“Good AI is what you see, not how it works.”

27 04 2007

… quoth Peter Molyneux in this Guardian piece on AI:

That said, Molyneux doesn’t believe AI can be solely responsible for intense, dynamic emotional experiences; they need to be married with what he calls “smoke and mirrors”.

“You have to define what games developers call AI,” he says, “as opposed to academic AI. There’s actually very little true, academic AI in games. If I go along to universities and talk to professors of AI, they sort of laugh at us and our crude attempts at real-world AI. But my promise has always been, ‘Well, good AI is what you see, not how it works.’ Whether that’s a mixture of true AI and an illusion is neither here nor there, because it’s really about what it brings to the game.”

Steve Grand chips in:

“AI isn’t so much unappreciated as nonexistent,” he says. “Most of what counts as AI in the games industry is actually a bunch of ‘IF/THEN’ statements. If a computer character doesn’t learn something for itself then the programmer must have told it what to do, and anything that does exactly what it’s told and nothing else is not intelligent. This is changing, and neural networks and other learning systems are beginning to creep in. But games programmers tend to devalue the phrase ‘artificial intelligence’.

“This is mostly because the importance of AI in computer games is now widely recognised, and hence any attempt to implement it – including Creatures – gets hyped up pretty quickly. As graphics have improved, the behaviour of characters has got more and more embarrassing. When characters looked cartoon-like, any vaguely lifelike behaviour was impressive, but now that characters have fluid movements, realistic textures and complex facial expressions, they tend to engage different circuits in the players’ brains. The better the graphics become, the worse the behaviour looks. So the need for good AI is well-appreciated. The snag is that none of us knows how to make it work yet.”

Emphasis ours. The article is a good snapshot of where game AI is at right now, and many similar points were included in Adam Russel’s Skillset talk on procedural AI last month.

“There is no such thing as media violence”

27 04 2007

Henry Jenkins has penned a thoughtful and, as ever, verbose piece on media violence. Excerpt:

So, let me start with an intentionally provocative statement. There is no such thing as media violence — at least not in the ways that we are used to talking about it — as something which can be easily identified, counted, and studied in the laboratory. Media violence is not something that exists outside of a specific cultural and social context. It is not one thing which we can simply eliminate from art and popular culture. It’s not a problem we can make go away. Our culture tells lots of different stories about violence for lots of different reasons for lots of different audiences in lots of different contexts. We need to stop talking about media violence in the abstract and start talking about it in much more particularized terms.

Otherwise, we end up looking pretty silly. So, for example, a study endorsed by the American Academy of Pediatrics reported that 100 percent of feature length cartoons released in America between 1937 and 1999 contained images of violence. Here, we see the tendency to quantify media violence taken to its logical extreme. For this statement to be true, violence has to be defined here so broadly that it would include everything from the poison apple in Snow White to the hunter who shoots Bambi’s mother, from Captain Hook’s hook to the cobra that threatens to crush Mowgali in The Jungle Book and that’s just to stick with the Disney canon. The definition must include not only physical violence but threats of violence, implied violence, and psychological/emotional violence. Indeed, if we start from a definition that broad, we would need to eliminate conflict from our drama altogether in order to shut down the flow of media violence into our culture. Perhaps this is reason enough not to put pediatricians in charge of our national cultural policy anytime soon. Certainly few of us would imagined our culture improved if these films were stripped of their “violent” content or barred from exhibition.

European developers must take control of distribution

27 04 2007

Nordic Game Program director Erik Robertson in an interview with GamesIndustry.biz stated that European games companies must focus on distribution in order to compete successfully on a global scale.

“We know the market is very large, but certainly the Nordic viewpoint is that too much control of these markets, and the access to our markets, are in Asian or North American hands. That’s the way the market looks now – it makes sense from a cultural, political and strict business viewpoint to try and change that. That means digital distribution but it also means non-proprietary platforms”

”The closer that the decision is made to where the game is actually produced increases the likelihood of getting your game published. That’s just a given.”

Robertson conceded that geography is an important factor which can hold European companies back in some ways: “Doing local business is easier. If you’re a developer in Tokyo it’s much easier to talk to your local developers than to some strange cold country that you couldn’t even place on the map.”

Read the full interview here.

GAMES:EDU returns to Brighton

24 04 2007

GamesEdu_ID_black.gifGAMES:EDU:07, the International conference for games education announces speakers from the leaders of the next generation gaming industry, including Microsoft, Epic Games, Evolution Studios, SCEE, Autodesk, Rare and Disney. Organised by Pixel-Lab and Tandem Events it takes place as part of the Develop Conference in Brighton on Tuesday 24th July.

The conference now in its second year focuses on the current and future education needs of the computer games industry, bringing industry experts and educators together to encourage debate and the sharing of best practice. Last year saw over 120 delegates from across the globe networking, participating in workshops and engaging with the world’s top developers and publishers.

Confirmed speakers for GAMES:EDU:07 include Epic Studios, Chris Satchell (Microsoft), Matt Southern (Evolution Studious), Michel Kripalani (Autodesk), Nick Burton (Rare / Microsoft Game Studios, Mike Gamble (Instinct Technologies) Jason Avent (Disney Interactive Studios) Chirs Chilton (Skillset) and Rob Catto (FullSail).

Supporting GAMES:EDU are some of the UK’s foremost educators, and this year workshops will be led by the University of Abertay, the University of Glamorgan and Full Sail from the States.
“Abertay has been a leader in industry relevant game technology and design courses for some time. GAMES:EDU will become a key event in the Abertay calendar as a place where academics and Industry can discuss, share, and develop best practise in all areas of game development and production “
Dr Henry S Fortuna, Division Leader, School of Computing and Creative Technologies, Abertay.

Andy Sithers, Microsoft Academic Alliance, who will be speaking on the technology panel as well as supporting the event comments “Microsoft is fully committed to helping develop academic work in games in the UK. GAMES:EDU is an excellent opportunity for academics and games developers to begin a conversation which will help keep the UK as a growing centre of excellence in the gaming industry to ensure graduates have the right skills and knowledge to enter into the industry and contribute to that success.”

Skillset, the sector skills council for the audiovisual industries, is fully supporting the one-day conference and will be discussing its future plans to develop the Computer Games Industry accreditation programme. GAMES:EDU:07 features a series of case studies entitled: “The Skillset Sessions”. This year they focus on how education can work better with the games industry, the overall aim being to develop the UK as the world’s source of creative and innovative talent in the future for all forms of computer gaming.

Kate O’Conner, Skillset’s Executive Director – Policy and Development and Deputy Chief Executive comments. “Skillset strongly believes industry engagement is key to developing relevant and effective training and education. Skillset’s accredited network of courses represents best practice in this area and offers targeted provision ideal for entrance to the games industry. GAMES:EDU will help the academic community understand why engagement is important and how industry involvement and industry focused tuition benefits students, employers and universities alike. By providing an open space for discussion GAMES:EDU will help develop the quality of this accreditation program and encourage further interaction between Education Institutions and Industry.”
GAMES:EDU is an essential date for educators from across Europe in the field of gaming and games development. GAMES:EDU is the first conference worldwide that brings together the UK’s foremost educators from across all disciplines to connect directly with developers, publishers and games producers. For more information see http://www.gamesedu.co.uk.
The GAMES:EDU:07 Day Pass is £120 or £95 if booked before July 1 2007.
For registration information see www.gamesedu.co.uk.
GAMES:EDU:07 is part of the Develop Conference which takes place in Brighton from Tuesday 24 to Friday 27 July. See www.developconference.com.

GAMES:EDU is supported by Microsoft, Autodesk, Skillset, Evolution Studios and Disney Interactive Studios.

Massively Multiplayer Education

20 04 2007

The latest issue of NMA has a profile of Annika Small, CEO of Futurelab. The article is behind a paywall, but this snippet is worth passing on:

“If we apply a fraction of the user engagement that we see in things like massively multiplayer online games to the school and learning environment, then we could see a massive benefit,” she says. “We need to think radically about the nature of school and take lessons from how learning happens outside the school gates.”

To quote Lorne Lanning, game engines are “content delivery systems”; education can be seen as objective driven media.

Dare to partner with EA UK for 07

19 04 2007

EA UK’s Guildford studio will host the London and South East centre for 2007’s Dare to be Digital competition.
The collaboration has come about via a partnership between organiser Abertay University, EA, NESTA, the London Development Agency, South East Media Network and chip company AMD.

Four teams of five students each will be selected to spend the first nine weeks of the 10-week Dare to be Digital competition at the Guildford studio. Candidates are asked to spend the time developing a prototype for a game concept – with ideas and projects judged during the final week during an event held in Scotland.

The competition has been running for eight years – but this marks the first time the event has spread outside of its Scottish base, with the centre in the south joining other schemes designed to attract students from around the world. Previous entrants have gone on to work at Rockstar, EA and Lionhead or start their own studios.

Richard Leinfellner, a Vice President at EA, commented: “Dare to be Digital represents a unique model for showcasing young talent to the UK games industry. It has acted as a much needed incubator for new talent and one which EA has been proud to be associated with for a number of years.

“As industry leaders, we are committed to stimulating innovation in game making and encouraging the next generation of talent in the UK. The Dare model of setting teams up to deliver a real game prototype in 10 weeks is similar to the process we go through when getting games into production. It promotes teamwork and is very much in keeping with many of our own values.”

Tom Campbell, head of creative industries at the LDA said: “There’s a great pool of undiscovered talent within London’s universities and colleges. Dare is fantastic at discovering and fostering talent and helping aspiring game developers rise to the surface. The LDA is proud to support the first Southern heat and we hope the eventual winning team originates from the London region!”

Paul Durrant, Dare to be Digital project director at Abertay University, commented: “This is truly exciting news. The teams that take part in Dare in London and the South East will provide a valuable local talent pool and potential start-up business to the region. ”

BBFC report on violence and videogames

17 04 2007

The British Board of Film Classification has published a report about game players’ habits and game effects, throwing up some interesting points concerning game violence and the negative effects of press coverage.

The report is based on qualitative research carried out on gamers ranging from children as young as seven through to players in their early 40s, as well as parents of young players and industry representatives.

The following is a breakdown of the key findings.

1. While children are beginning to play games at an increasingly early age, the overall age of games players is getting older.

2. There is a marked difference in male and female game tastes, with males preferring shooters and sports titles, and females generally opting for life simulation and puzzle games.

3. Male players are much more inclined to play for lengthened periods.

4. Negative press coverage has an adverse effect, with titles portrayed negatively often proving highly popular.

5. Younger gamers’ choice of games is influenced by peer pressure and word of mouth.

6. People view game playing as a risk-free means of escapism and feel in control of game experiences as opposed to real life.

7. Game playing is active and brings about feelings of achievement as opposed to passive forms of entertainment such as TV and film. Gamers are driven by achievement but are unlikely to become emotionally involved. They care more about progress than elements such as storytelling.

8. The interactive nature of game playing means players are less likely to forget they are playing a game than they would be to forget they are watching a film or TV show.

9. Gamers suggest game playing is mentally stimulating and a good way of improving hand-eye coordination.

10. Violence in games creates tension, challenges and a sense of vulnerability in players – gamers tend to focus on preventing harm to their character rather than inflicting harm on other characters. While there is an appeal associated with being able to inflict violent acts without fear of reprisal, gamers know that they are playing games and don’t misconstrue the act as real life.

The vast majority of gamers reject the notion that video games encourage people to be violent in real life or that they have become desensitised to violent acts.

Most gamers are not overly concerned about violence in games because they view TV and film violence as more realistic and disturbing, although they are aware that game violence, particularly in adult rated titles, can upset younger players.

While non-games playing parents are surprised at the violence portrayed in games, they are not overly concerned that it will negatively affect their children. Parents agree that games regulation is important but some also said they were happy to give children adult games because they weren’t real.

11. Non-games playing parents would prefer children to pursue outdoor activities as opposed to spending prolonged periods playing games. They are particularly concerned about young boys. These parents are however more worried about the threats associated with internet chat rooms.

David Cooke, Director of the BBFC said, “There is no question that video games are an important form of entertainment for an ever increasing number of people. As the technology improves the games will become more and more realistic and it is important that games are properly rated to protect younger players from the games with adult content, which the BBFC does.

“This research provides some valuable insights into why people play video games and what effect they think playing has on themselves and friends. It has also highlighted parental attitudes to video games. We hope that it will provide some food for thought for the industry, and everyone who has an interest in the impact of games and we will be taking the research outcomes into account as we review our games classification policies over the coming months.”

SCEE is looking at scaling down its operation.

17 04 2007

… Although no jobs have been cut as yet.

Speaking with GameDaily, SCEE’s director of corporate communications Nick Sharples said that “the management of the company has concluded that we need to change our structure, streamline and strengthen our business operations – and that our cost base needs to be significantly reduced.”

Sony’s vast European operation includes, as well as its publishing and PR teams in each country, four large development studios – three in the UK (London, Cambridge and Liverpool), plus one in the Netherlands (Guerilla Games in Amsterdam). Between them they have around 800 staff purely focused on games development – which makes them the UK’s largest single employer for games development.

“The confirmation comes following an internal briefing of SCEE staff outlining what may be on the cards – but the company is saying nothing else until a final decision is made. So whether any of the potential cuts will be felt amongst the development staff is still to be seen.

In some respects the potential cut backs – rumoured to be up to 10 per cent of SCEE’s operation – come as little surprise. The launch of the PS3 has infamously taken its financial toll on its Japanese parent, and while strong sales of the machine are expected to boost the company’s profits for the year, staff cut backs would expedite further money-saving.”

Michael French, Developmag

Endemol and; EA partner for TV based MMO.

17 04 2007

Big Brother maker Endemol is to launch a virtual world where people can take part in familiar games and shows.
Virtual Me will allow these avatars to compete in online versions of Deal or No Deal, Fame Academy and Big Brother.

Endemol and computer game company Electronic Arts said the site would be launched “in the coming months”.

So another MMO which will mean another avatar to play same old games – not exactly the innovation I am hoping for ?

“With Virtual Me we are at the forefront of a new, hybrid form of entertainment that takes gaming beyond the console,” said Gerhard Florin, Executive Vice President and General Manager of EA International.

“Endemol is a great partner to help us bring together the best of TV and video games for an offering that can appeal to mass market audiences and change the face of entertainment.”

Keith Stuart from the Guardian writes:

“This is about two giants of their respective entertainment niches staking a claim in the goldrush that is – or very soon will be – converged interactive media. Clearly, simply passing licensing deals between TV, videogames and the web is now considered a passe method of expanding brands. As Endemol chief Peter Bazalgette almost begrudgingly puts it, “We’re told that people are starting to spend more time online than they are watching TV. Both markets are now important and this has huge implications for content creators.”

It’ll be interesting to see how Virtual Me pans out. If it genuinely contains competitive elements based around Endemol’s TV brands, we’re into interesting territory, where consumers watch and interact with their favourite shows almost seamlessly. Let’s face it, which Big Brother fan doesn’t fantasise about what they’d do on the show? The potenital ARPU from viewers goes far beyond the quick phone calls they make to evict contestants. In the future, there may be hundreds of subscription-based interactive Big Brothers running online. If Endemol and EA are clever, they’ll promise to run channels showing the best of the day’s online content as a spectator event – giving fame-hungry punters another shot at the Chantelle dream.”


16 04 2007

Gamesindustry.biz has an intriguing tidbit on potential plans for the PS3 given the success of Folding@Home on the console:

“We are discussing various options with companies and exploring commercial applications,” said Sony’s chief technology officer, Masa Chatani.

“A start-up or a pharmaceutical company that lacks a super-computer could utilise this kind of infrastructure,” detailed Chatani.

While the Folding@home service is for research purposes, any commercial possibilities would need to offer a reward or incentive for PS3 users to take part. The report suggests free products could be a possibility.

Offering virtual items in exchange for commercially lucrative processor cycles would be devilish genius. Given the largely altruistic nature of distributed data processing so far though, I wonder about the politics of offering the service to a market.

Will people be able to pick and choose what they contribute GHz to, or will the nature of the data processed be completely opaque? While the objective cost of running something technically akin to Folding@Home is small, something about the idea of earning a reward in return for a donation of unknowable subjective cost makes me a little uneasy.

With total freedom, the service would naturally expedite a certain amount of unethical corporate behaviour. Would there be any form of check in terms of data transparency for users or Sony? Even if commercial data is shrouded from users but Sony demand a peek at it, I wonder how easy it would be for client companies to sneak stuff through. I suspect it would take the leaking of something truly incendiary to make it a problem that PSHome swag couldn’t offset.