June 04, 2009

Gestural Natives

I've been thinking about the implications of the advances in gestural technology shown at E3 this week: Microsoft's Natal and Sony's 3D input technology. On reflection, I think the most profound implications for gestural technology are going to be in the longer term.

Just as we've been raising a generation of digital natives, the Wiimote and its more advanced successors could be the start of a generation of gestural natives. Remember that Marc Prensky's digital native thesis is that children raised in an environment of interactive technologies are wired differently than their digital immigrant predecessors. They perceive, process, and respond to information differently. (Not better or worse, just differently.)

It seems quite possible to me that children raised in an environment that includes the Wiimote, Natal, Sony's 3D input device, and even (to a lesser degree) multi-touch devices such as the iPhone could be wired differently from their D-pad-using older brothers and sisters. We've raised a generation of kids who are extremely proficient at making what is a fairly abstract connection between mashing buttons and seeing the corresponding results on the screen. (Yes, if you're in or past your early 40s, this is one of the reasons your kids thrash you at video games.) This next generation, the gestural natives, could be equally proficient at using gestural interfaces.

So what are the implications of this? I can think of two.

First, as the children and teenagers of today become the workforce of tomorrow, they're going to expect gestural interfaces and be frustrated and less productive when they don't have them -- just as the digital natives of today are frustrated by linear, non-interactive experiences. We have to be aware of this as we’re designing the information technology tools of tomorrow.

Second, we all know from experience that great artists generally have to grow up with the media in which they practice. Think about the earliest movies that you truly enjoy, not as historical artifacts, but as legitimately good cinema. My guess is that most people would point to Gone With the Wind, The Wizard of Oz, Citizen Kane, or Casablanca, all movies made in the late 1930s and early 1940s -- a good 25-30 years after The Birth of a Nation. I would argue that modern media and Moore's Law are shortening cycle times for familiarity with new technologies, but still, I don't think we're going to see the full potential of gestural input until we have designers who have been immersed in it for many years. So don’t look for the DW Griffith of gestural input -- much less the Victor Fleming, Orson Welles, or Michael Curtiz -- anytime in the immediate future.

August 17, 2007

Lockheed Martin Acquires 3Dsolve

I'm pleased to be able to blog about the acquisition of 3Dsolve, the firm I co-founded and for which I've served as COO, by Lockheed Martin. The news broke about an hour ago, which means at last I can talk about something we've been working on for months now.

From the press release:

Lockheed Martin Corporation announced it has acquired 3Dsolve, Inc. Terms of the transaction were not disclosed. 3Dsolve is a privately held company that creates simulation-based learning solutions for government, military and corporate applications. The company's innovative software tools assist clients with collaborative training utilizing interactive 3D graphics (aka, "serious games")...

"The acquisition of 3Dsolve will strengthen our ongoing initiatives in the rapidly growing training and simulation market, allowing us to provide a broader array of solutions and services to our expanding customer base," said Dale Bennett, President, Lockheed Martin Simulation, Training & Support (LM STS). "This transaction represents a solid strategic fit for our business and will enable us to strengthen our core competencies, leverage the talents of our employee base and support Lockheed Martin Corporation's long-term strategy of value expansion." ...

"We are very pleased to join LM STS to address exciting opportunities. With our experience in gaming, visualization and training combined with Lockheed Martin's expertise and resources, we intend to be the leader in simulation-based learning," said Richard Boyd, CEO of 3Dsolve, now Director of the Lockheed Martin 3D Learning Systems.

This acquisition is exciting for my teammates and me. We've always felt like we had superior technology. Now we get to see what we can do when that technology is backed up by the world's largest defense contractor. I'm interested to start learning about the depth and breadth of resources we'll be able to call on.

On a personal note, this is validation for a tremendous amount of work and sacrifice put in by a dedicated group of people. The startup life isn't the easiest career path to follow, but the rewards are tremendous -- not just when your company is purchased, which is great, but more from the daily experience of working with people whom you like, trust, and respect (to borrow a phrase from Alex Osadzinski).

For those of you wondering why I haven't blogged in over three weeks, I hope this explains it. The negotiations and due diligence were a tremendous amount of work for a number of people -- at 3Dsolve, Lockheed Martin, and our respective law firms. My days consisted mostly of working on the acquisition until the evening, coming home to rest for an hour or two, heading out to the gym, returning home to crawl into bed, and sleeping a few hours before starting the process over again the next day. Blogging fell off the list. I'm hopeful that now I'll be able to get back to a more regular schedule.

June 15, 2007

Business Leader Cover Story

As I've noted before, I don't typically talk about 3Dsolve on my blog; given the nature of our work, I would undoubtedly have to compromise some of the other things I say here. But it's a rule I bend on occasion, and this seems like a good one:

Business Leader Cover
3Dsolve CEO Richard Boyd on the cover of the June issue of Business Leader magazine.

The cover story of this month's issue of Business Leader magazine, "Gaming Is Big Business: Pioneers Lead Resurgence in Local Marketplace", is on gaming and serious gaming in the Triangle area of North Carolina, where we're located. 3Dsolve gets the cover photo and the lion's share of the story:

The Triangle's gaming-hub status is the result of some serious technology pioneers. At one time, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill housed the world’s fastest graphics computer. Raleigh native David Smith created "The Colony" -- the original first-person 3-D computer adventure game -- while local entrepreneur Richard Boyd has helped create games such as "SSN" as spin-offs of Tom Clancy's bestselling books. Additionally, Raleigh-based Epic Games recently sold the movie rights to New Line Cinema for its "Gears of War," which was named Game of the Year by the Academy of Interactive Arts & Sciences.

"We brought in people from all over the planet to work here in computer gaming" during the 1990s, Boyd says of himself and Smith, as well as executives at Epic Games and Red Storm. But the dot-com bust of the early 21st century left the industry reeling. "The period after the bubble burst was sort of a nuclear winter for gaming. There wasn’t a lot of local investment in the industry," he says.

To combat the economic depression, in 2001 Boyd, Smith and Frank Boosman -- who along with Tom Clancy were among the creative minds behind Morrisville-based Red Storm -- co-founded 3Dsolve, a Cary-based company that develops innovative technologies such as three-dimensional graphics as a medium to solve issues in government, military, and corporate functions. Since then, several other gaming companies have arrived, resulting in a strengthened local industry once again...

For the past five years, 3Dsolve has collaborated with the U.S. Department of Defense to train military personnel to identify explosive devices, set up communications shelters and maintain vehicles, among other skills. The company now is taking its software into commercial markets to train businesses using that first-person gaming experience.

"A game environment is a place where you really care about what's happening, rather than sitting back passively, watching a PowerPoint presentation," says Boyd, 3Dsolve's CEO. "It's all part of the experience." ...

In his book, "Digital Game-Based Learning," author Marc Prensky discusses the concept of digital natives, or people who have grown up with the Internet and video games...

"They socialize differently," says Richard Boyd, co-founder and president of Cary-based 3Dsolve, of digital natives. "You can't get in front of them and show them a video or do a chalk talk to try and train them. They're spending more time in the evenings in online virtual worlds or playing games." ...

3Dsolve, for one, is harnessing the medium for training and education. "Understanding how digital natives prefer to have their media experiences and socialize will shape the media landscape over the next decade," Boyd says. "The area is poised to be the leaders in that revival, and we expect 3Dsolve to be a part of it."

May 02, 2006

NCSGI Workshop: Academic Presentation Notes

The North Carolina Serious Games Initiative held its first event today, a Workshop on Collaboration in the North Carolina Serious Games Space. One idea behind the event was to bring together two audiences -- academic researchers and commercial developers focused on serious games projects -- to enable awareness and cross-pollination between the groups. Another reason for holding the workshop was to demonstrate that North Carolina is already a center of excellence for serious games, and for the assembled attendees to discuss how best to build on this in the future.

The day was structured as a series of short presentations, with the academics speaking in the morning. I focused my note-taking on those sessions, all of which were interesting. As a graduate student from UNC Chapel Hill said of himself and his colleagues at the end of the day, "We're stunned by the breadth of serious games research happening here in North Carolina." I wasn't able to take notes for every talk, but most of them are here.

James Lester, NCSU Computer Science

James' group is focused on human-computer interaction and communication, creating "flexible, adaptive systems that fundamentally enhance human problem-solving. His group is researching "adaptive interaction," defined as "tracking beliefs, preferences, goals, and plans of the user to provide customized advice" within applications such as education, training, analysis, and entertainment. To do this, he's building software that performs plan recognition, misconception detection, evaluation of the user's current knowledge state, and evaluation of usage and learning styles and preferences.

Tiffany Barnes, UNC Charlotte Future Computing Lab

Tiffany's research interests include serious games, advanced learning technologies (educational data mining, intelligent tutoring and agents), and diversity in computing.

The idea behind Tiffany's Game2Learn project is to build a game where students learn computer science as they play. Their programs affect the game world, and later they can create new areas in the game world. She's just beginning to look at educational applications beyond computer science, including English, history, and others. Her students are currently using Unreal Tournament 2004 to build a fantasy role-playing game in which the gameplay involves creating programs to solve problems.

To address intelligent tutoring and agents, Tiffany's group is building virtual students: agents that interact with students like peers. They're able to observe and ask questions of students, as well as answer questions posed by students.

Adriana de Silva e Souza, NCSU Communication

Adriana is investigating mobile communication technologies: what happens to our relationships with spaces and the Internet when we have devices that are continuously connected to the Internet. She's using location-based mobile games to research this. She used the term "hybrid reality games" to describe this space: Botfighters (2001, Sweden), Mogi Mogi (2004, Japan), and Frequency 1550 (2005, Netherlands). In terms of potential users for hybrid reality games, Adriana cited education and tourism, among others.

Len Annetta, NCSU College of Education

Len talked about "HI FIVES: Highly Interactive Fun Internet Virtual Environments in Science" -- building tools that enable Grades 5-9 teachers to build video games themselves to facilitate science education. They started with Active Worlds but have since switched to Half-Life 2 for the forthcoming version of their tool.

"We don't stop playing because we grow old. We grow old because we stop playing." -- Oliver Wendell Holmes

"The worst thing a kid can say about homework is that it is too hard. The worst thing a kid can say about a game is it's too easy." -- Henry Jenkins, MIT


  • This is what kids are doing
  • Estimates suggest 3.38 billion hours are spent engaged in video games per year
  • Game industry was $10 billion last year
  • 2000 NAEP results suggest 29% of 4th graders, 32% of 8th graders, and 18% of 12th graders performed at or above proficient levlels in science
Why is this happening (i.e., why do proficiency levels drop so dramatically)? Because we're just lecturing material, memorizing instead of internalizing. Our goal is to make science real to kids -- real to their outside lives.

Anselmo Lastra, UNC Computer Science

Anselmo showed examples of research in virtual environments, including "redirected walking," which uses manipulation of the visual representation of a virtual space to manipulate how a user moves while wearing an immersive display -- in the example shown, a user was placed in a very small room but tricked (through visual clues) into thinking they were walking in a much larger space. Another example shown was procedurally generated house interiors -- using rules to create unlimited numbers of spatially distinct but plausible houses for large virtual environments.

Christopher Healey, NCSU Computer Science

Christopher's research focus is visualization for serious games development and other applications. He showed a variety of examples of innovative techniques for visualizing multiple datasets within a single image or animation. His visualization techniques are designed to be perceptually optimal, multidimensional, real-time, and use dynamic reconfiguration to adapt to viewers' changing interests and needs.

Michael Young, NCSU Computer Science

Michael runs NCSU's Liquid Narrative group. NCSU has a focused effort in serious games, bringing together the Education, Communication, Design, and Computer Science departments, brought together in the Center for Digital Entertainment. The Liquid Narrative group is focused on AI for games. Example AI problems they're looking at include story generation and adaptation, intelligent camera control, and cognitive modeling. A lot of their work involves taking ideas from other disciplines (drama, cognitive psychology, linguistics, film, etc.). The challenge is that most of this work is non-computational, so Michael's group has to build computational models based on this existing knowledge.

Michael described a platform his group is building, Zocalo. Zocalo is a "service-oriented architecture" for game control. It's currently compatible with both Unreal Tournament 2004 and Source. Current services research done within Zocalo includes:

  • Task planning
  • Cognitive modeling
  • Natural language generation
  • Camera control
What's all this good for? Integrating existing commercial game engines with complex AI toolkits. Generating tailored novel game experiences. Structuring game experiences so that key features of the story are clear to players. Allowing self-adapting interaction in the face of unexpected user behavior.

Ben Watson, NCSU Computer Science

Ben's group is focused on what he calls Design Graphics:

  • Imagery about designed objects: Automating 3D modeling for digital production
  • Imagery as designed objects: Automating graphic design to convey information
  • Designed display: New types of pictures matching the way we see
  • Visual design fundamentals: Applied perceptual experiments
With automated (or procedural) modeling, Ben is addressing the problem of increased content requirements for next-generation game consoles. He showed an impressive-looking demonstration of layering procedurally generated homes on a scanned grid of streets. His future directions include more diversity, higher-level control, changes over time, and lower-level objects like cars, furniture, and appliances.

Ben also showed "adaptive frameless rendering", which is an effort to create a rendering algorithm that functions more like the human visual system -- abandoning the concept of an animation as a series of static frames.

April 21, 2006

We Have a Logo


If we make t-shirts, does that mean we're done?

This logo is for the North Carolina Serious Games Initiative, which is holding its first event in less than two weeks. The logo was designed by Tim Buie, Assistant Professor in the Department of Industrial Design at NC State University, and a co-chair (along with Michael Young and me) of our event. Tim did a fantastic job with very little time. I've always had a thing for good logo design, and this is a great example of it.

More on NCSGI and our upcoming event soon.

March 22, 2006

SGS 2006: More SGS Coverage

Here and here.

March 21, 2006

SGS 2006: "Serious Games Case Study Blasts"

Serious Games Case Study Blasts

Michael Hillinger, Norwich University
Chuck Kinzer, Columbia University

CO2FX is a global warming simulation for students. The underlying model -- which is preexisting and was built using Stella, a systems simulation tool -- includes not only the carbon cycle but also political, social, and other factors. The front end was built using Flash in less than six months for less than $100,000. It can be played here.

The game is multi-user. Three students sit at one computer, and they represent one country. Other countries are represented and tie into the model. Students play policy, economic, or science advisors. The game is set up to encourage students to take into account the same factors as would the real-world counterparts for their positions -- in other words, to fight for and against the things they'd be likely to care about, and therefore to work with and against each other.

Filip Fastenaekels, VRT
Swen Vincke, Larian Studios

Kids Interactive Community (KIC) is a Belgian service where kids create content (drawings, animations, content, and more). It's linked to a companion TV show. Each day, editors at the service select the "best" content and it's shown on TV, with a VJ-like host providing commentary.

Kevin Harvey, University of Illinois at Chicago
Freddy Guime, University of Illinois at Chicago

Our mission is to train public health workers for the city of Chicago. We've created a massive multiplayer online simulation of vaccine and medicine distribution.

The dangers:

  • Bioterrorism attack (smallpox, anthrax)
  • Outbreaks (pan-flu, the Plague)
Our challenge:
  • Develop an online simulation of a mass medication dispensing and vaccination center (DVC) and record worker performance
  • The game must play on department computers (not gaming computers)
  • 20,000-50,000 need training in a DVC to be able to distribute medication and/or vaccinations to all 2.9 million Chicago residents within 48 hours
Previous solutions:
  • Classroom instruction (limited in size, difficult to get workers away from their desks)
  • Live exercises and drills (hard to get workers to attend, hard to assess performance, shuts down other services)
  • Paper drills
  • Online courses (takes care of theoretical / didactical portion)
Create a computer simulation:
  • Simulate DVC operations
  • Present challenges to individuals and groups
  • Test critical thinking and problem solving
  • Allow for multiplayer communication and collaboration to solve challenges
We decided that what was important was not modeling the physical space (e.g., the layout of the DVC space), but the "thinking space". We use videos of actors for face-to-face interaction scenarios and an overhead view for resource management.

Our first effort was based on the Torque 2D engine, but we ran into technical difficulties -- hardware requirements, IT conflicts, and the like. We decided that we couldn't use a game engine for our project, so we reimplemented using a Web-based solution, specifically, AJAX.

SGS 2006: Who Else Is Blogging SGS?

I'm curious about who else is blogging the Serious Games Summit. I've found four blogs: Jerry Paffendorf, Mark Oehlert, Brent Schlenker, and a blog called in the guise of... by someone with the first name of Brook.

I suspect there will be far more bloggers at the Game Developers Conference, which gets underway tomorrow.

SGS 2006: "What's Wrong With Serious Games?"

What's Wrong With Serious Games?
James Paul Gee, University of Wisconsin
Ben Sawyer, DigitalMill
Henry Kelly, Federation of American Scientists

Ben Sawyer

Self examination matters. It's important to keep ourselves honest by anticipating criticisms.

Let's face facts. Many people outside this room think that serious games are a joke. A lot of companies who think they can create serious games, can't. There's too much unfinished work -- we've been holding these conferences for five years and we're still seeing lots of prototypes.

Gizmondo lost $250 million last year -- that's more revenue than the entire serious games space has taken in in the last four years, if not more. We're a rounding error.

Henry Kelly


  • Skepticism about the possibility for real improvements
  • Incomplete evidence, demand for large scale statistical proof (OMB, ED reviews) (if you haven't invented something, how do you generate large scale statistical proof for its effectiveness?)
  • Weak support from traditional education lobbyists -- fifth on everyone's list
  • Culture wars over education and a chronic budget crisis
  • Real and perceived weakness of the education research infrastructure
Self-inflicted wounds:
  • Over-promising (the edutainment fiasco, dot-bombs)
  • Get rich quick investments produced some poor material
  • No tradtion of systematic development (everything is a cottage industry -- you give someone a small pot of money and they go try and invent everything)
  • Huge latitude in what is called a game (buzzword de jour) (there are lots of things that are called games that aren't really games)
  • Don't really know where game techniques work (who, what, when)
  • Hot and cold media
A path forward:
  • Develop agreed metrics of success
  • Recognize that developing successful games for learning must be a part of a systematic program to design and test innovations in learning
  • Create an exciting, clearly articulated research program combining gaming expertise, learning science, computational science
  • Spiral development: build it, try it, try again (prepare for the long haul)
  • Build on proposals in play because of innovation initiatives (PACE, DO IT -- legislation currently being discussed that would focus on improving education in science and math)
James Paul Gee

I don't view the problem so much as defining what's wrong with the field as much as how important it is to get to the next stage before the enterprise collapses.

Cognitive science is a good example of a new field that started up with many of the same problems that serious games faces.

We need to discuss shared paradigms, things that we in our community can point to as examples of what is good -- the emerging common values of our field.

We need to confront central questions, disagree over them, fight over them. For example, what is the power of a game? We don't all agree on that. The power of games is that they put you inside a world, and you see the world from that perspective and have to solve problems from that perspective.

Games are a medium and like all media, they have a big emotional impact. But their pleasure is cognitive, in problem solving.

People say the problem with this space is that it costs so much to create serious games to current game standards. I don't agree with that. You don't need great graphics to have a great game. The problem isn't competing with Halo 2 -- competing with Final Fantasy IV would be just fine.

Game designers have to work together with learning designers, and they have to eventually come to speak a common language.

We can't go on much longer without killer apps. The commercial games field has killer apps, but we don't, not yet. When it comes to leading serious games, we're still too focused on violence and killing. We have Full Spectrum Warrior, but we need Full Spectrum Virus.

What will energize this space is that we're going to have a crisis over innovation. Our schools aren't producing people who can innovate. This means that all the jobs -- not just the low-end jobs -- will go to China and India. This will be our ticket past the current politics.


Q: Is some of our problem basically semantics? Do we need to defeat expansionist views of what serious games will be? And can we stop saying that serious games are all about learning? There are plenty of examples of serious games that have nothing to do with learning. [Ben Sawyer]
A: In any good game, learning is the drug. It's a deep pleasure to people when it's done in the right way. [James Paul Gee]
A: The Department of Defense is doing the best job at this sort of thing, with lots of studies and proof as to the effectiveness of all of this. [Henry Kelly]

Q: Where have we set expectations as of today? We've said things like, "serious games are going to be learning crack". Yet most commercial games aren't reviewed all that well. [Ben Sawyer]
A: I think our batting average could end up being better than in the commercial realm. There, there's competition for the same things -- for example, everyone wants to make, say, a first-person shooter that takes all the money. But we're going to build products for niches, more like independent films. [James Paul Gee]
A: We need permission to fail. We need to experiment and have some interesting failures. This implies some level of public funding. [Henry Kelly]

Q: Are we apologists for Grand Theft Auto? Do we exist as a counterbalance to things people don't like about some commercial games?

Q: How much of the assessment issue is on the wrong path? There are a lot of people looking for silver bullets, one-size-fits-all solutions. It seems like we spend a lot of time assessing the game instead of the overall learning solution in which it exists. [Ben Sawyer]
A: The assessment model we have for things that aren't games (like schools) is broken. This is something we have to offer. Games like Rise of Nations provide players with huge amounts of performance data. As a paradigm for assessment, that's more sophisticated than a lot of what we do in schools and workplaces. This is a real contribution we can make. [James Paul Gee]
A: Many benefits of games don't show up on standardized testing models. [Henry Kelly]

My Conference Blogging Style

At the end of the presentation "Putting Games to Work" yesterday, my co-worker Christophe looked at my laptop screen, saw me posting to my blog, and said, "It's already up? How can you do that? Oh, you're not adding any commentary -- you're just transcribing."

When I'm in a conference session and taking notes for a blog entry (or for a private description of the session), I'm neither smart enough nor a fast enough typist to be able to a) listen to and assimilate what the speaker is saying, b) take detailed notes of the talk, and c) provide real-time analysis of what's being said. So my style is to listen, understand, and transcribe, but leave the written analysis for later.

As the week progresses, I'll look back over the sessions, try to find the themes, and if I come up with anything interesting to say by way of commentary, I'll post it here.

March 20, 2006

SGS 2006: "Putting Games to Work"

Putting Games to Work
Byron Reeves, Stanford University
Rob Martyn, game producer
Seriosity, Inc.

Key concepts:

  • Radical breadth
  • Enterprise / games / science
  • Establish a common "vocabulary"
  • Merging cultural diversity
We're going to be talking about games at work -- not training for work, but as part of work.

We're bringing together game experts, Stanford professors, and McKinsey consultants to work on this -- a broad range of expertise.

We're trying to create a taxonomy of work done in the enterprise and see how it's done in games like World of Warcraft. What are the implications of an interface like this for something that's boring, like databases?

Games and work -- the hypothesis:

  • Use the power of games to transform information work mediated by computers
  • Work too easy or too hard isn't fun
  • Games can align objectives of individuals and organizations
  • Beyond copying game features
  • Beyond learning and training

Why this might work #1 -- the game market:

  • Huge revenue
  • Broad penetration (100 million Americans played a video or computer game last week)
  • Changing demographics (mean age 26-29 in MMO; increasingly gender-balanced)
  • Time (mean play time = 22 hours/week)
  • Economics
  • 3G UI and the metaverse
Why this might work #2 -- the future of work:
  • Declining cost of communication (media rich interactions cheaper and face-to-face costlier)
  • Decentralization (power resides at lower levels in organization)
  • Democratization of work (greater participation in decisions that matter)
  • Coordinate and cooperate replaces command and control
The gamer generation:
  • Competition is fun and familiar
  • Failure doesn't hurt
  • Risk is part of the game
  • Feedback needs to be immediate
  • Trial and error the best plan
  • There's always an answer
  • Bonds beyond cultural background
  • Bosses and rules are less important
The first question is, what's success, anyway? This is the early learning market all over again. We want to think big, with multiple objectives, multiple consumers, and measurable results. Production versus design is a big issue -- in games, production has to adjudicate between engineers and artists; in our market, there are many more competing drivers.

Key gaming concepts:

  • Old school versus new school
  • Consistent levels of abstraction
  • Self representation and reputation
  • Multiple levels of engagement
  • Tangible versus virtual rewards (virtual rewards tend to be perceived as much more valuable)
  • The ether is coming... (wireless anywhere will change the dynamics)
  • ...but variety never goes away
Avatars versus agents -- does it matter if the other character is controlled by a real person?
  • Games are combination of reality and fantasy
  • Empathy for other players despite fantasy context
  • Activation in right inferior parietal region with real players
  • Brain region involved in self-other connectedness
We set up an experiment with people playing a simple game within an fMRI scanner. We told people they were playing with / against a) a human player and b) a computer player. In both cases, the other player was actually a computer. When you think that the other element is controlled by another person, your brain lights up completely different. You believe what's happening, you're excited, you're sweating. If you're playing with / against a player you believe to be a computer, it's a simple visual stimulus.

Showed an example of using Star Wars Galaxies. They've inserted video feeds of real cancer samples (as opposed to images of Star Wars characters) into gameplay that is already related to medical training. With 35 players and 20 hours of practice, the crowd of 35 players is more accurate at diagnosing samples (as a whole, not individually) than a trained pathologist.

Showed an example of using Puzzle Pirates, a 25,000-player MMO. Players advance their reputation by playing mini-puzzle games. They want to insert different games into the same overall context, so instead of puzzling, for example, a worker might be resolving customer service calls. They would use objective metrics of a call to judge how well the worker did, and give her all the same rewards for doing well that would be available to a normal puzzle player.

Possible pitfalls:

  • Who's in charge? (the game guy? the IT guy?)
  • The @##@($&#^%$ IT guy (is it true that you're screwed if you have to deal with IT? make it a big idea so that they'll break their rules)
  • Compelling gestalt for multiple buyers
  • Research? What research? (game makers don't care about research)
  • "Can't you just..."(different expecations between game makers and academics / consultants)
  • Beware the "they don't get it" environment
  • Cracking corporate usage (metrics for the enterprise, radical breadth (know about games and work), buyers aren't 20 year old gamers)
  • Opportunity (revolutionize the nature of work)

Q: In the fMRI simulation, how much is the player involvement related to the fidelity of the simulation?
A: We've seen the same results in both an extremely simplistic environment (two dots on a screen) and a complex environment, World of Warcraft.

Q: How much is fun related to the fact that I can quit a game at home, but if I'm at work, I can't end it when I want to end it?
A: We're not talking about casual games here. They need to be as engaging as an MMORPG. It may also be that you don't stick the design of the game into the design of work, but rather vice-versa.

Q: This is to me a pretty frightening future. You're mixing entertainment with reality, so I'm a pawn in someone else's game.
A: This is kind of dangerous, and powerful, like new drugs that are being developed. But as a customer, do you care why the call center wants to make you happy, as long as they want to make you happy? We want to line up corporate objectives with individual objectives.

SGS 2006: "New Ways to Assess in Game Actions..."

New Ways to Assess in Game Actions and Guide in Game Communication
Elaine Raybourn, Sandia National Laboratories
Randy Brown, Virtual Heroes

In an open-ended environment, how can we (serious games designers) guide player interactions and foster free play which focuses on strategic communication and emergent outcomes aligned with intended learning principles?

Why simulation experience design? Experience design solutions require that designers understand what makes a good experience first, and then translate these principles, as well as possible, into the desired medium without the technology dictating the form of the experience.

Personas are hypothetical archetypes often used to identify the needs of a single user in a scenario , and therefore focus one's design goals (Cooper, 1999).

Designing from the "interaction out model":

  • Interaction (dynamic content, personas, roles: players) ->
  • Narrative (scenarios) ->
  • Place (game level) ->
  • Emergent culture (assessment, feedback, and AAR)
All of this is centered on an intercultural communication framework.

Demonstrated the Adaptive Thinking and Leadership (ATL) tool built for the JFKSWCS at Fort Bragg.

[T]his application is being used by Special Forces Soldiers at Fort Bragg for training which encompasses role-playing negotiation (soft skills training). In the application soldiers take part in online virtual events which include cross cultural communications scenarios with indigenous people.
Based on America's Army, up to 10 players (students), plus others who are evaluators. No NPCs -- all roles played by humans. Voice masking is used.

We think that this approach can be used for all sorts of soft skill training: corporate training and education, patient/doctor communication, intercultural for K-12, social change, diplomacy, crisis resource management, pharmaceutical sales training, chaplain and religious services.

What's next from in-game assessment?

  • Physiology
  • Cognition
  • Communication in context (communication apprehension, emotions, non-verbal expressiveness)
  • Serious games design feedback
  • Training
Demonstrated a wireless headset that (EmSense) that has the ability to measure mental and physical activity / stress (using GSR, heart rate, eye blinks, etc.) and then feed this information into the simulation for display during AAR.


  • Adopt a "parenting approach" to design: enable others to own and modify the environment
  • Integrate game design, writing, player interactions, narratives, actions, intended goals, new in-game assessmeent and feedback, and dynamic visual and auditory content in a training game system to create a shared place and foster emergent third culture through community ownership

Q: Have you thought of feeding the physiological information back into the simulation in real time?
A: Yes, we have. The Army is interested in automatic escalation of events, i.e., applying more and more pressure as the system starts to fall apart. Do this automatically so that the system isn't so dependent on how good the instructor is that particular day.

Q: How did you account for differences in resolution between computer displays and the human eye?
A: We don't right now. We can't account for everything.

Q: How can your simulation be authentic if you have soldiers playing the roles of host nationals (i.e., indigenous people)?
A: Many of the instructors in role-playing positions have returned from the field and have experience with host nation cultures and practices. Also, when available, we have host nationals play these roles, but this isn't typical.

SGS 2006: "You Can (Not) Be Serious!"

[As noted, I'll be blogging as many of the sessions as I can at the Serious Games Summit and the Game Developers Conference this week. This is the first.]

You Can (Not) Be Serious!
Philip Rosedale, CEO, Linden Lab (makers of Second Life)

"Life is a game. Money is how we keep score." -- Ted Turner

Games are constrained situations with goals that happen within worlds. We don't create games; we create the world in which games can exist.

As people, we can imagine the world to be much better than it is. This is what inspires Second Life: the idea that we as people can imagine things and want to do and play with things that we in our waking lives can't achieve, or can only achieve with enormous risk or labor or effort.

Objects in Second Life are small Constructive Solid Geometry (CSG) objects that can be glued together and given behaviors, We've created a scripting language that lets users create behaviors and assign them to objects. Second Life is 100 percent user-created.

For the last 18 months, we've had the core technology available to build a working kite (particle system-based string, blows in the wind), but we didn't think of doing it. A couple of weeks ago, we saw the first kite appear.

Some Second Life statistics:

  • 32,000 acres, which is larger than Boston
  • $5 million per month in goods and services transactions
  • 10 million objects. 15 terabytes of user-created data
  • 2 teraflops CPU simulation
  • More than 500 events per day
  • 230,000 different things sold or traded monthly
Scene from Second Life: A little girl holding a sign saying, "Family Killed By Ninjas. Need $$ For Kung Fu Lessons".

Users are making cars, jewelry, guns, services, anything you can think of. There are people working full-time and making a living at it in Second Life. One woman designs and makes clothing. Another is a real estate developer.

The Second Life user base is (based on self-identification) 43 percent female, but women tend to stay on Second Life longer than men: the percentage of new sign-ups is less than 43 percent female. The median age is 32. 25 percent are international. The age curve looks a lot like the US population as a whole.

New media are always used for entertainment first. One of things I think we'll be remembered for is this intuition, to make Second Life look more like a game at first, because that's how new media start.

Can you tell me about the files in your directories? Can you tell me about the last few Websites you've visited, in order? Probably not. Can you tell me about the stuff in your kitchen? Yes, in great detail. Second Life is a "memory palace", providing unique contexts that make it easier to remember things.

It has been said that virtual worlds make it possible for people to run away from their identities. That's not true. It makes it easier for people to truly express themselves. You can more easily make choices about what you wear, where you live, whom you associate with, that say profound things about you, than you can in the real world.

Some examples of what people do with the system:

  • Logistics simulations
  • Live performances (sometimes fusing real world and Second Life)
  • Movie making (obviously much cheaper than in the real world)
  • Education (17 classes this semester)
  • Therapeutic use
  • Charity and giving (extremely successful on a per-capita basis)

March 17, 2006

Speaking at Apply Serious Games 2006

I'll be speaking at the Apply Serious Games 2006 conference in London this May. The conference runs 25-26 May; my talk will be on the first day:

Abstract Title: Game Engine-Based Instruction: A Nuclear Submarine Security Case Study

This presentation is an in-depth look at a serious game project from conception to shipment, a force protection and anti-terrorism training tool developed for the Submarine On-Board Training (SOBT) group within the US Naval Submarine School (NAVSUBSCOL).

SOBT had previously developed a video-based trainer consisting of a series of simple branching scenarios. As is typical of video-based trainers, modifications after the fact to reflect changing conditions (e.g., changing doctrine) were difficult. The solution was a simulation-based engine using a role playing game (RPG)-style user interface, with editable XML-based scenario definition files. In the first phase of the project, the project team replicated the 17 scenarios of the original video-based product; in the second phase, the team extended these scenarios from the exterior of the submarine to include 5 new scenarios taking place within a detailed model of the submarine interior.

This presentation will include experiences and lessons learned, both business and development, and from the perspectives of both the developer and the customer.

It should be a fun conference, and it has been far too long since I've been in London. Actually, I just went to look it up and I haven't stayed in London (I'm not counting connecting through Heathrow) since May 1998 -- that will be eight years by the time of my trip. It's funny -- I've been to Paris many times since then, and to Tokyo too many times to count (it's over 10), but somehow London fell off the radar. It will be good to get back.