A Game Designer’s Approach to Bringing Complex Cybersecurity Visualization to Life

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Sagar Mohite is a visualization artist and computer programmer based in New York City. He began his career in game design and is now a data visualization researcher at Uplevel Security, a cybersecurity startup.

On the surface, this seems like an unorthodox career transition. However, the evolution of visual design makes this a more synergistic move than you might think. Mohite has used his game designer background to innovate in cybersecurity, and his work in cybersecurity motivated him to complete a passion gaming project resulting in the launch of Hyperspace, a surreal 12-dimensional science fiction exploration game that features 10 true spatial dimensions and two time dimensions.

I sat down with Mohite to talk about his approach to strategic visualization and how he applies it both in his day job and in his passion project.

What motivated you to transition to a career in cybersecurity after eight years as a designer?

Modern security operations are lagging behind in the design and visualization revolution taking place in the rest of the tech industry. While a lot of platforms have advanced in technically aggregating data, very few are actually making efforts to render that information in a context-aware manner. I often like to draw an analogy of comparing Walkmans to iPods. Basically any business or project that can use good design principles and smarter engineering to improve themselves, offers a core opportunity for creativity. And I saw this opportunity when I came across the work that Uplevel was doing to improve incident response in the cybersecurity space, using graph theory to extract insights from security data.

How did you convince your employer to hire you in your current role given your lack of cybersecurity experience?

My interview at Uplevel was an unconventional one. I was approached by Uplevel Security after someone liked my previous work in the field of visualization. In the interview, I actually ended up demonstrating the rendering engine I built for Hyperspace. It is the core piece of software that takes data structures with multiple dimensions and visualizes them in 2D space.

It turned out that a lot of the problems that need to be solved when developing a smart incident response platform for security operations, have a lot in common with the core principles of design, including game design, UX design or visual design.

What aspects of your gaming project did you apply to the cybersecurity platform you helped build?

Just like designing gameplay mechanics, the goal with designing a cybersecurity platform is to focus on complexion reduction while bringing into picture the context and intelligence at hand.

To answer this question more specifically, creating Hyperspace involved designing ways to navigate complex structures on a flat 2D screen. The work that went into designing such ways was very similar to designing visualizations that allows security analysts to navigate Uplevel’s multidimensional-graph data structure on flat interfaces. What I want to clarify here is that the idea is not to design a cybersecurity platform like a game, but rather to share and apply the core basic principles of good interaction design to both types of software. So in the end, while they look and feel completely different and cater to a totally different audience, both platforms exhibit features like efficient navigation, information discovery, ease of use and clean and simple visual aesthetics.

What was the experience like building a first-of-its-kind cybersecurity platform by day and designing a highly-conceptual game by night?

While designing both of these solutions share a lot in common in theory, there are a lot of differences you have to be aware of when solving specific day-to-day problems. Despite the fact that both the challenges reside in the same genre, tackling specific visual design problems for both require a different strategy. I cherish such variation when I’m working on multiple visualization projects every day.

What is unique about the game you built?

Hyperspace actually started out as a data visualization project when I was exploring different ways to visualize higher dimensional objects and spaces. It is the world’s first twelve-dimensional science fiction game featuring ten true spatial dimensions and two-time dimensions. It projects and visualizes mathematically higher dimensional shapes in 3D space and creates a way for players to explore and navigate these vast terrains.

The two time dimensions are designed to guide your entire gameplay. They allow you to not only make multiple choices at the same time but also use mathematical constructs like Lorentz transformations to smoothly go from one position in space-time to another place in another time.

What is your visualization advice to others trying to make breakthroughs in game design and cybersecurity?

The first step in approaching any design project is to identify and define the problem at hand as thoroughly as possible. This is because designing solutions to well- defined problems is much easier than designing something that we don’t clearly understand. The other advice would be to break down each problem into smaller, elementary problems and reduce the complexity required at each level until we address each of them individually.

We are surrounded by complex interconnected data in this information age, but that doesn’t mean we need to manually process and be overwhelmed by such complexity. With the understanding that algorithms, computers and machines are designed specifically with the intention of making our lives and jobs easy, it should not be a surprise that the interfaces and visualizations you design that allows people to interact with machines should be a simple one, be it for work or entertainment.

Author: Mikala Vidal

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