Tag Archives: second life

CityOne takes serious gaming mainstream

One of the topics I’ve been talking about as a sideline at work for several years since the early days of eightbar, and as one of the core topics on the weekly Dogear Nation podcast, is the idea of “serious games”: using gaming technology and immersive environments, combined with the web and emerging tools, to teach business skills and build awareness of social issues. We embraced environments like Second Life and middleware like Unity early on as we recognised their potential to add new dimensions to the learning experience. IBM’s Global Innovation Outlook gaming study was talking about Virtual Worlds, Real Leaders in 2007, and last year we published Lessons from Online Gaming. It has been something of a slow-burner, but it has continued to be an interesting field to watch.

I’m pretty excited to see that today, IBM’s CityOne game has been launched. This is strongly tied in with the Smarter Planet initiative and aims to provide an environment which can teach the player about the challenges faced by cities today, as well as what IBM does, and how technology solutions can be applied to improve energy, finance, retail and water in urban scenarios.

my city - Uberville :-)

my city, "Uberville", in action!

The game is accessible right on the IBM website and despite the “download” links and mentions in other news articles I’ve seen, it needs nothing more than a web browser to play (oh, and Flash – so I won’t be playing it on my iPhone, but then I’m happier seeing the graphics on a larger display!). Works just fine in Chrome on Ubuntu 🙂

The aim is to balance a city’s resources and the happiness of the citizens, whilst attempting to triage problems and provide longer-term solutions through technology. I’ve had a brief play and found it really easy to get started, but within a few turns things start to get more tricky as funds may run lower. I liked the music, which was ambient enough not to be too annoying, and I also liked the way in which the image of the city gains colour as various tasks are completed – you’ll see the watercolour-ish appearance in the screenshot from my game, above. Another thing that the game has is an achievements system with badges that can be earned as aspects of the city’s environment are brought under control – this means it instantly feels familiar to gamers used to these kind of rewards systems, and constantly draws you in for another turn to see what you can unlock next time around.

This isn’t the first such serious game that IBM has produced, of course – INNOV8 and INNOV8 2.0 have been successful over the past couple of years in teaching the principles of Business Process Management. However, CityOne does a nice job of connecting technology with an environment (a city) that many of us will be more than familiar with, and making the ideas inherent in a Smarter Planet become apparent. Well done to my friend Phaedra Boinidiris and her great team for creating another compelling experience.

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Haptic fantastic

Yesterday I got the opportunity to play around with a haptic device, which basically provides a force feedback / touch user interface to various 3D technologies. These included navigating a virtual world, and building 3D objects. I’ve written about it more over on eightbar, but it was so cool that I wanted to include the video over here as well.

Just to explain what is going on in the video, as it may not be entirely clear! The demos use a Novint Falcon gaming controller. To quote Anarkik, it is “like a small grounded ‘robot’ and provides the ‘force feedback’ that gives the uncanny sense of touching a virtual object. This device replaces the mouse and also provides more natural and coherent movement in 3 dimensions.” At the start, several of us have a go with the controller to drive an avatar around an OpenSim island running on the local machine, using Anarkik’s software. Around the middle of the video, we switch to using the Cre8 tool to do some simple modelling. In particular, we change the surface hardness of a sphere (where it becomes more or less soft to the touch); and then go inside the sphere and extrude the shape by pulling the controller around. Finally, there’s a brief look at some fabricated items modelled using the same software.

By the way, this was another clip edited with iMovie 09, which I’m increasingly impressed with – I need to do a screencast to show some of the nicer more advanced features that I’ve discovered! 🙂

Slorpedo – the video

Thanks to Paul Johnston, the video footage of the SLUK event featuring Slorpedo is now available on YouTube!

It looks awesome. Well done to everyone involved.

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Virtual Worlds and online shopping

We’ve had Sears and Circuit City as examples of what can be done with real world retail in virtual worlds for a while now. Essentially these stores attempt to replicate some of the real-life shopping environment, but with hyperlinks off to product pages on their website when a customer wants to know specifics about individual products. They have some other nice touches, too – check them out on IBM 10.

Yesterday, Jazzydee Raymaker showed me around the IWOOT sim in Second Life. This is the SL presence of I Want One Of Those, which is an online store for gadgets and goodies. I passed the recommendation on to epredator, who posted about it on eightbar.

IWOOT_002

The IWOOT store takes the virtual world <-> real world retail connection one step further. You pick up a cart, and can then walk around looking at the billboards. Click on an item, and a package appears in the cart, labelled with an image of the item you just added to it. This is synced up with the I Want One Of Those website, so it’s actually adding items to your shopping cart there too.

IWOOT_006

Oh, and if you go away from the virtual store and come back tomorrow, the cart is persistent and remembers what you’d already added, so when it rezzes a second time, the same items will still be there.

What’s the benefit? Surely all we did there was to go another step towards replicating a real world experience. Why bother?

Well, it’s a step up from a 2D web page for online shopping, and here’s why:

  • It’s a social experience, more like really walking into a store. Jazzy was on the other side of the planet, but I was able to hop on the side of the virtual cart and look around the store at the same time.
  • I was able to comment on the items in the trolley. You can’t do that on a website, as you don’t know who is already looking at the page, or what they have in their cart. You can do that in the real world. Apparently this is how supermarket singles nights are supposed to work, but obviously I wouldn’t know about that…
  • IWOOT doesn’t currently have one, but they could mix in a live adviser. Although some websites have a “chat to a customer service representative online now” option, most do not.
  • It would also be possible to mix in some of the special touches that Circuit City or Sears do have, like the couch that gets repositioned according to the size of the TV.

Is it better than a real world store? Well, maybe not. Could I have been in a real store with someone and also on the other side of the planet from them? Definitely not. But here, all the usual arguments for online shopping apply – you can stay at home, have stuff delivered, but also get the social aspect of being with friends and visual feedback. There are a range of other ways to get value from a virtual world – Jasmin Tragas describes some of them in a great recent post.

I found IWOOT to be an interesting new way of looking at online retail. It’s a well-executed store. Check it out.

(sorry about the screencaps. I forgot I had SL set to capture with the UI included… by the way, lighting effects by RenderGlow…)

Virtual world backchannels

I spent the early part of this week at an internal conference. Part of my role was as a speaker: I gave a talk on Social Software (unfortunately some of the slides are confidential, or I’d put it on Slideshare). The other thing I was involved in was working with Roo to demonstrate some of the virtual worlds technologies that we have been looking at in IBM for the past 18 months.

For my part, I spent most of my time showing some of the IBM areas in Second Life, before handing people across to Roo to look at the other technologies.

One of the interesting aspects of how virtual worlds have been used lately is as backchannels to, or extensions of, various events and conferences. For example, the keynotes from Lotusphere, IMPACT, the Rational Software Development Conference and others have all been broadcast into Second Life. I attended several of them, and found it interesting how people were able to both watch and listen to the video streams, and socialise and comment on the talks at the same time.

There’s another event coming up next week. Here’s the announcement:

IBM Innovation Ecosystems conference – Second Life

From Monday 30th July to Wednesday 1st August, IBM will host a Real Life conference on “Innovation Ecosystems”. Accompanying this conference will be a Virtual Conference simulcast, at the IBM Second Life Business Center.

Drop into the IBM Business Center to watch presentations from the conference, to wander through the poster display area, or just to have a coffee and talk to some of IBM’s Distinguished Engineers.

Link to IBM Business Center in Second Life

How do I know about this one? Well, during the demonstrations this week, I was showing some of my colleagues in the real world some of our private sandboxes in SL. Whilst online, I bumped into someone from the US who was building a new prototype office space… and shortly afterwards one of my mentees came online, so I teleported her over. So there we were, having a three-way, cross-geo meeting and conversation… during which it emerged that the Innovation Ecosystems event is happening next week.

 adhoc_small

It was a great demonstration of how the technology can be used. That kind of casual, ad-hoc gathering would never have happened by phone or web conference.