Category Archives: Game Design and 3d Modeling

Sony Online’s SOEmote software provides you with your Everquest II character’s expressions and voice

Sony Online’s SOEmote software provides you with your Everquest II character’s expressions and voice

This really is going to be a bigger deal than it seems right now, yep.

As a collaborative concoction between Sony, Image Metrics, and Vivox, SOEmote captures your voice and facial expressions and pastes them onto your in-game character. It also modulates your words into the pitch appropriate for your race such as the deep baritone of an ogre or the gnome’s tinny squeak. We at GamesBeat recommend turning off this feature when spilling large, expletive-inducing cups of coffee.

 

In the below video, David Georgeson, Everquest II director of development, demonstrates SOEmote’s capabilities with his mighty Froglok warrior, proving anthropomorphic amphibians look terrifyingly creepy when grinning.

7-128: Indie game developers expanding the market

Something I’ve blogged a lot about for the last year is how much the stereotypical gaming niche – teen boys and young men – has changed, needs to change, and will continue to change: Shifting gaming demographics. The subtitle on that one, btw, is “Online gaming attracts more women than men (Nielsen study tracks booming genre).”

We all know that the established companies who fund new game development in the industry fund games that are a lot like previously demonstrated successes. Games like games they’ve done before. This is how a “niche” happens in the first place, and how sequels and franchise games happen.

So it’s not the big companies and the big sources of funding who are going to be the sources of new ideas, and especially not them who are going to expand the market by making games outside of the current gaming “niche”. Companies like the one I want to tell you about are doing that – and this company is doing it more profoundly than any I’ve yet seen.

I first found out about 7-128 software (http://www.7128.com/) a couple weeks ago when I found this article: Staying in the game: Salem group shuns retirement to produce computer games. From the article:

“We just felt that there needed to be something that was more family-oriented, that parents and grandparents could play with their kids,” Cynthia Geller said, “and something that would make people really think about what’s going on rather than just reacting. We engage your mind and not just your twitch.”

And, Geller says, Microsoft and Sony don’t market to the elderly, the deaf and the blind. Many 7-128 games have special features for seniors, the hearing impaired and the vision impaired – voice activation and text enlargement, for example. The level of difficulty is flexible, and each game can be set to easy mode.

Many of the games have a sort of throttle that lets players slow them down. That’s to appeal to seniors and people with poor motor skills and cognitive problems.

Most important, the group unanimously agrees, is the storytelling.

How’s that for expanding on the current narrow, young, male gaming niche? Let me reiterate the differences:

  • family-oriented
  • engage your mind
  • make people really think
  • senior citizens
  • hearing impaired
  • vision impaired
  • easy mode
  • Most important … is the storytelling

How many unaddressed markets do you see in that list? 🙂 They only officially launched this year, January 1st. I look forward to seeing how it goes! I think they’re in a great position, obviously, to do more than just have fun creating games, because 1) the appeal of gaming is much broader than its current niche, 2) the technology to run these games is nearly ubiquitous now and 3) there’s a lot of opportunity they are addressing which no one else is addressing yet.

The Boston Globe also featured them last month: Partners in life, business. Nice PR, for such a small and young company!

Their Game Book is a Java based game engine, and key to what they are doing. It comes with four games, and you can modularly add games to it. Their business has a model of releasing a new game every week. How’s that for fresh content to keep customers engaged and having a good time? Their text-to-speech, large text and “easy button” features are implemented in the engine itself – so are available for all games they produce for the engine. Smart on multiple levels, isn’t it?

I’ve installed and checked it out. Many of the games are period pieces, set in fancy New England mansions 100 years ago. The Poirot series from the BBC came to mind – that this is a favorite of my wife’s (and even I like Poirot!) proves the point about expanding the market. I played with the text-to-speech engine on to check that out, and it was like a narrated, interactive murder mystery. Cool! Not console graphics, no. And the whole point about expanding the market is that there’s more to gaming than $10,000,000 console graphics games.

Most people who read my blog are going to find 7-128 interesting from the point of view of their business model and their technology – check them out! They especially deserve some kudos for making games that are specifically accessible to hearing impaired and vision impaired people!

Any other small indie game developers you’d like to tell us about? Please, introduce them in a comment! I like the idea of making an ongoing series of features like this about indies, specifically about how they are expanding the market and bringing some creative new business ideas to gaming.

2D Pixel Art competition for Second Life

Kerry commented on my post from last week about Second Life competition with info about FakeTown and CityPixel, and they are interesting enough I certainly wanted to blog about and link to them.

Both are online avatar-based MMO communities based on 2D pixel art, rather than 3D modeling and rendering. I posted about pixel art last year: The funkiest art you’ve never heard of

Both are web-based communities/interfaces which thus require no download, are innately cross-platform, and work on far broader a range of computers than to the 3D-based MMOs. In the upper right corner of each of those home pages you can click to visit/play them directly. How’s that for proof of lightweight and immediate availability?

Faketown seems to have a more open model for users to create their own content and “sell” it to others in the community – and, of course, has to deal with people abusing the open model. CityPixel provides an address to email one’s art for review and inclusion. That’s a tough business model call, really. Very open to user-created content, with problems and lots of activity? Or less open to user-created content, with less problems, and less activity?

Either way, it’s an important point that anyone really can can make interesting 2D pixelated art, avatars and objects – a pixel paintbrush and some patience even allows me to do that, and I’m no artist. So these environments are way easier to add content to than are 3D-model based environments. Faketown specifically includes integrated browser-based tools to: “Draw Anything,” “Create Animation,” “Upload Photo,” “Upload Music,” and “YouTube Video Link.”

CityPixel seems to be more polished and/or better funded, and to have a bit more focus on social networking.

Anyone else have the sense these could be killer apps if they are done well and catch on virally and globally? Will one of them take off as an alternative to Second Life and the other 3D MMOs? I’ve mentioned the compelling reasons why they could – most particularly that 1) any computer on the planet running a reasonably current web browser gives someone access to them, no download/client/3D hardware required. And 2) it’s a lot easier for users to create their own interesting and goodlooking 2D pixelated art than it is for them to make 3D.

Caveat: both seem ‘early’ – CityPixel is specifically still ‘beta.’

Anyone using these have feedback for us?

GDC: User-Creation in Gamespace

Here’s a pretty complete typed transcript from 3pointD.com

Very much worth a read if you’re thinking about user-created content, and especially if you’re thinking about user-created 3D models.  But I’m surprised they focused so much on 3D model creation only.  The venue and the products they’re all working on make that likely I guess.  Here’s how Raph said it:

Raph: 3D is vanishingly small in its amount of importance in terms of user participation in these spaces. The number one use of user-created content in virtual spaces is the screenshot. And that is user content creation. It is shared more widely, distributed, commented on, annotated. That’s actually where the action is, things that have a far lower barrier to ewntry. The interesting areas of user-content creation .are in mashup and remix, like they are everywhere else, screenshot commets, WoW dance videos, dancing itself, stuff like that. That’s where a lot of the action is, because that’s where the barrier is low.

GDC: MMOs, past, present and future

Here’s Alice’s post with notes from the panel discussion

And some highlights here.  So the moderator asks them all for three predictions – veeerry innnteresting!

Raph [Koster]: I would say we are about to see a truly massive explosion in the quantity of online worlds, like Korea saw. The vast majority will not be retail box products. We’re starting to see… you saw darkstar just open sourced a perfectly viable MMO engine. You can pick it up for free. We’re going to start to see a helluva lot more… stuff. Number 2: no offense to megapublishers: I think the most important and significant pubs are going to come from the film and television industries. The most active virtual worlds publisher in the last six months is VIACOM. I really really think that anybody in this room who is not watching the way big media is moving into this space is missing a major, major story. This is a short term prediction. My third one… these are all things happening now that no-one’s noticing, so I’m cheating. 3 is the non-game: the poster child to this is Second Life. That stuff is not going to decline. It’s drawing in insane amounts of investment and attention, all this writing on SL. You saw PS Home? Would that exist without SL? No. Recently on the web you see people checking out all these SL clones… Kaneva, HidiHi…no-one here is paying the slightest bit of attention, and their bragging about the three fundamental concepts: user generated upload, the ability to cash out and make money (whoa ! World of Warcraft it AIN’T!)… And entertainment isn’t going to slip from the number one spot. But they won’t necessarily look like what we think is an MMO.

Mark J[acobs]: we’re going to see a lot more types of games. We’ll see rps, fps,.. explosion in different types of games. After that… lots of corpses. So many failures its’ going to be unbelievable. There’s so much dumb money chasing around this space it’s shocking. Here come the mass media, and they’re shouting, omg we wanna be just like World of Warcraft. Here’s a lot of money, make a great game, but there’s only a handful of people who know how to make it really well. I’m predicting disaster. Number 3 prediction: you’ll see someone beat wow. It wont’ be us. But World of Warcraft, like every other game, will have its day.

 Rob [Pardo]: … because of wow, and all the dumb money and all the publisher pressure, there’ll be lots of games that shouldn’t have been MMOs but would have been great boxed products. Lots of publishers are pushing for that subscription pie, but they’ll fail. Last prediction: from here on out everyone’s going to be thinking globally about their MMOs. Previous to us everyone thought Europe didn’t have a market for MMOs, but we have more than a million and a half in Europe.

Mark K[ern]: our definition of MMO is going to change. The line will blur. Xbox Live Achievements. Lots of box games will take on persistent attributes. The way we pay for our games is completely going to change. No box product gets sold in Asia. Once those channels open up, it’ll be hard to tell what’s an MMO and what’s not. It’s also going to get really cheap to start an MMO. It used to cost 10m dollars to launch a website, once upon a time. It was an arcane art. But nowadays there are solutions out of the box to allow people to build persistent communities. Content is still expensive, but getting in on the ground floor? Much easier to do. Last prediction: lots of experiments in convergence of social networking and MMO virtual space. MySpace… and MMOs. There’s all sorts of crossover opportunity. If you’re running a socnet without a virtual bit of some sort in 5 years you’ll look like a dinosaur.

Daniel [James]: I don’t think big media companies will be able to execute their way out of a paper bag. A lot of people will lose their shirt in this space. Yes. This medium’s going to destroy television. This is great! The advertising business will migrate to this medium. Big media are throwing money away because they realise this is happening. The wrinkle on the social networking… […] … ok going in to wacky land now because everyone’s said all the sensible stuff, I think there’ll be lots of regulatory things arising between what players want and what the government wants.. I’m wondering whether I should offshore myself now in case they think I’m gambling or porn or whatever because of what my players like doing in my virtual space. It’s a television-eater.

The next game controller–your brain?

A “headset that uses a set of sensors to tune into electric signals naturally produced by the brain to detect player thoughts, feelings and expression… Project Epoc now makes it possible for games to be controlled and influenced by the player’s mind.”

Yowsa.  This is real!   Strange Days ahead!  (not for the young or the squeamish, btw)

So they’ve just announced Project Epoc this week at GDC – nice splash! – and you can apparently try it out there.  Anyone there have a comment for us?

An image from their site:

And some from GDC:

Here’s the ZDNet article,  The next game controller–your brain?Some highlights:

The Project Epoc system can move objects based on a gamer’s thoughts, reflect facial expressions and respond to the excitement or calm the gamer displays, the company said.

Sensors in the helmet pick up on electric signals in the brain. The system software analyzes the signals emitted by the brain and then wirelessly relays what it detects to a receiver. The receiver is plugged into the USB port of a game console or PC, according to Randy Breen, Emotiv’s chief product officer.

As with handwriting or voice recognition, the machine itself has a learning curve, improving as it better understands what the player is thinking, but there is also a skill level involving visualization on the part of the gamer.

“We have had a number of kids try the equipment, and they often get the best results right away,” Breen said. “Part of that is because the kid doesn’t have the same kind of barriers as an adult does. Lots of kids can fantasize about moving a cup (telekinetically) and believe it.”

Adults, on the other hand, are more definitive in their thinking and thus have a barrier to believing that they can do something out of the ordinary, Breen said.

The helmet shown at the show is only a prototype to demonstrate to game developers what can be done with the technology. While Emotiv is not yet ready to announce any partnerships, Breen did say the product will be coming to market in 2008.

In conjunction with Project Epoc’s debut, the company launched a kit for game developers Wednesday. Emotiv also announced that it is developing its technology for use in other industries, including medicine, security, market research and interactive television.

Here are some highlights from the company’s press release:

Emotiv has created the first brain computer interface technology that can detect and process both human conscious thoughts and non-conscious emotions. The technology, which comprises a headset and a suite of applications, allows computers to differentiate between particular thoughts such as lifting an object or rotating it; detect and mimic a user’s expressions, such as a smile or wink; and respond to emotions such as excitement or calmness.

Emotiv’s founding team includes Allan Snyder FRS (co-founder), an internationally-recognized scientist, inventor of the theory behind optical fibre and a winner of numerous awards, medals and fellowships, including the 2001 Marconi International Prize; Neil Weste (co-founder), a pioneer in chip design and founder of Radiata Communications which was acquired by Cisco Systems in 2001 for approximately A$500 million; and Tan Le (co-founder and president) and Nam Do (co-founder and CEO), both award-winning technology entrepreneurs and former founders of SASme, one of the companies responsible for the creation of Australia’s and South East Asia’s SMS application market.

Here’s the company website for Emotiv

Here’s the product info page for Project Epoc

Here’s the For developers page with more details

Photogallery from GDC 

Kaneva = Second Life + MySpace ?

Sound like a good idea?  Oh yeah – but a hard thing to get just right.  And it’s gotta be a hard thing to peel people away from MySpace and Second Life.  Social networks are ‘sticky’ as a function of their size (and MySpace is HUGE); and Second Life has to also be naturally sticky based on a user’s investment of time and effort and (maybe) real money.  Still, better to try it now than when there is more competition trying it.  There will be.

http://www.kaneva.com/ is in closed beta now – but the site encourages you to:

1) Join: Join Kaneva, create your profile

2) Be Active: Explore, make friends, rave and have fun

3) Get invited: Earn invites to get into the Virtual World of Kaneva

Brilliant piece of community- and buzz-generation there, isn’t it?  I just don’t have time to check it out – and I don’t think it’s really my thing anyway.  Any Kaneva users have comments?

Overview links:

Communities (ReggaeTown, The NASCAR, Medieval Town, etc…)

People (123,000 so far, in closed beta)

Entertainment (Videos, photos, music, games)

And features of the world:

Homes and Hangouts: “Create your own 3D home and decorate it with your unique style.  Explore community hangouts 0 theaters, clubs and more.”

Customized 3D avatars: (TheSchwartz: Looks like lots of human customization, but no SL-style ability to make non-human avatars)

In-World Fun: “Watch (and share) your videos in 3D.  Throw a dance party.  Chat with friends and play games.”

Shopping: “Make a fashion statement. Accessorize your home.  Be the first to show of the latest, cool stuff.”

Key takeaway: you can spend real world $$$ to buy Virtual World credits, and buy lots of stuff for yourself and your house.  All kinds of thoughts in my head about the social, emotional, self-image, economic and commercial implications of that – but I’ll hold my tongue for now.  Whatever the implications, they’ll surely make a boatload of money, if they succeed in a large-scale launch with millions of users.

Last overview point from the site:

Elite Developers

Are you an experienced 3D game developer?

Join our Elite Developer Program – over 10,000 game engine downloads, 600 developers, and 30 games in development

Join Now -> 

It’s an interesting model to get professional-quality content generated for the new virtual world.  And to check out potential future employees of Kaneva.  And again, I don’t have time to dig into this myself (any comments, anyone?), but check out these bits from the page:

The Kaneva Game Platform is designed for end-to-end MMO game (MMOG) development for FPS and RPG genres. The Kaneva Game Platform (KGP) features many of the latest graphic rendering capabilities, while providing backend and networking features required for supporting hundreds of thousands of simultaneous players.

Q: What’s the cost?

A: Currently, the KGP is free to download and use for non-commercial purposes.

Q: What kinds of games can I design with KGP? What types of games are not appropriate for KGP?

A: Some games for custom platforms would not be suitable for development on the KGP.  This would include cell-phones, most consoles, etc.  But the KGP is an excellent development platform for all kinds of PC games.

Interesting, eh?  We shall see what we shall see…

Recruiting Employees – in Second Life!

My wife is a recruiter and sent me this one – it’s an article on ere.net, a news and resources and community site for the recruiting community. The article is by Dr. Charles Handler:

Employee Selection in the Second Life

Your company should be the first to recruit using virtual reality

Note that Dr. Handler is a PhD and expert in the field of recruiting and human resource issues – he is making these predictions based on that, not on being a gamer himself.  It’s a substantial article worth a complete read, but here are some highlights:

It is not a stretch to imagine that smart organizations will begin to realize that such virtual brick-and-mortar presence can also be used to help create and reinforce an employment brand. This will provide a key link that will open the floodgates to all kinds of potential ways that a virtual world can be used as a portal and means of information exchange related to the hiring process.

I believe this because Second Life provides some of the essential building blocks that will make up the job simulation tools of the future. These include:

  • Accessibility to a wide range of individuals who are geographically dispersed, and the ability to bring these persons together on common ground.
  • The creation of virtual worlds that go beyond just simple cause-and-effect interactions (i.e., shoot a gun, kill a monster).
  • The use of avatars that represent individuals and can manifest one’s own unique personalities and tastes.
  • An increased ability for intercultural interaction and the ability to gain experience interacting with those different from oneself.
  • The ability to facilitate growth within the avatar such that their experiences accrue and can be measured.
  • The ability to share information with other members of the virtual world.
  • The ability to evaluate interactions and collect meaningful data from them.
  • The ability to create a virtual economy that is driven by many of the same laws and rules that our real economies are bound by.
  • The power of branding, using the virtual world to promote real-world experiences and products.

The results of this process will provide a much richer picture to both applicants and employers about the job and how well an individual will fit with it. Within the next decade, I think we’ll see some of the following occur:

  • Individuals will be able to find employment opportunities via their existence in virtual worlds.
  • These will be publicized by organizations who have a virtual presence and who use this presence to promote their brands, employment brands included.
  • Individuals will be able to express interest in these opportunities and exchange information that can be used to examine basic qualifications for the job.
  • Individuals will be able to participate in virtual job tryouts in which they are asked to complete specific tasks required of them while on the job.
  • Individuals will be evaluated based on their task-based and interpersonal-based interactions within virtual worlds.
  • Individuals will be able to create and maintain virtual resumes that they can use to help them when looking for jobs within a virtual world.

While simulations already exist that can accomplish some of the above things, the key difference will arise via the following aspects of virtual worlds:

  • Increased ability to use artificial intelligence and natural-language processing to evaluate applicant responses and interaction.
  • The ability to infer meaning from complex interactions and to use results as part of a decision-making process.
  • The ability to simulate real-world work environments and complex tasks with extreme realism.
  • Increased interest from candidates such that people will actually enjoy applying for jobs and can be directed more quickly to jobs that pique their interest.
  • The ability to use the avatar as a vessel to manifest feelings and emotions.
  • The ability for an avatar to grow and learn, and the ability to keep track of this growth and learning so that it can be objectively evaluated.

The Great Brain Training Debate

After storm, recovery, holidays and vacation, I’m back!  My apologies for not announcing the break at the start.

Erin Hoffman’s article in the new issue of The Escapist is a highly recommended read: Shark Bone or Snake Oil: Noah Falstein and the Great Brain Training Debate.

Noah is a well-known designer of well-loved games (Secret of Monkey Island), and is part of a new serious games startup called Quixit, which has an explicit goal of creating games that are not only fun, but have a demonstrable benefit on increasing and maintaining mental acuity.  In case that’s a yawner, consider the following stats and quote from the article.  Consider them from these three perspectives: medical significance, business opportunity, and deeper future game design.

4.5 million Americans currently have Alzheimer’s disease, a number that has doubled since 1980 and is projected to reach 11.3-16 million by 2050. One in 10 Americans have a family member that suffers dementia; one in three knows someone who has the disease. It is referred to by medical professionals as “a demographic time bomb” and an escalating epidemic that the American health care infrastructure is not prepared to face.

if Quixit can, through methods that doctors agree assist in the prevention of cognitive atrophy, delay the onset of dementia, the Alzheimer’s Association would agree that its contribution to the solution would be major; 50 percent of Alzheimer’s patients, according to its estimates, could avoid the disease entirely if symptoms could be delayed by five years.

Yes, the article is worth a read, and the health, business AND gaming implications of this are worth a lot of thought.

November Phrogram contest winners!

We have started a fun tradition on the Phrogram site – running monthly programming contests on a different theme each month. Our first contest has just ended, and was a great success! Thanks to all the participants!

The November content was for the best 2D Side Scroller game developed in Phrogram. Considering the contest began less than a month after we released Phrogram, the results we really encouraging. Here’s a link to the contest announcement, which also now includes the results and winners. For convenience, here is a link to download Phrogram (27M download) and here is a link to the bundle of six November games.

Six different and fun user-created games from six different programmers, from around the world. I know kids as young as 7 worked on these (along with Dad, of course – that’s half the fun). There’s lots of variety in style and level of experience, of course. Thanks to all the participants! Here’s a summary of who did what and why they’re all winners:

Jixxon sent us SpaceRangerSpiff – best visual design elements. Nice!

MichaelH sent us LetterAttack – most original design and graphical effects. Cool!

Peej send us PyroSanta – most hilarious (and warped!) holiday game! Woot!

JChambers sent us BarnyardMassacre – funniest games, best use of sound. Hilarious!

Phrogger sent us SideScrollerAttack – Scariest game backdrop. Who knew orange could be so creepy?!

NeilWinton sent us SpaceJunk – This gets honorable mention cause it’s a top scroller rather than a side scroller, but it also has the most complete game experience. Great game!

December’s contest, by the way, is for best use of File IO – with a seperate award going to best holiday themed program. We’re hoping for even more fun programs this month than last. Thanks all who participated!