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Aug 09, 2007



Development is always a balancing act between cost, time, and quality.

Also given any tool, it locks you into a paradigm or development style, i.e. a text editor/compiler you can create anything, but takes time, a gui rad tool is fast but then is inflexible in what it can do.

I view tools as an evoluationary progression, where it takes time to understand and develop. Given objects, once upon a time you sketched designs with paper and pencil using compasses and stencils. That has become automated in 2D and then into 3D. Now I can use a web page, design a 3D object, and submit it and have it manufactuered and sent to me.


It will be interesting to see how the sort of user created content tools that we get to see a glimpse of with Little Big Planet will knock on to the wider metaverse environments.
Simple, yet creative controls not requiring great technical skill to operate, yet needing creative vision and talent to be effective sound very promising.
I think this sort of tooling fits in with many of you list of ten.


I was actually going to say something along the same lines (although Little Big Planet is new to me).

When I read "authoring tools" I immediately assumed these were offline tools as opposed to features integrated into the VW. Creation needs to be an integral part of the VW or game mechanic to encourage more people to be creators. It should not be something you do offline and definitely not something you do in generic tools like Maya or Photoshop. When users have control of the parameters of procedurally generated content, they may not have the flexibility of offline tools, however it's easier and more fun. Character creation in City of Heroes is a current example of some steps in the right direction. Spore is also a great example of what can happen when you mix ideas of user generated content with procedurally generated content.


Random comments:

- http://www.mxac.com.au/drt/PersonalVirtualWorlds.htm

- Having nearly built a tookit (or rather, being in the process of building one - toolkits take forever), I'll point out that you're greatly simplifying the work that an author needs to do and/or that the toolkit needs to handle. I can go into excruciating detail if you wish.


If you're able to, that might be very useful.

I think I know what you're getting at, though. This seems to me to be a conceptual problem with the entire idea of an "author tool", actually.

On one hand, you could say that html or xml is an "author tool". On the other hand, you could say that a menu in Photoshop that allows you to put a variety of effects over a photograph is an author tool.

Those two things are not the same, but either is potentially the kind of thing a developer could try to implement in a virtual world environment. On one hand, if you wanted to allow players to set tasks or quests for other players, you could do it through an interface with set choices: how many players? kill quest or drop quest? probability of drop or number of targets that must be killed? reward (fixed by relation to level of creatures killed). On the other hand, you could try to create some kind of authoring language that mediated access to the underlying code of the VW that allowed players to create quests in a much more open-ended way.

That's the kind of thing that I think must require immensely complicated work for the toolkit and the author--that there isn't any way beyond a certain level to simplify what has to be done. That's what struck me about the original Neverwinter Nights: it had two levels of authoring. The first was just "you can place tiles and monsters in a module you're designing". But for the second level of authoring, "you can script elaborate sequences of action to follow on particular events", they pretty much said, "You're going to have to do that in simplified C++ syntax, guys".


The extensibility of any platform of any sort becomes key here. As you point out with neverwinter nights, high level user clip art, moving down to code.
To have an open platform with ability to exert creative control allows for the creation of other toolkits and inventive tool suppliers and 3rd parties.
Games designers (and business application designers) will use lots of techniques to describe the product, be it plot, level design or fundamental concepts. Storyboards, sketches and scripts all get written as part of the design process.
It would seem that that level of description and tooling seldom arrives to a user and customizer of a game system. We have development kits, bells and whistles, layout tools etc. but less in the way of expressive design.
I suspect that is because modding and content creation up to now has been the preserve of us techies and we like SDK's
So I agree that it would be interesting for languages to develop to describe this sort of quest content. It may be a teicky task just as business languages are still attempting to allow non technical business people to express their wishes.
We are in a mashup culture though, so it could happen with the right seeds being placed.


From an educator’s standpoint, this is an interesting post because I’ve always maintained that videogames must be highly customizable in order to become widespread in the classroom. We all seem to hate what PowerPoint has done to lectures, but many teachers and professors use PowerPoint in part because it is completely customizable in content.

I agree NWN seems very popular with classroom teachers these days … C.S. Loh over at Southern Illinois got a nice article in his local paper recently about his graduate class training teachers how to use NWN in the classroom. But, it is still like Timothy Burke said, “I think [it] must require immensely complicated work for the toolkit and the author.” And, the NWN editor can get complicated, especially for novices to programming.

So, when the PowerPoint equivalent of game editors gets here, I think we’re likely to see more custom games in the classroom. OTOH, the quality of the games might be on par with the quality of all those PowerPoint slides.


This is a great topic and one that I will be speaking on next week. Being a game developer for many years, I became familiar with off-the-shelf and proprietary tools. Integrating and organizing these content assets using said tools was a constant challenge. The market responded with solutions, but many firms still write their own.

Virtual world development is more difficult than games, IMHO. While I expect the market to offer content creation and management tools for this space, proprietary needs are higher than ever before. I actually have a project earmarked to address this need for my company now. While I expect valuable tools to come to market in the coming years, this space will remain a challenge.

Lastly, there are existing solutions that can be leveraged in these worlds today. For example, one of our clients converts digital photographs to avatar face maps. Their eight year old technology has been leveraged in such a way to bring automated solutions to users. I expect this to be a growing trend.


"I'll point out that you're greatly simplifying the work that an author needs to do."

Just a quick response. I'm not naive to the complexity of tool design and I'm not saying it is simple, however some of the complexity come from some of the assumptions you work with from day one. The first mistake is to try to take something typical of the tools division of a game company, intended for internal artist or designers, and tighten that up for an end user. If you have an existing engine or art pipeline, it's likely you're already too late in the process. What I'm talking about is using procedural content generation and exposing those parameters to the user - making the procedural content generation the basis for creating the content and discarding much of the traditional pipeline. This is what Spore seems to be doing. I will acknowledge that Spore is a monumental effort, however less ambitious efforts, like Little Big Planet, are possible. Trying to make user tools for a game like World of Warcraft - now that's hard. Building something unique where creation is part of the game experience and the focus is not on next-gen visuals - although still difficult, it's a more realistic challenge.


Just so you don't think I'm speaking out of my ass, Sherwood Dungeon uses procedural content generation extensively. Not for UGC, but as a tool to limit download size (another benefit that PCG offers). Although Sherwood's not a big game, it certainly feels bigger than the 2 MB download would imply.


Procedural content is in itself an art. A lot of times it doesn't do what the author wants to do what the author wants/expects it to do. Just read all the AI anecodotes out there, such as those for Oblivon


For the written word, it's nice to have modern word processing (I'm old enough to remember mechanical typewriters), and speech recognition & OCR so that you can dictate info and have the computer mark it up for you. Even this level of comfort isn't error-free at the moment. The technology is still immature, but we're getting there.

Designing games is easily a few orders of magnitude harder than writing a (wiki) article, and our written (and coding) languages are hard pressed to accomplish the task in an efficient and timely manner.

Still, I dream of a day when expert-systems & speech parsers will allow us to communicate with AI-enabled applications, allowing us to build, review, fine-tune, and simulate our designs. All in real time, in an "on the fly" manner.

I don't think this is the realm of science fiction, but I doubt that we're "there yet", either. I remember when all "good" (i.e. fast enough to be usable) programs were hand coded in assembler. As computing power increased, we could afford to be less efficient in final code output, and focus more on "readable" design interface. You saw a movement to C (and its variants), and more recently to higher level languages and scripting languages for serious development (python comes to mind), as ever increasing computer power allows us to get away with even less efficient code as a trade-off for a more intuitive design process.

This process will hopefully continue, until the process where designing a game (or a car, circuitboard, hydro dam, etc.) will become a completely intuitive process, where we "chat" with an expert system about what parameters we would like, and fine tune it by more chatting and visual pointing tools. A bit like Gene Roddenberry's vision of chatting with a powerful computer to set up the parameters for a holodeck program.

I know of very few languages that are a relatively simple, intuitive, high-level, end-to-end solution for the creation of virtual worlds, but you might want to check out the DM language for the Byond engine (www.byond.com). Byond has its limits (2D tiles, slow, poor up-scaling) but I think the DM language is an important good direction in the process. Studying that langauge, independant of the underlying engine's limits, might yield some insight. I would hope that someday, either DM (or something DM-like) would envolve into a more general purpose language, to be plugged into any game design management engine, much as we have SQL today for dbms.

If the DM language had better tools available to it(3D rendered environments, better multiplayer scaling, SQL clustered-dbms plug-ins, etc.) and had a nice expert system pasted on top of it, then that would begin to approach what I am attempting to describe.

In the "real world" of today, we have examples like Byond, Realmcrafter, Torque, Kaneva, Multiverse ... all that are doing important first steps towards realizing that eventual goal, where "telling" a game story will be similar to the stories our ancestors told around the cook-fires, thousands of years ago. At least, that's my dream. Is it yours, too?


Yes, absolutely, Harvey, that is also what I hope for. And it may be that will take AI that can bridge between "I want some green-skinned humanoids, very muscular, hybrid of Nordic and Mongul weapons and clothing" and actual character models. As well as a very different kind of global arrangement of intellectual property where a huge variety of images, sound and so on are available for such an AI to draw upon in response to such a request.


Hoping that easier-to-use tools will produce better art is optimistic. To go back to your analogy with writing, consider that the latest advance has been text messaging.


Cherry, I think that up to a point, you're right. What the Internet has done in part is reveal that everyone has something they can and will write, but that most of it is not worth reading.

But on the other hand, lowering the barriers to publication did allow a significant number of writers to appear to general view who never would have been able to access old-style publishing or the mainstream media. It also revealed how stale certain kinds of writing really were, and how much they were controlled by a kind of inbred consensus.

So that's what I'd hope for with virtual worlds and games: an opening to creators who are presently unable or unwilling to master the current technically daunting toolkit and an exposure of some of the inbred creative patterns that presently exist within the industry.


There is no reason why scripting needed to create or modify procedural 3D world can not be plain English language - or Excel tables batch-converted into 3D worlds (X3D) - done this on a smaller scale - non-tech users were pretty happy.

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