Opensim Practical Project 2011 – Screenshots

My students don’t only hold tours in Second Life, I also have them build their own virtual world using OpenSim, an open-source version of SL. This is also their practical examination.

The worlds are standalone at the moment, but in future I’m going to try maintaining one sim for the whole class.

Great job, guys!

Worlds, by (avatar names)

* William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, by Glain
* The Enchanted Fairy World, by Merida
* The Beach, by Frankie
* Not a Generic Western Town, by Brabman
* Not a Skyrim Clone – Nordic Landscape, by Mlouw
* The Seasons, by Thatmax
* Bikini Bottom, by Malman (or Spongebob Squarepants in this case!)
* The Mayans, by Sarthira –
* Western Inspired by Red Dead Redemption, by Henkasaur
* The Land of Robotorinia, by Wulphy (or Kerebos Prime in this case!)
* Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, by Findulas (or Willy Wonka in this case!)
* Medieval Port Village, by Wester


Exam topics: mini-dissertation in human-computer interaction

These are the topics students chose for their exam papers, which took the form of a research proposal. I can’t give out too much detail, but wanted to share this with the class.

If you’re interested in connecting with one of these students based on their proposal, contact me.

How HCI is Assisting in the Quest for Health by Promoting Physical Activity


The global trend of obesity is one of the leading causes of sickness in the world today. With all the positivity that comes out of living in a more technologically advanced world also comes some negativity. One of the biggest and most worrying negative effects of the way in which we live today, is the way in which how we spend our free time. Free time is spent more and more in a passive state while watching TV, going to the cinemas and playing video games. These habits (and others, such as eating the wrong kinds of foods and eating too much), affect our lives in terms of increased obesity trends internationally.

In this paper we focus on the effect of the increased passive state during free time on the increase in obesity worldwide. Possible solutions are suggested to increase physical activity and prevent/reduce the deterioration of health caused by increased weight gain. Proposed solutions included the replacement/addition of “active” video gaming games/consoles (gamification of weight-loss) and the increased exposure of the trends in social media which are promoting physical activity. The solutions were implemented in the form of two different test groups performing different tasks over a set period of time. One group tested the effect of using an “active” game on weight-loss and the other the effect of actively participating in appropriate social media on weight-loss.

Using text classification, information visualisation and text-to-speech for studying purposes.


With so many different study techniques, students are overwhelmed by choices to make the studying experience more relevant. Studying is a time consuming process that can be applied in a fashion that doesn’t benefit students at all.

Taking the fact that students need to filter through thousands of material for a single test or examination, this research proposal will propose a system that can classify the study material, filter it for relevance and produce a short and effective summary with links for further reading on the material as well as proposing a way to visually and audibly display this information to students.

Foot-Based Gesture Interface for Double Hand Amputees


There is a group of physically disabled people that are technologically probably the least catered for; they are double hand amputees. People with other physical disabilities can at least interact with modern smartphones through the use of their hands, but modern smartphones are almost completely inaccessible to double hand amputees, save for voice commands.

This paper proposes developing a system to recognise foot based gestures and use them to effectively interact with a modern smartphone. This would include finding the best ways to map foot gestures to the smartphone interactions and writing an app to use the interpreted gestures to perform the actions associated with the gestures.

Making Better Museum Tours with the Help of Mobile Technology


This paper will discuss a system to improve a visitor’s museum experience. Unlike conventional tour guides and information boards, here it is suggested to use smart phones, QR-codes and wireless technology to improve museum tours. By making use of these technologies, the visitor’s experience will be more informative and better suited to the individual’s needs. To achieve this goal, the system will be created and implemented in a museum. Through observation and questionnaires the value of the system will be determined.

An informative study of HUD-less video game interface design


A change has been noted in the manner in which the HUDs of video games’ interfaces are being designed. More and more game developers are moving towards not including a HUD in their games. This author believes that the option of not having a HUD could become a trend in the manner in which video game interfaces are designed. This study will thus look into the reasons and views for this change in interface design. This author will then endeavour to answer the questions of how the current method of HUD-less gaming interface designing may influence the manner in which a game is played, as well as how it may impact future gaming design choices.



Input devices and systems have become more widely available during the last several years, and with them several new applications became common day among users. With the growth of these technologies, the question arises of what a more natural way is to interact or communicate with a computer. For a long time we have been stuck with using the keyboard and mouse as the only input devices, but in the new day and age new possibilities have arose.

In this study I will investigate the comparison of three general kinds of interaction methods, namely voice, gesture and multi-touch. Today these methods are used in devices and systems that are available to all users, and this study will aim to determine which interaction method or combination of methods’ usability feels more natural to the user. This study will be divided into three parts, namely a usability test of the different input devices or systems, an interview with participants in the usability test, and online questionnaires to gain further insight about the topic. Devices and systems I will use to do the comparison in the usability test are Windows Speech Recognition for voice, Nintendo Wii remote controller for motion sensing gestures with a wand device, Microsoft Kinect for motion sensing gestures with full body motion and the iPad for multi-touch.

Turning retirement into a game: making computer literacy and everyday living exciting for the elderly


Many elderly citizens in retirement homes suffer from feelings of loneliness and depression. This research project firstly explores the details of a system that turns retirement home activities into a game. The hypothesis is that if retirement home activities are turned into a game, then the elderly’s quality of life and computer literacy will increase. The research also aims to understand resident’s attitudes towards the system.
The study will focus on the design, development and implementation of the game system. Activities that will be part of the game include physical, mental and social undertakings completed by the residents. Particular care will be taken to make sure the software component of the system is usable for the elderly.
For the pilot study 20-30 volunteers who live in the same retirement home will be asked to use the game system for one month. Based on the finding from the pilot study, the system will be implemented throughout an entire retirement home.
Prior to taking part in the study, residents will fill out an initial questionnaire on quality of life, loneliness, depression and computer literacy. Residents will be expected to fill in a similar questionnaire after completion of the study with an additional section on their perception of the game system. This will should provide insights to the residents’ attitude towards the system and give clues to the feasibility of permanently implementing the game system in a retirement home.

Why I’m an ebook evangelist, especially in Africa

E-publications can solve our woes:  why I’m an ebook evangelist

This article is meant for a South African audience, but my feelings about the value of e-publications are meant for everyone. 

A decade ago you listened to music and watched video much differently – the same transformation is happening to books. Ebooks represent 15 – 20% of major US trade publisher sales [1] – a fraction of the global ebook market – and the South African market is growing. Readers buy ebooks from [2], subscribe to You via iPads [3] , send documents from Blackberry to Blackberry. Soon, we will buy books directly from copy shops [4] and lend ebooks from libraries [5].I firstly discuss the practical aspects, then finish with my motivation for advocating ebooks.

Practical: where to get an ebook

Search your favourite author, book or title – look for an option entitled :”get a copy”. If the publisher offers the option, you can to buy the ebook from many stores – or get it for free.

Google books searches inside existing books. I found 856,000 publications referring to Nelson Mandela and can read many of them directly from my browser.
Google ebooks takes this a step further, giving you access to the ebook – if available.

Main ebook formats

Any text document is theoretically an ebook. The main file formats for what most understand as ebooks are:

1) Portable Document Format [6]

PDF thrives in a fixed-layout environment. It’s easy to generate and to share. However, mobile devices cannot reflow the content of a PDF, making it difficult to read.

2) Electronic Publication [7]

Epub is based on HTML – the language of the web. No-one owns this format. It’s becoming the standard way to deliver e-publications and is reflowable – perfect for mobile displays.

3) Kindle [8]

Kindle is also based on HTML, but Amazon owns the format. Amazon is the global market leader in sales of its Kindle devices, so I expect you’ve heard of “Kindle books” already.

Ereaders / media tablets / smart phones (EMTS)

The difference between these devices is their displays – both in terms of dimensions and operation.

E-ink versus LCD

Ereaders use a display called e-ink [9]. Unlike other displays (e.g. LCD), e-ink looks better in sunlight. E-ink also uses less power; a device can last for two months without recharge. LCD displays consume a lot of power, so media tablets such as the iPad have a limited battery life (around 8-10 hours).


If you want to try out one these ‘reading devices’, but aren’t sure which to try, consider:

Ereaders Media tablets / smart phones
Cheaper (R1200+) Expensive (R3000+)
Long battery life (in weeks) Short battery life (in hours)
Read better in sunlight Read worse in sunlight

Both offer internet access, though, which is important.

Think in terms of the platform, not in terms of specific devices

You don’t need an EMTS to read ebooks. Amazon realized this and released their Kindle software on multiple platforms (Mac, PC, iPhone, Blackberry, Android…) [10].

Motivation: why I’m excited about e-reading

A publishing student asked me why we learn about ebooks in South Africa, where people can’t afford ereaders, never mind books. I didn’t have a straight answer for her back in 2006, when digital media consumption hadn’t yet reached the book sector – but as anyone in the publishing profession can attest, things have changed.

South Africa is a connected society, and increasingly so

Now my answer is: a majority of us can afford mobile devices [11]. Our reading is moving towards the mobile internet [12]. To emphasize my point about SA and mobile media consumption, consider Blackberry. There are more Blackberries in use in SA than any other phone – yet, globally, Research In Motion (RIM) has a 13.4% share. [13]. RIM is the only company to offer free mobile internet access via its Blackberry devices –  access to ebooks.

Investing in the digital marketplace, we can save money

Media tablets are currently only for the privileged. Ereaders prices are dropping steeply (R3200 to R1200 in three years [14]). Also, Amazon offers free 3G browsing on its Kindle ereader. Initiatives such as Worldreader and Paperight (a-must-read for publishers) [4] are underway to place books in every African’s hands – and ebooks play a significant role in this.This is why I’m excited about ebooks in South Africa – as you should be.

This will also appear in the OSALL newsletter. 

Other presentations

Digital publishing: ebooks and mobile devices
Making sense of ebooks

Second Life tours and virtual worlds – screenshots

In one of the modules I coordinate, students learn about all kinds of virtual worlds. We have meetings in Second Life, where one group acts as tour guides for that evening. I also have them build their own virtual world using OpenSim, an open-source version of SL.

This post showcases the tours. In the next post, I’ll showcase the group’s own virtual worlds.

1. Virtual tours

I had to choose two screenshots per tour out of dozens. Each one-hour session was a lot of fun – despite intermittent frustrations with South African internet access. 

1. Wulphy and Findulas
Highlights of this tour include an underwater fantasy world with ridable sea creatures and a Halloween-inspired sim where we flew on enchanted brooms.   

2. Glain and Merida
A Thai-themed tour which included a walk of the lotus gardens and dancing in the ballroom of a golden palace.

3. Brab and Mlouw
A Viking-inspired sim where we went on boar hunts, toured Fjords and lounged in a lavish Nordic homestead. The frozen forests and Aurora Borealis were sights to behold.

4. Thatmax and Sh1fty
Highlights of this tour include a drumming circle inside a (what seemed to me!) Gothic mausoleum as well as the first in-world books I’ve seen. Most information in SL is presented by text-only notes or images placed on walls.

5. Henkasaur, 4saken, Sarthira
In this murder mystery tour, entitled “Springtime Slaughter”, we explored all kinds of things, among which were a Cluedo game, a Whodunnit? detective game inside a house and  a massive stone palace. We also discovered dragons and practised fencing.

6. Malman, Frankieflower
To end off our virtual tours, we were taken to a theme park where we enjoyed some crazy rides, pigged out on carnival food and retired to a games room where we relived teen memories of playing the spin-the-bottle.

I’ll add SLURLS to the locations in time.

Thanks, Wikipedia, for helping me fix information.

I like fixing things. Wikipedia allowed me to fix information.

I’ve used Wikipedia since the project was launched and have been a registered member since 2007. At that time, Wikipedia represented the epitome of what (to me) Web 2.0. was about: an easy way for everyone to partake, publicly, in the creation of information, both in terms of content and metadata. In other words, I could at last fix people’s mistakes.

I haven’t made many edits to Wikipedia itself, but I have edited many in other wikis connected to my hobbies and interests – usually in small chunks. I like fixing mistakes offline as well. If I could fix billboards, posters, pamphlets and all manner of broken information out there, I would.

The freedom to correct things – even though these corrections may be disputed, reversed or even disappear as the article continues to improve – makes fixing information easy.

Thanks, Wikipedia!

Support Wikipedia

Star Control, teaching game design & mentoring: a proposal

“22 years ago, we founded Toys for Bob, Fred ford and myself; making Star Control 1 and 2, science fiction games, which to this day, have a bizarrely-dedicated fan following and we promise someday, we will make the real sequel.”
– Paul Reiche, interview, October 7 2011

Background and motivation

One of my colleagues teaches a course in game design. It’s the final year project for our multimedia students (best described as techno-artists). My involvement with the course is limited to students that come to consult me on their own time. I’d like to become more involved in it, since I believe I have a lot to teach them about game design and believe Star Control is the best series of all time.

As to my involvement: a guest lecture in, for instance, evaluating the usability of games, would be a great start — but that doesn’t give me much influence over the final projects.

Here is my proposal.

I want to mentor one of the student groups – on both my and their own time –  and:

  1. Teach them what made the Star Control series so amazing
  2. Help them apply those lessons by
    1. Encouraging them to make a spiritual successor to the game, or
    2. Getting them involved in one of the many fan projects

A few days ago, I again installed the open source version of Star Control 2 (which I’d replayed dozens of times). The developers wanted to capture the original game experience, so very little about the game itself has changed.

I got bored with it very quickly, which surprised me. Added extras – such as voice packs and networking capabilities – are great, but I believe I got frustrated with aspects of the original game design that can be attributed to :

  1. Trends in gaming having had changed over the years [e.g. see 2011 gaming trends].
  2. An initial lack of focus on trends evident in games that were developed at that time.
  3. Technical limitations when the originals were developed that were included in the design of the open-source version such (for both good and bad reasons!).

For instance, there’s no in-game reference such as those found in many modern games, even though there are several references on the web developed by community members [for instance, all game quotes].

These issues don’t detract from the awesomeness of the original game, but does limit the potential fan base – and, hence, the possibility of getting more people to play it.

Star Control’s legacy – why I want to do this

There are three games in the Star Control Series – which were some of the most enthralling experiences of my childhood (especially number 2).  Fifteen years later, I still haven’t found a game that’s quite like it – and a lot of people agree.

Star Control 2 “combines intense arcade-style space shooting action with a memorable storyline and inspired role-playing elements” [Gamespot], and is “a milestone for non-linear gaming and an undeniable influence on modern space travel games such as Homeworld” [The Ultronomicon].

The Gamespy museum’s entry on SC2 is a pretty well-written overview of the game, too.

Each game in the series basically comprises the following elements (my best-guess equivalent genre):

  1. Interaction with various alien civilizations (adventure / RPG)
  2. Exploration of the universe (adventure / RPG)
  3. Ship-on-ship space combat (RTS / combat)
  4. Resource management (RTS / simulation)
  5. Ship and fleet upgrades (RPG / RTS)

The star control narrative universe is also great. I’m a big fan of David Brin, especially his Uplift Saga. For one thing, I think it’s silly to presume that any intelligent life would mostly be humanoid.

There are many races in the Star Control universe – some whimsical, some quite serious.

Since I’d like to keep this proposal short, I’ll assume the reader is interested by this point. If not, I’ll expand in another post.

Practical issues


This proposal isn’t necessarily fair to other students. A mentored project implies more time spent with the group. So, I’d attach a disclaimer to this offer: I’ll be pushing that group a lot. There will be more meetings, more deadlines, stricter evaluation (I’d advise one group, not 20; I’ll have the time) and a very good chance of failing, should I demonstrate to the course coordinator that the group isn’t performing.

If no-one signs up for this, that’s fine too. The only time and effort I lose is drafting this proposal.

Licensing, copyright and other legal issues

We generally allow our students to use copyrighted material under the fair dealing clause of the copyright act. Projects that don’t contain copyrighted material can be released to the public, of course.

Luckily, the code and materials for existing SC project are generally licensed for reuse, attribution and non-commercial use: three things that are perfect for a project such as this one.  For instance, Timewarp and The Ur-Quan Masters code are licensed under the GNU GPL, and UQM content is CC BY-NC-SA 2.5 licensed.

Educational value

Our students don’t only learn about game design in this course. They also apply their knowledge of digital media creation, software development and visual design – not to mention the fundamentals of information science and project management.

For this proposal to be truly useful to students, they must:

  • Work in a development environment with which they are already familiar, or
  • Work in a development environment which is easy to learn how to use
The TimeWarp project, for instance, implies the need to become familiar with Allegro and Lua. If this game is developed from the ground up, that’s not an issue. Still, the more development environments students are exposed to, the better.

Community involvement

The best project is one which doesn’t live in isolation. Students will benefit from involvement with a dedicated community comprising developers, artists, writers and eager fans – for instance:

  1. The Ur-Quan Masters, an open-source port of the original SC2
  2. Timewarp, an expansion of the hyperspace melee aspect of the series
  3. Precursors, a collection of remixed in-game music (SC2 specifically)
  4. A lot of fan art [Google image search]

So, that’s my idea. While publishers such as Activision refuse to develop successors to great games, which is a big issue in the game development community, fans will continue keeping these games alive – and our students can learn a lot by helping them out.

Update #1

The course coordinator is keen to try out this idea. He wants me to speak the same language that he speaks with his students, so I’m reading Rules of Play now.

Research papers: mini-dissertation in human-computer interaction

In South Africa, most of our degree courses are presented over three years. An honours qualification prepares the student for further postgraduate work. I decided to record my students’ topics each year for posterity – [these changes are mine].

Student details are kept private for a good reason. If you’re interested in connecting with one of these students based on their topic, contact me.

Themes this year include gaming, social media, computer literacy, software development methods, e-education and usability.

User Interfaces for Social Network Privacy Settings


In this paper, I studied what the flaws in current social network privacy settings user interfaces are, and how they can be improved. To investigate the problem, I sent out a questionnaire, asking users of social networks to rate how difficult they found it to change the privacy settings specified in the questionnaire, for each of their social networks. I found that with privacy settings interfaces, that have all the privacy settings on a single page, it is easier to change the privacy settings; but if the privacy settings are not grouped well, some of the privacy settings might get lost among the [other settings].

The Effect of Gaming on Computer Literacy


With computers becoming increasingly central to everyone’s lives, it is essential that people are computer literate. We [investigated] the effects of playing computer games on computer literacy. In order to determine this, a questionnaire was placed online for people to fill in and 80 people responded. The questionnaire consisted of questions used to determine the participant’s computer literacy level, gaming level, gender, etc. Using these results we found that participants who were classified as gamers were in fact more computer literate than those who were classified as non-gamers.

What motivates people to sign up for beta testing?


Over the past few years the demand for software solutions have become greater, and together with this the demand for quality control and testing of the software. One of the major parts of software testing is beta testing, which aims to sort out the bugs in a program before it is released to the general public. In this study I investigated what motivates beta testers to sign up for beta tests.[…]

The majority of beta testers that only do game beta testing are primarily motivated to sign up for beta testing to see the game or new features before release. On the other hand beta testers that interact with developers outside of beta tests are more likely to sign up to help the developers [- the same] goes for beta testers that have been in beta testing for a long time.

Gamifying student participation: A participation feedback system to increase motivation in undergraduate students


This paper presents a discussion of participation and participation feedback. It describes the details of a participation feedback system for an undergraduate course, justifies its effectiveness, and suggests variations. The paper includes the design process and an exmple implementaion of the proposed system.

A subjective study of the influence of customisation on the video game play experiences in a Japanese role-playing game (JRPG)


Studies done in the field of customisation have shown that customisation has become an important feature in a video game. This study found its inspiration in a customisation study done on MMORPGs. This author proposes that customisation can also be found in JRPGs, and is an important game feature in this genre. This author proposes that having customisation adds to the engagement experienced by a player playing a JRPG. A literature review was conducted that addresses customisation in the JRPG genre, and a questionnaire was distributed to ascertain the views of current JRPG players on these matters. It was found that customisation in a JRPG affects the level of engagement players experience while playing a JRPG, specifically in the games, Kingdom Hearts I, Kingdom Hearts II, and Final Fantasy. Additionally, it was found that 90% of participants would be more inclined to buy a customisable JRPG. It can be argued, therefore, that customisation is an important game feature which, depending on how well it is implemented, could either add to or take away from the player experience (including engagement) in a JRPG.

Laptop Input Devices: A Comparison between the Usability of the Touchpad and the Mouse by Middle-Aged Users



This work presents conclusions of a test that was developed and applied to subjects in two different age groups using both the touchpad and the mouse to analyze differences in usability of two input devices. The findings suggest that the mouse is more usable than the touchpad.

The mouse was found to be more comfortable to use, it was also found to be easier to use and the results from the test application [imply] that using the mouse almost always resulted in the set task being completed successfully in less time than when using the touchpad. The younger group of subjects performed the tasks in an overall less time than the middle-aged group of subjects.

How social media [relates to] computer literacy skills


The purpose of this paper is to find a link between computer literacy and social media and ways to use social media to teach computer literacy skills. The paper defines social media and computer literacy. Questionnaires and interviews were administered to find results.