Wednesday, March 26, 2008

20th vs. 21st Century Simulation

We have reached the 21st century. How are military or interactive simulations different in this century than in previous centuries? Are we just going to run them faster than we have in the past? Or are we going to leverage 3D graphics, global networking, gigantic compute and storage servers, ad hoc social networks, the remote sensing explosion, and other technologies to create a fundamentally new product and service? Given the huge changes in computing and communications that have occurred, it would seem criminal to continue creating simulations in the same forms that we have been using for decades.

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3D Browser - looks like Google Earth

HTML and browsers like IE have come to define what the Internet and the Web are, how data is organized, and how it is presented and navigated by the user. But this understanding of he Web is just a snapshot in its continual evolution. There have been a number of attempts to provide a 3D experience on the web (like early VRML). But most of these occurred before the technology could really support them and they emerged as a single point in the vast digital universe - a hobby shop demo of capabilities rather than a really useful tool. But in the last few years products like Google Earth and Worldwind have emerged as tools for viewing data geographically. It allows us to see the world as it has been in the form of maps, satellite images, and multiple layers of cultural information – including 3D features. Google Earth is a billboard announcing that it is time to try a 3D version of the Web again. But this time the widely available technology can support it and Google Earth begins with an integrated framework of data that already has value and can grow into a much richer space. There is a great deal of information on the web that can be organized geographically and presented via a 3D web browser like Google Earth. For people who need to understand their neighborhoods, vacation locations, combat zones, or other areas of interest it is highly inefficient to have to collect data from many disparate sources in the current web. Instead they should be able to access it geographically. It should be organized and offered up by its location. This would be a great addition, but it does not mean that all information can be organized this way. All of the entries in Wikipedia cannot be plotted on a map – e.g. Chevy Chase may mean a comedy actor, a city in Maryland, a financial corporation, or a large group of neighborhood branch banks. Half of these do not fit well on a 3D map. It seems that Google Earth or something like it needs to merge with the current browser to create a tool that allows people to see data in more forms than just flat HTML pages. Adding a 3D application to the desktop is not a good idea because it splits the data into different silos that have to be navigated independently. Instead the two views need to be interlaced together so that a web surfer sees data in the form that is most natural for it.

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Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Microsoft Open XNA

In 2004, the game Full Spectrum Warrior for the Xbox was published. It was a long and difficult collaboration between the Army, game developers, and Microsoft. With the exception of this game, consoles have been off-limits to serious game developers. The expensive development platforms and licensing agreements focused on games with broad appeal that would be sold in the millions of copies. However, Microsoft has made significant changes to its development model. It is now possible to develop for the Xbox360 without a specialized computer. Microsoft has also just opened up its Xbox Live service so that any independent developer can create a game and get it distributed as a software download through this online service. Potentially, this may open up the console for serious games in military training. These downloadable games will be reviewed by a committee to determine whether they violate any IP or contain objectionable content. If cleared, then they will be posted on Xbox Live for customer purchase and download. This could become an avenue for serious games distribution as well.

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