Monthly Archives: November 2006

KPL SIGGRAPH paper online

First I need to apologize for being away for a week!  I brought a yucky cold home from my travels, and then used the long Thanksgiving weekend to rest and recover.  Much better now!

So here’s a link to the KPL paper, permanently part now of the ACM record.  We presented it as part of the Educator’s track last August. Here’s the abstract:

In this paper, we introduce Kid’s Programming Language, or KPL. KPL is an integrated development environment (IDE) and programming language which are similar to but greatly simplified from current mainstream IDEs and languages. KPL is educational freeware. KPL was initially targeted at the 10-14 age group, but has proven to be engaging and interesting to beginning programmers and hobbyists of all ages. KPL offers a highly leveraged object model which emphasizes graphics programming, including 2D and 3D graphics. KPL intends to address the problem of declining computer science interest and enrollment by 1) making it easy for beginners to get started with computer programming, 2) capturing and holding beginners’ interest by emphasizing graphics and games programming and 3) enabling a smooth “graduation” from KPL into mainstream languages and IDEs.

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Heard of Green Monster Games yet? You will!

Curt Schilling is the star pitcher with a World Series ring from the 2001 Arizona Diamondbacks, and another from the legendary 2004 Boston Red Sox. He says next year will be his last season, pitching in Fenway Park. For those who aren’t baseball fans, The Green Monster is the famous left field fence in Fenway. The way the park is built, that fence is unusually close to the batter – and, accordingly, is unusually high. And green. So why the heck am I talking about this on my blog about games?

Besides being a pitcher who may be bound for the Hall of Fame, Curt has been a geeky gamer since 1981. And we now know what he’s going to do after retiring next year. He has just formed his own game studio, Green Monster Games, with the intent to publish “a game that changes the landscape of the online marketplace.” Says Schilling, “We are excited about the future of the industry and even more excited that we will be a part of it, and help shape it for years to come. We look forward to proving that to every gamer on the planet.”

Note “marketplace” – he is being very close-to-the-vest about this, but that’s a clear signal of how they’re thinking about this differently from the current crop of MMOs.

Think for a moment about the PR value of Curt creating anything – and the unprecedented media coverage. Unprecedented media coverage means unprecedented outreach beyond the usual geeky gamer demographic. When’s the last time you saw a feature about an MMO in Sports Illustrated, or on ESPN? Ah, but it gets better!

Todd McFarlane is a legendary comic book artist turned entrepreneur (and, not coincidentally, legendary baseball fan). He’s brilliantly talented, quirky, and in the geeky space of comic book fans his name is bigger than Curt Schilling’s is for baseball fans. Todd McFarlane is signed up to be the Art Director for Green Monster Games’ premier MMO. OK, there’s a lot more overlap between the geeky gamer demographic and the geeky comic book demographic – but still, this will also lead to unprecedented media coverage for the game they are creating.

But we’re not done yet! R.A. Salvatore is a very very popular niche author who has written dozens of books that gamers have enjoyed for decades. Many of them are set specifically in the Dungeons and Dragons game settings. A few people have played that game, too. 😀 R.A. has signed up to be the Creative Director for their first MMO.

They are assembling the team, in pre-production now, and recruiting the best of experienced and proven talent from previous MMO teams to fill it. Moorgard, much-loved community manager for Everquest 2, is an example.

Here’s the Green Monster Games, LLC startup press release

Here’s a Green Monster Games interview from yesterday with Curt Schilling

Here’s the press release listing their first high-profile employees

Note that Curt isn’t dabbling here. He really has played games for decades, and most particularly he is already known as a player and spokesperson for the Sony Online Entertainment MMOs Everquest and Everquest 2.

There are no guarantees, obviously – process and personalities have to be extremely difficult to manage on a project like this. On the other hand, consider all of the things which they have going for them that seperate them from the usual MMO startup: funding, independent control, high-profile big-name PR, high-quality creative content, access to the best experienced professionals in the business…

Yeah, it will be fun to see what they come up with!

IBM accelerates push into 3D virtual worlds

Here’s the Reuters story, as published by CNET: IBM accelerates push into 3D virtual worlds

It’s from 9 November – I’m catching up a bit after getting back from my Brazil trip.  But it’s important enough to the Second Life story I’ve been watching and reporting here that I wanted to blog about it.

The abstract:

IBM is ramping up its push into virtual worlds with an investment of roughly $10 million over the next 12 months, including an expanded presence within the popular 3D online universe Second Life .

I highly recommend clicking and reading the article, but as usual want to clip some important quotes from it:

Second Life, where Reuters opened a bureau last month, is one of the best-known virtual worlds, with more than 1 million registered users and a well-established economy and currency. The equivalent of more than half a million U.S. dollars change hands there every day.

IBM has already established the biggest Second Life presence of any Fortune 500 company. It uses the world primarily for training and meetings but has also built a simulation of the Wimbledon tennis tournament.

The company is also looking to build a private 3D intranet where it will be able to discuss sensitive business information. It is moving to champion what it calls “v-business”–short for virtual business–just as it championed “e-business,” or electronic business, during the dot-com boom.

“We always ask the question, ‘if you knew 20 years ago what you know about the Web today, what would you do differently?'” said Sandy Kearney, IBM’s director of emerging 3-D Internet and virtual business. “The Web took decades. This will likely take half that time.”

Don’t miss that link to the Reuters story about opening up a news bureau office in Second Life: Newsmaker:  Reuters’ ‘Second Life’ reporter talks shop.  Second Life is first in the space of virtual worlds that parallel and connect to our own – and the world has no real clue yet how important and vast that space is going to be.  The Web’s been hot for 15 years now.  Would you believe me if I said that these virtual worlds are going to be much bigger and more important than the Web?  I doubt you would, now.   Putting this on my blog puts it in writing – let’s check my prediction in 15 years, shall we?

A spokesman for IBM said its goals go far beyond Second Life, although it currently has its largest virtual world presence there, and that the company eventually wants to see all multiverses integrated into a seamless whole.

“In addition to our desire to work more closely with Linden Labs, we’re exploring how we can work with many virtual world players, including companies like Multiverse and Bigworld Technology, as well as open source platforms like Uni-Verse.org,” the spokesman said in an email.

“IBM’s ultimate aim is for inter-world integration, instead of separate islands of virtual worlds, where you cannot cross over from one to the other in a consistent way,” he said.

This gets to things I have been thinking and talking about with friends, but have yet to blog about.  I’ll find time to do that next month.  Let me plant this seed: the inter-world integration IBM is looking toward and working on could be considered a 3D version of the Web – will it be Web 3.0? It will ideally also integrate with and be consistent with 3D modeling of actual reality (ala Google Earth and Flight Sim X) as well as with 3D gaming realities (ala WoW and EQ2 and all the others).

It’s not just computer science any more

Here’s a ZDNet article on the topic: Berners-Lee, universities launch ‘Web science’ initiative

Berners-Lee, of course, really is the guy who invented the World Wide Web.  😀

Here are quotes from the article – mainly the words of the researchers themselves:

“The Web is basically a web of people. It’s a way that social people interact,” Tim Berners-Lee, who invented the basic software of the Web and is director of the World Wide Web Consortium standards group, said. “Because it’s something we created, we have a duty to make it better.” 

The social aspect of the Web–and the Web’s huge impact on society–demands that a field separate from computer science be explored, organizers said. For example, eBay is interesting because it relies on the involvement of millions of people. Similarly, Google used a mathematical algorithm that examines how millions of individuals link to other pages to improve search results.

“We want to throw some light on forecasting what these new technologies might lead to in the human sense, in the community sense–and in the business,” said Wendy Hall, a professor of computer science at the University of Southampton.

Social scientists can help analyze online communities, and experts in life sciences can help Web scientists understand how complex systems like the human body–or the Web–operate, she said.

Researchers would like systems that can better reflect the social relationships between people, said Daniel Weitzner, principle research scientist at CSAIL.

For example, finding out basic information on meeting participants, such as phone numbers or professions, from an online calendar entry would entail a lot of manual work. But socially aware Web applications could make the task much easier

“The Web fails to capture the nature of social relationships. We want the Web to be more responsive to the existing relationships people actually have,” said Weitzner. 

“We want to see the Web as an object of scientific study from the perspective of various different disciplines,” said Weitzner. “What we are looking for is to direct scholarly attention and research attention to this particular new subject.”  

Seems like a great idea to me.  Our profession, especially the field of ‘computer science,’ us still certainly dominated by the technology and the technologists.  This is changing, and fields like design and usability have been and will get a lot more attention and respect than they have, as they continue to demonstrate their importance to successful products and successful applications of technology. 

Social aspects of computing, as this initiative addresses, are really as new as mainstream access to the World Wide Web – only a decade or so now.  If you think about the examples they mention, and the important successes of the Internet, they are all social uses of technology.  At the highest level – and this is a point I haven’t heard made much – the last 10 years of success of the Internet specifically and of technology generally (iPod anyone? cell phones anyone?) are specifically about mainstream (and thus social) adoption of the technology.  That’s where the big numbers are, not in counting the early adopters and the technologists.

So yes, seems like a great idea to bring multiple disciplines to bear in a collaborative way on these issues of society and technology around the World Wide Web.

Here is the abstract from their site, at www.webscience.org:

Web Science

The Web Science Research Initiative (WSRI) is a joint endeavour between the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) at MIT and the School of Electronics and Computer Science (ECS) at the University of Southampton. The goal of WSRI is to facilitate and produce the fundamental scientific advances necessary to inform the future design and use of the World Wide Web.

The initiative will have four founding directors: Tim Berners-Lee, director of the World Wide Web Consortium, senior research scientist at MIT and professor at the University of Southampton; Wendy Hall, professor of computer science and head of the School of Electronics and Computer Science at the University of Southampton; Nigel Shadbolt, professor of artificial intelligence at the University of Southampton and director of the Advanced Knowledge Technologies Interdisciplinary Research Collaboration; and Daniel J. Weitzner, Technology and Society Domain leader of the World Wide Web Consortium and principal research scientist at MIT. Jim Hendler, Professor of computer science department at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, will serve as Associate Director.

“Since its inception, the World Wide Web has changed the ways scientists communicate, collaborate, and educate. There is, however, a growing realization among many researchers that a clear research agenda aimed at understanding the current, evolving, and potential Web is needed. If we want to model the Web; if we want to understand the architectural principles that have provided for its growth; and if we want to be sure that it supports the basic social values of trustworthiness, privacy, and respect for social boundaries, then we must chart out a research agenda that targets the Web as a primary focus of attention.

When we discuss an agenda for a science of the Web, we use the term “science” in two ways. Physical and biological science analyzes the natural world, and tries to find microscopic laws that, extrapolated to the macroscopic realm, would generate the behavior observed. Computer science, by contrast, though partly analytic, is principally synthetic: It is concerned with the construction of new languages and algorithms in order to produce novel desired computer behaviors. Web science is a combination of these two features. The Web is an engineered space created through formally specified languages and protocols. However, because humans are the creators of Web pages and links between them, their interactions form emergent patterns in the Web at a macroscopic scale. These human interactions are, in turn, governed by social conventions and laws. Web science, therefore, must be inherently interdisciplinary; its goal is to both understand the growth of the Web and to create approaches that allow new powerful and more beneficial patterns to occur.”

Creating a Science of the Web
Tim Berners-Lee, Wendy Hall, James Hendler, Nigel Shadbolt, Daniel J. Weitzner
SCIENCE VOL 313 11 AUGUST 2006

For anyone wanting to read more, their publications page already offers some interesting articles:

http://www.webscience.org/publications/

Two NSF-funded Serious Games examples

Catching up on blogging from the airport in Recife.  I like this place, but there´s no place like home, right?  On the way!

The article is from November 7, on GameCareerGuide.com, and is by Peter Stephenson, Stephen Lecrenski and Brent Peckham: Increasing Student Retention in Computer Science.  While I recommend clicking and reading the article in detail, and will highlight it below, I was disappointed that it was in fact little about increasing student retention in Computer Science.  Other than mention below of the NSF grant as the context in which these projects were done, there was no further mention (except for Stephen Lecrenski´s personal anecdote) of the retention issue.  The article does point out, though, that there is a distinction between retention of CS graduate students and CS undergrads.  I will look for some data about the graduate level and blog about that when I find it.  My assumption is that undergrad retention is a much lower percentage than graduate retention – but that is an assumption that needs verification at this point.  I´d also like to see some research on the different factors are impacting each statistic, and will look for those.

Since 2004, the University of Rhode Island and The IMEDIA Academy have been running a Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) Site sponsored by the National Science Foundation to encourage student retention in computer science in graduate programs and scientific careers.

One current research direction that we are pursuing in the program is the use of serious games in education and entertainment.

In these two projects we developed two small yet serious games with the aim to evaluate and compare their educational impacts.

The Deep Sea project places an aquaria visitor in a submarine, 4,000 meters below the surface of a virtual ocean. Because it is too expensive to replicate deep sea aquatic environments at sea level, computer game simulations such as Deep Sea can allow players to explore and experience life in the abyss. The environment we modeled surrounds a hydrothermal vent and contains a number of creatures such as tube worms, angler fish, fangtooth fish, and a vampire squid. The player can navigate around the site and click on any specimen encountered to gain information about what they are experiencing.


 Cool, eh?  I´d like to play that one!

The article continues with more screenshots, and an analysis of what when right with this game project.  The what went wrong analysis is conspicuously absent!  😀

It next discusses a project on vision impairment simulation.  Here´s Brent Peckham´s overview of his project:

The motivation behind the project is that there are a large number of visually disabled people in society. While they can do most activities that non-disabled people can, certain tasks are harder for them. The government has protected these disabled peoples’ rights and helped prevent discrimination by passing such laws like the Americans with Disabilities Act. It is therefore important for the non-disabled people to create products and businesses with the disabled in mind. This visual impairment simulator helps give people a first hand experience of what it is like to have certain visual disabilities.

The project was created by finding a game engine, in this case Unreal Tournament 2004, and creating the appropriate modifications to it in order for it to become a visual impairment simulator. Objects such as weapons, health, and the ability to kill were removed in order to create wide-open environments to allow the user to explore while experiencing visual impairments of their choice. By being given the opportunity to explore and interact with the environment from a first person point of view while having an impairment triggered, it was hoped that users would learn about what it is like to be visually disabled.

While this doesn´t exactly sound like fun, it does indeed sounds like an important and valuable example of how game simulations can be applied for non-game purposes.  His analysis also includes the what went right and what went wrong analysis often used for Gamasutra features.

  

Recife Photos 1

Keynote on When User-Created Meets Gaming: a Revolution is Coming! went very well yesterday! I will put together a post with its content while traveling home next week. I was going to say that I’ve never been asked for my autograph before, lol, but then I remembered it also happened when presenting Phrogram at PAX. It’s not me, it’s the Phrog! 😀

This is an amazing city, great food, and really nice people. I’ll take some more photos of the city today and tomorrow, but here are the best ones from yesterday:

Recife Urban Art I
Recife Brazil, Urban Art II
Recife Brazil, Urban Art III
Recife Brazil, Urban Art IV
Recife Brazil, Contrast I
Recife Brazil, Contrast II
Ceiling
Ceiling plus Mosaic
Winged Bull
Recife Brazil, Hotel view of Atlantic

Heading to Brazil for SBGames

Blogging from the airport – we really like these Verizon wireless cards!

The Microsoft Research proposal has been submitted, the first Program book (Create Your Own Computer Games With Phrogram) is at our editor’s office at Addison Wesley, and everything is set up and ready for the keynote on Thursday.  Eyah!  Been crazy busy since we released Kid’s Programming Language last year, but the last month has been the busiest yet.  Looking forward to sunshine and a warm Atlantic, for a few days at least!

Here’s a link to the SBGames page listing my keynote, titled When User-Created Content Meets Gaming: A Revolution is Coming

http://www.cin.ufpe.br/~sbgames/invited.html

Recife is Portuguese for “reef,” by the way – the coast is the easternmost tip of Brazil, on the Atlantic, and is lined with them.   The area was settled is 1537 – wow!  Here’s a cool introductory page about it:

http://darkwing.uoregon.edu/~sergiok/brasil/recife.html

Yep, have I my camera with me!

Coding4Fun brings us KPL traffic

Coding4Fun, Microsoft’s self-describing hobbyist programmer site, has just put up a major redesign, which looks like it’s based on Vista marketing.

They also re-issued a bunch of past articles in their Coding4Fun blog, including the set of articles they published on creating your own games with KPL. Thanks again, Coding4Fun, for the past and current coverage and traffic!

I guess I should be clear, though, since the articles at Coding4Fun have in the past made some people assume KPL was a Microsoft product. Neither KPL nor Phrogram are Microsoft products – the Microsoft Coding4Fun guys just liked what we have done with them, liked that they were such good examples of what you can do with .NET programming, and considered that KPL fit the goals for the site very well – so they sponsored and published a series of articles that we wrote for them.

I thought I’d list and link the articles in sequence. They are based on last year’s KPL, which we have improved with this year’s Phrogram – but much that is in them is compatible with Phrogram, and of course many people are still downloading and using KPL as well as Phrogram!

Coding4Fun: Kid’s Programming Language

Coding4Fun: KPL: Pong!

Coding4Fun: KPL: Christmas Tree Shooter

Coding4Fun: KPL: Santa’s Gifts

Coding4Fun: KPL: Asteroids!

Coding4Fun: KPL: Missile Command!

By the way, the main reasons why you might, at this point, still use KPL instead of Phrogram are:

1) You need a language translation file which Phrogram doesn’t offer yet (KPL offers 18 international languages now, while Phrogram is only at 5 yet)

2) You are running Windows 98 (Phrogram requires 2000 or later)

3) You prefer the simplicity of procedural KPL to class-based Phrogram

Fewer computer science majors

Well, the Cincinatti Enquirer is reporting about it! Thanks, Naomi Snyder!  Here’s hoping others pick it up, too.
The article doesn’t mention actual numbers, so I will. Is it because it’s hard to believe or hard to understand that noone is reporting there’s a 50% to 70% drop in the number of people intending to study computer science? Here’s a link to a graph of the data from the national study, published by Jay Vesgo and the Computing Research Association.

Fewer computer science majors

Computer science majors make some of the country’s highest starting salaries for college graduates, at almost $50,000 a year. Computer science and computer engineering jobs are some of the fastest-growing occupations in the nation, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

Despite that, universities across the country are watching enrollments drop in their computer science programs – at almost the exact time employers are saying they can’t find enough qualified candidates.

“We’re going crazy trying to find candidates,” said Sridevi Movva, the managing partner of Nashville IT consulting firm Optimum Technologies Solutions.

This is a change from the peak of the dot-com era from the mid-1990s to the early 2000s, when tech companies with big plans, wild ideas and risk-taking investors flooded the marketplace. Students showed up for jam-packed computer classes with dollar signs flashing in their eyeballs.

Some university professors think that students and their parents still are scared off from computer science because of the dot-com bust, combined with a fear that an increasing number of jobs, especially programming jobs, are being sent overseas to places such as India.

Others think universities haven’t done a good job offering the latest skills and that students are turning to technical schools and career colleges as an alternative. Career college enrollment almost doubled between 1998 and 2003, according to data compiled by the Career College Association.

“It’s not one university that’s doing a bad job, they’re all doing a bad job,” said Andy Orr, a recruiting manager at employment agency Robert Half Technology in Nashville.

Video Games Seek to Build Your Social Awareness

The article from Newhouse News Service is here, and I believe is press followup to the Serious Games Summit held in Arlington this week. Lot’s more in the article – I’d recommend clicking and reading – but here are some highlights:

If you’re a video game player whose social conscience isn’t fulfilled by shooting villains or scoring points, your options are expanding: You can broker a Middle East peace deal, run a drought-stricken African farm or pick fruit as a migrant worker.

Game developers increasingly are using their products to bring attention to and solve vexing real-world problems. People who study the “serious games” industry say the designers are keen on showing the public that interactive games offer more than entertainment.

“People who grew up with games are saying, `Why should we not use this technology … to try to change this environment that I’m in?”‘ said Henry Jenkins, director of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s comparative media studies program and author of 11 books on media and society.

About 50 serious games deal with social themes, with at least that many more in development, said Suzanne Seggerman, executive director of Games for Change, a New York City advocacy group. “This is an area that has a whole bunch of potential.”

I don’t think I like the “serious games” concept and name. Feels to me like it’s point is to seperate from and minimize or marginalize all other games that don’t fit their definition of “serious.” I feel like people need to stop being apologetic about “fun.” I assume, at least, that in this context serious is being presented as different from and better than fun. I think that’s a mistake, as well as an educational and design copout. Yes, fun is hard to do – so we should work hard on it. The answer is not to create serious games that aren’t fun – the answer is to create games that are fun AND have a serious educational purpose.

A question I like to ask is “If it’s not fun, what is it?”