Cyberspace

Nothing about the Metaverse here.

creator: x14km2d | build: 2021-09-20 | update: 2022-01-06

Intro

In the 90’s I used to hang out with my friends at home a lot after school. Unlike the other kids who went to the soccer field or the park, we were busy with the first expansion pack of GTA1 and pen-and-paper. Shadowrun was the number one hit in our group. Most of the time I played a decker and was often in the cyberspace. A real internet didn’t exist at that time and we imagined how it would look like when we meet other people in a digital space. Neon colors, long lines and pushing glow. Within seconds, we’re on the digital information superhighway. Berlin, Detroit and Cape Town. No server would be safe from us. You can see how a teenager’s wishful thinking didn’t turn into reality, because even though I trained as a software developer, I didn’t become a blackhat. Internet surfing has also not developed the way we imagined it back then. 2D advertising posters, text blocks and boring flat worlds. The Internet is in no way a cyberspace, at most a lamerspace. So I’ll have to wait a bit until we finally move through virtual worlds and meet old or new friends.

Influence

In the first section we will look at the influences, inspirations and other ideas that went into the project. We will try to stick to a chronological order, but at some points we will have to take some side roads that end in dead ends. This should help us understand all the points of the bisecting train of thought. Also, I won’t necessarily cite well-known movies, works, or other sources because they weren’t important enough (to me) for a thought building. WarGames, for example, is a science-fiction hacker movie worth mentioning, but unfortunately not in the context of virtual worlds. So, in this essay, I will reflect a very personal experience with the bisecting subject.

media

The first real influence or the pictorial representation of a space within a technical system was the film TRON from 1982. This was shown in my hometown because of the great demand once again in 1986 and I was allowed to go to the film with my father. These images impressed me so deeply that for the next few weeks I spoke only of the film. I quickly understood the very abstract concept of a user in the computer and was fascinated by the idea. The next film I watched on the subject was The Lawnmower Man. As a child, I perceived it more as a psychological/horror film and was fascinated by the CGI (computer graphic animation). Already at that time I perceived the various virtual spaces not only as a consumer product, but also asked myself philosophical questions. I wondered, for example , how responsibility can be defined in a virtual reality, since in most cases it is tied to reality. What would happen if a person upgraded himself with computer programs, could he/she then become a digital god? These and other questions then emerged in the great masterpiece Matrix 1 by the Wachowski sisters1. A simulation of humanity enslaved in reality to provide energy is a breathtakingly exciting concept. This film was so good that our teacher allowed me to show it on a DVD I bought in philosophy class. I got an A on the subsequent exam and was able to shine with my technical knowledge. There are certainly a few more films I have seen on the subject of cyberspace, but none of them could leave a lasting impression.

Like all teenagers, I consumed heaps of anime and manga. I loved the science fiction anime like Akira or Armitage 3, but also many other films. Later on, my taste matured and I started watching Blame! (Log 1-6) works as a great work perceivedb. Precisely because the mangaka publishes very little about the interpretation of his works. Therefore, there is a very large room for interpretation, so most of the images of the network sphere are partly depicted as a green meadow and blue sky, a typical summer landscape and programs appear as virtual existences. There are Selizium beings and also some kind of virtual space. This exemplifies that the concept of cyberspace and the virtual world is not subject to any design standards. Every artist can leave his own interpretation and if, for example, in Ghost in the Shell lore reality threatens to merge with virtual reality, this is also a justified interpretation of what we call cyberspace. It doesn’t always have to be a typical hacker computer representation. There is also an interesting virtual space in the anime series Cowboy Bebop. At several points, the supporting character Ed uses an aquarium-like internet. The space as a sea of data is an interesting representation. Serial Experiments Lain is also extremely influential to me at several points. In the series, the virtual network is called the Wired and is the sum of all technological means of communication, including cyberspace. The Wired can connect people through a system without a physical interface and is thus a fusion of the real and virtual worlds. Asian artists in particular have contributed massive technological concepts and ideas to the subject that it is impossible to list everything here.

Of course, I also read many science fiction books in my youth, e.g. the Neuromancer trilogy by William Gibson is known to most boomerllenials. In these books the term cyberspace (as a construction between computers, like the known internet) was not only mentioned for the first time (for me) and coined for a whole literary genre, but also introduced into science fiction as computer network or matrix. Many later works by other authors or film creators reference Gibson’s technical language. Neal Stephenson also uses this theme in his novel Snow Crash, although he refers to his virtual world as the Metaverse (doesn’t that name sound kind of familiar? ), which is cyberspace by another name. As mentioned in the introduction, there is considerable overlap. Each author takes good ideas from other authors and mixes them with their own. just as there is an evolution of cyberspace, there are evolutionary ideas. Some concepts simply disappear from the books. Unfortunately, after some time I stopped reading books on the subject, sometimes maybe a technical book or other computer book, but otherwise not so much came across. But that’s also due to my personal taste, because I prefer dystopian material and not blink, blink science fiction.

Although I have played some computer games (also online or via LAN), most of them were not that important for my cyberspace idea. For example, all ASCII-Art games were not inspiring enough for me yet, and also (multiplayer) games in the isometric view. Games like Star Craft or Age of Empires didn’t yet have the potential to invite me into the right mindset. Only the 3D technology in computer games and the genre of first-person shooters set me on certain paths. I had already played DOOM 1 in 1993 on MS-DOS, but it still had the appearance of unrealistic 3D technology. You couldn’t really interact with the environment. Aside from the typical FPS functions (kill enemies, gather materials, open doors), Doom was simply a computer game. OK, the best computer game ever. Even though it was possible to compete against other players in a network in Doom, I had never really noticed that. Besides, first-person shooters could only captivate me for a short time because I’m not the target audience and I get bored quickly. I need mental challenges and killing enemies is rather boring.

The first time I was able to really interact with a room and not just be a guest without rights was in the computer game Half Life 1 in 1998, but what really fascinated me was a little gimmick when you created your avatar. There you could load in a spray painting and spray it on the wall in the game. Since I was a person in the graffiti scene at the time, that piqued my interests. At some point, someone had figured out how to invite your own images, because previously you only had a few sample images from Sierra. It was a concept that was adopted in Counter Strike. In short order we had some virtual tagging wars with other graffiti crews. While playing, I dreamed of developing my own online computer game with community features. At that time, I had no idea that I would really train as a software developer later, because that wasn’t my real life plan2. A game without violence, only with the goal of painting good pictures, meeting people online or competing against famous authors in the story mode. The fact that I was only about 20 years ahead of the technology with this idea couldn’t stop me from spinning around with it. I also had the thought that people could get together to chat and share music. What is being heard right now in Paris, Tokyo, Berlin? What techniques are there in other countries when it comes to cans, markers and caps. Or just to joke around. In 2009 I switched from advertising/media design to software development/programming.

In 2011, Minetest was released as a Minecraft copy for Linux. I had already noticed the hype around the original, but I wasn’t particularly interested in it. It wasn’t until the open source version that I got a taste of it. I liked the concept and the stolen idea and that they had a genre for a long time where building and not killing was defined as the game goal. Unfortunately, there aren’t as many fan modifications for the copy as there are for the original, but that’s less important for your own developments. Overall, the creative mode inspired me more for ideas. Also cyberpsace can also be a kids and family friendly space I personally like a dystopian and dark cyberspace this doesn’t have to apply to all concepts. Cyberspace is just a general generic term. You can also design a child and family friendly digital space and then just call it Minespace. Or you can create a completely monitored but secure work environment and call it Metaverse. Names are smoke and mirrors and what remains in the end is the actual digital space in which people move and interact with avatars and artificial intelligences.

A lot of products from the genre of cyberpunk computer games came onto the market in the 90s. So many that I can’t list them all here and I think that every reader has his own experience. So Shadowrun has not only inspired me as literature, pen and paper or computer games. The earlier computer games have contributed a small part to what I think of as the concept of cyberspace. For example from the 1994 game, the third person perspective and flat data grid left a deep impression on me of what a typical cyberspace should look like for mcih. The new releases from 2013 did inspire me in some places from the Shadowrun universe, but the isometric perspective alone put me off. There are no current cyberpunk concepts that would impress me, and even the drafted cyberspace in Cyberpunk 2077 couldn’t conjure up more than a tired smile on my face.

In 2009 I looked at Second Life for the first time and somehow it wasn’t mine. I was looking for an alternative to the flatworld World Wide Web. I really liked the concept of meeting people online in virtual worlds, but I couldn’t do anything with the implementation. The graphics were really bad (even today) and I didn’t like role-playing in static scenes. In addition, I was again missing the abstarkte and dystopian. When I explore a cyberspace I want to discover something new, not go shopping for digital products in normal clothes with my friends in a store. Why would I want to be in a digital world that looks just as boring, bland and horrid as the real world I’m trying to escape. I attended another lecture in December of the same year by an acquaintance , but SecondLife is not an alternative to cyberspace for me. Also, it struck me that the concept of IP telephony/voice over IP with voice conferencing software is something I really don’t want e.g.  VRChat in a nutshell. Still, there are enough other reasons why SecondLife should be considered in certain cases. For example, years later there is still a strong arts and literature scene that meets weekly at events. And as I could observe in the last years, there is also an open source alternative to SecondLife that should be looked at.

Overall, there were very many sources from the general media that inspired me. In recent years, however, movies or series have played a less and less important role. Movies are static and serve me a finished product. I can like it or not. But the decision is made very quickly when I watch a trailer. With a book, I can leave much more to my imagination. I can imagine cyberspace the way I want, without having to lower myself to the ideas of an artist. Although I have here also a linear sequence of a story, but nevertheless this is for me, in my personal opinion, much more exciting than a film. With computer games, again, I have a finished product, but I can make profound changes to the story. Most good computer games are so complex that I can make massive changes to the development of the story. I can’t do that in a movie or a series. So far there hasn’t been a serious cyberpunk/cyberspace game that comes close to a book like Neuromancer, but I’m sure there will be a really good product someday. The movie Matrix, in which the main theme is cyberspace, is a notable exception.

In the next section we look at what influences I have experienced from computer technology. Again, there are significant overlaps with movies and computer games, but I’ll make a special note of that at the relevant point.

Computer

After I made my first contacts with Windows 3.1 (Linux didn’t exist yet), I was deep into computers. Even though computers never played a role in our family (too expensive), I could always get in touch with people who let me work and experiment on computers. As I described above, 3D fascinated me. Unfortunately, there were never any really good projects to establish cyberspace as an operating system. There were developments like Project Looking Glass, Compiz, Deskspace, or Bumptop, but none of them could establish themselves or produce serious successors. Perhaps this is due to the general development, because an operating system was built from the beginning by the big corporations like a desk in an office. people should work at this desk, not have fun. There is a trash can, data is sorted into folders, and the user quickly finds his way around this work environment.

I found the first real 3D operating system with a science fiction cyberpunk flavor for Linux and the program was called tdfsb. It had only very simple graphics, but could convince with the technology. So it was possible to navigate in its directory structure and display files. You could look at text files, MP3s and pictures and it already had something of a retro science fiction flair. I liked the software, although the human-computer interface that had been developed so far was not designed for this kind of technology. Mouse and keyboard control is beyond exhausting and counterproductive. There was a more advanced fork called 3dfsb, but it too failed to catch on. Most users still seemed to be stuck in the 2D desktop world, although this already seems to be changing, as we will see later.

I saw the next 3D operating system in the movie Jurassic Park and for many years thought it was a product of the movie. It was the fsn file manager developed by Silicon Graphics. At the time of the movie, there was no world wide web (for me… because too expensive) to search for more information. I got my content from a few magazines, libraries or from friends. The little information I have about e.g. Tactile 3Dos came from one of my own hard drives. Apparently this commercial product (if it had been free, I would have downloaded and installed it) had its own website, from which I had saved some screenshots. Other than that, I can’t find much else about it on the Internet. Unlike other products, Tactile 3Dos was already very well produced. Unfortunately, like the other developments, it was very cumbersome to use and very difficult for normal users with all their pipes and other 3D objects. I wonder how many hard drives exist with information that has already completely disappeared from the web.

Since the expansion of virtual app technology, there seems to be some attempts to move towards a 3D operating system. One project I know of and am currently watching is Safespace. Unfortunately, you can only see 2D windows implemented in a 3D virtual environment, which limits the whole concept. Cyberspace would not only have to get rid of keyboard and mouse, but also redefine the file system, folder management and windows. As long as people cannot break away from these rigid thought patterns, all projects will seem like foreign bodies that cannot be integrated into the overall picture in terms of design.

Project UECS

After a few weeks of studying the topic of cyberspace, I thought about building a digital space myself. I wanted to know what kind of problems, ideas or concepts I would have to deal with to create a real cyberspace. I had chosen the Unreal Engine in 2018 because it worked quite well on a powerful Windows computer. I had decided against Linux because I wanted to consume rather massive graphical resources. This was going to look pretty good on my first concept. That was quite a good idea, but in the end you don’t need ultra realistic graphics to build a digital room. The design and idea has to be right, but as we saw with Minecraft, it can be done with the simplest graphics. The idea is more important and must appeal to the target audience.

Unfortunately, the Windows computer went out of order due to a hard disk crash. I had only uploaded a few screenshots and some short videos to a archive at that time, but otherwise had no backup of the project. Somehow that’s a pity, because it looked really good and I liked the design. Unfortunately I didn’t like the license terms of the Unreal Engine so I went back to open source game engine that primarily works on a Linux computer. In the future I want to investigate this further, because I’m also working on finally being able to include VR goggles in my projects. Since I couldn’t think of a proper name for the project I just called it UECS, Unreal Engine Cyber Space. Not very creative but accurate.

Since I had to get acquainted with the new software first to learn how it works, I came up with a very simple idea for my cyberspace. After logging into the software, the user is teleported into a simple room. In the beginning I even included a door and a window, but then I discarded that. I wanted to take over as little as possible known representations from reality, even if this helps users to learn a new software environment. My interface consisted of an geometric object, which should be clickable with the mouse later. It should be an index or root object, with which one should be able to teleport into other spaces. In my mockup I had developed the idea to project the spaces as thumbnails on the wall. These spaces should also be able to be created by users, like a Discord channel but in 3D. In each space the rules of the admin would apply.

I liked the idea for a few days but then it lost its appeal. It was all so commercial and lacked creativity. It looked like a typical some pre dot com bubble company prototype that should please as many investors as possible. But that was not my vision of a cyberspace and after a few days I archived the first version of the UECS and started from scratch.

For my next design, I wanted to play more with cyberspace clichés. This included textures with schematics, neon colors and also more lighting effects. I also wanted to adopt terms from computer science. For example, the black cuboid with the edges in green neon colors is a data node. At this node you should be able to access data sent through your own space. Something like that would have been good for log files.

I also tested a lot with colors. In the beginning I used the typical green/black color scheme, which some people still know from old retro computers. Somehow that was too gloomy for me. I wanted to create an infinite space and that is quite easy if you create a horizon of color gradients. To the human brain it looks like the end of the horizon is not visible, but in reality the space the user is moving in is finite but not perceived that way. Human perception can be manipulated by fairly simple tricks to create deep space. And this has been used in the computer game industry for a very long time.

In the next step I dealt with objects and how a user or his avatar can interact with them in a cyberspace. For this I created a very simple white cube and gave it properties and that’s where the project got bigger very fast. Because I had to give the cube weight, gravity and other attributes so that it wouldn’t react strangely in the virtual environment. But this idea was stupid from me, because this cube can get any properties I give it as administrator. In between I also had the idea that the user can create and program an object. I had imagined this then in a terminal in such a way.

user@cyberspace: $ create cube.cs

object{cube}
    color{#fff}, 
    size{2,2,2,
    interactiv{push};
        if {push.cube}
            > terminal: "Hello World!"
        else
            {wait}
end

This is not an example in a real programming language, but something I came up with on short notice. A basic problem that virtual worlds still have is that this is not good to use for simple users. If I’m sitting at a 3D desk and can’t use the full setup, it’s nothing more than a desktop on any normal office computer. Normal objects with properties could also make it possible to develop a 3D programming language. For example, in Minetest I can also program by combining different blocks. I had imagined something like that, but I had to accept the reality that it can’t be done in a week.

Something I hadn’t thought about before is the role of the avatar. A cyberspace with the generic avatar of the Unreal Engine is nothing that can convince a user. Nowadays everyone wants to have his own avatar and move with it in a virtual environment. But if I give everyone the freedom to choose what kind of avatar he/she/it wants to have, I will eventually have a VRChat environment that I find neither interesting nor appealing from a design point of view. Of course, I could do this like in a computer game, but then I would only have a limited repertoire of what users could use. Besides, users are the most creative anyway when it comes to new and interesting ideas. This all turned out to be difficult.

All in all, my first test on the cyberspace topic resulted in a wealth of new questions that I couldn’t answer easily. So the topic of hardware and user interface also came up, and how best to solve that. The previous VR computer games could only marginally convince me that this would be fun for the user when interacting with objects in cyberspace. As I mentioned above my hard drive broke and the project was lost. Maybe fortunately, because if you get stuck at one point you should just draw a hard line and start again. Besides, I was able to generate a lot of knowledge, which I can transfer to the next project.

Footnotes


  1. In my world, Matrix 2, and 3 do not exist and the two siblings could have saved themselves the trouble of producing them.↩︎

  2. Actually, I had planned to go to Weimar after the Army at the age of 18 and start as a gallerist trainee in a well-known gallery. I was to act as the successor to the owner. Since I had trained myself very well autodidactically in art history after school and homework, I would have gone to a private university and enrolled in the same subject. All I had to do was pick up the phone to call the gallerist, accept, and then get on the train. I never picked up the phone. At that time I had so much self-doubt and other fears that I let this chance pass. I regret this decision very much, but I don’t mourn it, because it made me what I am today. A programmer with a really good understanding of art and if I would go to parties, I could even shine with it. Unfortunately, I don’t like partys, drugs, alcohol and most people have, in my personal opinion, a bad taste in music or are just dumb like a stupid cock fuck.↩︎


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