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POPULate AsymmeTric mobile gamEs

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - POPULATE (POPULate AsymmeTric mobile gamEs)

Reporting period: 2015-01-01 to 2016-06-30

To increase the adoption of innovative IT solutions by creative industries SMEs, it is necessary to make those technologies easily usable by creators themselves. To transform a technology into a tool that fits into the creative and production process requires a good understanding of user needs and a collaborative iterative design cycle between creative industry end-users and IT companies. In artistic fields, to transform an idea or a concept into an artistic production depends on the skills and expertise of the artist. In the field of digital content creation, a huge gap exists between the concept and the final result, and several technologies should be used in the production pipeline. Keeping the creative power in the hands of artists requires the development of tools that are both technology-driven and adapted to the creative processes. One of the objectives of the POPULATE proposal was to allow game designers to easily populate mobile games with digital creatures.

The video game industry has a high potential of being a driving force for introducing new ways for users of technology to interact with wearable devices, as well as encourage game developers to create experiences using innovative hardware. Indicators are that video games will progressively increase until 2020, with the biggest revenue from the mobile games category - more than 40% from the total of $115 billion. The objectives of the POPULATE project were dual: use connected objects as input and output peripherals of a video game and allow a collective interaction of different players with an enriched game content executed on a mobile device. These objectives can enrich the user experience of mobile games in several manners. Firstly, mobile games are today limited by the size and interactive capabilities of the mobile device itself while performances are continuously increased: HD images, enhanced sound system, 3D GPU capabilities, multi-core CPU. Mobile games are most of the time limited to individual use, but can also use a big TV screen as a second screen, which allows mobile users to share their content to their neighbors. Connected objects are starting to become more widespread among users of technology; a global wearables forecast estimates that 411 million connected objects worth $34 billion will be sold in 2020. This type of devices is also providing more and more interaction capabilities. The POPULATE project took advantage of all those capabilities to increase the gameplay of mobile games and to transform a simple mobile phone or tablet into an aggregator of different input/output peripherals, as in console applications. Another dimension that was increased by the POPULATE project is the density of dynamic content by integrating real-time crowd simulation functionality.

The POPULATE project accomplished the creation of a prototype platform for developing a new genre of asymmetric mobile games, that will be more captivating, collaborative and interactive than previous mobile games.
"The POPULATE project combines a multi-device approach with 3D crowd generation and advanced behavior management. Using crowd generation and behaviour management, the prototype runs on smartphones and/or tablet devices using smart-glasses as controllers and head-ups display. It is also used as the perfect tool to study the psychology of gamers.
AMA has taken advantage of all technical capabilities to transform a simple smartphone into an aggregator of different input/output peripherals. By exploring the possibilities of multi-device interaction, AMA created a game reference for smartphones and smart-glasses and generated a game development framework dedicated to smart-glasses and asymmetric mobile games.
The POPULATE project developed a prototype for a multiplayer asymmetric mobile game. The prototype is a 1 vs. 1 asymmetric multiplayer experience that offers radically different gameplay for the players: for the Explorer (player 1) - action adventure game and, for the Defender (player 2), it will be a strategy game, where the Defender will control a crowd formed by minions.
AMA has created a gameplay where the smart-glass is used as a main controller, and the focus is on the crowd AI, making this the central features to the gameplay.
The gameplay opposes a defending player (Defender or God) that can use minions, shoot and cast spells, to the Explorer who can shoot and cast spells.
The Defender use, as main control method, the smart-glass (camera control, shooting and casting are performed using the smart-glass sensor fusion plus the smart-glass display is used as Heads-Up Display to stream vital information needed by the Defender) and the smartphone or tablet is used only to display the actual gameplay and to issue commands to the controlled minion groups.
The minions are spawned at fixed events, and can receive specific orders from the Defender via the smartphone or tablet touchscreen.
The Explorer is controlled in a more traditional way by using a smartphone/tablet (character control and gameplay display) but, depending on Smartglasses hardware capabilities, the entire Explorer's gameplay can be available directly from the Smartglass: the camera will be fully controlled by Smartglass sensors (Accelerometer and Gyroscope fusion) and the gameplay is displayed on the Smartglass screen. The movement and shooting is controlled with additional joystick connected through Bluetooth.
From hardware point of view, AMA has created a framework compatible with all smart-glasses based on Android OS (that meets the framework requirements).
In order to generate a population of autonomous characters with just a few steps for a video game, Golaem developed within the POPULATE project a dedicated solution. The crowd simulation module is an easy-to-use and efficient solution for game designers to populate and manage the population simulation of a video game for smartphones and tablets. The developed module, Golaem for Unity, is a plugin used by AMA, to populate the game populations. AMA's designers author populations using the native Unity tools for animation & path-finding/navigation, and Golaem's integrated behavior editor and placement tools in order to create complex behaviors. The designed behaviors are then executed on a dedicated runtime C# plugin. This editor is a production tool for creating and managing a behavior graph by connecting multiple behaviors to complement the built-in elementary behaviors. The current version of the plugin is a prototype, and as explained in deliverable D7.2 after an industrialization process, it will be proposed as a commercial product.
The population tool provides an easy way to place characters in the environment, handling the repartition of types and avoiding placement inside obstacles. AMA's developers used the Golaem for Unity module to build complex behaviors for crowds and also individuals, as they wanted the characters to react as a group in some situations and as a person in others. All this led"
Scientific impact

Through our novel experiments, we have gained new insights and guidelines for game designers and developers for the creation of appealing and engaging virtual characters. Our results also provide new insights into human perception and how humans engage with virtual characters ranging from highly abstract to photorealistic characters. More specifically, we have advanced the state of the art in the area by presenting new results on the effect of animation and appearance realism on user enjoyment and the use of physiological reactions to games. We have also presented new findings for interaction with virtual characters in Immersive Virtual Reality and provided a better understanding of the perception of abstract virtual faces. Our studies were the first to investigate the effect of a self-virtual face using facial tracking, providing valuable insights for game designers. Furthermore, we presented the first study to determine the effect of facial feature alterations on character traits for highly abstract characters. Finally, our work was the first to investigate if there is a difference in co-presence, realism and affinity when controlling or observing a virtual avatar. Our studies and results have already been published in high-impact conferences, with further submissions expected to high-impact journals.

Socio-economic impact

The POPULATE Project addresses to a new category of technology users, as well as creative industries SMEs that can benefit from a game development platform. According to a Nielsen 360° Gaming Report , the virtual and augmented reality devices that recently entered the gaming scene have the potential to change the way users play games, as well as the way in which other types of consumers relate to various types of entertainment.

So far, very few games are really dedicated to this increasingly requested type of connected device, smart-glasses, and no frameworks are available till this current date. As shown in a report published by a specialised non-profit organisation, shipments of smart-glasses will hit 1 billion around 2020, surpassing the expected shipments of mobile phones by 2025. We will witness in 2019 the beginning of the mainstream period for this type of devices. The POPULATE prototype has the advantage of being an already developed platform that will meet the needs of the wearables manufacturers in 2017, when most of the smart-glasses industry is starting to settle on strategies and discuss possibilities.
Furthermore, no game is making the link between smart-glasses and the most widespread mass market console in the world: smartphones and tablets. The POPULATE prototype is the foundation for a development platform that will enable game developers to create new games where the smart-glasses are the central focus or the smart-glasses are having an important role in the game mechanics. The platform will ease up the development of games designed specifically for smart-glasses or games that incorporate them in a certain degree.
POPULATE Project managed to create the first multiplayer asymmetric mobile game prototype and has the potential to define a new genre in mobile gaming.
Asymmetric gameplays are the new trend in video games but so far it is limited to some proprietary hardware. The most known is Nintendo’s Wii U (Rayman Legends, ZombiU). Even though video games studios that create unique looking games are daring to dip their toes into gaming’s final frontier, asymmetrical multiplayer, only some new PC or console games include gentle forms of asymmetrical multiplayer (Left 4 Dead). Regarding this trend on mobile devices, some asymmetric mini-games have been proposed between tablet or smartphone and Xbox One (such as Ubisoft’s Assassin’s creed 4 iOS and Android companion or GTA 5: IFruit). However, they are seen as nice to have “companions” and marketing tools for big video game blockbuster. With its asymmetric gameplay, the POPULATE prototype brings a new exp
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