Unity3d growing – lets get schools in on this

A recent press release from Unity3d gave some impressive figures “Unity Technologies Surpasses 250K Developers Milestone and 35M Installs of Free Unity Web Player
I am a big fan of Unity3d as you will have seen over the years and it is great to see the company doing so well. I do not think this success is purely technical, Unity3d is a great product but it has been the positive and open attitude of the company which if you ever talk to the CEO David Helgasson you will see why. It is a true startup come good.
The figures are impressive for the web plugin but the figures not shown, that are in fact even bigger is the fact that every iphone and droid can run Unity3d apps. Many of you will have even played or used some and possibly not even noticed.
Unity3d 3 editor
I expect to see Unity3d appear in more and more schools as part of both art and science lessons, that was partly my intention in showcasing it on The Cool Stuff Collective. This is a tool and an environment that has both great simplicity and the ability to get as complex as you want. Programming and graphic/sound integration is the ultimate UGC. We also have lots of ways to deploy and share that content.
It seems that a set of simple course material prefabs would make a great module in both infant and secondary education to help find the story tellers, game developers, artists and programmers of the future by letting kids just get on with it and create. There may be some real gems of ideas bubbling away out there don’t you think?
Having seen the willingness to create with my own kids, watching a 3 year old choose to paint the Kart in Mario Kart on the DS and decorate away, or seeing a 7 year old revel in 3d modelling with the haptic device we really should be pushing this future tech (not just Unity3d BTW) into schools, helping teachers understand the creative and learning potential.
I know lots of people are, I know there is lots of resistance to change too. However some of this is not massive capital expenditure (most schools seem to have computers). In just the same way as many of us solo entrepreneurs are able to punch above our human resources weight with access to amazingly accessible technology, so should the classroom.
It is then not a lesson about computing or tech but about creativity, expression as well as STEM.
Fingers crossed we can ride this wave. It is certainly one I want to pursue.
Anyone out there have good Unity3d educational related prefabs?

Heading for Brighton Develop

Tomorrow sees the start of 3 days in Brighton at the Develop conference. As I have mentioned before it is unusual to be going to a conference and not actually presenting. Though in part that is because Develop has grown up form a pure games development background and with things like Evolve as a track is starting to head towards what I do.

It feels like it will be an exciting one again this year as last year was great.
The past year I have met some of my game design heroes in various capacities and with an increasing crossover into the game environments, and the massive impact of things such as Kinect and Nintendo 3DS on the horizon we may be at an important crossover.
I will also be sharing the launch of the British Computer Society Animation and Games Development industry group which launches this month. This is very exciting as again it starts to show the crossover and connections. After all this is all tech, it needs more tech skills than ever, but blends with other creative endeavours.
If you are interested please contact me or want to discuss this group and maybe present or help in the future once we get going.
It will also be an outing for my new feeding edge tshirt so look out for me if you are there and say hi.

Ground control to mAYCh3rT0m – Nasa Moonbase online edugame

This week has seen the release of the free to play NASA Moonbase alpha game by virtual heroes.
It fits nicely into that area of education and a specific event or scene that has to dealt with providing education and online teamwork rather than being a free roam NASA virtual world. i.e. there is a task to get on and do right away.

It is a large client download, again as the assets are not constantly changing so as with most game clients they reside locally.
It places you in a situation of having to repair certain resources in a certain time. Chain reaction failures leading to mission failure if not done right.
It also poses the qualities of slowing you down precisely because you are in a space suit. You can hop along and try and jump to places but there is no rapid click fixing.
The is where the online teamwork fits in. Decisions to commit to fix a remote part has significant implications on being able to get back in time.
There are all sorts of tools, like remote control robots that come into play too.
It is a pity is a windows only client but thats the way it is.
I am going to experiment and see how the predlets take to it. The elder one will probably be ok with the task, the younger happy to bounce around.
With a bit of luck this sort of thing will get used in UK schools too as it offers the ability for LAN play rather than having to deal with the vagaries and perceived risks of other people on the internet.
It is always good to see interesting educational and entertainment projects emerge.
I would be interested to see if any team building activities occur in corporate circles using this, as it is not a fragfest but a slower teamwork task that many of the older non gamers of my generation can relate to having watched the space race and the moon landings.

The power to create – Little Big Planet 2, WarioWare DIY, Second Life and Unity3d

One of the most amazing developments over the past couple of years has been the explosion in creativity tools that are available to anyone and everyone, combined with the ability to share creations with others over the net. The creations can be businesses, presentations etc, funny things, appeals for help or art. Amongst all that there is also games. I grew up in a time when there were arcade cabinets that we drooled over and pumped 10 pence pieces into, we were then treated to the home computer boom. We were given the ZX81/C64/Spectrum, later the Amiga as tools that let us , should we wish to learn our craft create all sorts of things. We did not really have a distribution network other than word of mouth and posting disks around. Something happened to the homebrew market as the PC rose to power. Things got complicated, programming kits and licenses got expensive so we managed to lose an awful lot of homebrew to what became a massively monolithic games industry.
Now there is a shift again. The creativity tools are back and on the previously closed and expensive to licence too platforms that took over.
If you are a gamer or a content creator, a Second Lifer, a designer or any remotely interested in computing and animation or an engineer or teacher you really need to try the original Little Big Planet creator tools on PS3. The whole point of Little Big Planet is They provided a palette of objects, rich 3d clip art if you like, combined with mechanical programming logic (motors, pulleys, switches, rods) which let you create all sorts of visually rich experiences with very very simple tools. Or you can just play platform levels with friends and have fun too. All those levels can be shared online. It has been a stunning success. As with all user generated content platforms the depth of human creative talent tends to astound the tool makers.
Now we have Little Big Planet 2 on the way and as a natural evolution of the tools we are going to see some fantastic creations in that. Take a look

The ability to combine things into an experience for others using gaming elements is not restricted to the PS3. The tiny little Nintendo DS (tiny only size not sales) has Warioware DIY. This is an extension of the minigame ideas of Warioware. You are presented with a quirky 5 second task with no real explanation and you figure it out. The graphics are often like something Terry Gilliam would do or are very cartoony, but the games work. Quick ideas executed well. The DIY game is really a collection of games but also the tools to create them yourself. A visual programming environment enabling you to create triggers and win condition combinations. For a programmer is may be annoying to go through the dialog pieces to get to the tools but for people who are not programmers it really starts to make you one. A small graphics and animation package and a music sequencer are also in the game/package. I have not tried it yet but apparently there is a Wii download that lets you get to and share/play you DS creations. That’s next to try.
The important thing here is an evolutionary path for talent to emerge from anywhere, for people to be able to find out if they are good at creating game ideas, combing graphics and sounds and having fun.
LBP2 and LBP approach it as aside to the basic game. Dropping you into a sandbox to play and helping you create amazing things right away. Giving a taste for creation and innovation not just consuming the levels thrown at you.
Warioware DIY makes you work a bit more, its a “go on then create a mini game then if you can” a bit of help but really a dressed up development kit.
UGC virtual worlds and places like Second Life or the more programmer extensible OpenSim also fit into this sort of homebrew model. Its a creation tool as much as a consumption tool with the added layer of events and people online thrown in.
These then can lead people who are interested and talented to tools like Unity3d. With that you are on a PC/Mac. You have all the tools available to you to write proper code, develop proper games from scratch. If you find you are a 3d graphics person there are lots of creation tools from free to very expensive, if you find you can do music or textures the tools exist likewise. Unity3d as a development environment lets you or a team work together to create things. The things created then will just work pretty much anywhere. The simplest being on a stand alone file on a website. Which of course means you have massive distribution potential.
As in a previous post the next large step of creating massive shared online experiences gets a little more complicated, but with people being able to do the things they can now with LBP2/DIY/SL/Unity3d in an out of the box type way is already amazing.
With a few tools, lots of middleware helping it is possible to create very engaging experiences and interesting art on any platform. The 4 way needs of programming, graphics, audio and story/game mechanics meet in various ways on all the creation platforms. The key though is that anyone, and I mean anyone! can have a dabble in any or all of them and find an outlet and talent they did not know they had, or fulfil their potential.
What are you waiting for go and make something somewhere.

What are games really teaching us?

Last night I was in London at the Dana Centre for a session on What do games really teach us. It was mainly a panel session with
John Kirriemuir from Silversprite (a fellow metaverse evangelist)
Pat Kane, author, The Play Ethic (and singer with Hue and Cry)
Sophie Blakemore, video game designer (and TV presenter)
It was facilitated by Gareth Mitchell, Presenter, Digital Planet, BBC World Service.
The event was Nintendo sponsored so there were lots of booths with Wii’s and various games for people to experience. Also curated and put together as part of a series by the good Dr Aleks whose TV show Virtual Revolution got a good few mentions in intros 🙂
The first part of the evening was to go and play some games. This was interesting, but as I am a gamer and have played most of them already I left the many people who did not seem quite so game aware to get on with it. Though I did get thoroughly beaten up on boxing, I guess my heart was not in it 🙂
Gareth was very keen to promote the use of twitter, and the #danacentre hashtag. I ended up overhearing a couple of guys saying whats a hashtag, so I helped them out with some free social media consulting 🙂 The hashtag was up on a rolling display on the main screen. So as often happens at these events it becomes hard not to grab a little screen time with the odd tweet hear and there.
Gareth (@GarethM) was keen we sent questions to him and also jokingly said we could heckle him as he had never been heckled before on twitter.
I was sat with my good friends Giannina and Ren and it turned out we were kind of the SL mafia in the room.
We were also tweeting a lot and responding to the request to heckle! I think most of our direct tweets got read out though Gary seemed reticent to say “epredator” but did say other peoples handles. However, its all good.
The panel did a great job of informing the audience of some concepts and anecdotes around what games are and where they stand. This was of course to a mixed audience, professionals and gamers such as us in the SL mafia and some people to whom everything was a surprise I should imagine.
In discussion around task based games and completing and winning missions and the formulaic nature of many games Pat was very vocal and passionate about needing to push the art form forward. An Avant Garde set of games not designed to be popular and commercial for the sake of it. It is in these we will see richer ways to reflect and rehearse. Clearly this relates to the play ethic and his concern as to how those boundaries of ethical decisions are being created for us to rehearse.
Sophie mentioned America’s Army and how whichever “side” you are on the enemy look like the apparent enemy of America. Which forces people to take on a certain perspective.
John covered a lot about how virtual worlds and free expressive sandpits are a huge area for education. The ability to try things out not just in a packaged game but as experiences extends how we can learn from games.
Somewhere along the line Eve-Online got a mention, primarily for their economy and then with the audience joining in saying how they have real pyramid schemes in there by some nefarious players. We nearly got all Daily Mail. Ren was busy laughing at some of it, heard it too many times before and he decided to reveal his true identity by ripping open his shirt as I tweeted anyone need to know about Eve talk to RenZephyr.
Super Eve
As much of this is my chosen field, and also one I frequent as a pastime this was more like watching a popular film but sat with some friends. Still a good event and I would interested to hear what the others less tied into this world thought.

Heavy Rain – Heavy Narrative

I hope this is spoiler free in talking about Heavy Rain.
In all the DotGovLabs games workshops we have had discussion around narrative and how a game experience needs that in some form. Heavy Rain has come up a lot in that as a prime example of both story and character engagement. We also have often ended up talking about fun. Often in the fun discussion zany, wacky, quirky, frivolous are the natural partners to that. However we have also all been discussion challenge, and how solving something hard, achieving a complex task is rewarding and fun, but in a different way.
I had read a lot about Heavy rain, seen the pictures and heard others say how unusual it felt to engage with. Last night in a 4 hour stint I could not put Heavy Rain down, and there is a lot more to come story wise it would seem.
It certainly pushes some emotional buttons for me as a parent and has an air of intrigue about it that is not quite a horror film style fear but its suitably slow pace give you a lot of time to think and reflect of whats going on.
Heavy Rain
The acting in this form both the technology of the facial expressions to the brilliant voice talents blended with a varied set of camera angles and film style techniques have certainly moved this sort of story telling forward. It has clearly learned and extended its predecessor Fahrenheit, but cranks up the emotions even more.
The game mechanic is very simple, and is a serious of twin stick gestures at vary speeds or slightly more complex quicktime “Simon Says”. When something more action packed than walking around investigating happens you are bounced from you reflective and pondering mood into an almost panic. Its all adrenalin, but seems to be a different flavour flowing.
The plot has a central character and I felt I was in his shoes, though it was not too big a leap to segue into the other characters just as in a back story in a film. Feeling sorry for the character and wanting to help yet wondering if he is the one that needs help is key to this story.
At points when you think things are just settling down a curve ball is thrown and one of the most unpleasant levels I have played was what seemed to be a hallucination of all the crowds in a train station as static dummies, paused in time, slightly greyed out. You have to walk through them and as you touch them they crumple to the floor. It actually reminded me of the Modern Warfare 2 infamous airport scene, there innocent civilians are cut down by the team you have to work with and you can do little about it, its a shock, but more of a single moment out of context with the rest of MW2. Here in Heavy Rain, there is nothing you can do about the people either, you know its a dream, the panic of the slow chase you are in and watching people drop like flies will stick with me for while. It’s very spooky.
I am really looking forward to getting through this story now, likewise seeing how the apparent choices make a difference in the long run, at the moment if its making a difference its very subtle.
One last think, I love the FBI agents desktop AR. Roll on when we have that for real, great virtual world crossover.
***Update After several solid late night sessions I finished Heavy Rain last night. It certainly picked up the pace and told an intriguing story. There were moments I gasped and felt a variety of emotions form revulsion to relief and an undercurrent of sadness. Spending that much time with so few characters makes this feel like a TV mini series rather than a film. I usually wander from most games before finishing them as over the years the endings have let me down and I have felt it better to leave the thing hanging in the air as a great memory. This one though…. absolutely needs to be finished. What a great piece of entertainment. Thankyou Quantic Dream

The future of learning? Wake up to virtual!

This week I have been to two events related to learning and education.
The first was eduserv’s final get together on where next for virtual worlds. The entire audience was made up of experts and evangelists and practitioners of virtual worlds across lots of UK universities. As a body of people and experience it was very heartening to be in such a gathering. Given much of what I have been doing recently has been education related it was good to know there were so many of us.
Still however there was the pressure for many that this was seen as some strange art form and hobby sideline. We battle on though as we do know this is the right thing to do. It is not just the technology that needs to be accepted though. The main battle is challenging ways of doing things that are accepted practice and in many ways easy and lazy for people to change. e.g. rolling out another ppt lecture to a group of students forced to sit in a room an listen. Daniel Livingstone from Sloodle used a picture from the middle ages of a lecture theatre. This showed there are deep rooted patterns in education that can still be used but improved with a little bit of thought and willingness.
The second event was the Learning Technologies 2010 expo at Kensington Olympia where there were over 130 exhibitors in learning technology. Great ! It was a huge trade show to go to and full of experts in this field.
With only a very few exceptions I was struck by the number of filling in form based applications, not even all Moodle. Lots of putting powerpoint and video and documents into “elearning” courses. Lots of “evaluation” and criteria based systems. Where were the virtual world learning platforms, even the serious games. Where was the deep rooted use of social media?
I was surprised and dismayed, followed by not being surprised again at the lack of more forward thinking technology and social solutions. Most people I talked to were surprised at what can be done with a virtual world, and they were supposed to be selling to me really.
The expo and conference is running for two days and today there is a presentation by Mark Oehlert for the US DoD about all the virtual projects and clever things they have been up to. I know that is going to blow the audience away of all they are used to is forms and videos in “elearning”. It was good to catch up with Mark and with Koreen Olbrish from TandemLearning as we keep in touch usually but meet very rarely (the last time was 3DTLC in washington).
It was interesting that Koreen had recently written a post “Do Virtual World Evangelists Really Want To Go Mainstream“. The answer from this one is of YES! 🙂
The insular nature of some industries and cosy gatherings, doing things the way they always have been done really is human nature. I have already been push the fact that avatars and islands are not the end point. There is a way to go. However the way we get mainstream acceptance is (as Koreen points out) diving into places and industries and pushing things forward.
So I have to ask the question why was there such a small selection of game and virtual world related people at this show? It would seem there is a gap in the market. I was thinking I just should have had a generic metaverse stand and explained all sorts of things like The Coaches Centre (Using web.alive and moodle to work with sports coaches and their organizations) and the work I am doing at the moment in SL with instructional design etc. Invited some or all of the people from the eduserv conference to talk and share their experiences.
There was at lease one stand there though, Kevin Corti was there with Pixelearning, and I liked the fact they were actually stand 101 🙂
Another was Caspian Learning with Thinking Worlds which has a great way of allowing people to describe a scenario and generate a browser based game engine experience. Though these were single user stand alone ones.
Many of the others that had any rich visuals looked like they were more custom builds and effectively CG movies.
I am left back at the thought the games industry is still missing a huge trick here. Whilst the virtual world companies like Linden Lab explain the use of education in the UGC Second Life the games companies have fantastic tools and techniques for creating experiences, how script writers and level designers work with visual, audio and code production. There is a middle ground and place for the instructional designers and educators to make a huge impact.
Anyway I look forward to hearing how Mark’s pitch goes.
I will get back to my Opensim, Second Life, Web.alive, Unity3d, Moodle, Sloodle, Pivote and custom build meanderings and try and convert as many people as possible in as many industries. What do I know ?

Fresh Decade Fresh Fish

I have a mini side project for an iphone application that I want to get submitted as soon as possible this year. Mainly this is to test the process. It has caused me to start doing some things that are clearly not my forte. i.e. Graphic design. I have no problem using any of the graphic design tools, and I really quite enjoy them, but my results are always…. well… meh.
For the app I needed to create some original visuals, as for a proof of concept I had used some 3d models from elsewhere just to get a feel for this. What I was aiming for was something fishlike.
This is what I have got too so far using the wonderful Cheetah 3d on the mac.
Now bear in mind I am a techie not a visual designer, but I did have to use a few things here.
I created the mesh from initial prim shapes in cheetak, then joined and imported them into a single mesh.
I created a set of character joints, the blue skeleton elements showing then had to remember ho to create the skeleton tag on Cheetah and drag it across to the properties to bind the skeleton to the mesh. (All this is bread and butter stuff to a good designer and animator of course!)
The texture, such as it is was using photoshop elements to create a stained glass window effect, then create another one one top of that in order to get some randomness and mess it up a bit.
Then I created some poses, remembering in Cheetah to create the pose once the root node for the pose had been selected. It was then a case of moving the joints around and saving each state.
Finally in Cheetah I created some animations, setting poses and timelines and key frames before saving the thing.
Then sparked up unity Iphone and dragged the poor fish like thing into the environment. Here the animations just played.
Hit publish and Xcode gets sparked up, the app gets deployed and running on the test Iphone.
Not a piece of code written, all config and clicking.
Of course now I can do what I know I can do. Write code to make the things happen in the way I want them too.
I will of course have to revisit the “Fish” maybe put some more bones in, try some smoother textures or try and draw it as one mesh not a bunch of lumpy prims. The trouble is I know it will never look as good as someone who really does this stuff.
Doing this though, and I recommend all tech and biz people give it a go in some for, does give you an appreciation of the visual design skills of those around you. I think too often it is taken for granted. I think the same can be said for good code though. The things under the covers, such as in this tool chain with the Mac OS, Cheetah 3d, Unity 3d and the Iphone OS none of which got in the way of the idea.
Trying to make things in different domains to ones we are used too, with tools that we are not skilled in using is a great way to understand what others do, what is good and what is mediocre. “Web 2.0 is Web Do” extends to many more things. Its a new decade give something a go, just so you either know how hard it is or you may find a new talent 🙂

Handheld Gaming Augmented Reality – Invizimals

These combinations of technology packaged for consumer use are coming think and fast from E3. (I really must go next year!)
This time using a PSP with a camera and some registration markers to allow the collection and battling of multiple handheld views of individual pokemon style characters.
Now I have Eye of the Beholder an AR card game on the PS3 and the last few blog posts have been about Natal and Eye Pet. However this has a subtle extra point. The representation of a character via the magic window effect off a registration point can be done on anything, what they have done here though is use the connectivity of the PSP to allow more that one point of view or experience to be shared.
I see my view of the Augmented World, you see yours and we interact through it. Sounds like a metaverse to me, once we get from the single user experience (which is very cool but essentially a book or a movie) we then start to get to augmented reality virtual world brokered human communication.
In this example the kids are battling together in the same place, but as everywhere is local and distance does not exist on the web you can extrapolate how this could expand (as with Natal and the other tech) to a mixed mode virtual world or communication channel.
I bumped into this via the Guardian games blog feed on Youtube

Peggotty’s, Mirror Worlds and knowledge

I have written before about Sid Corleone who is bringing my home town and some local businesses into SL and it appeared here on virtual worlds news. I just popped into the Great Yarmouth sim to take a look and ended up in Peggotty’s bar. This is a real bar in Yarmouth, and one we used to start our nights out in my late teens all those years ago.
It is named after the Charles Dicken’s character who lived in an old upturned boat on Yarmouth beach. Now it is in SL even more cultural references are combining. I have to say just seeing the outside and walking up to it gave me goosebumps, way more than just looking at a photo (an I am an old hand at this stuff so should expect such reactions).
You can also have “Chips off the market” which are much more famous than I ever thought given the Dragon Sir Peter Jones drove DJ Chris Moyles all the way to Yarmouth in his lino to experience.
chips off the market

Of course this will not be as personal to everyone out there, but imagine a place you remember having a good rendition or tribute in SL or some similar world.
Peggottys SL style
Whilst on the subject of mirror worlds too I was lucky enough to attend the roof closing ceremony at Wimbledon last Sunday. In conversations with someone there asked if any other tennis tournaments have a roof. There was some thought and discussion and I pointed out the Australian Open does. I knew that because Piper and Gizzy had built a working roof on the Second Life stadium and not becuase I had been there and seen it.
Wimbledon's new roof
This mirror world rehearsal and knowledge also came into play on a recent trip to London. I was heading for Pall Mall, but walked over Westminster bridge, past parliament and round past the treasury and the back of horseguards. I was then in a short piece I had never walked before, when I arrived at these steps
London PGR3
I instant recognized them from the car racing game Project Gotham 3 on the Xbox 360. Having driven laps lots in the past I knew where I was and where I needed to head too. I looked to the right and sure enough there was the other part of the course.
Now PGR3 is not a training game for navigation, but the fun elements of driving the cars around did bring me to a level of understanding that I would not have had otherwise