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Ken Perlin on “Interdisciplinary Media Technology Research” (Media Systems)

I am happy to announce that we are publishing the final four videos from the Media Systems gathering — and that the final report, “Envisioning the Future of Computational Media,” is now available through print-on-demand!

We’re kicking off the last group with a talk from Ken Perlin, offering a vision of how computational media can become integrated throughout the curriculum, as something both written and read. Unlike most of our talks, this video focuses on the screen, where Perlin goes through a series of high-speed, interconnected demonstrations. He begins with a discussion of enabling believable interactive characters — arguing that a key is characters who can carry out intelligent performances of their roles, based on the kinds of high-level direction that can be provided by an AI system or by audience interaction (e.g., with a game controller). He shows two prototypes of characters like this, able to give engaging, coherent, grounded performances in real time. These simple characters arose from research deeply combining procedural computer graphics with the arts, particularly animation and puppetry (Perlin regularly collaborates with puppeteers).

He next shows a split-screen interface that allows both reading of a particular section of a book and a view of the entire manuscript. Using Pride and Prejudice as an example, Perlin shows how simple buttons can be used to let students ask “distant reading” questions of the sort popularized by digital humanities, such as looking at the patterns of mention (and collocation) for key terms such as the names of major characters and locations. He shows how the code can easily be exposed and modified for creating new buttons, and how doing this in a live, shared document could enable new kinds of classroom conversation. Such capabilities are the foundation of his approach.

Next Perlin demonstrates the same kinds of connections between code and media views for three-dimensional objects. The first version of an object can be created with a gesture — a mouse gesture, or an embodied gesture detected by a Kinect-style sensor — and this object can then be viewed both as an object and as code, with bridges back and forth. These bridges include code changes making live updates to the visual representation of objects, with widgets showing up on the visual representation of the object one is editing in code, and with changes made using these widgets producing live updates in the code. This extends not only to objects but to animation, with the ability to change shapes and blending operations while animations are happening, giving the impression that the model is being updated every animation cycle. This not only invites experimentation and refinement using both code and visual modes, but builds deeper understanding of the connection between the two. It makes code a powerful path for media creation — enabling iteration, scaffolding, and incremental movement to deeper engagements with the code level.

Returning to Perlin’s foundations in the extended book, he shows how these connected visual/code objects could be embedded within it. The reading and writing of visual/code objects — from smart, engaging characters to revealing visualizations — can take place in the same context as, and interact with, bodies of text. In short, Perlin showed a working demonstration of a platform for collaborative reading and writing of this new sort, defining a potential future in which we stop asking how students will learn programming and the vocabularies of computational media, and instead make these an embedded part of learning every subject.

If you wish to discuss the ideas in Perlin’s talk further, please leave comments here or take to Twitter with the #MediaSystems hashtag. Also, please check out our previously-posted videos and watch for Pamela Jennings’s talk, coming next!


This material is based upon a project supported by the National Science Foundation (under Grant Number 1152217), the National Endowment for the Humanities’ Office of Digital Humanities (under Grant Number HC-50011-12), the National Endowment for the Arts’ Office of Program Innovation, Microsoft Studios, and Microsoft Research.

Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of these sponsors.

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New Publication: “A Unified Approach to Preserving Cultural Software Objects and their Development Histories”

Report Cover

We are pleased to announce the publication of our recent National Endowment for the Humanities supported white paper on archiving and appraising academically produced computer games. “A Unified Approach to Preserving Cultural Software Objects and their Development Histories,” is aimed at providing a first step towards an archival methodology for computer games and their development documentation. The report provides an in-depth look at the development of Prom Week, EIS’s social simulation game, with a focus on its development process, context, and documentation. We highlight key moments in its development timeline, and elaborate on the different types of documents produced, and the challenges encountered in gathering everything together for deposition into the University of California’s Merritt Repository.

The report is available at CPGM’s main website (permanent URL link at the bottom of the page): https://games.soe.ucsc.edu/project/prom-week-development-archive

The development archive is available here: https://merritt.cdlib.org/m/ucsc_lib_promweek

We would like to thank the NEH Digital Start Up Grant (HD-51719-13) program for providing the funding for this effort!

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Faculty Job in Games Research at UCSC

I’m pleased to announce that the newly-formed Computational Media department at UC Santa Cruz is advertising an open-rank faculty position in interdisciplinary computer games research. As the official job flier puts it, our ideal candidate is someone “connecting novel technology research with practices of design and/or interpretation.”

I’m excited by the great community we’re building around games research, and computational media broadly, at UC Santa Cruz. This includes two key hires in the Arts this year (Robin Hunicke and Susana Ruiz) and the founders of the new MS in Games and Playable Media (Brenda Romero and John Romero) hired last year, as well as the pre-existing CM faculty (Arnav Jhala, Michael Mateas, Sri Kurniawan, Marilyn Walker, Jim Whitehead, and yours truly) and other faculty in the Center for Games and Playable Media (e.g., Brenda Laurel, Soraya Murray).

I’m a member of the search committee, so please feel free to contact me with any questions. More details are below. Read More »

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GDC 2014: U.S. National Investment in the Future of Games?

At the just-concluded 2014 Game Developers Conference I organized and spoke in a session titled, “U.S. National Investment in the Future of Games?” I was joined by William S. Bainbridge (Program Director for the National Science Foundation), Elaine Raybourn (Principal Member of the Technical Staff in Cognitive Systems at Sandia National Laboratories, on assignment from to the Advanced Distributed Learning Initiative, Office of the Deputy Secretary of Defense), and Jason Rhody (Senior Program Officer for the Office of Digital Humanities in the National Endowment for the Humanities). I’m posting here my slides and notes from the session introduction and my talk, the latter of which focused on three recommendation areas from the Media Systems final report that would benefit from joint effort by federal agencies and the game development community. Read More »

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GDC 2014: Game Grants for Scholars, Librarians, and Artists

This week at GDC I gave a talk as part of the session “Federal Opportunities for Game Faculty and Students.” I was joined by William Bainbridge (Program Director, National Science Foundation) and Jason Rhody (Senior Program Officer, Office of Digital Humanities, National Endowment for the Humanities). My presentation focused on my experiences as a Principle Investigator on a grant from the Institute for Museum and Library Services and as a panelist for the National Endowment for the Arts.

The slides and my talk notes are below. I hope they’re helpful! Read More »

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New Publication: “Envisioning the Future of Computational Media” (Media Systems)

Media Systems logo

Today we are publishing the final report of the Media Systems project — including a set of 12 key recommendations for building the future of computational media.

This report is the result of bringing more than 40 field leaders together for a meeting made possible by an unprecedented set of organizations: the U.S. National Science Foundation, U.S. National Endowment for the Humanities, U.S. National Endowment for the Arts, Microsoft Studios, and Microsoft Research. We followed the meeting with more than a year of additional analysis, conversation, and writing.

Our report, “Envisioning the Future of Computational Media,” starts with the fact that the future of media is increasingly computational — video games, smartphone apps, ebooks, social media, and more.

As media evolve and change, the stakes are high, on many fronts — from culture and the economy to education and health. Read More »

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