What’s your egosurf ranking

18 01 2006

What’s your egoSurf ranking?

As if bloggers didn’t have enough ways to fret about their popularityegoSurf: A tool to precisely calibrate how much of a winner — or loser — you are in the blogosphere.

Type in your name, the URL of your blog, and egoSurf will crank out a number on the dial showing your cyberspatial with-it-ness, represented as a number of “egopoints”.
How does it work? Eh: Probably some bouquet of the usual PageRank-like reputation-sniffing algorithms. The egoSurf guys don’t actually spell it out, though





Monsters of Photorealism

18 01 2006

collision detection: The Xbox 360 and the Uncanny Valley:

Monsters of Photorealism by Clive Thompson
My hat is off to whoever designed the new King Kong game for the Xbox 360, because they’ve crafted a genuinely horrific monster. When it first lurched out of the mysterious tropical cave and fixed its cadaverous eyes on me, I could barely look at the monstrosity.
I’m speaking, of course, of Naomi Watts.
Not the actual Naomi Watts. She’s heart-stoppingly lovely. No, I’m talking about the version of Naomi Watts that you encounter inside the game.
In some ways, her avatar is an admirably good replica, with the requisite long blond hair and juicy voice-acting from Watts herself. But the problem begins when you look at her face — and the Corpse Bride stares back. The skin on virtual Naomi is oddly slack, as if it weren’t quite connected to the musculature beneath; when she speaks, her lips move with a Frankensteinian stiffness. And those eyes! My god, they’re like two portholes into a soulless howling electric universe. “Great,” I complained to my wife. “I finally get to hang out with a gorgeous starlet — and she’s dead.”
What’s the culprit here? Ironically, the blame falls partly on the Xbox 360 itself, and its bleeding-edge graphics engine. Sure, the 360 can generate the most photorealistic human avatars of any game console in history. But that is precisely why they look so creepy.
This paradoxical effect has a name: the “Uncanny Valley.” The concept comes from the Japanese roboticist Masahiro Mori, who argued that simulacra of humans seem lively and convincing so long as they’re relatively low-resolution. Think of history’s best comic strips: With only a few quick sketches on a page, Bill Watterson can create vivid emotions for the characters in Calvin and Hobbes. When an avatar is cartoonish, our brains fill in the gaps in the presentation to help them seem real.
But when human avatars approach photoreality? Something weird happens. Our brains rebel, and we begin focusing on the tiny details that aren’t quite perfect. The realism of our avatars suddenly plunges downward into a valley — and they begin to look like zombies.
The telltale flaws are almost always in the skin, because as many animators have told me, the physics here are damnably hard to master: When light hits real-life skin, it penetrates a tiny bit and bounces back out. The eyes are an even nastier hornet’s nest of math; you have to replicate subtle nuances of moistness and “all these tiny movements of the eye,” as animation expert Henrik Wann Jensen notes. Even today’s best Hollywood animators — who have far more processing power at their disposal — have shattered upon these shoals.
That’s why the Xbox 360 — and the whole oncoming new generation of superpowered consoles — kind of alarms me. With all this hot new rendering power, game publishers are more than ever indulging their Hollywood envy and trying to produce increasingly photorealistic people.
Yet all they’re doing is tramping deeper and deeper into the muck and grime of the Valley. Don’t believe me? Just play any of the Xbox 360’s release titles. Many of them are quite terrific games, in terms of play. But aesthetically they are A Land Where The Dead Walk Among Us. The gang members and guards in Perfect Dark Zero look like an army of cadavers. In Quake 4, my fellow Marines looked like the victims of thoroughly botched face lifts.
Don’t get me wrong: I don’t hate the Xbox 360. It produces sheerly gorgeous graphics so long as it’s rendering things that aren’t human faces — such as scenery. At one point in Perfect Dark, I peered through a zoom scope and noticed that tiny imperfections in a distant brick wall were casting microshadows from a hazy phosphorus lamp, while ships bobbed gently in the nearby bay. It was a perfect postcard of noir menace.
Indeed, this is why the most aesthetically un-jarring 360 games are those that explicitly avoid attempting realistic human faces — and stick to a cartoony style straight out of Disney or Nintendo. My favorite 360 title so far is Kameo, where the star is a magical elf rendered in anime-lite, with big eyes, a teensy nose and soft-focused skin. Sure, the backdrop environments are masterpieces of gothic realism, but Kameo herself is drawn in broad strokes — a blend of styles that, not incidentally, was innovated by Japanese manga. Surreality, as it turns out, is more seductive than incomplete reality.
At least for now, anyway. It’s possible that one day we’ll climb out of the Valley. The game industry is increasingly aware of this problem (and many writers, myself included, have been harping on the subject for years now). Maybe someday home consoles will approach Deep Blue supercomputing power, and designers’ understanding of skin and eye physics will vastly improve.
And someone will finally do justice to poor Naomi Watts.
all credit to clive





Games and learning – EA & Futurelab Project

18 01 2006

Forming part of the ongoing Teaching with Games project, EA and NESTA Futurelabs have announced the results of a recent MORI poll, revealing that almost sixty per cent of UK educators support using videogames in education.

In stark contrast to the perpetual media frenzy over the potential negative effects of videogames on the developing minds of minors, the survey revealed an overwhelmingly positive attitude to mainstream videogames, with 59 per cent of respondents confirming that they would consider using games for educational purposes.

The survey, conducted last November, covered a representative sample of 1,000 primary and secondary school teachers in the UK. Of the 59 per cent who considered using games in education, 53 per cent confirmed they would do so because they are an interactive way of motivating and engaging pupils.

91 per cent of respondents believed that playing games developed children’s motor-cognitive skills, while over 60 per cent thought that players would develop their higher order thinking skills and could also acquire topic-specific knowledge.
Claus Due, EA Europe’s market development manager commented: “The Poll confirms what we have long believed at EA – that interactive computer games have the capacity to engage both teachers and learners. In a short space of time, Teaching with Games has already highlighted the importance of collaboration between industry and the education sector, to show how learning can be enhanced through gaming.”

Almost one third of respondents have already used games in education, though the poll also revealed some reluctance from teachers, as almost two thirds felt, despite playing games themselves, that computer games may present stereotypical views of others and lead to anti-social behaviour.

The lack of concrete evidence regarding the educational benefits of videogames, and an overall lack of appropriate resources were also noted as potential barriers to the widespread use of games in schools.

The Teaching with Games project aims to address these and other issues through a series of research and practical experiments, exploring the benefits of using The Sims 2, Rollercoaster Tycoon 3 and Knights of Honor.

A Futures Group, comprised of leading thinkers and practitioners in education, curriculum and games design has been formed, to build upon findings and present possible future scenarios that push current boundaries.

Angela McFarlane, Professor of Education at the University of Bristol and chair of the Futures Group, commented: “There is a great deal of interest in the levels of engagement, and the complex learning, that take place when many young people play games. Early research has shown some powerful outcomes in the classroom, but we need to understand how, when and when not to use games to support education.”

Further information on the work of NESTA Futurelabs, the Teaching with Games project and the results of the MORI poll can be found by visiting the Futurelabs website





UK taking a lead on game regulation

18 01 2006

A Government spokesperson has told website GamesIndustry.biz that planned talks to discuss the regulation of online gaming are part of a strategy to stamp out an “underbelly” of poorly regulated websites.

The Department for Culture, Media and Sport is intending to invite representatives from around the globe to attend the talks, which will focus on online gambling sites.

“The reason we want to host these talks is because we think this is a booming industry, but proper protection for children and vulnerable people and proper rules are simply not in place across the whole of the industry,” said department spokesperson Anthony Wright.

“Our approach is quite different compared to other countries around the world, for example the US, but it’s a way of getting politicians round the table.”

Wright said that the industry welcomed the approach the Government was taking – but added that there was an “underbelly” of gambling websites which put vulnerable groups at risk. As a result, Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport Tessa Jowell is leading the charge to deal with the issue.

“As Tessa Jowell said, we can only go so far alone – it’s a global problem, and we need a global solution,” Wright stated.

The online gambling industry has seen a boom in recent years, with many websites now turning over millions of dollars per year. According to figures from Reuters, the worldwide market for online casinos and poker rooms is worth up to USD 12 billion per year.

GamesIndustry.biz – UK to host talks on regulation of online gaming





R&D Tax credits fail to be a catalyst for change

1 01 2006

THE Government’s £1.3 billion flagship scheme to boost research and development is failing to encourage new research in almost half of the businesses it helps, a survey has shown.Just 57 per cent of businesses who use R&D tax credits said that they felt the credits were an incentive to undertake further R&D, a survey conducted by HM Revenue & Customs has found.

The blow comes just month after the first annual drop in R&D spending by companies since Labour came to power was identified by the Office for National Statistics. R&D spending fell by £474 million last year, official figures showed.

The tax credits were introduced in 2000 to raise business R&D and in turn promote innovation and productivity.

But taken together, the results paint a picture of a system of tax credits that reward companies already carrying out R&D work but fail to stimulate additional investment in innovation.

Vincent Cable, the Liberal Democrat Treasury spokesman, said: “The Chancellor has wasted £550 million on companies who would have carried out the research anyway. This is simply not good value for taxpayers.”

The survey found widespread awareness and interest in the tax credits among businesses, with 82 per cent saying they knew of the scheme and 86 per cent of claimants saying that at least one of their claims had been successful. But claiming relief for projects did not appear to encourage investing more widely. Fewer than a fifth of companies said that they took the expected value of tax credits into account when setting their R&D budget.

The system also appeared to be overly complex, with a third of companies that had not made a claim saying that the benefit of the tax credit would not justify the effort of applying.