Monthly Archives: September 2011


Relive my fire

Yes ok a terrible Take That pun. Never thought I would type that. However I am recovering from the excellent Relive 11 conference we just had at the OU in Milton Keynes. It was a really good gathering of fellow metaverse evangelists mostly from Academia. As it was academic there was a humbling number of detailed well researched papers being presented in the sessions. Every one I heard I was impressed by the way that virtual environments were being pushed forward.
What was equally good was the degree of discussion, all based on a large body of experience and perspectives that all the delegates brought with them.
There was clearly a lot of disappointment at Second Life’s failings in education and customer service and huge respect for Opensim in particular as the natural place to move to as SL user. There was though a fondness for SL.
There was a great deal of effort put into the organizing with things like these
#Relive11 question cards
We had discussion cards, a subset of at least 50 different questions about avatar identity, future direction, best experience etc. These were great to have an I would love the full physical set of them, but my personal set I will remember and treasure.
Robin Wight from Engine (a Marketing guru) kicked off the event with lots of examples of virtual worlds but not as you might consider them from this industry. The virtual worlds of brands and imagination and aspiration. Some of the examples, for a converted audience were a little off but I was impressed by the discussion around the genetic brain and the task brain and the science and thought that goes into appealing to the right bits, in this case to get you to buy into an advert.
This is of course what I do when I am helping people come to terms with games and virtual worlds. Though I had not considered the brain chemistry past a little NLP.
Robin Wight keynote relive11
I was at Relive to both absorb and join in the conversations but to run a few sessions. The end of day 1 was the live link up to Vpearl the IEEE VW conference/game happening in Hollywood. As I wrote before this link up was itself part of the game really for Vpearl and to Relive. How smoothly could we do it with consumer tech.
Well as expected when you are at a site that you do not control the tech, not using your own machine etc its bound to not work.
We had trouble with the task PC having enough bandwidth to run Second Life (as we planned to do a metaverse linkup). At the other end there were problems trying to patch into voice without causing massive feedback. We tried skype and the local network barred us. Yet between us we found a path through. What we ended up doing was using Andy Piper’s machine that could get on the local wireless and was just about able to IM in SL to text talk to Sandy Kearney in Hollywood, who relayed the questions to their room. At the other end they had a roving camera and microphone and an excellent and enthusiast presenter. The video was delivered on the public Ustream channel. This all felt pretty exciting as I was keen to see the activity at Vpearl. The tweets the day before had been very informative too and it was so cool to see so many people getting on with big ideas live in the Rita Hayworth ballroom at the Sony Centre ! Just as vpearl was about documenting the results the live link up and what happens, whats missing with tech and process will all get fed into the public resources to I thank Relive11 and my audience in the room for their patience.
After day 1 we headed to the hotel and that was an amazing gathering of minds riffing ideas too.
Day 2 began with our panel. Paul Hollins was chairing me, Bill Thompson (BBC Digital planet/Click) and Rebecca Mileham author of Powering Up: Are Computer Games Changing Our Lives. We had a stack of questions that had been sent in and hopefully I can patch in a link to the recording of the webcast too soon. The beats line though in our discussion about getting people creating was Bill saying “If you are not programming you are being programmed”.
I did manage to get in my real virtual to real augmentation loop at some point.
Also Paul introduced me as being scared of Milton Keynes. This was becuase I told him the last time I was here I had to film my first on the road piece to camera and get thrown into a skydiving tube for The Cool Stuff Collective
Relive theatre calm before the storm
We had another interesting discussion on a session run by my fellow BCS animation and Games Dev committee member Jane Chandler. It was a goldfish bowl session around the subject of the when and where will the integration of virtual worlds into the web happen.
This session placed 5 chairs in the centre of the room. 4 of us had to sit on them and 1 was empty. The rest of the chairs were in a circle around us. You can only speak if you are in the middle. So you have to move to the empty chair and one of the others have to leave. This worked brilliantly well. The ebb and flow of ideas was one of the best I have experienced. Well worth doing.
The final session was Andy Piper’s keynote. It was good to hear Andy talk as we were seldom at the same events way back. He did a bit of a retrospective where things had been the last few years but also put his finger on the nub the problem. The lack of expectation that people should create things, or the empty room problem as he called it. He was very passionate, and many of us were nodding in agreement, people should expect to create, they should build and contribute because it is much more rewarding to be part of something than just consume.
I was happy to lend him my Mac too for his pitch as at this point below….
Andy piper #relive11
there were some video issues getting a feed to the screens. However, as with the IEEE linkup we all just get on and sort it out.
So huge thanks to everyone who organized this and thanks for Anna Peachey for inviting me it was a great honour and I heard and learned things which is always brilliant, plus met some fantastic people.
Hopefully see you all next time.

Massive virtual world event(s) – LA & MK

In a few hours over in LA at the Sony Centre the inaugural vPEARL Summit will kick off, the first event from vecolab.org.

This is IEEE backed and aims immerse many people from around the world, all with the goal, to make human connections and to advance the medium of virtual environments. Together creating an UBER source for practices in virtual environments that can be analyzed and used by all of us in the future. The 2 days will also be being filmed to create a documentary of the journey.
The experience is based around taking teams of people to different virtual environments and setting big challenges, in an unconference and game format. Each team will be exploring and doing, whilst trying to share whilst they go along.
Each team in each environment has a team twitter ID to share live so feel free to listen in http://twitter.com/#!/search?q=vpearl.
There will also be a live link up (I am crossing my fingers for this) that I will be initiating from the uk Relive 11 conference at the Open University.
relive2011
We will dive from our conference across to the start of day 2 of vPearl and see how the exploration is progressing. Which means we are also part of the best practice exploration. With all the people online and present at each location this is one major gathering of virtual world experts and evangelists!
What there is to share and how we get on with it we really wont know until 4pm tomorrow but I wish the teams luck in creating cool content to talk about.
Very exciting times. I wish I was in LA but I also want to be at Relive 11, which sort of proves the point about needing to explore the ways we can be at so many places at ones doesn’t it? What better groups of people to try it with!

Kinect robots from microsoft

I was researching some robot options for The Cool Stuff Collective and I bumped into the Microsoft Robotics at home (US based) competition. It would appear there is now a MS Robotics software dev kit (Developer Studio 4). However the really interesting part is that there is a reference design for some hardware that is based around using the kinect for the machine sensing and vision.
Parallax appear to be taking orders for a piece of kit called Eddie
eddie
It comes assembled or in kit form and I have to say this looks really interesting.
I have not found any UK references to this yet. So it looks like I will need a windows 7 laptop as well now then!

Lookout Gamefest here we come

There are a busy few days coming up, tomorrow is a BCS London presentation of all things metaverse/game/coolstuff etc and one of them is Friday when I am heading the press opening of Gamefest as the NEC. It is of course a good mix of personal interest and also for The Cool Stuff Collective to check out some of the latest and greatest game releases and get some hands on with some of them. I will be wearing my g33k tshirt of course as this is an official engagement 🙂
gamefest
Maybe see you there?

More practical science in education – Let’s hope so!

Today a report came out from the UK government select committee on Science and Technology looking into the apparent lack of practical science work in schools that will create the next generation of scientists . It is heartening to see that the problem of a lack of practical science in schools has been identified. It is something that I have spoken about and also heard many others publicly express concern over.
It is a little concerning that some of the reporting is suggesting that it is the teachers in schools avoiding doing field trips and hands on science due to health and safety concerns and to curriculum pressure as if it was the teachers that created the league tables, measurement culture and paperwork. Most teachers want to excite and engage students, that is the point of the vocation. It is the policies around schools, the funding models and the generic nature of the curriculum that is the problem.
Arduino board
In the branch of technology that I work in there are plenty of opportunities for hands on practical work, programming, electronics, art, expression, logic etc. Much of what I try and help people with is things that they can just go and do, at relatively low of zero cost. That clearly can’t happen with some of the more physical sciences that require raw materials, or complex instruments but it is all about people getting to do and then share that creates interest. Being told and then measured really is not a sensible approach to inspire people of any generation.
As I wrote a few months ago about the excellent Raspberry PI project “There is also that realisation that developer community is shrinking, the grand masters are getting older, kids are not getting into programming. It’s not really even being taught.”
Whether you regard this as a science or an art or a branch of engineering the skills used in software development and understanding patterns of technology are relatively low cost to engage students with though it does need teachers who are programmers. I think there are few technical experts out there that want to change profession to teach ICT (which is basic use of of packages akin to learning to type). When I started as a programmer our teacher was from the industry, there were some keen hobbyist teachers too, but the main teacher has worked building systems. This, along with self teaching on easily accessible systems, was my grounding when I was in my early teens.
Now we have lots of unusual platforms, Opensim as a virtual world, Minecraft, Little Big Planet, Arduino hardware all available to encourage a generation of hackers, engineers and potential scientists just waiting to be rolled into more common school usage.
What am I doing about that then? Well short of going to train to be a teacher (now there is an idea!) I try and bring these things to the TV and to presentation and conferences, trying to show through practically doing things.
Of course if we miss a generation or two, separating them from technology and science in favour of paperwork we end up with a set of parents who will not be able to share the science with their kids. This in turn will lead to politicians, teachers and educators that also do not have that passion for science and tech. So we have no choice.
I know I gained an appreciation of large scale engineering and the challenges of it from my Dad working building ships. The trades (welding, plating, carpentry, technical drawing and design etc) all blended together into a very tangible and physical experience of what has to come together to make something as impressive as a large ship.
We need to make sure that whilst all the red tape and obsessive measuring is removed from education we keep the interest levels alive so that when the system is ready to enthuse the kids they haven’t given up already.

Minecraft Machinima

There are some great examples of creative use of cover versions of popular music combined with machinima created in Minecraft appearing on youtube. This one is really good IMHO 🙂

If you don’t get what Minecraft is and can do then watch this, and then some of the linked videos too. It is a new generation of filmaker/gamers exploring the creative world online in a metaverse.

Streets ahead (nearly) with Driver SF

Driver: San Francisco came out a few days ago and as a fan of all things cars, and in particular the original version it was a must get game. I still remember the buzz of seeing those original camera angles and seeing the hubcaps fly off as the old american car lurched around the corner, great attention to detail back then. I was concerned, having played the demo, that the weird astral projection jumping around cars element was going to detract from the good honest car chasing, burnout, doughnut, drifting and jumping that was after the point of the game.
I was also interested in what opportunities there were to use the film director side. Driver was one of the first games I remember having the power to edit the replays from your driving. Driver SF has included this feature and it just keeps recording as you play. At any point you jump to film director where you can change camer cuts, make slo-mo replays etc. it is not completely full featured but it does let you start to explore making a car sequence.

Where Ubisoft fall down though is with their web interface for the results of the game. Yes they have put in the ability to send to facebook and twitter as you play, which is nice an forward thinking but if you start to publish your driving masterpieces it all gets a bit clunky. Unlike Dirt3 which pushes clips you make straight to youtube this game seeks to make a portal that you visit to collate all your info and film clips. The trouble is you cant do much with them. The short videos you make are player with the flovision player and the layout doesn’t seem to work very well if you have more than 3 videos. Each video has a great download button, which gives you a non-descript raw data file. My Mac with all its codecs, perian etc had no idea what to do with it. So the video above was just a screen cap one from the website. I am sure they are going to improve that over time. Though there was not answer on the ubisoft forum or response on a facebook request so who knows if they know.
So here is a game that I really like, had some great fun driving around a mirror world version of San Fran, in real branded cars doing loopy stunts, the I get to the more creative side of things that could offer so much so quickly and get stopped in my tracks. Well you can’t have everything.
One very cool plot point though, (not really a spoiler) is that the original, and irritatingly hard at the time, training level for Driver has been included. It is also linked to a retro reference with an iconic film car and it opening up was a very cool aha moment that more games should have.
The other brilliant film references are a set of movie chases that you gradually unlock. They are nods to some of the best car chases ever on film and the things I grew up watching. Bullit, The French Connection, Starsky and Hutch etc. I was hammering around the jumps in SF shouting I am Steve McQueen. This caused some consternation with predlet 2.0 as he said “no dad it’s Lightning Mcqueen”.
Anyway, if you were brought up on old car chase movies, and like racing games… well this is worth a go. If you want to make machinima, just wait until they decide to offer some more features I would suggest. So those 210 miles of road will just have to be a more personal experience too.
There is a link to my Driver SF page including a few more clips but I am not sure how many you get to store

Sparkling on Kinect with 3d finger drawing

Now that I realize I can quicklaunch the Kinect Fun Labs apps individually and do not have to go through the uncharacteristic lockups caused by the Fun Labs launcher app I am getting to see some more of the gadgets.
This one is called sparkler and its results are interesting. You draw in 3d on a backdrop that is made from a foreground and and a background shot. What is really great is this is using slightly more precision on the kinect. To draw you hold up two fingers as a pointer and stop drawing by clenching your fist. Up to now all games have treated your hands as dots at the end of your arms.
The video is very short but it is what is generates along with stills for sharing on Kinect Share.

I am waiting on my call for the next Marvel super hero film 🙂 I can be g33kspark or something 🙂

Talking careers, games, TV, BCS and Virtual worlds in 5 mins

At the Develop conference this year I was asked if I minded doing a quick interview for http://www.gamecareers.biz/ so I popped along and this is the result.

We had a very quick chat before and then we just blasted through in 1 take 🙂
I am in good company if you look at the actual site here
Between Colin Anderson of Denki and Mick Hocking of Sony.
The BCS and its role in careers may be of interest or resonate with some games industry people looking for some structure.
I am pleased with the points I got across too. Thanks to @davidsmithuk for putting this together and asking such good questions in the interview.