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Adventures in the Xbus: Mobile Gaming, Redefined

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“What’s an Xbus?,” I asked myself. I knew I’d find out at the CGDC, after seeing it as a listed activity during the conference.

The Xbus is a converted 40′ transit bus that has been outfitted for 16 person multiplayer LAN link video games. It has 16 networked Xbox 360 game consoles so that means that each player gets their own 27” HDTV. There is a 13kW onboard generator that supplies power for everything so it doesn’t even cost you for electricity. We even have a soda machine onboard. We provide everything for the ultimate gaming experience.

(Description taken from: http://www.xbusgames.com/about-xbus-games/)

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Computer Engineer Barbie Cares and so does Microsoft

A little over a week ago, I headed over the hill with Marian and Sukhie to attend an event to inspire girls to engage with science and technology, hosted by Microsoft DigiGirls and Barbie.

The event consisted of girl scouts, female computer science students, Microsoft representatives, female political figures, and reps from Mattel. Also, there were a lot of Computer Engineer Barbies there too.

If you didn’t already know, Barbie takes on 2.5 new careers every year, and this year, Computer Engineering made the cut. If you look her, Barbie sits in her cubicle with stylish pink glasses (a lot like mine), a bluetooth earpiece, a laptop displaying binary numbers, and an ipod. From her cube, I would gather that she likes to eat Chinese food, enjoys looking at pictures of Ken, and owns stuffed animals of the Linux variety.

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UCSC Hosts Symposium on Narrative Intelligence: AI Approaches for Games and Fiction

DATE: October 14th, 2010 — 9:30am to 5:30pm

LOCATION: UCSC Campus, Engineering 2, Room 599
PRICE: Free (though UCSC parking pass required)
HOSTED BY: The UCSC Center for Games and Playable Media. Co-sponsored by the Digital Arts and New Media program and Institute for Humanities Research.

Symposium Topic

What would it take for computer games and digital literature to dynamically offer meaningful story choices based on past interactions, or draw analogies inspired by authors such as Virginia Woolf, or create avatars that are meaningful characters with individual motivations, or give us new means to understand the phenomena of narrative itself? Any of these would require research into fundamentally new computational models — but research that is deeply informed by insights of the arts, humanities, and social sciences. This free, one day symposium (the first event sponsored by the new UC Santa Cruz Center for Games and Playable Media) brings together four leading international researchers with UCSC’s active research groups in this area.

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Dan Kline from Crystal Dynamics Visits UCSC

Thursday, April 15, 2010
11 am -12 pm
E2-280
Hosted by Associate Professor Michael Mateas

Speaker: Daniel Kline from Crystal Dynamics

Title: How You Can Make A Great Game

In this talk, we’ll explore how anyone can make a great game.  We’ll
investigate what separates a good game from a great game, delving into
the presenter’s personal history for rich examples.  We’ll dig into
how to find the game that you want to make, and avoid common new idea
pitfalls.  And we’ll share game development best practices to help get
it done, with plenty of time to ask questions and share ideas.

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Time Travel: What Google Wave and Braid have in Common

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At this point, most people should know of Google Wave.  Fewer have had an opportunity to start “waving,” as Google Wave is still in a “limited preview” stage.  Usually, I’m not the first in line to adopt a new technology, because I always need substantial convincing for why I should bother.  In the case of waving, I had a realization that many of my current communicative frustrations may be alleviated with a reorganization for how I understood conversations.  Immediately, I got on Facebook and announced that I’d really really want an invite to Google Wave– I was waving in matter of minutes (Thanks Kyle!).

Around the same time I started waving, I decided to play the game, Braid (I had heard so many wonderful things about this game, and, you know, better late than never).  In both of my experiences with Wave and Braid, I found myself  re-evaluating the common conventions as I had, from practice, defined.  With Wave, the norms of communication is challenged and with Braid, the meta-approaches to problem solving for platformer games.   What I’m left with is the realization that time does not immutably flow steadily forward in every context– something that I’d taken forgranted all my life, and when we change our frame of reference, so does our understanding of what is true.

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Reverse Engineering the Brain and the ELIZA Effect: Is Believability Ethical?

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Pet Society, Tamagotchi, Milo

Over winter break this past year, I went to a conference in Chicago for Graduate and Faculty Christians. I found myself having to choose between the Engineering track and the Math track (I went with Engineering). At the conference were some well known researchers, such as Fred Brooks and Francis Collins.  It seemed, to me (at least), that this conference would be quite the unique experience (…and I can now say that I’ve sung hymns with a room full of engineers). I mean, how often do we encounter a large gathering of the intersection between Christians and Professors? … I digress; however, within the community of Christian “intellectuals,” there were some interesting presentations on non-religious research. In particular, was a talk titled, “Discerning Technology or Hippocratic Engineering.”

In his introduction, the speaker uses Spore as an example to demonstrate how we’ve managed to take recreate life within technology. He quotes, “SPORE isn’t a game for re-educating the intelligent design proponents of the present; it’s a game for inspiring the intelligent designers of the future.” At such an unusual conference, I gladly found myself at a session where 5 of the first 7 slides were celebrating video games. This leads the speaker into a discussion of “Technology Assessment, an implicit mandate.” He asks the question, should we be creating technologies just because we can?, giving quite a number of interesting cases and scenarios to consider (and concludes with a few under-explained tables and figures– “Base vectors of technological progress” and the “Environmentally Responsible Product Assessment Matrix” for example.) Overall, there was one point that remained unsettling for me….

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Nonlinear Storytelling in Games: Deconstructing the Varieties of Nonlinear Experiences

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What is “the mark of the narrative”? In chapter 1 of her book, Marie-Laure Ryan, discusses the transmedial nature of narrative and gives a broad definition provided by H. Porter Abbott:  Narrative is the combination of story and discourse.  I believe the distinction of story and discourse is quite novel and under-appreciated in the area of interactive storytelling.  For the purposes of this discussion, I’d like to deconstruct the nonlinear in narrative to give deeper insight into what this relationship between story and discourse actually entails.  The term nonlinear takes many meanings depending on context, which is a result of the complexity in the meaning of both story and discourse.

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What do Amnesia, Immortality, and Mind Control have to do with Game Design, Immersion, and Suspension of Disbelief?

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What breaks your sense of presence in a story? The culture of video game playing has developed a tolerance for the common practices and limitations in designing and producing games.  We’ve stopped asking “why?” and have come to expect the typical input arrangements, the impermanence of death, and restrictions of our own free will.  Although much of the work in the EIS lab is focused on investigating new practices in creating and playing games, I’ve found, in my personal “research” of popular games, that despite the predictability, certain innovations in narrative are notably novel.

If we break down a game into layers of: paidia, ludus, and narrative, an area that is quite nontrivial is the connection between paidia and narrative.  Often, your paidia is constrained such that you don’t ruin the narrative layer in the game.  For example, it is common that your agency sucks in order to maintain the story elements.