entertainment

“Inexpensive” 3D

A few weeks ago, I ended up in Orlando somewhat by chance. Since it had been a few years since I had done it, I took the opportunity to check out a few of the newer exhibits. One that struck me in particular was Mickey’s PhilharMagic (Disney, wikipedia) which is staged somewhat in the middle of the Magic Kingdom. The theater itself is somewhat designed like the ficitional theater in the 1993 John Goodman film Matinee (imdb, wikipedia). In the film, Goodman’s character, Lawrence Woolsey, introduces what he calls Atomo-vision and Rumble-rama. These innovations bring more senses into the movie watching experience like touch through things like vibrating seats just at the scary moment. In the current Disney version, they use lots of gimics like spraying water, various scents, smoke, and bursts of air to enhance the experience.

One of the additional features is the use of 3D with more modern glasses that almost look like cheap sunglasses. Of course, there are all of the standard 3D gags like pies flying at your head, trombone slides popping off the screen, and gems floating in the air that appear easy to reach out and take for yourself. We’ve seen all of that done before. What I found interesting was the other applications of 3D like flying through the clouds with Donald Duck, swimming under the sea with the Little Mermaid, and riding the magic carpet through narrow streets and buildings with Aladdin. The 3D models of those environments in combination with the use of the 3D glasses made it feel like we were actually flying through those environments.

So here’s my question, couldn’t we do that same thing with computer screens with video game technology? It shouldn’t be that hard for the “cameras” in video game engines to split and display the image to work with a set of inexpensive 3D glasses. Rather than spending all of the money to create heavy and expensive head gear, couldn’t this be a simpler, less expensive, and faster solution? Sure, maybe the image resolution won’t be as high, but it was more than enough to create the illusion. Can some of my engineer readers fill me in on this?


The Future of Video Entertainment

Much ado has been made recently about the end of the format war between Blu-Ray and HD DVD. Sony finally won a format war, much to my (and many other people’s) surprise. After losing Beta vs. VHS, Memory Stick vs. SD, and MiniDisc vs. who-knows-what, it’s hard to fault everybody (including me) for predicting the demise of Blu-Ray.

Sadly for Sony, I’m not sure it’s that much of a victory. They finally win one and it turns out the battle has changed. Given my recent track record on predictions in this battle, I’m not sure I should be making others, but here’s my new prediction: neither HD DVD nor Sony Blu-Ray win the format battle. Instead, downloads direct to some (really any) media device will win. Sure TiVo/Amazon have allowed people to download movies for a while now, but they charge anywhere from $0.99 to $3.99, allowing 30-60 minutes before starting to watch is wise, and they limit viewing time to 24-hours once you start watching it.

Last night, I finally got around to trying the Netflix download service. First, it’s “free”. Since I already have the service, I can download any one of about 8,000 movies instantly at no additional cost. While 8,000 certainly doesn’t cover all movies, it’s way more than are available on pay-per-view, more than are available at my local Blockbuster, and more than were available on the TiVo/Amazon partnership. Next, I was able to start watching within about 5 seconds. I’m sure it varies based on the hardware, but I tried it on a slower laptop over a wireless network and had no issues. Sure, watching video on a laptop isn’t that much fun especially for a group, but all the new HD TV’s have a computer input, making that connection simple. The quality was as good as any regular DVD I’ve rented (though not yet HD quality). When I didn’t like the movie, I felt like I could stop the movie. I hadn’t paid for it. I didn’t have to wait another 30-60 minutes for the next download to start. I didn’t have to take the DVD back to the store or even put it in the Netflix mailer. I could move on with little or no penalty. Sure other software, not the least of which is iTunes, offers some of the same capabilities, but none (that I’m aware of) offer it on a fixed price, all-you-can-eat model, and none that I’ve seen that allow viewing almost instantly at full quality.

Now that’s the future of video entertainment!


Serious Games are neither Serious nor Games, Discuss

In this week’s Escapist, Ben Sawyer has a great article on the 10 Myths about Serious Games. Here’s the quick list:

  1. Myth: The Game Industry Doesn’t Work on Serious Games
  2. Myth: Serious Games are for Learning and Training
  3. Myth: Serious Games Aren’t Fun
  4. Myth: Serious Games are Always Serious
  5. Myth: Serious Games aren’t Commercially Successful
  6. Myth: Games are Young media, so Serious Games are for Young People
  7. Myth: There is No Proof that Games Affect Anyone
  8. Myth: Game Developers Don’t Want to Work on Serious Games; Serious Games are an Academic Pursuit
  9. Myth: Serious Games are Games for Good
  10. Myth: Serious Games are Dominated by the U.S. Military

Here’s just a few of the great quotes from the article:

“Sure, there are times when serious games lack the joy of play that at times disproportionately drives commercial games…to think that fun is the only reason users play games isn’t giving people much credit. If anything, serious games are more than fun.”

“The term ‘serious’ isn’t a grammatical modifier related to a serious game’s content. What makes a game a serious game is the designers’ choice to make their game more than entertaining to the player.”

“Organizations…frequently say games are a great way to reach young people. It can become a mantra at times. The fact is, for all the amazing growth rate,s many young people don’t play games regularly…the gaming demographic is getting older every year…to say it’s a genre for children is just flat-out wrong.”

“While the military is a major player in the field, it’s definitely not the only big spender. In fact, in terms of revenue, health and healthcare will likely dominate the field within a few years.”

Great stuff, Ben!


Virtual Worlds as Social Simulations

In a recent article in the Escapist, Brian Easton discusses the use of virtual worlds like World of Warcraft (also a game) and Second Life for social experiments. He describes the impact of a “disease”outbreak called “Corrupted Blood” in World of Warcraft. The disease weakened strong characters and even killed some weaker characters. It was spread through proximity of characters with each other. What makes the simulation different from other computer simulations of disease outbreak is that the characters are all controlled by humans, which are notoriously unpredictable. By evaluating the simulation data, researchers are able to better observe how disease spreads in and out of communities. Certainly, the World of Warcraft example had it’s limitations. Some people play the game individually and only come into contact with people casually and generally not socially which doesn’t mimic the real world as well. However, worlds like Second Life are completely social (and in my opinion generally pointless by yourself) make a much better social simulation.

Brian says that Massively Multiplayer Online Games “are more than mere distractions. They’re social simulations, miniature economies and living worlds.” What if scientists tested the spread of a virus, first when people didn’t know they had it and then again when they did. Comparisons could be made on how people behave, how the disease spreads, and the impact of knowledge. Brian implied that it would be okay if people knew that their character wouldn’t really be harmed, but I think for it to be real, people would have to have more serious consequences (like the termination of an account) at least be implied, if not actual. Would people stop contact with others? Would they only associate with other infected people? Would they intentionally infect others? What if they were away from “home” when they found out they were infected? Would they transport home and possibly infect others along the way? What impact does severity of the disease have on behavior? How does the length of incubation (and therefore awareness) have on people’s behavior?

There are so many great questions that virtual worlds could answer, and it doesn’t have to just be about disease. The transfer of information, knowledge, money, or even power could be studied. As virtual worlds develop, they are clearly becoming ripe for research for the social and physical scientists. Obviously it would be impossible, dangerous, and even unethical to test many of these ideas in the real world, but understanding the behavior could save may lives in the real world. It will be very interesting to see how this develops in the virtual worlds in the coming years.


Serious Games Presentation

We’re just minutes away from my presentation on Serious Games: Present and Future. The presentation has been posted as a PDF here. It’s about 2 Meg even with compressed images. Thanks to all of the people who provided examples and pictures for this presentation.


Increasing the Odds

As many of you know, I spent most of last year in Saratoga Springs. I went back late this summer to visit a great set of friends from my time there. While the water (it is named for that after all) is what it was once known for, horse racing is one of the things it is still known for. Yes, technically you can still drink from the springs, but how anybody ever considered something that tastes that awful to be healthy, I’ll never understand.

Horse racing in Saratoga is approaching 145 years old. That’s a pretty long tradition, in the U.S. anyway. For those who have never been to a race, it seems pretty basic…horses run, you bet on the winner, if you guess right you win. However, when you go to figure out and place your first bet, you learn what 145 years of organic growth causes…enormous complexity and completely unique terminology. Even the most basic bets–1st, 2nd, and 3rd which are known as Win (obvious), Place, and Show–get more complicated when you layer in boxes, daily doubles, exatcas, trifectas, quinellas (huh?), pick four, and pick six, and that’s only the beginning.

How do you pick the horse? How does the horse’s previous performance matter? How many races have they run? What kind of track’s did they run on? What were the conditions? How did they do? How fast were they? How long were the races? Is it the jockey? Is it the trainer? Is it the owner? What about the horse’s lineage? How’s the horse’s short distance speed vs. long distance? Grass vs. dirt? When was the horse’s last race? How does the horse behave in the paddock (i.e. the staging area)? Has the horse raced at this track before? To horse racing veterans, all of these factor into their bets. Their forms for each horse look something like this:

However, for newbies (like me) that amount of data is way too overwhelming. So the New York Racing Association puts together another form about 1/3 the size that probably should be called Horse Racing for Dummies (but that probably already exists). These forms make excellent use of visuals to simplify the process of selecting a horse. Pictured below, somebody selected the 7 most important categories that will determine a horse’s success. Are they the most important? I don’t really know. Hopefully, somebody ran a regression analysis or something to figure it out. Anyway, if the horse performed in that category, they get an icon. Of course it’s still up to the bettor to determine how to weight the 7 categories, but it certainly makes the process much easier.

For this bettor, in my 4 trips to the track, this form has allowed me to come out even each day after betting on 8 or so races each time. OK, so coming out even may not speak for this being the best process to win lots of money, but I think not losing lots of money is better than most of the people there. And best of all, you still have a fun afternoon with friends.

For more information on Visual Thinking approaches like this, check out VizThink.com.

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Combining Video & Interactivity

The designers of this site do a great job of combining video, interactivity, usability, and creativity. Notice how the video controls are obvious, provide relevant feedback and are easy to use. They even tell the participant where the moment of truth is so they can jump straight to it.

OK, so really, it’s a fun set of videos with some pretty neat controls. Who knew Christmas lights would do that in the microwave?

Thanks to Mike Cohen at Creative COW Blogs for pointing it out.

Art Immersion

Each year in mid-July, Ann Arbor plays host to the country’s largest art fair. Sure, lots of places say they have the largest art fair, but it’s hard to beat this one with over 1,200 artists in. OK, so, technically, it’s actually 4 fairs (1, 2, 3, 4) at the same time, but it’s still huge, covering most of downtown. While it doesn’t completely fill the space, it’s about 3/4 mile wide by about 1/2 mile tall. While many of the locals take vacation this week, I actually enjoy it. The people watching is the best it could be, and where else is it possible to see that many artists in one place?

Of course, Ann Arbor’s known for a lot more than just Art Fair. The Big House (so named because is the largest stadium in U.S. college football now seating over 107,500 people), seen here at about 3/4 mile away, looks small from the outside with over half of the stadium below ground.

Ann Arbor is also know, or maybe infamous, for both the annual hash bash and the naked mile which happen here in the quad:

We also have a pretty activist oriented community which have a dedicated section at the fair. Regardless of your interest or leaning, you’ll find your group here.

This is one place and time where all of the different ideologies get along. Too bad it can’t always be that way. We’re also gaining attention for our newest resident…Google:

However, this time of year, more cultured minds prevail and art takes over the city. Actually, Ann Arbor has a great cultural scene year round with opportunities to take in a huge variety of art, music, and dance regardless of your particular interest. While this show is predominently about the physical artists such as sculpture, photography, paint, clothing, jewelry, etc, Art Fair also draws a good number of performance artists as well (most of the performance artists are not counted in the numbers above):

Of course, it’s really all about the art, and with this many vendors there’s sure to be something that meets your taste (and budget).

Sometimes the art is functional:

Sometimes, even the frames get into the mix:

I think all art when it works for someone is supposed to come alive, but these artists took that quite literally:

This next artist has been at the fair for as long as I can remember. It always gathers a huge crowd. Clearly, the woman in the middle is a sculpture. The guy on the left is real. The security guard…is not. I’m not sure why somebody would buy something quite so lifelike. It might scare would be robbers for a moment, but it would probably freak me out me out more often than it would the robbers.

Then like American Idol and the other talent-based reality shows, there’s the bizzare moments that really attract attention. Now, I’m sure these are somebody’s taste, somebody’s mother loves them, that all art has a place, and I truly hope that these artists are able to make a living from their work. They’re not for me, but I did have to share:


In that last one it’s more about the clothes than the paintings. And yes, for those of you who are mad at me for picking on a few of the artists, I do buy art at the show. I try to buy at least one piece each year. Here a few of my favorites from the last 4-5 years. The first two are by Chip DuPont from Austin, Texas:

And this one from a different artist. Look closely, it’s done on silk:

But this year’s artist was Glenna Adkins from Cincinnati, Ohio:

My feet are soooo tired and my brain is overloaded, but, as always, it was a great show.
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Yet Another New TiVo Feature

OK, I know, enough already, I love TiVo. I’ve mentioned it before on the blog, and over and over, ad nauseum I’m sure, to my friends.

What’s the new feature? I really nice mash up between Amazon and TiVo. Yes, they’ve had the Unbox going for a few months now…go to Amazon.com, “rent” a movie, and a little while later it magically appears on your TiVo box. In the last few months they’ve increased the available movies to over 1,500 which is no Blockbuster or NetFlix, but they’re certainly making progress. However, none of that is what’s cool. Instead, you can now rent from Amazon directly on TiVo. No going to a separate place to download movies. It works just like the Now Playing list (where you get the recordings you made off live TV). Simply make your choice and the download begins. Movies in the list are automatically updated from Amazon. Now that’s easy. They say it takes between 1 to 5 hours to download a movie depending on available bandwidth at home. So it’s not quite as fast as a drive to Blockbuster, but it’s close.

Of course, with all of these upgrades and enhancements, TiVo’s menu is starting to get a bit crowded (and therefore less simple). I wish they’d add a feature to let me manage my own menu items…turning some off and changing the order of others. Maybe I can’t change the default screen, but can they give me the option to create my own “home page” on my TiVo box. Now that would be cool.

Welcome to ASTD

Greetings from ASTD in Atlanta. This is the first year in the many that I’ve come where I’ve been able to attend several of the sessions. It’s interesting compared to other conferences in that about half of the content is really basic or are sessions that have been done every year forever, it seems. Of course, with over half of the participants new to the industry (less than 1 year), it’s probably useful to many. However, I’ve been lucky to find a few good sessions so far.

Yesterday, I sat in on Doug Stevensen’s session on the use of drama and story in learning. He’s the owner and founder of an organization called Story Theater. They blend the world of theater with the world of training. I’ve been aware of them, but haven’t really had the chance to look at them closely. Originally, I thought it was more of what John Cleese does in his awesome training videos, but instead what they do is help teachers and speakers do better presentations by integrating storytelling and drama techniques. There were a few major take aways for me. First, good stories have a structure:

1. Set the scene
2. Introduce the characters
3. Begin the journey
4. Encounter the obstacle
5. Overcome the obstacle
6. Resolve the story
And for learning, add the following steps:
7. Make the point
8. Ask the questions (application questions)
9. Re-state the point

What was really interesting to me (my own realization) is that not only should the stories inside a course (online or offline, doesn’t matter) have a flow, but the whole course should follow a story arc. If people evaluated their courses to see if these 9 steps were followed (both in the small stories and the overall story), I think we’d end up with a lot better courses.

A couple other key insights included:

  • Replace narration of a story with acting/drama at the key moments to pull people into the story
  • All stories contain one potentially powerful moment. Know where it is and hold the moment. Don’t rush out of it.

Off to more sessions and the expo floor. More insights as I go…

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