liked his books. However maybe he never releases another book that sells well. In that case, his money needs to last. A million dollars is a lot when you are talking a yearly salary, however it is not a lot when you are talking trying to live on it for a long period of time.

      There probably is a business aspect to it as well but just understand that a half million dollars is a lot of money to someone with a few million dollars much as a thousand dollars is a lot of money to someone with ten grand. Yes it is money you could spend but it is a significant portion.

      • by MobyDisk ( 75490 )

        Think about if I asked you to put up 10% of your liquid assets to something that might not make any money, would you be interested in doing so?

        My goodness man, get some perspective! Most people put more than 10% of their net worth into something that will not make any money every month: Their house payment. Add in other bills and for most people that is their entire net worth. Saving 10% of your income is considered a good goal for the average middle class person.

        Note that this entire discussion thread is a strawman, because none of us have any idea what Neal Stephenson is worth.

      • Well, it's all about risk vs. reward, isn't it? To stay rich, first off, you have to make more money than you spend, or at least an equal amount. So, we'll assume, that on average your ventures accomplish that--otherwise it doesn't matter how much you spread stuff out, you won't stay rich.

        Now it just becomes a question of what percentage of your endeavors are successful. Let's say it's 5%, that's probably reasonable. Since you're rich, you can afford a higher risk, so dedicate 50% of your money to risking i

    • Not really disagreeing with your thesis but just noting that investors seem quite willing to let a project fail if it doesn't meet targets, regardless of what other money they have available.

    • by DogDude ( 805747 )
      So why would he use Kickstarter? My guess is to get early buy-in from potential customers, to validate the idea's appeal, to build buzz, etc.

      Wow. Really? Really, is that what you think? There's this idea, called Occam's Razor that lots of geeks like to quote. I'm gonna apply it to this situation: Neal Stephenson is using Kickstarter because he doesn't want to risk $500K of his own money.
  • If he can get his custom "Swordfight Game Controller" off the ground then maybe others can step in with new types of game controllers, that may, in the long-term, revolutionize the currently rather boring, sequel-to-a-sequel type world of AAA game publishing. I hope that Stephenson does a good job with this. If he succeeds, then many other game-controller design projects could follow his, and the best of the crop will get funded the same way he did. =)
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Make it a CHAINSAW!

  • Need some execrise on how to handle my Longlaw [valyriansteel.com] properly without laying waste to my appartment or people around me.... Great idea, count me in.
  • This [youtube.com] already exists, swordfighting just doesn't get much better than that!

  • to have something in the sword (or vr gloves, for that matter) to give you just enough sensation to know that you've struck/touched something. seems this would've been worked out years ago. possibly even a whole "body glove", that has millions of sensor points that would depress inwards, with various amounts of force, and actually touch you. is no one working on this type of thing?
  • If anyone didn't catch it, watch the video and there's a cameo of Gabe Newell forging a crowbar and saying "These things take time"
  • by farrellj ( 563 ) * on Sunday June 10, 2012 @03:23PM (#40276791) Homepage Journal

    The main charactor in Snowcrash, Hiro Protagonist, is known as the best swordfighter in the Metaverse. So, obviously, his interest in swordfighting predates his most recent work. Hiro, besides actually knowing how to use a sword in the real world, also wrote the template sword fighting code for the Metaverse. I guess Neil Stephenson is looking for that "edge". :-)

    Besides, a good generalized real-time controller framework will enable many types of gaming besides swordwork...the code should be similar enough to enable things like baseball bats, hockey sticks, and golf clubs.

    • All that stuff exists already though. No doubt there are improvements that can be made, but people have been swinging virtual golf clubs and bats, etc for quite a while now, have they not?

      • by farrellj ( 563 ) * on Sunday June 10, 2012 @04:22PM (#40277281) Homepage Journal

        But they are not very realistic. In sword fighting, that slight twist of the wrist makes all the differnce between a kiling blow, and a glancing blow, and that would translate well to, for example, golf or hockey. A small twist of the wrist when swinging a golf club makes the difference betweeen a shot that goes onto the fairway, or into the rough. Most golf games only measure the swing, not the angle the club hits the ball at. That would be the same for hockey as well.

  • we would be better off as a society pouring the money into parks and bike trails instead of video game controllers and fake worlds that dont exist.

    it is a sad day for the species when SCA can be compared favorably to something by calling the other thing "too much make believe".

  • He fights like a cow?

    If they're not calling this "Operation Guybrush," it's a golden opportunity wasted.

  • Finally! (Score:5, Funny)

    by queazocotal ( 915608 ) on Sunday June 10, 2012 @05:29PM (#40277763)

    A way to stab people in the face over the internet.

    • Or an elaborate scheme to raise a new generation of SW kids!

      Well I, for one, welcome our elegant overlords!

  • Here's a *multimillionaire* coming hat-in-hand to say "give me this money and I'll develop that".

    Kickstarter seems an effort to crowdsource-reverse the method of capitalism - instead of "if you build it, they will come" KS seems to suggest that you get enough people to say they'll come, you'll build it...maybe.

    I'm not poor, but I don't have $50, $100, $500 to blow on a completely speculative venture. It seems that lots of people do? Certainly, a relatively small proportion of people have more spare cash t

  • So I guess he didn't think "gcc" had quite the same wow factor.

I've got a bad feeling about this.