Facilitation thats what it needs. Ideas welcome

This afternoon I am running a brainstorm, ideas generation session in London (as I mentioned in this post) for Ren Reynolds and his tVPN The Virtual Policy Network as part of DotGovLabs which is an R&D project co-funded by Directgov, NHS Choices and Business Link. Initially for a small(ish) group but now a much larger one I thought I best ramp up on the equipment needed.
Pre event equipment audit
Postits, pens and stickers are the order of the day.
These sessions are always very flexible and interesting in their outcomes. There is a beginning a middle and and end but other than that …. its down to the people attending sparking up ideas.
A regular facilitator may not get overly involved in the idea generation, but I feel that as this is a session on games, virtual worlds and government I will be joining in and a few of those post-it notes will have my scrawl on them.
Fingers crossed and good luck to all the attendees.

If you want to throw any ideas into the melting pot please feel free to comment on these or any points.

The workshop will bring together Government, Industry and Academics to discuss topic such as:
• Opportunities for presence in platform menus/dashboards
• How can we get government in the space where gamers are?
• Partnerships and placement with 3rd parties
• Online communities
• Being involved in storyline
• Likely costs

In game advertising, Knives, Burgers and Shoes

The predlets asked me to put the “crashing game” on the xbox today. It was odd as we had not played Burnout Paradise for a very long while. It is relatively speaking a very old game but has been kept fresh with all sorts of updates. I noticed too many of my friends list were back playing it so it was all very serendipitous.
In particular was the fact that next week I am helping to facilitate an ideas generation workshop with the games industry and government (via Ren Reynolds Virtual Policy Network (tVPN) on how to engage sensibly and interestingly with the population.
So there the predlets were driving through the streets of paradise city when I saw these posters served via the in game advertising. Burnout being a network enabled game the ads tend to be dynamically served and clearly targetted as UK specific ones.
Job centre
Job centre plus for the UK
Knife crime
Knife crime
So that seems to indicate that the players of video games are expected to be prone to carry a knife, be unemployed and mainly eat burgers?
There was some hope though with this one
A charity awareness movement for One Day Without Shoes on April 8th this year
This is the sort of in game placement that makes sense. The billboards keep the view of the city quite fresh, and do not detract from the experience. So apart from the implications of the types of advert targeted at the UK, or maybe just targeted at me it seems a generally good concept.
Would it mean though that coming up to a general election all parties would need enough of their own billboards in games to be representative. Would it turn gamers off to see the spitting and fighting on billboards? Lets hope we don’t have to find that one out!

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 ?

Plato, a clever bloke.

I have seen this quote by Plato flying around a lot recently. It is particularly apt and correct when trying to help people come to terms with the benefit of gameplay in all fields.
“You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation.”

Now bear in mind we have the ability to play and interact with one another on all sorts of digital channels. Social media is about conversation of course, but it is also the social side of gaming, be that a dedicated game or people choosing achievements that mean something to their friends and playing, competing and cooperating. e.g. unusual photo competitions on flickr.
Imagine too that we are playing multiplayer games. So you get to learn more about several people in 1 hours gameplay online than several years worth of individual conversation.
The amount that we reveal about who we are online through these gaming, and in the case of virtual worlds semi-gaming experiences should not be underestimated as a powerful reason to interact. The institute of the future has a post on Avatar Maximization around how people react to us and our digital representations.
This is not really just about identity, though its clearly a subject to consider as we see on New World Notes about real life versus made up vs augmented names. It is about what happens when humans communicate in ways other than purely talking face to face.
Discovering more about motivations, styles of operating and preferences do shine through in our gameplay. Games of all sorts help put people at ease and when at ease their true self shines through. Not all games of course, in poker the aim is to not give anything away and keep that poker face. However, the method by which you control your “tell” or discover others is equally enlightening.
I suggested in my predictions that Games as Work is a way forward and it would appear that Plato agrees (sort of).
It could well be that with fantastic creative tools like Unity3d and virtual world toolkits like Opensim we will indeed see even more “gamification” as David Helgasson Unity3d CEO has suggested
That can only be a good thing for understanding our colleagues, friends and competitors.

A decade of gaming innovations

Over at Play Think Learn Nicola Whitton has described a good set of 5 major innovations in gamin we have seen this past decade. I was going to do a retrospective post, but Nicola’s one pretty much covers it so check it out.
Interaction, Casual, Mobile/AR,ARG and MMORPG growth feature.
I could add one that surprises some people. The move away from the pursuit of more and more “realistic” graphics at all costs.
Many people who are new to games or are suddenly taking note will start with the assumption that we need more and more photo realism and that if its not high end visuals its not a game. In part this is because the non gamers can relate to photo realism as being somewhat more understandable. There is of course room and need for these highly “real” visual games, Gran Turismo, Forza 2, Assassins Creed 2 etc. However the sideswipe the Wii made and the rise of the casual puzzle game (as you point out) thrive on not being highly rendered. For gamers The Legend Of Zelda:Wind Waker going cell shaded could be said to have tipped this trend (around 2002). So great gameplay and engagement through simpler visuals with Crayon, Toribash, Loco Roco etc has been a feature of games evolution. Then of course there are the hybrids such as the fantastic Little Big Planet whose design ethos was to look like real things but handmade from craft material and junk.
epredator little big planet style
Of course Play,Think Learn had already written about this with Just My Imagination but I thought it should be in the list of the decade too 🙂

Xbox 360 Avatar Arcade (Ps3 Home-a-like?)

Thanks to @josholalia for tweeting “Not for me. But I’d pay to watch @ritajking duel @charliechu & @epredator RT @majornelson: Game Room Trailer here->” and pointing out the video (via Major Nelson) of the future of the xbox 360 arcade game room.
This is the start of a virtual world usage of the 360 avatars to let you walk up to arcade cabinets (by the look of it) and play the old school arcade originals. Arcades where where I grew up and hung out and they were a very social place as you could not play the games all the time. I liked it when I saw the walk up cabinets in Playstation Home and I have to say this bears more than a passing resemblance to that just on the 360 😉

It sounds from the blurb (link to a word doc on this page) too that this is a customizable room that you place your arcade cabinets in. “invite friends into your custom arcade to check out your collection or visit their game room”.
It is also cross windows and xbox.
So what Microsoft has cleverly done is repackage the old arcade games (which has been done more than once) but added a highly social layer to it. Games whose high score table was only ever visible for the day in the arcade until the power was turned off will now be available all over the world.
One other line I liked (though would have preferred this to not be in a word doc !) was “Challenge friends to beat your high score by sending custom challenges and taunts across platforms”.
Customer challenges and taunts – fantastic.
It is generally accepted that the Xbox Live environment has been a major reason for the 360’s success. It is certainly why I buy more games for the 360 than the PS3. Sony has retro fitted trophies and achievements and innovated by adding Home. Microsoft started out with great connections between games and is evolving the virtual world connections and representations based on those connections. As we are all saying and learning this is all about people first tech features second.

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 🙂

Don’t forget games! – The Good, The Bad and The Pixely

Charlie Brooker wrote a great piece in the guardian yesterday about why he loves video games. It is still something that many people seem to close their minds too. In a way the virtual world experiences they are having will be a gateway to understanding the many forms of expression that games bring.
I just completed the story line of Modern Warfare 2 (no spoilers BTW), it got to a point at the end that I was shouting at the screen. This was because the game flows in an out of being in control and having to just watch. In all movies you sit and watch, its that simple. The story may or may not engage you. However some of the set pieces have you on the edge of you seat. It may be the Terminator dragging himself towards an incapacitated Sarah Conner, it may be a massive army charging towards an outnumbered set of heroes or Bond catching up with the bad guy in a car chase. They all require you to become engaged for it to work. When you have switched into a mode in a highly visual game where you have been solving problems and that is taken away from you (in context) the sense of drama and engagement is heightened. Cut scenes used to just be a way to show some pre-rendered visuals to set the scene, but the blurring of the cut scene narrative with the restricted interaction I thought was brilliant. (I have been playing games since the 70’s).
So as Charlie Brooker said “If you don’t play games, you’re not just missing out, you’re wilfully ignoring the most rapidly evolving creative medium in human history.”
Of course games are not just one thing, one genre, one experience. They meet many different tastes and needs. The abstract cartoon style social games of Cafe World and Farmville focussed on the daily grind (just as many MMO’s such as World of Warcraft rely on) to the now much more open ended experiences. The latter being demonstrated here with Red Dead Redemption from Rockstar Games. It’s not just the graphics, physics and code its the potential for narrative and engagement for one or more people.
See what you think.

Iphone dancing on the ceiling

In my continued look at the quick things that can be done with a Mac, and Iphone, unity3d and some content (in this case my Evolver avatar) I thought I would see if the bones and animation worked ok and performed ok on the Iphone.
I was not being overly precise about defining the mappings of the ragdoll, but I did click on a few Kinematic check boxes to see what would happen.
This was the result. It does indeed animate itself, there is nothing I have put in other than asking for joints and physics it just dances away to itself.

It is amazing, the lengths we used to have to go to to make even the most basic animation happen, morphing 2d shapes on commodore 64’s and alike.
It feels to me that we have the potential for a huge bedroom coding movement now again. This was so quick to build and deploy that its hard to see why we all are not doing it.

Predator design on Feeding Edge car

Further to my previous post with some Feeding Edge logos splattered over a Subaru, I just used what little graphic design talent I have to create this multi layered rendition of a predator mask. So I now have both a version of the corporate presence and my own merged together on a GT500.
predator car forza 3
I think it looks pretty good, but then beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
predator car forza 3
Update: Using the subaru scoop as part of the predator mask 🙂