Archive for November 2008

The New Killer Platform for MMOGs is… FaceBook?

November 23, 2008

Since my last post was pretty theoretical, I thought I’d bring this back to earth a bit.

The MMOG market continues to be very hot, and possibly all but impervious even to our current economic chaos.  I continue to see MMOGs in development for ever broader demographics and more obscure (or focused) niches.  Despite the difficult times for some and the demise of others, investment and development in this area continues to be strong.

And yet technology continues to be a huge thorn in the side of any developer.  There are a number of middleware suitors trying to woo developers, but recently an unusual one has appeared on the field.  Can it be that Facebook will save MMOG development?

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Did Maslow get it wrong? (and why this matters for games)

November 23, 2008

You may be familiar with Maslow’s hierarchy of needs (more on this below the cut).  Maslow’s theory has heavily influenced the architecture of our AI technology, which is why I’m attuned to discussions of it or instances that support or undercut it.  Recently I ran across a theory in education known as “CBUPO,” an ungainly acronym for “Comptence, Belonging, Usefulness, Potency, Optimism” designed by Richard Sagor at Washington State University (an accessible introduction can be found here (pdf)). Sagor’s theory suggests some interesting modifications to Maslow that have consequences for how we understand ourselves — as well as the motivations for gamers and AIs.

(Warning: psychological theory leading to AI and game-relevant thoughts below.)

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The Uncanny Valley (yeah you should know this already)

November 15, 2008

From James Portnow’s blog, a terrific Zero-Punctuation-style video on the Uncanny Valley.  You probably know what that is, but it’s worth watching the video and passing this on to others who don’t.  And if you don’t know what that is and how it applies to games and AI, you really should watch it.

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Games for Learning?

November 14, 2008

People like games.  People also like learning — mostly.  And of course adults like it especially when their kids learn.  Many valiant attempts have been made to use games to teach kids or adults, but with few real, intentional successes.  This is largely an unknown art, and one where when learning does occur, it seems almost accidental.

For example I learned about the geography of the Caribbean, I’m abashed to say, by way too many hours spent on the old Pirates! game; and my son learned a surprising amount of history by playing Age of Empires.  Many people have fond memories of Oregon Trail, and this often comes up in discussions of “games used for education,” but still this area has languished rather than flourished.

Why is it so difficult to make games for learning?  Is it the topics we’re choosing, or a too-pedantic approach, or something else?  I don’t have any solid answers on this one, and would love to hear others’ opinions.  What do you think?

VWs and MMOGs: The Great Divide?

November 14, 2008

What’s the difference between a virtal world (VW) and a massively multiplayer online game (MMOG)?

No, the answer isn’t “lipstick.”

VWs and MMOGs are like estranged siblings.  They share a common background and future, but right now at least, they don’t talk too much.  I think a lot of this is artificial or the result of odd circumstances having little to do with the online worlds themselves.  And as with many estrangements, I don’t think this one is particularly healthy.

So why are these separate, and what will bring them back together again?

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The Future of AI: Social AI

November 14, 2008

I’ve been talking a lot about “social AI” recently as a way to differentiate what we have been developing from “typical” or traditional AI.

The easy way to say this is “we don’t do pathfinding.”  Which isn’t entirely true (we have a simple but effective pathfinding mechanism), but it shows where our focus is(n’t).  Agents need to move around a world, sure; and showing crowds of agents walking purposefully about makes for a great visual demo.  But to be interesting — or even more, meaningful — they need to do a lot more than that.

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Introductions All Around

November 13, 2008

Okay, what’s this all about?

In this blog I write — far too occasionally — about artificial intelligence, game design, virtual worlds, massively multiplayer online games, social games, and a variety of usually related subjects.  I welcome topical, respectful discussion.

My background: I’m a Professor of Practice and the Director of the Game Design program in the Media School at Indiana University, in Bloomington, Indiana (my faculty page). I’ve been here for three years, and some days am still surprised I live in the Midwest.

Prior to coming to IU, I worked in the games industry for more than twenty years. I was the Creative Director at Rumble Entertainment, and a General Manager at Kabam prior to that. In both companies I was able to learn a great deal and try out new directions in free-to-play games.

Before that, I ran Online Alchemy, a small games and research company in Austin Texas for nine years. This company specialized in online games, particularly those with a virtual world component.  We did a lot of work on advanced social AI for games and simulations, including working for several years with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).

Before founding Online Alchemy in 2002, I worked for Electronic Arts for three years as a Senior Game Designer, leading game designs for several projects including SimCity Online, The Sims 2, and Ultima Online.  Prior to that I co-founded and was the Chief Creative Officer for The Big Network, an early family-oriented social networking company.  There I designed and produced several Java-based games, and in 1998 designed our primary product, MyPlace.   Before The Big Network I was one of the co-founders of Archetype Interactive (started in 1994, acquired in 1996), where I was the lead designer on Meridian 59, the first 3D massively multiplayer online game (MMOG).

Before getting into games I worked in software engineering, primarily in developing 2D and 3D CAD systems, and in user interface design and user-centered design for medical and scientific visualization systems.  In the early 1990s I designed the user interface for the first 3D visualization system used in the operating room by neurosurgeons.

I have a BS in cogntive science and have done graduate work in AI (expert systems, neural networks, genetic algorithms, etc.)