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DARPA uses computer game to learn anti-submarine warfare tactics

April 5th, 2011, by Tim Finin, posted in AI, GAIM, Machine Learning

DARPA is developing a new component to track “quiet submarines” to be part of the Navy’s Anti Submarine Warfare toolkit and is using a software game to collect effective strategies for its use.

“Before autonomous software is developed for ACTUV’s computers, DARPA needs to determine what approaches and methods are most effective. To gather information from a broad spectrum of users, ACTUV has been integrated into the Dangerous Waters™ game. DARPA is offering this new ACTUV Tactics Simulator for free public download.

This software has been written to simulate actual evasion techniques used by submarines, challenging each player to track them successfully. Your tracking vessel is not the only ship at sea, so you’ll need to safely navigate among commercial shipping traffic as you attempt to track the submarine, whose driver has some tricks up his sleeve. You will earn points as you complete mission objectives, and will have the opportunity to see how you rank against the competition on DARPA’s leaderboard page. You can also share your experiences and insights from playing the simulator with others.”

This is a kind of crowdsourcing — leveraging the experiences of a large number of people playing a game. Applying various kinds of machine learning algorithms to the simulator data could be an effective way to train an autonomous tool for this task.

UMBC global game jam live video feed

January 30th, 2010, by Tim Finin, posted in GAIM, Games, Social media, UMBC

Via Marc Olano: The Global Game Jam is into its second day at UMBC with 41 registered participants working on seven games. Keep up from home with our live video feed and games list.

Global Game Jam at UMBC, January 29-31

January 28th, 2010, by Tim Finin, posted in GAIM, GENERAL, Social media, UMBC

UMBC will be the Baltimore site for the Global Game Jam. This is a 48 hour event, where teams from around the globe will work to each develop a complete game over one weekend. Last year, the UMBC site fielded five teams as one of 54 sites in 23 countries. This year promises to be even bigger, with 124 sites in 34 countries.

The Baltimore site and open to participants at all skill levels. It is not necessary to be a UMBC student to register. Thanks to generous support by Next Century , there is no registration fee for the Baltimore site, but you must register for this site in advance at www.globalgamejam.org. The jam will start at 5PM on Friday, January 29th in the UMBC GAIM lab, room 005a in the ITE building. At that time, the theme for this year’s games will be announced, and we’ll brainstorm game ideas and form into teams. Teams will have until 3pm on Sunday, January 31st to develop their games. We’ll have demos of each game and selection of local awards, wrapping up by 5pm Sunday.

Last year’s theme was “As long as we’re together there will always be problems”, and we had games developed using a combination of XNA, Flash, Maya, Photoshop, and the Unity Engine.

For more information, visit http://gaim.umbc.edu/jam/.

UMBC to host 2009 Global Game Jam site

January 6th, 2009, by Tim Finin, posted in GAIM, Games, UMBC

UMBC is hosting a site for the 2009 Global Game Jam on January 30-February 1, 2009. This is a two day game development contest sponsored by the International Game Developers Association and held simultaneously in 49 sites from 20 countries.

At 5pm local time on Friday, January 30, each site will be told the parameters of the game they all must produce. Participants pitch ideas, form teams, and get to work producing the best game they can in 48 hours. The UMBC site will have a good mix of computers and development platforms including Windows (XP), Mac (Leopard), XBox 360 (with Creators Club), PlayStation 3 (running Linux) with a diverse software environment that inlcludes Visual Studio, Maya, XNA Game Studio, NVIDIA PhysX and Adobe Creative Suite. For more information see the UMBC Global Game Jam page.

The Global Game Jam participants do not have to be UMBC students, and the Jam is open to participants of all levels of skill and experience. There is no registration fee for the Baltimore Jam site at UMBC, but space is limited so advance registration is required.

This event is sponsored by the UMBC Games, Animation and Interactive Media program, an innovative academic program with tracks available for students pursuing a degree in computer science or a degree in visual arts.

You call *that* a weird course?

October 5th, 2008, by Tim Finin, posted in GAIM, UMBC

Over on the UMBC GAIM Blog, Marc Olano wrote about UMBC Art 380, a required class in our game track that was in the Baltimore Sun’s Weird 101: Baltimore’s unusual college courses.

History and Theory of Games @ University of Maryland, Baltimore County:

Students attempting to break into the gaming industry take a lot of atypical ­— and very technical — classes, but this is a class everyone can wrap their head around. “Games are as old as people. They are what humans do, when they can,” said professor Neal McDonald. “It’s a serious, interesting, rapidly maturing field of scholarship.” This guy has the best job ever. McDonald plays a myriad of games, some dating back to the Stone Age, to show his budding game designers the origins of today’s games and the infinite possibilities for tomorrow’s.

Somehow I don’t think this class belongs on the list, which includes local courses like The Art of Juggling, The Theology of Eating, The British Invasion, and Fitness for Scuba Divers.

But maybe this is just my bias as a computer scientist. We see the game industry as a very practical business and one that will need a constant flow of better computer science technology to evolve and thrive. Moreover, advances in nearly all areas of computer science are needed, e.g., graphics, AI, HCI, parallel computing, software engineering, distributed computing, social networking, etc.

Besides, I’m pretty well schooled in The British Invasion as it is. Actually, the course on The Theology of Eating does sound pretty interesting.

Game designer Sid Meier to talk in Baltimore Sept 4

August 23rd, 2008, by Tim Finin, posted in GAIM, Games

Mark Olano posted news on the UMBC GAIM blog that legendary game designer Sid Meier will give a presentation for the at 8:00pm on Thursday, September 4th. The talk, which is free and open to the public, will be held a the The Engineering Society of Baltimore in Baltimore.

Meier is a very influential figure in the game industry and helped to establish the popular simulation game genre through his games like Pirates, Railroad Tycoon and Civilization. He is currently Director of Creative Development for Firaxis Games and has been inducted into the Computer Museum of America Hall of Fame and the Academy of Interactive Arts and Sciences Hall of Fame for lifetime achievement in computer gaming. Here’s the title and abstract for his talk.

    Game Programming: Oh say, can you C?
    Sid Meier and members of the Firaxis development team

    Programming a computer game: There are three types of programming in games: (1) game play on one end, (2) engine on the other, and (3) the layer in between that allows the two others to communicate. Each type of programming is different from the others. Programmers are drawn to one or another type of programming because of its power or beauty. Sid has developed a flexible style of programming that allows him to make instantaneous changes at the game play level. An engine programmer needs a bit more conformity to step in where someone else left off. The programmers in the middle have fun because they can make the other two “worlds” talk to each other. Sid and other speakers will discuss the different types of programming and how they “play nice” together.

If you plan to attend, email volcheck@acm.org for further announcements and updates.

I’ve attended talks at the Engineering Society building, which is on Mt. Vernon Place in Baltimore, which should be easy to get to on the MTA bus that stops at UMBC. It’s a grand old building that was fun to be in.

RPI group developing Second Life robot

May 18th, 2008, by Tim Finin, posted in Agents, AI, GAIM, Social media

AP reports that an RPI group is developing a robot for Second Life, Researchers teach ‘Second Life’ avatar to think. Actually, it’s a robot with the brain of a four-year old pre-schooler.

“Edd Hifeng barely merits a second glance in “Second Life.” A steel-gray robot with lanky limbs and linebacker shoulders, he looks like a typical avatar in the popular virtual world. But Edd is different.

His actions are animated not by a person at a keyboard but by a computer. Edd is a creation of artificial intelligence, or AI, by researchers at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, who endowed him with a limited ability to converse and reason. It turns out “Second Life” is more than a place where pixelated avatars chat, interact and fly about. It’s also a frontier in AI research because it’s a controllable environment where testing intelligent creations is easier.

“It’s a very inexpensive way to test out our technologies right now,” said Selmer Bringsjord, director of the Rensselaer Artificial Intelligence and Reasoning Laboratory.”

There’s more information in an article on Virtual World News. Apparently the goal is not to build interesting Second Life Bots using a variety of hacks, but to demonstrate human-like behaviour using more principled techniques.

“RPI is looking, initially, at a “theory of mind” for children, specifically with a false-belief test. In the real world, a child (age 4) would be shown a person placing a teddy bear in a cabinet. When the first person leaves, a second person would move the bear to another spot, like a refrigerator. When asked where the first person will look for the bear, they usually answer with the refrigerator due to a lack of understanding of other people. In Second Life, an automated theorem prover and procedures for converting conversational English into formal logic make up the brain of “Eddie,” the four-year-old avatar. When posed the above problem, Eddie responded as the human child would.”

Here’s a video of Eddie in action.


UMBC video game class featured in Baltimore Sun

April 20th, 2008, by Tim Finin, posted in GAIM, UMBC

Today’s Baltimore Sun has a good page-one story, Video games, from scratch, on the new UMBC games, animation and interactive media programs. The reporter visited the Anatomy of a Video Game which is being taught by Katie Hirsch (UMBC CS/ART ’05). As luck would have it, another UMBC alumnus, Eric Jordan (UMBC CS ’07), was also there giving a guest lecture. Both Katie and Eric work at Breakaway, one of the many Baltimore area game companies. The course includes students who are majoring in visual arts ans well as those majoring in computer science, making an interesting mix that mirrors the teams that create commercial computer games. The article has some good quotes from both the instructors and students and from Professor Marc Olano, who directs the computer science game program.

UMBC offers class on Anatomy of a Video Game in Spring 2008

January 25th, 2008, by Tim Finin, posted in GAIM, Games, UMBC

This Spring UMBC will mount our first “regular” undergraduate class as part of its new programs on games, animation and interactive media. The class, Anatomy of a Video Game, will be taught by UMBC Alumna Katie Hirsch, who graduated with dual degrees in Computer Science and Visual Arts and who works at and Breakaway Games in Hunt Valley MD.

“This class dissects the process of developing a video game from an introductory perspective. The class will give artist and programmers an opportunity to focus on their specific areas of interest within the development pipeline while learning to work across their disciplines. The class will include production and design as well as art and programming specific topics.”

This course, as well as several others this spring, will take advantage of UMBC’s new GAIM Lab that is equipped with a generous gift of 20 Xbox consoles from Microsoft.

Immersive gaming and alternate reality games

December 27th, 2007, by Tim Finin, posted in GAIM, GENERAL

Alternate reality games, also known as immersive games, blend fantasy and reality in ways that blur the difference. We are not talking about virtual reality technology that require their users to don special helmets or use kinematic effectors, but games that embed their narratives and interact with players using everyday aspects of the the real world — Web sites, email, instant messages, phone calls, letters and billboards.

The genre has largely been used by conceptual artists, advertising agencies and marketeers. Here’s how Dave Szulborski describes it on his This is Not a Game site.

“Alternate Reality Gaming, sometimes also called Immersive Gaming, Viral Marketing, or Interactive Fiction, is a rapidly emerging genre of online gaming and is one of the first true art and entertainment forms that was developed from and exclusively for the Internet. Alternate Reality Games have been wildly successful when used for multimillion dollar marketing campaigns, such as the 2004 game I Love Bees, used by Microsoft to help launch the hugely anticipated X-Box video game Halo 2, and the game that started it all, the Beast, used to promote Steven Spielberg’s science fiction epic A.I.: Artificial Intelligence in 2001.”

Wired has an article, Secret Websites, Coded Messages: The New World of Immersive Games, that describes an a viral marketing campaign to promote Nine Inch Nails. Muhammad Saleem blogs about the online viral marketing campaign it used to promote the move The Dark Knight. Finally, ReadWriteWeb has an interesting post, Alternate Reality Games: What Makes or Breaks Them? that attempts to deconstruct ARGs.

Alternate reality gaming is definitely unusual, but it draws on many of the skills any student of gaming should be developing: the ability to construct a rich narrative, the capability to design an environment that reveals itself as players explore and gradually discover and solve underlying puzzles, and the skills to exploit the latest digital technologies.

Many of them are inherently social games as well, encouraging or even requiring groups of people to collaborate and share information to unravel the story.

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