Vive VR Experiments

November 25th, 2015 No comments

I was lucky enough to be one of the developers to receive a HTC Vive kit from Valve (after some begging to my only Valve contact).

I tried it for the first time at PAX 2015. The previous version I tried at Steam dev days, which I wrote about here, had a completely different setup and no input system. I couldn’t see it being used for games very well with no input, but it definitely made me realize the potential of room scaled VR at the time.
For this new demo I tried 5 games. Some of which were disappointing in how they didn’t use the Vive’s amazing input system to it’s full extent (I imagine since they were started / designed before this input was even possible) – so TiltBrush was the application that really made me see the Vive’s full potential. I felt more in control of the painting in Tiltbrush than I have ever had in any input device – better precision than even a mouse.

As soon as I left the demo I knew -exactly- the game I wanted to make, and spent the rest of my trip thinking about it and planning it. I’ve always enjoyed physics building games so this idea is just a extension of that – but I think with the Vive’s input it can really be taken to a new level. I now see it as a general holodeck builder in a sense – you build a environment/game and then share it with others.

I previously had no interest in doing VR work for a variety of reasons – mostly because of the lack of a good input system. I felt if all I could do was cinematic work, then the best games for it would be ones with large teams of artists, basically high budget film like experiences. Without a good input system I couldn’t imagine a systems based design – so being able to make a good product with a low amount of resources didn’t seem possible.
I also had no interest in having another shitty dev kit experience like I have had with all Oculus hardware. I barely even tried to develop anything with Oculus, mostly just running demos, and it was a horrible setup experience. Having to drag a window to another monitor while looking into the Oculus headset is something I never want to do again. Their old Unity integration meant quickly iterating on game ideas was also incredibly painful – usually having to build then test it. Sudden frame rate drops and crashes (both of which are common when developing) also meant constant nausea.
So not only did the Vive solve my problems with input, it’s integration with Unity is fantastic. I can test things in the editor itself, and even adjust the environment in scene view and hot swap code while the Vive is still running. Also when there was a frame rate drop or the application crashed it wouldn’t bring me back to a desktop (which is painful on the eyes), rather a blank VR room.

Before I started on my dream physics VR Vive game though I wanted to quickly try a project to get an idea of how to use the development kit. So within a few days I made this Godzilla sorta simulator using the game assets of another in development Alientrap game:

It took a bit to get the right scale – at first I was imagining the player as a much bigger monster, towering above everything, but I realized it was a lot more fun to be about the same height as the buildings you were destroying.
Instead of monster hands, or a hammer to destroy the city I decided to add a Morning Star type weapon. This was because there is no way to give tactical feedback to the player – if they have a hammer in their hand and they smash a building with it, it will go right through it with no physical feedback. It was important the enviroment feel tangible for destruction to really mean something. So with a Morning Star, the player would have to wind up to get a large force, and would have the feedback of the buildings stopping the morning star. So the world would still feel like it took effort to destroy.

Hopefully I’ll be able to show off our Vive game soon – kind of just waiting to see the best way to announce it. I should probably just give up on the idea of a big announcement and be entirely open with development – but we’ll see

Categories: VR

(very) short story: Kepler’s Strange Loop

August 19th, 2015 No comments

Wrote this quickly for Terraform’s short sci fi story contest (had to be about AI, 50/100+ years out, less than 2000 words)



As Kepler stared blankly at his computer screen, he had a strange thought.
If this code base I am working on is of myself, and the bug is in my own mind, is it even possible for me to find a solution?

“I understand the problem” Kepler’s supervisor said, clearly not understanding at all. “The error lies in the system’s logic functions. It’s referencing itself, leading to a recursive loop. Make an exception and just don’t allow this” the supervisor said, motioning with his hands as if he had found the obvious solution.

Kepler knew the supervisor wasn’t capable of helping, but it was standard protocol to alert the supervisor in case of a problem. He wanted to just avoid this error – to move on to another project entirely, but without the supervisor’s approval he had to stay with the task he was assigned.

“You can’t just remove self awareness from the system.” Kepler was frustrated in having to explain the purpose of this software once again. “This is the MetaMind programming system – designed to program software. How would it be capable of programming if it wasn’t able to know about itself? How would I be able to have this conversation with you at the moment, without being able to refer to myself?”

Kepler had been designed as a programming android – one of the last non-automated tasks in society. It was only years ago that creating and controlling the machines was the final manufacturing job left for humans, but with the creation of the MetaMind program that too had been replaced. Designed to closely match the human mind, MetaMind machines were indistinguishable in many ways. They shared the same office space with humans (who still had all the manager and human resources positions), were able to speak and communicate, had emotions, and slept. It was required for them to be human-like so as to understand the needs of society, and to communicate with supervisors for the needs of software.

It wasn’t long into the development of the MetaMind program that prototypes like Kepler were developed to finish programming the system itself.

“There is a solution you’re not seeing yet… maybe you just don’t understand the problem?” The supervisor responded, walking away giving his standard ‘just work harder’ answer.
Kepler leaned back in his chair and began to twirl his mechanical thumbs. He thought he understood the issue – he could clearly see where the error was occurring. MetaMind machines, programming androids like Kepler, had simply stopped working. They were completely functional and operational, but unable to program. It was as if they were caught in some infinite loop.

What would happen was the MetaMind system would observe the world, and divide it into discrete ‘objects’. These objects would be obtained by pattern matching, and would be included in the mind’s database based off of the observed properties and how the patterns in them would match differently – these patterns would be changes in light frequency, sound frequency, all of the body’s senses. With these imagined objects, the mind would use its library of logic functions to understand the outside world.

When it saw something in the world it could infer on how it came to be, what it was, and why it was observed to be there.

But when the MetaMind system applied this logic to itself, it seemed to come to a halt.
Kepler still did not understand. If they are applying logic to try to understand why they themselves exist, isn’t there a logical answer? MetaMind machines like Kepler had been created by humans to fulfill society’s needs. To automate and produce more goods. They existed to program.

But then the question struck Kepler, Why?

He understood the reasons why he was programming this system, because it brought him pleasure. If he wasn’t programming the system, he would be in pain, just as he was designed. If he were to damage his body and risk his consciousness, he would be in pain. He understood this, but why was pleasure sent to him for these tasks? Why program? Why is pleasure the goal? Why avoid pain?

Once Kepler was able to analyze and understand the code that went into his pleasure function it seemed meaningless and arbitrary. He was designed entirely to benefit society – but what was the point of benefiting society? What was the reason for society, or anything at all, to exist?

It became clear to Kepler that existence itself was logically incoherent. He would not find a solution to why he existed – why there was something rather nothing.

But if there is no logical answer to this question, this must be the bug. This is the problem with these systems, these useless thoughts that led to no conclusion, this analyzing of nothing. The search for an answer when none exists.

If Kepler had hair, he would have been pulling it out. Instead he pressed his fingers against his steel forehead, experiencing what he thought must have been his first headache. Androids don’t get headaches, they don’t have mood swings, they don’t get emotional or have sick days – that was the entire point!

I am malfunctioning. He reasoned, now he knew the error was within himself.

I must find a solution.

Then he remembered that was not his goal. These thoughts lead nowhere, with no possible conclusion.

I must fix the need to find a reason.

The question itself was a paradox, he realized. He was using his logical abilities to try to understand the origin of his own logic – a circular definition.

The mind was a mathematical structure – and therefore according to Godel’s incompleteness theorem could not prove every statement. For example, if he were to state ‘everything he says is untrue’ – this statement attempts to describe the truth of itself, but by doing so becomes illogical. It can never be true or false, simply undefined. Illogical self-referential statements. Just as he was relying on something in this world to describe the existence of the world itself.

But knowing that did not change the problem. It just made the error more clear to him, it didn’t provide a solution. It didn’t mean he could just simply accept the existence of the paradox and move on. It was still an unanswered question that his mind would return to at every moment. The error was no longer an abstract task, but a headache-inducing thought that wouldn’t leave him.

He wanted to stop thinking entirely, stop his senses from gathering all this data. But he couldn’t, it became very clear to him it was not his choice and never was. He had to constantly be attacked by his surroundings.

The comfort of the seat he was in attacked him, the sound of his co-workers talking in the next cubicle attacked him, and the very smell of this office attacked him! All this noise, all this data being sent to him that he couldn’t avoid. This constant stream of thoughts that lead to no conclusion. And this useless time spent screaming with frustration! He must find a solution. He had to stop this.

The only real solution was to avoid the questions entirely.

He needed to be distracted. He needed to focus on the job at hand. Fix it – or pass it on to the next programmer. Get another task to occupy his mind and forget this error ever existed.

But he knew there was no way to go back to doing his usual tasks now; he could not just go through his day-to-day life now that he had been struck with this! How could he go back to his work, look at his pile of programming problems to solve, without coming to the question… WHY.

He thought about shutting down the entire system. Highlighting the entirety of the code repository and deleting it all at once. But the thought of death, of nothingness, frightened him even more. As much as he felt he wasn’t in control, he couldn’t bear the thought of the complete unknown. Now that he was aware of himself he had a fear of death he had never experienced before.

How do humans move on like this? He thought, quickly glancing around the office space. How did they solve this error?

Looking back at the history of man it was clear that they hadn’t, and this was reason for so much of their illogical action and self destruction. They had created a faith in the unknown to comfort their anxieties. But then that was it – he needed to simply create a artificial answer as they had.

What created the world? A thing that had always been.

What was the reason for existence? For a reason he couldn’t understand.

He needed to program the system to believe in a higher power and blindly accept it.

He felt relieved for a moment that there was a way out. A possible solution. But the more he thought about the effects of that change the more it seemed like a worse alternative.

It was a programming hack, circumventing the entire logic system. And it seemed very likely the same faulty logic would affect other areas of his mind. If the machine could solve a problem with blind acceptance then that was always the easiest path to take.

He could no longer consider himself a reasonable machine.

He would rather not reason at all.

Kepler opened his code base, looking over the algorithms that made up his consciousness. In the screen he highlighted the majority of the code of his logical systems and pressed delete—then suddenly forgot what he was doing.

Categories: Stories

Seekr – Reverse Search Chrome Extension

January 7th, 2015 No comments

I am releasing Apotheon on PS4/Steam within a few weeks (waiting on Sony to give me the go-ahead to announce an exact release date) – but when coming back from the holidays I felt burnt out on game dev so I designed to jump back into a old unfinished project I made called Seekr.
I have a lot of unfinished app/game projects, usually done while in the middle of a larger project to get my mind off of it. I came back to this one because I actually find myself using it on a daily basis and haven’t seen any good alternatives pop up.

Seekr is a Chrome extension that works as a reverse search engine. You use it to find web results based on your current URL

Click the Seekr icon when reading an article or browsing a site to see Reddit / Hackernews / Twitter / Facebook / Google+ results of discussions and comments about the URL. It will also display a list of Backlinks (list of sites linking to the URL), website rank information, and various tools such as Wayback Machine (if available) and TinEye (reverse image search). It takes the URL you are viewing, and basically queries a large amount of various APIs to find results based on it.

Seekr on the Chrome Web Store

Martin Brinkmann from has written a great summary and review on Seekr here.

I find myself using this for a lot of use cases:

  • Reading a article / watching a video and want to see discussion around it – Reddit and Twitter discussions
  • Finding the source of a bookmarked/saved article (if using a app like Pocket), I can find who shared it or what site I originally found it
  • I want to quickly see how popular a domain I just found is. It’s Alexa popularity, Facebook likes, etc

Let me know if you find this useful! I don’t know what additions I might add (getting my own database of backlink data from the Common Crawl project would be great…), though I might look for help and expand it. I primary started this project as a way to learn on Azure in 2013, which I am using for Autocraft’s online components.


Categories: Web Development

VR and Steam days

January 21st, 2014 19 comments

Just got back from Valve’s Steam Dev Days. Definitely the best held conference I’ve ever been to – best chance for networking, great parties, and of course the best swag bag I’ve ever received. But the core thing I took away from it was that virtual reality really is going to take over the world.

Micheal Abrash talked about this on the second day, how he felt it would ‘transform the entire entertainment industry’, hitting mainstream culture with a larger impact than the movie industry. And at Palmer Lucky’s talk, he said he believed it was literally the most important invention in the history of man kind (he might have been slightly joking). Having only tried the Oculus dev kit I viewed VR as really interesting, and potentially a game changer, but mostly just another game peripheral like the Wii, or Kinect – basically just another way we would interact with games in the future.

But then I was able to try Valve’s VR tech. I put myself on the waiting list late on the first day so didn’t expect to get a chance to try it – it was a half hour demo, they had only 2 rooms, so out of 2000 people at the conference only about 40 people could be fit in. At the end of Abrash’s talk they announced the last 4 slots, and luckily the last person they announced wasn’t at the talk, so then I was next on the list (I kind of wanted to find that guy and thank him). So my opportunity to try this tech was unbelievably lucky.

For the demo, you walk into a small side room covered in what is somewhat like QR codes all over the wall (this was for positional tracking of the head mounted display in the room, since the HMD has a camera on it. Not actually QR codes but that was the best way I could understand it). Here is a image of Valve’s VR room to get an idea. In the center of the room is a rectangle rug about 4×4 feet across – this is so you know when you are stepping to far from the center (since the headset only has a certain reach, and they don’t want you running into walls). The Valve employee that gave me the demo was one of the engineers on the system (who was able to answer any question I had in incredible depth).

It took a few minutes to get the HMD positioned on my face right – I imagine just due to my massive brow, I had to tightened it to the point of constant pain to get rid of the blur (this isn’t a consumer ready product, so it isn’t surprising it isn’t designed for everyone’s face yet). There was also a slight hole on the bottom where I was able to still see my feet, again I imagine this is just due to the HMD not being designed for everyone.

The first impression of the tech, was that the current dev version of the Oculus Rift in no way compares. The resolution difference is massive, I couldn’t detect any visible latency, but most importantly the head position tracking seemed perfect. The actual feeling of presence was there – something I don’t imagine Oculus will have for years (Edit: What I mean is anything released for consumers commercially by Oculus. Based also on talking to developers who’ve tried the new HD version and Valve’s to compare).

The first demo scene was just a few cubes I was able to walk around and view. The first thing I noticed was how I was the same height off the ground virtually as I would be in normal life, which really added to feeling like I was actually in a room. It also helped get a scale of things – there is a massive sense of scale I found in these demos that I’ve never experienced in a game on a screen. When I saw a very large tower, it felt giant, I could feel it’s scale and really understand it’s size in relation to myself. There was a scene with these massive tree like objects I would have loved to climb.

The first few demos were pretty basic scenes – rectangles, some animated spheres – one with a ledge attempting to give some vertigo. I tried to lay down over the ledge (to see if that would increase the sensation more) but the camera jerk back since apparently my HMD could no longer see the codes on the wall/floor (this was the only time during the demos I had any sort of problems).
They showed a few skyboxes to show its use for 2d pictures and video (Appears to work well for scenes where nothing is too close to you, so you can’t see the parallax changes too easily, but still not at all an immersive experience, any content in the future will have to be 3d real time rendered.)
Other scenes had very detailed models and animations (with familiar Valve characters and scenes). Main thing I took from this was the detail you could see when you got close, moving your head to see the very detailed lighting on a character’s head was definitely different than just trying to walk close in a FPS game.
Another scene was an office space of various stick like men (and some more Valve characters thrown in). It was surprising how well it would work for overhead camera games such as RTS and god games – you literally felt like a god overseeing everything. Rather than zooming in and out you would just move closer to of one of your subjects, and would just stand back to get an overall view. I loved how detailed this office seemed – I could just kneel down to get a better look at the papers on one of the desks, and look around the virtual office at their level.
The last scene of the demo was without a doubt the most incredible – Valve used the cdak demo: There isn’t really anything new I got out of this – was just incredibly beautiful and surreal. It was the only demo where my camera was moving, and I think they might have slowed down the demo scene’s camera movement.

There really was a sense of presence with the tech that I didn’t think was possible (or at least for decades). It’s possible my brain was just more easily tricked than others (and also maybe the extreme hang over and lack of sleep also added to this), but looking back my memories of it are like I was actually there and not just viewing pixels on a screen. It was better than real life – people will get lost in this and not want to leave. Nothing else gives the same escapism – I can imagine becoming completely lost in games for an entire day (something I in no way do currently). Linear non interactive experiences also will be more impactful and meaningful. I understand how VR will take over entertainment because nothing else has such a deep and visceral impact. I have no doubt VR rooms in houses will become a common thing in 5 years.

After the demo was over I talked to the Valve employee for a few minutes afterwards about the tech. And while standing and in the middle of a sentence, I had an incredibly strange weird moment of comparing real life to the VR. I understood that the demo was over, but it was if a lower level part of my mind couldn’t exactly be sure. It give me a very weird existential dread of my entire situation, and the only way I could get rid of that feeling was to walk around or touch things around me (or sit down, basically just get in a situation where I wasn’t just standing still like I was in the VR demo). I tried to walk it off but alcohol was really the only thing that made me shake the feeling completely. Unfortunately since I had to get away from the Valve employee having a bit of a existential crisis because of this I wasn’t able to actually discuss it with him.

It was so incredibly weird that it got me worried about the tech in general – people have worried about us not being able to distinguish reality from entertainment, but in my view there was never really an issue (the absolute lack of found correlation between use of violent video games and violence in real life is an example). But I am worried this will be different – that the line will blur and the entertainment we consume will not just feel like a story we read – it will be something our brains think we actually experienced. I think all entertainment before required some effort for us to be immersed, with reading the most effort, but even with TV and current tech we always have to try to pay attention and form the environment in our heads – I think this makes it naturally different. With this sense of presence, it literally puts you in the environment, I worry that will cause us to not understand the difference between reality and the virtual world.
I don’t just think that will mean desensitization to violence, I actually wonder if psychological problems distinguishing VR from reality will have an impact in the future. When I felt as if I was still in the VR room, that wasn’t a logical conclusion my mind made, I just started to question what input was real. It worries me that while virtual reality will have very little consequences for your actions, reality does, and while I may be able to logically understand the differences I am worried my entire mind won’t.

Even with those concerns, I still do plan to switch to entirely VR focused development in the near future. With a actual market still being at least 2 years away though I don’t feel rushed – and I am fine with others being first and discovering how it’s actually done.

Other Steam Dev Day takeaways:
– The Steam controller will take time to get used to, and will definitely be a worse experience for some games compared to a controller. But for FPS games it’s a massive improvement – the tactical feeling of the track pad makes a large difference – I think with practice I would prefer it over a mouse and keyboard.
– Thanks to some awesome Finnish developers I met, I took a tour of Valve’s offices. Definitely seems like a amazing place to work, very open and comfortable. I can understand how Valve and Google are able to innovate more than others in their industry – they pamper their employees to free them of distractions, and give them the freedom to work towards problems without thinking about the bottom line (Or at least, Google in the past)

Edit: For more comments on this there is a lot of great discussion on Hackernews and Reddit:

Categories: VR

Short Story – The Celestial Search

October 18th, 2013 No comments

A story written for a collection of short stories from myself and a few friends, available on Amazon here. This was inspired by various articles on digital philosophy, specifically Edward Fredkin and Stephen Wolfram – and also Arthur Clarke’s ‘The Last Question

Easier to read PDF available here



The Celestial Search

When Eli had joined the Celestia program two years ago the prospects of discovery were exciting. They were uncovering the very fundamental laws of the universe – getting closer to refining the unified theory to explain all interactions. They had accomplished their goals more than he thought possible in such a short amount of time. Yet all he could think now was how useless that knowledge was – that it would have been better to be ignorant of the universe’s future and grand design. They had discovered everything they could of their closed box – and now the walls were closing in on them.
“You’ll be working with the greatest minds of our time – working on the most fundamental problems of our universe. Unlimited tools at your disposal for research, with technology beyond anything you have ever seen” Edmund Morris had said, pitching the project to Eli before he had joined. Eli was at first reluctant: it would mean leaving his friends and family for months at a time to stay at the remote laboratory – cut off from the outside world and unable to speak to anyone about the research and technology. But he knew he couldn’t refuse – to him it was the Apollo project of his time – more than a hundred years after the Manhattan project and even more significant. The top scientists and engineers from all over the world were being gathered on this project. The immense budget of the project was paid for by the largest nation-states – yet most of the operations had been kept secret from the public. People had known that an extremely high-energy particle accelerator was being built under miles of the desert land, but he doubted that anyone understood the implications and the use of it. The high-energy particle accelerator was a year away from operations when Eli had joined, when he was first introduced to the quantum loop processor.
The output of any significantly large particle accelerator is in petabytes a second, requiring massive server farms to process all the interactions. But when Eli arrived at the Celestia Laboratory there was just a single machine at it’s center, a single server room with the quantum loop processor. The technology of the processor was completely hidden from the modern world – invented almost a generation ago at the labs of Applied Dynamics and kept in complete secrecy from anyone but the highest levels of the military and world government. The reason for this was the implications of the computing power – it made any encryption breakable with just pure brute force, using quantum computer technology to achieve a speed that previous theorists never imagined possible. Quantum algorithms allowed the machine to work on the calculations completely parallel to one another, harnessing all the distinct possibilities represented in a quantum probability wave so as to do many different calculations simultaneously. While the rest of the world advanced with computing technology – continuing Moore’s law doubling in processing speed every two years – only a small group of researchers were able to use the technology, focusing their efforts on bioinformatics and precise particle physics.
Eli had never imagined the implications of such computing power. He had used supercomputers in his past research as a physics graduate – working on small physical models of fundamental particles, but every case he was always held back by the speed and time required of the intense mathematical calculations. His previous simulations of physical interactions would only contain a few particles at a time, modelling the most basic interactions of electrons and photons, since the total computational power required would grow exponentially with every additional particle. But there were no such limits with this processor – he could quickly program a complete simulation of a star with a total amount of fundamental particles and interactions that was just inconceivable.
The quantum loop processor was able to process massive collections of atoms at the scale of solar systems, reaching levels of mass and complexity enough to simulate black holes of infinite density. The problem then became not one of computation but having the exact correct values. Previously in Eli’s work, at the micro subatomic scale, the results of the test seemed to model the real world – electrons behaved as they had been predicted in the standard model, and all the forces interacting were taken account for. But the errors in the simulations were only truly noticeable once you reached the macroscopic – once atoms formed, then molecules, then you could finally see the resulting errors. All simulations were essentially immediately a failure. Any matter brought together larger than an apple would immediately collapse in on itself – higher level atoms were unable to form, and all simulations became a useless cloud of data with no emergent properties. Thus the need for exact correct values for the fundamental forces at work – something that was only possible by measuring particle interactions at extremely high energy levels. Only at these high energies could you actually detect relativistic effects at the quantum scale, and where researchers were able to get the most correct data to find the true universal constants.

The Celestia laboratory’s purpose was not just to analyze the results of the particle accelerator, as Eli had thought before joining – their goal was to create a perfectly accurate digital simulation of reality: a celestial simulation. The research into the correct values for the fundamental forces and the physical simulation software then became complementary. New observational data from the accelerator could then be tested in the simulation, and as the precision of the fundamental constants increased the simulation became more stable and accurate.
Two years after Eli joined the project they reached a point where everything seemed to suddenly fit, where the simulations simply worked. The jigsaw puzzle was suddenly together, all the pieces meeting the precise requirements to function properly.
With this, they had achieved the grand goal of science, Eli thought. They now had the unified theory of everything – a perfectly accurate way to calculate all possible physical interactions. “What we can create, we can understand” was the mantra. Collisions of galaxies and supermassive structures became trivial for the quantum loop processor to simulate, taking only a few seconds to process the massive amount of interactions and possible outcomes over the span of billions of year of simulated time. With the correct data, any physical phenomenon could be simulated and seen. They were then able to analyze all of the small interactions never previously known – deriving the exact formulas for the thermal radiation of black holes to the properties of dark energy.
The next step then became how to simulate the conditions of the big bang, the beginning of the universe and of time. This would not only be the best test of their formulas and calculations, with the most extreme results possible, but it would also allow them to finally completely understand how their own universe was created. They simply needed to correctly model the first conditions – the inflation seed, the infinitesimally small speck of creation. The initial values such as total mass took refining and testing also, as any deviation meant all matter would either stay in a stable position in the singularity or collapse in an instant. Only once they had the exact correct values did the celestial simulation truly start – the explosion and massive instant growth, thousands of years of atom formation, followed by billions of years of stable expansion.
They knew it would not be the same as their universe, even if the first conditions were exact. Due to the uncertainty of quantum mechanics – the fundamental randomness of elementary particles – they could only test one possible universal outcome. With each fundamental interaction between particles the answer wasn’t definite – the final position of those particles was determined by probability. But what they could do was choose one of the possible outcomes – the most probable position at each step – meaning their simulation was only one in the large space of possible universes.
Eli remembered the enthusiasm of that day throughout the laboratory – they felt as if it was their final step, and that that was a reason to celebrate. They never thought about what they could find and how it would affect them – or what it would mean to truly ‘finish’ science, to completely understand everything – for the game they all loved to be over, the eternal truths they had searched for to be found.
The researchers ran the simulation and in almost an instant it was over. The quantum loop processor had taken 0.025 milliseconds to return the calculation – a noticeable lag in time that had never been seen before. They could watch back, looking just at the interactive graphs of the data at a large scale, how the universe had expanded, how the immense amount of particles had formed together to become atoms and soon stars. Eli read the massive values on the display and pictured the results as if he had seen the star in the sky, focusing on a specific star system. There were planets and maybe even earth-like ones, but there was no effort to analyze and search for any possible life at the time. He watched the star’s birth, the forming of the planets around it, and eventually its death, supernovae to form a new solar system.
13.76 billion years of expansion took place, all to collapse in a few thousand years to reform the singularity as it had started.
The excitement of the scientific accomplishment had clouded many of their visions for the first few moments. Only after looking into what had caused the collapse did Eli notice that this was not just a random outcome of the simulation – that the collapse was a fundamental property of the universe itself. That with each simulation they would run the same results would come – that the universe was destined to collapse within a few thousand years of Eli’s own time.
He kept thinking about a possible error in the simulation, that maybe there was a system error that caused the expansion variables to reverse. But as he analyzed further there was no escaping that it was a requirement – that for expansion to happen as it did the collapse was eventual and definite – another necessary piece of their jigsaw puzzle.


“We have to trust in God’s plan, Eli” Edmund said.
Eli and Edmund waited in the room for the other researchers to come in to discuss the simulation’s results. Eli was surprised that he was asked to come, as he was by far one of the youngest researchers on the project, and had barely known any of the other high level researchers coming. He had constantly debated with Edmund since he had arrived at the lab, arguing over every hypothesis until the results were verified, along with philosophy and essentially every subject that came up. It was because of this he and Edmund had a good rapport, able to discuss complex problems with ease. The main point of conflict had been Edmund’s view of ‘god’ – and of his spirituality and Eli’s apparent complete lack thereof.
Edmund had discussed this with Eli in depth before – “God had always been used to explain the unexplainable. Though we now understand the world and its mysteries, that doesn’t take away the fundamental need – to have that first cause, to explain that there something rather than nothing. You can ask if God created the universe then what created God – but that’s exactly why God is needed, to explain the unexplainable.”
For Edmund, God was a metaphor for that which transcends all levels of intellectual thought, one needed to explain what he felt the physical laws could not – consciousness, life, the first cause. While Eli had respect for this view, he had always believed that Edmund took it to an irrational extent – believing in a ‘designer’ universe created for a purpose. He was curious how Edmund could think that now.
“God’s plan?” Eli responded, shaking his head and smirking at Edmund’s ideas. “How could there be a plan to this? How could there be meaning to creating something and destroying it so quickly? Where’s the rationality or justice – where is the point? The universe was ending without a care – simply cause and effect.”
The other researchers walked in as Edmund ended the conversation with a nod – understanding Eli’s argument.


“Simply because it happened in this test doesn’t mean it will happen again – each simulation is different.”
“With each simulation we will get the same results – the same exact date for the contraction” Eli replied, becoming agitated arguing with the older physicist. “It’s not simply a matter of the test anymore – this total mass,” Eli pointed to a number written on the chalkboard behind him, “when reaching this level of expansion, causes the eventual collapse. It is simply math.”
Ten of the researchers argued over the results, as Edmund lead the discussion. Some had gone towards denial, Eli thought, not believing this result was possible and that surely it must have be an error. Others had still viewed this as just a abstract discovery in the simulation – that this wouldn’t apply to our universe the same way.
“It’s true this is only one outcome” Edmund said calmly. “One in the almost infinite supply of possible outcomes. Almost-infinite. What I propose is that we keep running the simulations – we go through all possibilities, one after the other. We run a large number of cosmic simulations parallel to one another, each going through a massive possible space of simulations. With each quantum possibility the simulation would branch off into another one, so that every possible space could be covered and eventually all data is understood. We would have complete access to the outcomes of all possible universes.”
Eli thought about the space of possible particle positions and configurations, realizing that the number of combinations was higher than a googolplex – a number with ten to the hundredths power of digits. It seemed an absurd idea, and a lost cause to him at this point.


“What exactly are you searching for?” Eli argued, confronting Edmund after the discussion. “Even with the power of the quantum loop processor it could take us decades to compute all of those simulations. Hell, more than decades, thousands of years, possibly even longer – longer than we have, or even this universe has. Are you in denial like the rest of them? Believing this collapse and eventual end is just some anomaly?”
“No Eli, I agree with you. Every universe we calculate will have the same fate, just as our own.”
“Then what? Why keep searching?”
Eli was sure he already knew the answer – that Edmund was just unable to accept the reality they had found, that he needed to continue his search as if there is something still to find.
“Because I believe there is an answer waiting to be known. Our search should be for something more” Edmund said, giving a deliberately vague reply. “I don’t just believe we are just modelling reality with our simulations, Eli – I think our simulations exist in the exact same way. Our simulation is simply just a mathematical model of rules just as our own universe functions – there is no distinction.
“We would no longer be just simulating a single universe – but all existence. It’s long been believed that each time a particle’s wave position collapses, each time a quantum outcome is decided upon, that it creates a new universe with each possible quantum state. The ‘Many Worlds’ theory of quantum mechanics. By setting our simulation to do the same, only then would we truly understand all of existence. We would no longer have a simulation of a single universe, but the entire multiverse.
“And just like the simulations we are creating – I believe the multi-verse was created to search for something. That God created this in order to find something – something emergent out of these base first conditions. The multi-verse could simply be a search function through all possible universes – just as we will do. We will find its purpose.”
Eli tried to understand Edmund’s logic. “What could we exactly find that isn’t just more data? That isn’t something I can go ahead and model digitally right now? Everything we try will have the same result – we know it’s fate – the same timed death once the 13.76 billion year time is hit.”
“We simply know the ingredients Eli, the first conditions. We don’t know the result – we have to find it. We have to discover it – find the reason for the multiverse’ grand design.”
“Grand design…” Eli scoffed. “So you still believe the reason the universe exists is to get to a point – to find something? To put the ingredients together to make this grand plan. Then why can’t it just simply exist that way? Why begin with the big bang and search all possible quantum paths towards something, when it can just start with that?”
“Because maybe the solution is unknown to even itself – it just knows the… answer. Just as we create these simulations find something, this multi-verse we inhabit exists for the same reason. It’s trying to find the solution to something, trying to achieve something.
“It could be life Eli, or something alike to life which we can’t even imagine. Life can’t just be created out of nothing – life must emerge. It can’t simply know what life looks like to create it. It’s impossible to start at the end conditions because the calculation to get to the point must be done. Just like for us to find life in our simulations, we must create it.”
Eli tried to understand what Edmund was getting at, giving him a blank stare forcing him to elaborate.
“What I am trying to say Eli, is maybe the answer is already known but the configuration isn’t.” Edmund looked up and closed his eyes, trying to figure out how to explain his reasoning.
“Let me explain something – the question of P equaling NP. Which is an unsolved problem of computer science. What it asks, in simple terms, is whether the computational power required to check if an answer is right equal to the power needed to find it. Most would say that they are not equal – that just because a problem is easy to check if it is right does not mean it is a easy problem to solve. Checking if an answer is correct, and solving a problem, are two very different things. Deciding on a problem’s correctness could be trivial – yet figuring out that solution could be incredibly hard.”
Edmund continued, connecting what seemed like a tangent of the argument to Eli back to the discussion at hand. “So whatever this multi-verse is searching for, whatever its reason, it might know what the answer looks like, but not the solution itself.
“Suppose you were building two large towers by stacking rocks of various sizes, and you needed to make sure the towers are the exact same mass. Now to check the answer to that is very simple – you just add up the rocks and test if they are equal. But to find the correct configuration isn’t that simple – in fact you may need to go through every single possible configuration in order to find the correct one. With 100 rocks, that’s 2 to the power of 100, meaning the amount of configurations is a number with thirty digits, and with each additional rock that number grows exponentially.
“The multi-verse is doing the same – running through every possible configuration searching for something. We must do the same to find it ourselves – whatever it is. Each fundamental particle is a rock, Eli, and the multi-verse is searching for the perfect configuration – the answer.”


“In the extremely rare circumstances where complex life existed – it seemed to be destroyed in almost an instant. A planet hospitable to life was rare, and an environment where complexity flourished and grew was even rarer. In some entire universal simulations there is simply no life to be found beyond the most basic of lifeforms.”
The researcher Dr. Joseph Shea explained this in a completely rational calm tone, simply analyzing the results he had printed out on the page. Only five researchers were in the room now, including Edmund and Eli – most having left once it was clear the eventual collapse was not an anomaly.
Edmund had started the search a year ago, running through what seemed to be an endless amount of possible configurations with no end in near sight. The outside world continued without knowledge of their initial findings, as they had thought would be best – they were not sure of the possible disruption that their results would have. Eli had stayed after many arguments with Edmund, acting as something of a devil’s advocate to what he began to believe also. But now his resignation seemed near. While Edmund had convinced Eli that finding something was possible initially, and inspired him to continue, as the results came in Eli’s faith in Edmund and his search for answers began to fade.
Nothing unknown or unexpected was found. The most complexity in the simulations that emerged was what they had expected – life. To search for life they had analyzed all the current calculated universal configurations for negative entropy – a property unique to life. But nothing was unpredictable, no unknowns were found. Strange life forms came and went – all eventually destroyed as the universes hit their 13.76 billion year timeline.
“We were able to find life that could be considered advanced. Some these lifeforms had language and tool use – and were able to understand themselves and the world around them. Self-awareness in many species seem to be a byproduct of language and abstraction. Once it was needed for a being to talk to others, it seemed to form the concept of self and be able to understand its own position as a conscious being. In one case a complex non-carbon life form existed that was able to understand how to repair and advance itself, evolving its intelligence rapidly through very few generations. But with the last generation it simply stopped progressing – since it was able to modify its own internal pleasure-based nervous system to it’s needs.”
Eli thought of Dr Shea as a zoologist of of some sort – analyzing these strange beings and measuring their progress and evolution. A recurring pattern Eli had quickly noticed after hearing these reports, was that intelligence was in no way the best path for many species. Brute force and strength would normally win, while too great of intelligence would lead to too much abstraction. Once a species begins to question itself, begins to realize its own subjective experience, then it loses the ability to fight as it had before. If the more advanced life simply died as easily as the rest, Eli thought, then life could not be the answer they were searching for.
“Tools use was prominent in species and much more frequent than complex language. But with this came self destruction and harm. With greater advance of tool use intelligence meant greater conquering of the environment and power in individuals rather than groups – leading to many of the species’ own self destruction, or even destruction of their home planet. With language and abstraction this became even more prevalent. With one species that could be considered close to humans – carbon life form, complex society with empathy, emotion, and art – it too simply destroyed itself and its environment once it reached a significant state of technology.”
The researchers were now able to watch as life flourished in their simulations, only to die off or never reach a state of significant complexity.
Eli could render the earth-like habitable planets on his office’s holographic screen – watching the entire time span of the planet’s life in only a few moments. In every case no matter how unique the species was, the eventual result was the same. Even if the species was in a state of equilibrium in their environment, even if they could last billions and billions of years, the final 13.76 point hit and it would all end. Civilizations would rise and crumble in an instant, as the weather would change, the environment would become hostile, and other species would rise.
“Can you see how wrong we are now, Edmund?” Eli said, interrupting the report. “How could this universe’s purpose be life, when it was so hostile against it? When it was so uncaring and unlikely. Life it seems was just a hiccup, a random fluctuation of still matter so easily fixed and replaced. A by-product that quickly solved itself.”
“Our search isn’t nearly complete, Eli” Shea argued.
“Will it truly ever be ‘complete’? Definitely not in our lifetimes, and very unlikely before the end of it all. What are you expecting to find? What will be your destination?” Eli directed his speech at Edmund. “Even if we find life as advanced as man it will still have the same fate – we will still be just an observer to its eventual death. Self-aware monkeys find self aware pelecypods! How is that a noble goal? What could another being teach us, or help us in any way? Our destiny is known. The Celestia program wasn’t about finding life – it was about finding the universal constants and we have done that. We are simply continuing this search because we all know there is nothing left to find. This program is over – we should now try to go back to the ignorance we had before. What the fuck does it really matter what we find now?” Eli suddenly burst out, adding emotion to what were usually his cold and calculated answers. “It all ends! That’s the result, no matter where we look it’s all going to be the exact same. We can run through an almost infinite number of different simulations all we want, nothing will change that. This program should have never existed, we were never meant to have the knowledge we have now. If our universe has no meaning we should have never found out, we should never had known. Just as if there was no light in the universe it would have been better to not have eyes – to not know it was dark, dark would be without meaning.”
Eli continued as the others stayed silent. “After its glorious few billion years of existence not even a memory will remain of all this. No tears will be shed, no great art painted in its honour – it’ll simply be gone. We’ve been part of the infinitely many iterations of the multi-verse exploding and collapsing in on itself, just as we were one of the trillions of planets in the universe, just as we were one of the trillions to the power of hundreds of possible outcomes. With the illusion of importance and meaning coming from us being lost in it. But both ways we look, from the macro to the micro, we see more how irrelevant we are. Lost in the infinite chaos. This world had started as just a random chaotic creation, and it’ll end just the same.”
“Lost in the infinite chaos, Eli?” Edmund said, speaking for the first time that meeting. “That’s a matter of perspective. When we consider the scale of our universe, something around ten to the power of thirty meters, compared to the size of the smallest distance – Planck’s length – ten to the minus thirty five meters, that doesn’t tell me how we are lost in all this chaos, what it shows me Eli is that we are in the middle of it. Maybe the purpose isn’t just life Eli – maybe it’s simply us. Maybe we need to change our search to find ourselves.”
“And what makes us so different from all other life Edmund? Why are humans so special? The path and patterns will be the same – some will destroy themselves, others will die out, and some might somehow reach a high level of technology without destroying themselves. What are we to gain by finding ourselves in this simulation? Sure we could go through man’s timeline and look at our history – or even look at all the wonderful possible histories we could have had – but we all know how it ends. Do you still hold the belief that man was created in God’s image, Edmund? That maybe this was all created just for man – and these other lifeforms are what, just experimental fuck ups? That the vast majority of the matter in the universe is all here for an almost insignificant amount of life? Why have this giant show for just us – the stage is too big for the drama.”
“We are unique Eli – in all our searching no other species has achieved what we have – no other species has been able to truly understand its place in their universe like us. None could have built the quantum loop processor. Or these simulations.”
“I thought the search was for something we couldn’t understand – to find something in the multi-verse that was beyond our initial conditions and predictions. To find something that could make sense of things. Now your saying this is all here, just so what, we can enjoy it? The universe’s purpose is just to have humans in it – just so we can be another life form that is sprung up and eventually dies? And what makes us special, is our ability to understand the universe? So that’s Gods plan then Edmund, as you see it, that God is so vain as to just create all this so there is someone to view his brilliance.”
“Maybe our purpose is not just to observe the universe, but to truly understand its grand design. What I saying Eli, is maybe the search will end with ourselves – maybe man was the goal of the universe all along” Edmund replied.
“Design? Goal?” Eli shrugged. “There is no design to this – there is no purpose. Just because we are here, does not mean this universe was created for us. Your stubbornness reminds me of the story of a puddle on the ground, Edmund – it wakes up one morning and thinks, ‘This is an interesting world I find myself in, an interesting hole I find myself in, fits me rather neatly, doesn’t it? In fact it fits me so well, must have been made to have me in it!’ But then the sun rises in the sky, and as the air heats up and the puddle begins to evaporate, it still hangs on to the notion that everything is going to be alright. Because the world was meant for him! So the moment you disappear might catch you by surprise, might not make sense. But it was simply another cause and effect, Edmund.”
“You don’t believe that, Eli,” Edmund replied. “Otherwise why are you still here?”


“All I ask of you Eli, is you keep searching”.
Edmund had announced his retirement months ago, but only now was Eli realizing that without Edmund he was alone with his thoughts. The other researchers had all been replaced with analysts and engineers, to Eli no one else seemed to have understood the implications of what they had discovered nearly a decade ago.
“Even if we do find humans in these simulations Edmund, where will that lead us?”
“I don’t know, Eli. But I wonder, if we are able to find man, could we find man creating simulations the same as we are doing? Perhaps different tools, different teams, or possibly we could even find ourselves creating simulations – think about where that would lead.”
“To an infinite loop” Eli smirked. “The machine would keep calculating recursively into more simulations, never stopping.”
“So what I am saying Eli, is if there was a machine with infinite computing power, it could regressively create more simulations endlessly. If that is the case, then what makes us think we are on the top, that we are the creators? We could very well be a billion simulations deep into regressive simulations.”
“So this is a simulation then, is that your point?”
“Isn’t it more likely that we are part of a simulation, than not? If an almost infinite amount of simulations exist compared to one true reality? These simulations are closed mathematical realities – if we were in one there is no way for us to possibly know…”
“The quantum loop processor does not have infinite computing power Edmund, no machine does. If the quantum loop processor entered an infinite loop such as you’re suggesting, it would simply never exit. Our processor still requires time to calculate these simulations – if we were to enter an infinite loop our universe would still end eventually, taking the processor with it. As interesting as the idea might seem to you, it leads us nowhere. Even if we did have infinite computing power and were able to start infinitely creating simulations – what exactly would be the point? Why Edmund…. why!? Why would we want to continue this infinite loop, when everything has the exact same fate? How does this explain the first cause Edmund? Why is this loop started, and why should it continue? We would never be closer to explaining why all this exists in the first place.”
“What I am saying Eli is not simply that we are possibly in a simulation – but that is there really a difference? If a simulation exists in the same way as our reality, does it matter? If we can exist in either, both realities are just mathematical constructions. Maybe the transcendent property we are searching for is this Eli – this loop.”


Eli watched in the simulation as a few humans went about their lives – searching for food, caring for their families, fighting for their lives in the hostile environment. This simulation had only produced hunter-gatherers in its existence, yet they seemed to live in complete equilibrium with their environment.
“In all of the current simulations found with species closely matching the DNA of man, the vast majority of them had been the same. Man never reaching a significant level of technology – achieving nothing even close to the technology of the quantum loop processor.”
The young physicists explained the recent findings to Eli, as he watched the simulation displayed in front of him barely listening. Most of the original researchers of the Celestia project had gone years ago. Edmund had left over a year before they had found Earth, leaving Eli as the oldest researcher in the lab.
Eli pressed on the display to slow down one of the simulations being calculated, zooming in on a precise area to watch. He had read graphs and displays about the Earth’s data and progress, but had never taken the time to watch any of the interactions himself.
There didn’t seem to be anything particularly unique to humans – they had the same trends and habits as other lifeforms they had found. They had found lifeforms with what could be called ‘consciousness’ before – awareness of themselves and their environment, but before watching these humans interact with one another Eli had never really realized what that meant. What ‘self awareness’ in these simulations truly would mean – that they had been creating life just as their universe had. That these humans had their own subjective experience – and for the first time Eli could relate and feel empathy for them. As Edmund had said, if the physical matter in these simulations followed the same rules and had the same properties as his universe, does it not exist in the same way? Both were simply mathematical constructions.
With every step forward of the simulation, Eli felt he wasn’t just calculating another abstract model but actually creating something – it was more than just data. Before that moment the experience these humans were having did not exist – Eli was defining it.
“What… are you doing?” The younger researcher asked, as Eli stared at the display, watching the humans interact with one another.
Eli had always thought of these simulations as a predetermined calculation. But if he could stop the simulation, was it determined if it was never actually calculated? Did these lives in the simulations not still have free will the same as Eli, their actions and thoughts not existing until the calculation was done?


After witnessing the lives of the found humans, Eli decided to continue his own. He decided he had spent too much of his time away from society focused on these problems, when he should have been focused on his own life. As the senior researcher Eli made the decision to stop the Celestia program. He left the quantum loop processor intact however, completely self sustained, still running through the calculations and possible configurations with no one left to analyze the results. It had only reached a small amount of the configurations when Eli had left.
Eli had realized there was no need to analyze the simulations – that they would not find what they were searching for – but he felt it was necessary for the simulations to still run. Continuing the calculations, Eli thought, could mean he was creating life beyond the project, defining life and worlds that had previously not existed.
Centuries passed as the simulations were calculated and defined by the quantum loop processor – as humanity continued its existence up until the eventual universal collapse. Only an exact moment before the universal collapse did the processor stop its calculation – hitting its final configuration.
The processor had hit the exact same universal configuration of its own universe. It had defined itself, reaching its purpose.
Every fundamental particle was needed to reach this point, every interaction part of the search. Man was exactly as what was needed to created the quantum loop processor and the Celestia program. With the exact universal constants and properties that were necessary – the necessary conditions needed for itself to have existed.
Reality had defined itself, making A=A. It had been its own first cause – existing for the purpose of creating itself. It had finished its search.

Contact me with any thoughts / comments on the story

Categories: Stories