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Robert Nideffer

Professor of Studio Art & Information and Computer Science, UC Irvine; Co-Director for the Art, Computation and Engineering Program (ACE); Director of the UC Irvine Game Culture and Technology Lab;Affiliated faculty in the Visual Studies Program Game Culture and Technology

Robert Nideffer

Robert F. Nideffer researches, teaches, and publishes in the areas of virtual environments and behavior, interface theory and design, technology and culture, and contemporary social theory. He holds an MFA in Computer Arts, and a Ph.D. in Sociology, and is an Associate Professor in Studio Art and Information and Computer Science at UC Irvine, where he also serves as an Affiliated Faculty in the Visual Studies Program, and the Art, Computation and Engineering (ACE) Program. Nideffer has participated in a number of national and international online and offline exhibitions, speaking engagements, and panels for a variety of professional conferences, workshops and events. Nideffer is a member of both the UC Digital Cultures Project and UC DARnet (Digital Arts Research Network) Multi-Campus Research Groups. Since 2000 he has been hard at play initiating an Academic Specialization in Game Culture and Technology, and serving as founding director of the Game Culture & Technology Lab.

Links: Home page| Game Culture & Technology Lab

Research Sample:

unexceptional.net is a multimodal, pervasive, location-aware net-centric game. The game deals with love gone bad, political conspiracy, and spiritual transformation. Play is supported through three interfaces: a Web-based Blog, GPS-enabled cell phones, and a modified 3D game engine.

unexceptional.net is a quest-based game that revolves around a central character named Guy. Guy is a frustrated comic artist, game designer, hacker who’s recently found out that his long-time partner is having an affair. This discovery launches him upon a series of quests, that you participate in, in effort to gain insight into the nature of his partner’s relationship. His experience is infused with an eastern philosophy and spirituality that dictates the nature of the quests, and the ultimate goal, Guy’s search for “enlightenmnet.” To achieve enlightenment (whatever that might mean) Guy must go on a series of Web and GPS-based quests to find special key objects that will help open all seven of his major Chakras, the energetic centers of the body according to Buddhist doctrine.

The project involves a farily extensive database infrastructure for storing and delivering game-state data via both GPS enabled cell phone, and the Web. On the Web side, a Blog (administered by the game’s central character, Guy) is used as a vehicle for providing the player information about current game state, player locations, and quest progress. The Blog also provides access, if one has the required privilege, to an administrative framework enabling game designers to dynamically and flexibly customize the game and have it immediately reflected in the various interfaces – at this point the Web and an integrated GPS cellphone game. This is referred to as the ‘World-Building Toolkit’ component. The world-building is done through a series of user-friendly Web pages allowing customization of a wide-range of game-state data such as inventory, statistics, the main character (the ‘Avatar’), NPC characters, and a number of location related services allowing specification of how things like region, terrain, and structure will be defined and treated during gameplay. All of this Web-based work was done using PHP, MySQL, DHTML, and Javascripting.

On the phone side we used Nextel’s Motorola i730 GPS cellphones for prototyping. The phone client is written in J2ME using the MIDP 2.0 specification. We also wrote a Java servlet that handles direct socket connections to the game server, and does the authentication and data uploading and downloading. The initial phone game is a 2D isometric style game where the main character Guy runs around the algorithmically generated world on a series of location-based quests madly looking for his cheating partner and her lover. On startup of the phone game a number of things happen: 1) authentication; 2) notification and storage of the player’s current latitude and longitude location to the server; 3) loading the player’s active quest information from the server to the phone; and 4) pulling down all relevant inventory, statistics, region, terrain, and structure data from the server to the phone in order to proceedurally generate the gameworld.

One of the key technolgocial hooks for unexceptional.net is the way we are handling the generation of the gameworld on the phone. Because all terrain and structure data is location aware and sent to the phone from the gameserver during gameplay, the world is not only aesthetically representative of the physical environment it’s played in—if one is playing in the desert one sees an abstracted representation of the desert, if one is in the middle of the ocean one sees water, if in a city one sees urban space, etc—it is also extremely extensible. Thus the small memory footprint and screen size of the phone are no longer a liability in terms of more complex and emergent gameplay.

Another innovative feature involves the ‘dual-mode’ method we have developed to handle player representation on the phone client. The dual mode includes: 1) the ‘astral body’ which is associated with the character representation controlled via key commands that can interface it with the gameworld (pick up items, bomb structures, interact with characters, etc); and 2) the ‘physical body’ which is controlled via the player’s actual movement in physical space, updated via the GPS feed. As game play ensues, game-state is continually fed to the server via the different interfaces. After quitting, when the player logs back in to the game via the Web interface, the impact of game play via the phone will be reflected in the Blog, and while the player explores the Blog, the game play on the phone will be effected.

Finally, we are currently incorporating a 3D client interface to unexceptional.net using the Torque Game Engine client. The goal initial is to make the Torque client function analagous to the GPS phone client. In other words, to build in at the infrastructure and content creation level a far greater degree of modularity and flexibility than is common. For instance, the Torque client will communicate with the game server database to access stats, inventory, behaviors, 3D models and location information, as well as update that information to the database during gameplay.

To build an infrastructure supporting interoperability in a heterogeneous computing environment for specific styles of net-based gameplay.

Tech Hooks
Algorithmically generated gameworlds linked to the physical environment that run on GPS enabled cellphones; multimodal interaction between heterogeneous clients (Web, phone, PC-based 3D game engines); dual-mode player representation and manipulation; a world-building toolkit allowing developers easy modifcation and extension of the game system.

User Exerperience
At the simplest, players can sit at a computer and access the project via the web, play the cellphone game in an applet emulation mode, run the 3D Torque client, and see dynamic interaction. If players have a GPS cellphone capable of running the client, they can download and play on a phone of their own. Additionally, site-specific GPS and Web quests can be created.

Disclaimer: In Progress—Best viewed on PC using IE or FireFox, much of the game content (Blog posts and quests) is being developed offline and will be hooked in when made public.

Current Collaborators
Sky Frostenson, Eric Kabisch, Alex Szeto, Kenny Lai, Dan Repasky, Brian Hein, Jeremiah Wai

  nideffer, 04.26.05

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