March 24th, 2006

The Sims Go to College - And It's Not Another Add-on Module

Would you like to create video games but find yourself daunted by the fact that displaying a simple message in Windows can take hundreds of lines of code? Perhaps Alice can help.


Alice is a program developed by the Stage 3 Research Group at Carnegie Mellon Univeristy. The innovative program offers novice coders a 3D graphics development environment that allows them to concentrate on learning and experimenting with programming concepts instead of suffering through proper syntax and complicated code structure. Details can be gleaned from this 12 minute demo. However the basic appeal for students is that instead of typing this:

if(((GetAsyncKeyState(VK_UP) & 0x8000) ? 0: 1) && (ball_ptr->radius<MAX_RADIUS))ball_ptr->radius ;

Alice users create much more intuitive statements such as:

If [the user presses the up arrow key] and [the ball's radius is less than the
maximum] then [increase the radius of the ball by 1].

Much easier to read, isn't it? The program, free to anyone who wants it, has thus far used rudimentary and, to be blunt, unattractive 3D models created in 3D Studio Max. A recent collaboration with Electronic Arts will guarantee that Alice has the looks to go with her personality because version 3 will be incorporating art assets from the Sims (read the press release here).

"Getting the chance to use the characters and animations from The Sims is like teaching at an art school and having Disney give you Mickey Mouse," said comp sci prof Randy Pausch, director of the Alice Project. "The Sims is EA's crown jewel, and the fact that they are willing to use it for education shows a kind of long-term vision one rarely sees from large corporations."
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Leland Yee in Hot Debate at Game Developers Conference

Political debate highlighted yesterday's events at the Game Developers Conference (GDC) in San Jose.

The fireworks took place during a conference session titled Murder, Sex and Censorship: Debating the Morals of Creative Freedom. Panel members included California Assembly Speaker pro tem Leland Yee (D), author James Gee (What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy), Jason Della Rocca, executive director of the International Game Developers Association, and Brenda Brathwaite, leader of the IGDA's Sex in Games SIG and author of an upcoming book on sex in games. Yee, of course, is the architect of California's contested video game law, which is expected to be reviewed by a federal judge in May.

Next-Gen has some coverage on the session, including Yee's comment that, "The bill I was able to pass limits the sale of ultra-violent games to children. It does not prevent the sale of violent games... We believe that this law stands the test of First Amendment exceptions."

Yee also said, "Those involved in government aren't interested in getting deeply in involved in how kids are raised. However, we see the consequences of inappropriate child rearing and we have a responsibility to protect children. It was government that stopped kids from working in factories... Some of these games are about cutting off heads and urinating on people..."

Gee, a University of Wisconsin professor, offered counterpoint. "I argue that playing videogames in the right context can be good for you. We spend a lot of time asking about how games can be bad for you, but not how they can be good for you. We rarely hear about how games could revolutionize the school system. I wonder how many people have been hurt by games, and how many have been helped by games? I suspect if we split those two groups up and put them in two rooms, one would be full, and the other would contain a relatively small group of people."
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