logo for Foundations of Digital Games (FDG 2009)
Invited Speakers

Damián Isla - Next-Gen Content Creation for Next-Gen AI

With the arrival of "next-gen" (soon to be "last-gen") the cost of producing a video game has sky-rocketed. At the root of this incease lies the problem of content creation: the fact is, the content in a modern video game is vastly more complex than it used to be, and this complexity translates directly into production dollars.

AI has not escaped this trend, and while AI is now rightfully seen as one of the cornerstones of gameplay, the task of creating AI remains a subtle and tortuous one. Our field has spent plenty of time working on ways to make AI smarter, faster and more scalable. But compatatively little time has been spent looking for powerful and intuitive paradigms for authoring behavior.

Other fields have found ways to make the process of authoring content smarter: Photoshop is the standard in the creation of 2d art. Z-Brush has brought some degree of physical intuition back to the process of 3d modeling. Where is AI equivalent, the "Photoshop of AI", to steal the phrase coined by Chris Hecker? What does it look like? What are its properties? In this talk, we will look at some of the current attempts at a truly Next-Gen content-creation interface for AI, as well as consider what future technologies might enable ever more powerful paradigms for AI authoring.

Damián Isla is an independent Game AI and Design Consultant. Previously, he was gameplay and AI Engineering Lead at Bungie Studios, where he was responsible for the AI for mega-hit first-person shooters HALO 2 and HALO 3. Prior to Bungie, he earned an M.Eng. at the MIT Media Lab's Synthetic Characters Group, where he did research on learning and behavior for artificial creatures. He has spoken on games and character AI at the Game Developers Conference, the International Joint Conference on Artificial Intelligence (IJCAI), the AI and Interactive Digital Entertainment Conference (AIIDE) and at Siggraph. He has a B.Sc. in Computer Science, again from MIT.

Yasmin B. Kafai - Beyond Barbie and Mortal Kombat: New Perspectives on Girls and Games

The number of women and girl gamers has risen considerably in the last ten years. Women are now the majority of casual gamers; girl players participate in large numbers in virtual worlds, and professional all female teams are successful in competitions. Despite this, gender disparities remain in gaming. Women may be warriors in World of Warcraft, but they are also scantily clad "booth babes" whose sex appeal is used to promote games at trade shows. Player-generated content has revolutionized gaming, but few games marketed to girls allow "modding". Women may be into gaming but few venture into industry. In this talk, I'll examine the experiences of girl and women players in gaming communities; the need for different perspectives in game design; and concerns related to emerging serious games - games meant not only to entertain but also to educate, persuade, or change behavior. My goal is to look beyond the differences and to learn how we can design games that offer motivating, challenging, and enriching contexts for play to a more diverse population of players.

A Professor of Learning Sciences at the University of Pennsylvania's Graduate School at Education, Yasmin Kafai leads research teams investigating learning opportunities in virtual worlds, designing media-rich programming tools and communities together with colleagues from MIT, USC and industry. In the early 90's at the Media Lab she was one of the first researchers to engage hundred of children as game designers in schools to learn about programming, mathematics and science. While at UCLA, she launched virtual epidemics in Whyville.net, a massive online world with millions of players age 8-16, to help teens learn about infectious disease. She also studied how urban youth create media art, games, and graphics in Scratch, a visual programming language developed together with MIT colleagues. Her research has been published in several books, among them "Minds in Play" (1995), "Constructionism in Practice" (1996 edited with Mitchel Resnick), and more recently "Beyond Barbie and Mortal Kombat: New Perspectives of Gender and Gaming" (2008 edited with Carrie Heeter, Jill Denner and Jennifer Sun). She has studied in France, Germany and the United States and holds a doctorate from Harvard University.

Peter-Pike Sloan - Lighting in games: past, present and future.

Many games have used some form of lighting pre-computation to increase realism. As computational power has increased these techniques have evolved from traditional diffuse scalar radiosity, to vector irradiance formulations of radiosity that decouple normal variation to techniques that can model non-diffuse materials. This talk will cover how these techniques have been used in games over time and the outstanding research problems going forward in this area. The challenge of getting your research adopted in games, or doing research that games find interesting and relevant, will also be discussed.

Peter-Pike Sloan recently moved to Salt Lake City to head up a research group for Disney Interactive Studios. Prior to that he spent almost 10 years at Microsoft, where he worked in the graphics research group, DirectX and on the many-core incubation team. He is interested in all areas of computer graphics, particularly interactive rendering techniques, and most of his papers and talks are available online at: www.ppsloan.org

Constance Steinkuehler - The Intellectual Life of Online Play.

The past three decades of cognitive research has well documented that play is an important context for learning for younger children, but we have a harder time accepting that it is equally important for teenagers and adults. Digital worlds for play such as those found in massively multiplayer online games (so called "virtual worlds") offer compelling, naturally occurring models of the online learning environments educators have been diligently attempting to craft in the basements of their ivory towers (with somewhat limited success). This disparity gives rise to a deep irony: American schools, designed for intentionally learning, remain locked within a Ford type factory model of industry and efficiency; games, on the other hand, with no intention to teach or education, lean forward rather than backward, recruiting intellectual practices, dispositions, and forms of social organization that are well aligned with many of today’s "new capitalist" workplaces.

In this talk, I review the findings of a five-year investigation, funded in part by the MacArthur foundation, into the forms of cognition and learning that arise in virtual worlds. In it, I detail the constellation of intellectual practices that constitute gameplay in such spaces ranging from collective problem solving and digital media literacy to computational literacy and informal science reasoning. I highlight the ways in which this constellation of intellectual practices coalesce into a form of civic engagement I call pop cosmopolitanism and how such a disposition is shaping the everyday lives of today’s adolescents and adults.

Constance Steinkuehler is an Assistant Professor in the Educational Communication & Technology program in the Curriculum & Instruction department at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. Her research is on cognition, learning and literacy in massively multiplayer online games (MMOs). Current interests include "pop cosmopolitanism" in online worlds and the intellectual practices that underwrite such a disposition, including collective problem solving, digital & print literacy, informal scientific reasoning, computational literacy, and reciprocal apprenticeship. Her work is funded by the MacArthur Foundation.