0aaetec.jpgThe 2008 edition of ETech will be held March 3-6 in San Diego, California and the Call for Participation is open until September 17.

I usually leave that kind of news to blogs that cater for the web 2.0-ish community but it looks like the upcoming edition of the conference will be different and if all goes as we hope it might even be quite an exciting place to hang around. Brady Forrest hopes to expand the range of the conference to biotech, sensor networks, alternate reality games, visualizations, robotics, policy, human enhancement and clean tech.

Bonus! i am on the program committee so i will fight tooth and nail for good papers coming from the art and the interaction design crowd.

Submit a proposal by September 17, 2007. This way!

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Here's a short recap of good stuff at SIGGRAPH in Boston. While the conference itself was pretty focused on the technical or business aspects of computer graphics, there were some gems to be found, especially in the Emerging Technologies and Art exhibitions:

etech1_4.jpg etech1_3.jpgTablescape Plus is a clever display technology that was developed at the University of Tokyo. It mainly consists of L-shaped pieces of plastic that are sitting on an illuminated table. On the upright side of each piece there is a perfectly planar projection that is coming from inside the table. The objects are being tracked from below as well. The trick is that its surface is actually a special Fresnel lens, a technology that the researchers fancied calling "Lumisty". Especially cute was the demo software which was a projected group of people - Japanese salarymen and their boss. Depending on how you would arrange the pieces, the little people would get embarrassed or hide behind trees and much more.

etech2.jpg An interesting display technology was the Thermoesthesia that their makers also call a "Thermal sense display". Beneath the projection surface there is a matrix of 24 heat pumps. When you touch the surface, you produce snow crystals or sparks, depending on the mode that the installation is currently in. The interesting thing is that the surface not only starts to visually freeze over but only gets icy to touch because of the heat pumps cooling down the respective spots. "A chance to rediscover the world" the researchers boldly claim.

Jeff Han exhibited his Multi-Touch display which is as simple and makes as much sense as in all of the videos on the web. Especially the dynamic map that you can spin around and zoom in and out works marvellously. Just don't say "Minority Report" or he might hit you.

etech5_2.jpg Jee Hyun Oh from Ravensbourne college in London showed the second iteration of her GORI.Node Garden (Here's the first one) in which she advanced the original idea to be a collaborative rather than a personal data garden. During the conference, people could log on to her IM-system, chat with her and once the conversations had ended, they could chose which of the GORI-nodes to "water" which then would react and grow.

etech7_2.jpg Another nice project from the UK was VoodooIO, a system that uses a soft, almost leathery surface, in which then different elements like buttons or sliders can be pinned. The controllers communicate through two layers of conductive fabric with their master computer that is also connected to the fabric. It's a bit like you have this home entertainment system and instead of using a giant remote control you just pin a few buttons into your couch to control it.

etech_3.jpg The most impressive piece of the show was arguably the Laser Plasma Display of which images had been around for some time already. They use a high energy laser to create a controllable plasma-emission phenomenon in mid air. This means that this technology can make spots in the air light up at will, in full 3D. The visual effect is very much like that of super-bright LEDs but at the same time there's a very loud crackling from the rapidly expanding air and a strong smell of ozone. The fact that the Japanese technicians were all wearing dark safety-goggles only added to the show. According to the developers, one of the intended goals is to be able to create gigantic three-dimensional displays above buildings to be used as "aerial advertisements".

People very much loved a project U-Tsu-Shi-O-Mi which was conceived by developers at NTT DoCoMo. It's basically a green fluffy humanoid figure with a robot in it. etech4_4.jpg etech4_5.jpg The user puts on an augmented reality headset and suddenly the figure looks like...your favorite J-pop celebrity (the explanatory sheet featured Tom Cruise as well). The artificial star then asks you to shake her burning (!) robot-hand with yours that through the headset looks very computer-generated as well, changes gender a few times in an explosion of sparks and all in all creates a very confusing yet enjoyable and completely Japanese idea of immersive media.

At the SIGGRAPH trade fair outside of the exhibition it was Google that stood out with some work related to Google Earth. Michael Jones who is the CTO of the software gave me a very insightful demo of the "coverage" of the conflict between Israel and Lebanon that is happening on GE. As he pointed out, there have been some controversial discussions inside of Google on whether and when to update the aerial pictures of Beirut and northern Israel to not influence the course of the conflict. They did have some very new footage of Beirut though which was truly shocking and for him the proof that this kind of information eventually always is about people. etech8_2.jpg Another nice visualization was right next to it: a spinning globe on which searches on Google are displayed in real-time as slowly rising dots in reference to their location and color-coded according to language. Very simple in the way that it almost displayed individual "thoughts" of people and at the same time showed that some parts of the US are effectively bilingual already.

I'm gonna be at ISEA in San Jose for the next week. If there's anything happening you think we should know of, please get in touch: me(insert@here)plugimi.com

I missed Julian Bleecker's talk at eTech not just because i was in another room listening to Michael Frumin and Michal Migurski (more on that one later) but mostly because Julian had promised to give me a small re-run of his talk the day after. Which he did.

So i wrote with zeal while he was re-performing, had a look at Oren Sreebny, Elizabeth and Michael's notes, at Julian's blog entry and at his slides and here's what i've got:

Pervasive Electronic Games: Theory Objects For Social Play.

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The main point was to figure out how to describe pervasive games as a way of creating, understanding and researching social interactions and the relationship between we and the worlds we inhabit.

Many things in our environment can become playful, the whole city can be a big playboard. How can we play off with the existing infrastructure? Pervasive gaming is all around us, it touches many parts of our everyday life. Its manifestations don't have to be physical either. The networks leak into our world. Pervasive networks pervade our physical space but they also pervade our social space and shape daily social practice.

Pervasive games need not be super high-tech. Take I Love Bees for example, it could be played with a traditional phone.

We need new metaphores to design these different kind of interfaces.

Games can provide different ways to look at the physical world.
Take the debris: we would normally ignore them, but games can turn them into components of the pervasive experience. It would lead to a different kind of awareness.

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Pervasive play takes us into the network. It adjusts our perspective on the physical world, creating a renewed experience of what the world contains. Makes it difficult to look away from what we don't like to see.

If one makes a game that rules that it's ok to look at homeless people. Instead of looking away and ignoring them, you'd become aware of the problem. There's then the possibility to try to make a better situation. Add a new perspective and can lead to new considerations as to what goes on in the world and how we can make it more sustainable.

New meanings can be found in hidden, unexpected corners. Game pieces can be found everywhere. The infrastructure is ludic. Annotation rewrites rules.

How can movement become a component of the game? Movement turns the game into something more physical, something that goes beyond the console. Social play should have another register of interaction and engagement beside sitting in a room with your friends. Will we, one day, look at the picture below and think that it was the Jurassic form of electronic game?

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Games are theory objects that can reveal and shape human interactive rituals, they make us ask questions about how we interact in the physical world. Games can be used as a kind of research instrument to investigate how we move about and interact in the physical world.

Examples: Big Urban Game, ConQwest, Tokyo SuperStar (you have to "collect" people, it's a non-competitive game, you get points by linking to people), Blast Theory's Uncle Roy All Around You.

Geocaching: Go Game, some rules but whimsical kind of experience, it brings people outside of themselves, turns external world upside down through performance – changing perspective
Mobile phone games: mobile phone can become an interface not for games on the screen, but for playing games that pervade the physical world. Casual play, goes beyond complicated technology barriers. How to excise the carriers out of the mobile media ecosystem?

Julian then made a small demo of his game clickr!, a compelling mobile game without the fancy tech. Anyone can play Clickr. It uses mobile phones to create a playful experience for people who are in the same physical space (a movie theatre, for example.)

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Clckr allows people to use their cell phones as a control device during the time prior to a movie to create a multiparticipatory entertainment interaction experience. From their theater seats, audience members can play an interactive game projected onto the theater screen using the keys of their phone handset to control on screen game pieces, fun visualizations and drawing applications, and participate in a multiplayer trivia contest.

Other examples Flirt – Stampede: A virtual herd of reindeer is loose on the network. Warnings go out to those in their path. The reindeer first appear on screen as small forms in the distance. They get progressively bigger until they fill the screen. Casualties are reported.
- The Lost Cat: Network users are told that the network cat has gone missing. In certain locations, the cat will appear on a mobile phone. The cat has a mind of its own: after a while it walks away. This game makes sense: you actually meet cats in the street, not a Pacman!

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Twitcher: a virtual pet environment in which "...digital birds visit your mobile phone. An application that resides on your handset gives you a window onto a "virtual garden", into which these birds will fly from time to time. To tempt them, you use an almost childishly simple one-click interface to drop pieces of seed on the ground; minutes or hours later, your handset flashes and tweets as a bird arrives, and you have a short window of opportunity to click again and snap a photo."

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"If you configure Bluetooth and "pair" your device with that of a Twitchr-playing friend, then birds can fly between your phones" (...) "Once you're online, your phone becomes part of a massive digital environment: numbers of the various species rise and fall over time, new species can be introduced, and old ones become extinct.")

Julian’s Viewmaster of the Future (video).

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Human PacMan, an augmented reality version of the original arcade game;

CatchBob!, a mobile game for running psychological experiments. It is designed to elicit collaborative behavior of people working together on a mobile activity;

Feeding Yoshi, players have to locate the Yoshis, which are actually secured wireless networks, represented as small creatures. Each Yoshi asks the player for a particular kind of fruit. TO get points, players must then grow and retrieve these fruits from plantations, which are actually unsecured wireless networks. Players are encouraged to interact with each other by swapping their fruit;

Piedimonsterz : monsters help motivate kids be more active. The service includes a physical device carried on the person (a virtual pet pedometer), a website which takes the data from the device and provides activity reports, and neighborhood hubs for organizing local group activities.

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Conclusions:

- Pervasive games create different perspectives;
- get us to look at the "real" habited world differently;
- create different points of view;
- maybe they can encourage us to think about making the world more habitable.

Image: Monkey Bites.

eTech notes and images from From Paddles to Pads. Is Controller Design Killing Creativity in Video Games?

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Tom Armitage is neither a game designer nor an interaction designer, he’s just been an addicted player for 20 years. So he’s speaking about the consumer perspective.

The gaming industry is very big. Bigger than Hollywood as it is often said.

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Gaming has many problems. One of them is that games are repetitive. The industry knows they can make big money by just selling the same game (different versions of it) again and again and again.

The new Nintendo Revolution Remote doesn’t promise to change only the way we play games but also change the game itself.

Those who designed the controller shown below assume that you’ve already used a joypad before. The NES pad had four direction, it is pretty simple to use even if you’re not a gamer (from 1982 till 1990). Till the SNES pad the progression has been gentle. But if you skip one generation and didn’t follow the evolution, you’ll have some difficulties to adjust to the new generation. All current pads are pretty much the same.

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Now if we have a look at handheld we can see that they are roughly identical to those from the past generations. It’s fairly easy to use them. But take the Xbox pad, if you’re not a gamer it’s quite scarry. The ergonomy is OK but the pad offers so much choice and you can’t concentrate on trying to find which is the button you should to press while keeping your eyes on the screen.

Two quotes by Nolan Bushnell (Atari): “Complexity lost the gamer.? “People are interface phobic.? Which doesn’t mean that people hate interface (they have to deal with interfaces all the time in the everyday life), but we just like transparent interfaces.

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Image of Alex, Tom Armitage’s girlfriend (she's first intrigued,, then puzzled and finally pissed.) Alex plays Halo but there’s too much to push, to much to do, plus she has to look at what’s going on on the screen. It is the controllers that are scarring people off.

Current game pads are restrictive and we shouldn’t forget that gaming isn’t limited to the screen.
Examples of this aesthetic issue:
- Singstar, a karaoke game. You instantly understand that you have to sing in the microphone and the way to use it is straightforward, you immediately know how to use it. Karaoke comes with a lot of assumptions: it’s to be enjoyed with friends, you don’t take it too seriously, you’re there to have fun, etc. All this information is already in the device and you perceive it even before playing.

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- Buzz says “play with other people.? Non threatening device.

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- Donkey Konga: it’s a very rewarding game because your hands come into contact not with plastic but with what really feels like a drum. Very satisfying.

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All of these controllers are very familiar items. They don’t say “game? but “sing?, “quizz?, or “make music.?

Now take Guitar Hero: it has five buttons. £ buttons would be great because you wouldn’t have to move your hand then and this would make the experience much more easy. 5 buttons require a lot of dexterity. However, you can start low and feel your progression. You are also invited to strike fun poses. This says “Mess around?, play with the controller, take stupid poses, etc.

Steel Battalion: very complex interfaces, loads of buttons. But this again tells a lot about the universe of the game. Having many buttons to press reminds of those movies in which we see the hero facing a complicated challenge, he’s on his spaceship/battleship and has to switch a lot of buttons to save the situation.

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Halo: a first person shooter game that comes with a twin stick control.

Metroid Prime
: once again there’s a first person perspective, aliens to master, etc. But there’s no twin stick, just one

A game can also communicate about its style. For example Killer 7. It’s super weird, the graphics are not conventional and even the controls are mad.

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Micro Machines 2 by Sega lets you have 8 people play at the same time. You can share a game pad between two people: one would handle the part on the left and the other the part on the right. And the fun begins.

The aesthetic, ethic nature of the game should be conveyed in the design of the controllers. To create new ways of interacting we have to break from archetypes.

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A left-handed person might have problems to manipulate the controller. The new Nintendo controller would solve the problem. The revolution comes from the nunchuck: if you want to swap the controls, all you have to do is just swap hands.

It’s sad that gaming at home is so much restrained and controlled by those controllers. When a video game is represented on television, in comics, all they have to do is show the controller, and you don’t need to see what’s happening on the screen to understand it’s a home game.

But games are so much more than controllers.

eTech notes from Putting the Fun in Functional. Applying Games Mechanics To Functional Software.
Amy Jo Kim, Creative Director of Shuffle Brain. Her slides.

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How can we use game mechanics to create compelling services and applications, even if those are not games.

How can games shape behaviour? By leveraging our basic, primal response patterns. Schedules of reinforcement (giving rewards within a certain schedule)

How to make interactive experience more addictive? By finding inspiration in 5 game mechanics.

Continue reading...

Yesterday i felt the urge to balance eTech's overwhelming geekiness with some good girly vacuity. Thanks Jason who introduced me to the worls of Beauty Bar! It's sooooo old news in the US, but new to me as i'm only European. And after this US trip, i'm more European than ever, can't wait to be back to the usual swirl of art bienniale, new media festivals, conferences on bioart, to over-crowded spaces, noisy streets, tiny cars and food that contains less than 24 additives. I felt like a dork all along my stay here, saying "waaa, this is a huge muffin! look at this huge bottle of shampoo! this meal is huge!" and so on.

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Back to the Beauty Bar. It's a normal night club, except that you can also go there to have your nails done while enjoying a cocktail (for only $10). DJ was good (for what my opinion is worth), the theme of the evening was Pussy Galore, the ladies were pretty and prissy and i laughed all along (didn't test the dexterity of the nail attendants thought.)

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Wonder when we'll get a Beauty Bar in Milan or London. I think it will be huuuge here.

My pictures on flickr are as lame as usual but the bottom pictures are made in Jason.

BB is located at the corner of El Cajon Boulevard and Euclid Avenue (4746 El Cajon Blvd.)

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