Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Keynote at Swansea Animation Days... again.

Swansea, Wales

SAND 2008 logoFor the second time, I had the privilege of delivering the opening keynote at the Swansea ANimation Days festival -- at least, the Game Days part of it, which comes first. The last time I was there was in 2006, and the festival just seems to keep getting bigger and better. In addition there was dinner at the house of the Lord Mayor of Swansea, complete with the Lord Mayor himself, and his wife, in attendance, wearing their gold chains of office.

Lord Mayor of Swansea Gold chains of office are something we don't do much in the United States. Just as the Queen is a constitutional monarch, so the Lord Mayor is a constitutional mayor -- the job only lasts for a year and I think his duties are strictly ceremonial. Still, he gets to live in a pretty nice house with some amazing silver dishes. I didn't ask what he thought about having a bunch of animation geeks and game developers to dinner, but he seemed gracious about it.

The talk I gave was "A New Vision for Interactive Stories," my GDC lecture from 2006. There was a good crowd, despite my being first thing in the morning and a number of them rather sleepy. I was rather sleepy myself, if the truth were told. The next night there was another, less formal and more intimate dinner for the speakers. Unfortunately, I can't remember who all is who in this picture, except that the guy on the left is the wonderful Ed Hooks, who teaches acting to animators all over the world. Like me, he divides his time between consulting and doing workshops. The lady at the back next to me is Felicity Blastland, who organizes SAND every year and makes sure we all have a good time. We did!

Speakers' dinner at SAND 2008.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Workshops at Dublin Institute of Technology

Dublin, Ireland
Dublin Institute of Technology Logo
For the third year in a row I went to Dublin, twice, to give game design workshops at the Dublin Institute of Technology. They invite high school students in and give them a pitch about the benefits of studying game development at DIT, and then we design a bunch of crazy games. These are some of the biggest workshops I've ever done -- once there were a hundred participants -- and they always sell out.

Here's the poster:
Dublin Institute of Technology poster for the Adams game design workshops

Saturday, November 15, 2008

A week teaching at Instituto Superior Técnico

Porto Salvo, Portugal

IST logoA couple of years back I met a cool professor named Katherine Isbister, who was studying social interfaces at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. At some point, Katherine got a chance to go teach at in Portugal for a week at the prestigious Instituto Superior Técnico which is sort of the MIT of Portugal. When they were looking around for another guest lecturer, she kindly recommended me. After some discussions with Rui Prada, the guy in charge, we fixed a date and off I went. Rui works on human interactions with autonomous virtual characters -- definitely a useful research subject for video games.

IST building from the end

I've only been to Portugal once before, when I went to Lisbon to teach for Universidade Lusófona. I had a good time and went to Lisbon castle, which is extremely cool, but I didn't get to move around much. This time I rented a car. The IST campus where I was teaching was in Porto Salvo, outside Lisbon, but I stayed in a seaside resort town called Estoril. As you can see, it's gorgeous:

Estoril from my hotel

I didn't do anything very touristy, just cruised around in the car, but I noticed how much the landscape reminds me of California -- warm, dry and rather dusty, but with the ocean nearby

I did a variety of events with the students, including giving them my character design workshop.

Character design workshopCharacter design workshop

The faculty were all great and one evening I went and played a German board game about colonizing the West Indies with them. Interesting game -- there was very little element of chance, but enough different kinds of strategies that you couldn't easily predict what was going to happen. Unfortunately, I've forgotten its name.

Friday, November 07, 2008

The Solomon's Judgment machine.

Leeuwarden, Netherlands

NHL logoLast May I went to the Exposure '08 event in Leeuwarden in the northern Netherlands, and then I went to GAmeland in September. Both were courtesy of the Northern College of Leeuwarden. Now I've started work for the NHL, as it's known, on a regular basis. For the next little while, I'll be consulting for the college and working with the students on quite a number of projects.

One of the projects I'll be involved with concerns an extraordinary machine built in the early 1900s. Beginning in the Renaissance, German clockmakers began creating wonderful mechanical devices that acted out stories from the Bible using puppets. In the early 1900s, a young Dutchman named Jan Elzinga decided to build one himself -- all by himself. And he did. It's called "Solomon's Judgment," and it tells the Biblical story, in mime, of how Solomon was required to decide which of two women was the true mother of a child. (You can find the story in 1 Kings 3:16-28, if you don't know it.)

The two mothers in the Solomon's Judgment machineElzinga was a mechanical genius, but he was poor. He lived alone with his mother, had no job, and had to scrounge parts wherever he could find them -- mostly from the blacksmith's forge and the bicycle shop. He shut himself in his room, and for three years, he worked on his amazing invention. When it was done, it was one of the wonders of the Netherlands, and it was put on display all over the country. Originally it had to be cranked by hand, and it ran for 35 minutes continuously. To reset it, it has to be cranked backwards for 35 minutes!

Sometime in the 1930s, though, the machine was damaged in shipment, and was not repaired. Jan Elzinga died in 1947, and when he went, the secret of the machine went with him. He never made any plans -- they were all in his own head. Two mechanical engineers tried to restore the machine in the 1970s, mostly during their spare time. They made a lot of notes, but even they never fully understood it.

This is where I get involved. The Solomon's Judgment machine now sits, broken, in the Martena Museum in the the town of Franeker. The museum doesn't want to try to repair it, but they have some money to make a virtual 3D model of the machine, and a video game that incorporates the machine as one element. The game design students at NHL are designing the game, and the 3D students are doing the modeling. As you can see from the pictures, it's a huge task. The model will enable us to make an animation of the machine in operation -- the first time that anyone has seen it (or rather, its virtual equivalent) working in over 30 years. My job is to advise the students on the game. When we're done, it will run on a kiosk in the museum, and perhaps on the museum's web site also.

I find this incredibly exciting. I love old technology, especially mechanical things, and you don't often get a chance to work on something like this. Although it's thousands of years younger and its purpose is known, it sort of reminds me of the Antikythera Mechanism -- a mysterious machine whose workings are not well understood.

Solomon and his soldiers in the Solomon's Judgment machine