Intrinsic Algorithm News

GDC Day 1 – Serious Games Summit

My first day at the GDC involved me going to the Serious Games Summit. Since I enjoy the idea of the “deep sim” and the logic, math, and AI that goes into that sort of title, this is something that I am very interested in. Some of the sessions were more relevant than others to me and to Intrinsic Algorithm, but most of them were very interesting. Here’s a couple of notes on some of them:

Serious Games Taxonomy – Ben Sawyer

The whole point of this initial session was to define exactly what the “Serious Games” movement entails. One brief oversimplification was “A defined reapplication of video games.”

One issue that was covered here was a definition of terms. This is startlingly important, it seems. It helps the industry start to sub-divide what it is that we do. Just as in the entertainment world, we have genres like FPS, RTS, RPG, TBS, etc., there are probably 10 times the number of “genres” or applications in the Serious Games space. There are actually a staggering number of applications – some that I wouldn’t necessarily have thought of. One great point that Ben Sawyer made was that using “game-based” as a prefix can combine with everything.

  • Education
  • Production
  • Simulation
  • Messaging
  • Training
  • Application
  • Visualization
  • Interfacing
  • Modeling

One common thread that was mentioned and was echoed throughout the day by various people, companies and projects was that there is still a stigma around even the word “game”. There seems to be an automatic dismissal or at least skepticism around something that is pitched or even described as a game. However, the exact same material described as a “simulation” or “training exercise” or “visualization tool” has an enormous impact.

Gamestar Mechanic – “A game about game design” (Gamelab)

This session was a very novel application of games… to teach children game development. I couldn’t wrap my head around this until I saw it in action. The result was rather interesting. They actually seemed to manage to make it applicable for a wide variety of skill levels in the High School age group.

One point that was made about the necessity for a game like this was that “Kids today need to develop a set of 21st-Century literacies, skills competencies.” Pardon the pun, but no kidding!

The game was designed to teach game design rather than programming – focus on features and parameters. In the beginning, the theme was using game puzzles in order to set stage for being able to solve game design challenges. Make them think about the qualities of the space and the qualities of the characters. Make kids think!

Teaching Journalism with Neverwinter Nights

Nora Paul – University of Minnesota Coll. of Lib. Arts.

In this project, the group actually used the engine for Neverwinter Nights to build a simulation to teach journalism. One important feature that they needed to use was the menu-driven dialog engine. That way they could build the deep interactive scenario of interviewing the people – which is the whole point of journalism. It was tied it to a specific course track and book that was used in the course. Specifically, they tied each part of game to a specific part of the journalism process.

They used Matt Taylor as a consultant using NWN Aurora toolkit and engine to create the game.

The big point of both of these education-based projects was the premise that “Doing things wrong and backtracking is part of education.”

Out of the Box: EA Fuels New Ideas with Madden & Sims Titles

EA put together a compelling presentation on how they (or simply other groups) have used their off the shelf products to do things other than entertainment.

One of them was the “Play Action Simulator” Using Madden interface as a coaching tool. Used by QB at LSU. Making training films for teams. By even running the game through a VR system to control the Madden engine it actually puts the player in the simulation.

Steve Seabolt talked about some things that were being done with the Sims/SIM-whatever franchise. With “SimCities Societies” they entered into a partnership with BP Alternative Energy to “Teach youth around the world about energy alternatives and choices…” (Not self-serving for the company)

Alice is an open-source education software teaching computer programming in a 3D environment that uses the SIMS engine. It should be free and will be released in the fall of 08
They claim that it is also good for building storytelling and very good for girls – both from the storytelling but also from a technology standpoint.

The Redistricting Game – Chris Swain (w/ Ben Sawyer)

This session was about a spectacular project involving the above-linked “Redistricting Game”. It was designed with the “naive vision to allow public to come to an understanding” about the practice of gerrymandering districts for legislators. They wanted to not just teach about a social issue but allowing public to actually experience the issue. They did their best to model all the issues surrounding the legalities – including following the actual laws and rules of procedure that go into it.

I took a moment last night to play with the game a bit… it’s very interesting… and enlightening.

I will try to insert some pictures into here that I took of the screens of all of the above, but I don’t know how helpful that will be. Check back later.

More tomorrow!

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