Is Nervana worth getting excited about? : LUSENET : Robot Wisdom : One Thread

Slashdot today (8 Oct 99) features a supposedly new 3D algorithm in a game called Nervana.

The demos and documents suggest the 3D part was a late addition, and the real interest of the designer is artificial personality.

Anyone see anything cool there, or is it as lame as the Slashdotters claim?

-- Jorn (, October 08, 1999


Canis paraphrases Tom B: "I'd love to make a Virtual Reality system that drew a complete, realistic island, inhabited by realistic AI personalities, and I've spent the past few years trying to make one, and all I have to show for it is some laughably outdated screenshots of barren landscape."

The Info-Mac demo also has an alife where he chimps run around crazily, and the docs claim they're learning fear and desire.

I think this guy is somebody to watch, but I agree lots of people have gone the same path with highest expectations and delivered zilch.

Tom definitely has some programming chops, and takes a creative approach to each of the challenges he faces.

(Was this sort of compact 3D ever implemented on the C64? Wolfenstein, for example?)

-- Jorn (, October 09, 1999.

I got e-mailed the demo this morning by a trusted source and played with it for a bit. The demo is nothing cosmic by my standards, lots of artifacting in the rendering process.

I can't tell from the web site what it is he's actually pushing, it seems to be some sort of geometry management database. It's possible that he's got something worthwhile coming from that, but the demo certainly doesn't show it off.

-- Dan Lyke (, October 08, 1999.

There doesn't appear to be anything interesting there. I mean, there's some wishful thinking _about_ cool ideas, but nothing new, nothing concrete. It's just some guy saying, "I'd love to make a Virtual Reality system that drew a complete, realistic island, inhabited by realistic AI personalities, and I've spent the past few years trying to make one, and all I have to show for it is some laughably outdated screenshots of barren landscape."

It's all very well saying you're going to make a game with "sentient personalities" in it, and if this is ever possible, then, certainly, it'd revolutionise gaming. But that is a goal currently far beyond the reach of the _entire AI research community_. This guy is just playing pipe-dreams.

And there's nothing wrong with that, if he wants to play with toy AI research, or even get involved in real AI research, or play with toy VR graphics stuff, or even get involved in real VR graphics stuff -- but it's not headline news. And what he has right now, is incredibly lame. The graphics are the easiest to judge for potential lame-ness, since we can see them right there on the page:

I downloaded the demo and played with it, and looks even worse when it's moving, due to the artifacts Dan mentions.

It appears to be a fairly crude "voxel" (VOlumetric piXEL) engine, with some kind of random-seed fractal-based landscape generator. I saw that done in realtime in 4kbytes in the "Mars Demo" back in 93/94, and I remmeber typing the listing for a non-realtime version into the BBC Micro from the pages of a magazine back in the mid-80s.

If you want to see state-of-the-art (videogame-wise, anyway -- obviously there's high-end research-level stuff too) then check out some screenshots from "Outcast", or from "Halo", or from "Black & White", just to pick three at random. Outcast uses voxels, Halo and B&W use polygons with fairly good "dynamic level of detail" stuff.

B&W for instance demonstrates zooming in to show a worm wriggling out of a hole in an apple which (as becomes apparent as you zoom out) is resting on a barrel in the back yard of a small mud hut in a village in one corner of one small continent of several on a small planet. And the Lionhead guys (they're just down the road from here) have been working on it for a lot less time than the Nervana guy.

Frankly, the only reason any of us have heard of Nervana is because Douglas Rushkoff was conned into doing a piece about it in The Guardian. The Guardian is a good newspaper for political and social issues, but falls down flat when it comes to technology: The Observer (its Sunday "sister-paper") just published the, er, startling revelation, that it's now possible to get high on drugs downloaded across (NOT order from!) the Internet! Somebody's been taking Snow Crash just that _little_ bit too seriously...

-- Canis (, October 08, 1999.

There seems to be a lot of confusion about the Nervana Project and the Rushkoff article even though it was written more than two years ago. The technology Rushkoff was writing about was a spin off from the Nervana Project. The Nervana Project itself now uses a number of different graphics engines - including OpenGL.

The Nervana Simulation and the Nervana Project have been the core technologies I have continued to develop. The discussion of natural algorithms in the Rushkoff article are central to the Nervana Project as it continues to be maintained and developed to this day.

As the Nervana Project is Open Source, I welcome any contributions or feedback.

Tom Barbalet Founder, the Nervana Project

-- Tom Barbalet (, February 14, 2002.

Listen up you low life tall poppy hacking hax!

Its easy to write a long winded critical email utilizing your newly attained IT industry lingo-jargon(yes i know im tautologising)from your subsciption to PC TODAY magazine but it aint easy to dedicate half ya feckin life to creating an interactive VR that incorporates physics, psychology, biology and chaos-theory not to mention delivering a truly polymorphic non-polygonal graphics engine.

Thats the longest sentance ive used in a long time. E-mail makz u lazy...

Anyway...Go back to playing Quake ya dikhed!

Your talking shyt and you need 2 wipe ya mouth. Ive known Tom basically my whole life and i tell u one thing buddy. Nervana aint like Nirvana. It won't shoot itself in the head let alone the foot. The thing you forget man is that a demo is a demo. The original code was written on a machine that had the same kind of processing power as an Amiga 500. Get it into your head buddy. You write the code so that it can utilize the full potential of the multi-processing power of modern machines and Nervana will deliver unto you a world that can shatter, break, or bruise. Twist and contort. Distraught. And distort... Dribble b4 ya eyes. Blink. Feel hungry and sleep...

Keep it real homeboy....

-- Alex Brooks (2canPlay@bullshytegutlessemail.addys), October 02, 2002.

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