GamePipe Lab Plans to be R&D Player

November 17, 2004

Noted interactive game creator and theorist Michael Zyda will join the University of Southern California's Viterbi School of Engineering to spearhead an ambitious and widely focused research effort to make game production faster and easier, and make games themselves more powerful, vivid, educational, and useful.

Zyda will share appointments at the Viterbi School's Information Sciences Institute (ISI), where he will have the title Director of the GamePipe Laboratory, and also at the Integrated Media Systems Center (IMSC), where he will serve as an Associate Director and major thrust leader.

Zyda has created several highly successful games, including "America's Army," for the military in his role as originator and director of the MOVES Institute at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California. He has also written about and researched many aspects of gaming.

"The mission of the GamePipe Laboratory," he said, "is research, development, and education on the grand challenges of radically transforming the game production process - from dramatically shortening the production timeline, to developing the supporting technologies for increasing the complexity and innovation in produced games."

Zyda says that USC which has emerged in recent years as a major academic center both for study of games and training of game creators, is an ideal place for this effort.


"With the formation of the GamePipe Laboratory, we have a chance to put USC on the map as the go-to place for next generation game technology and application," he said.

"We know USC is the place to do this," said ISI Executive Director (and Viterbi School Associate Dean) Herbert Schorr, in making the announcement. "And we believe Mike is the man to make it happen."

Zyda said that while videogames have grown to become a $11 billion business, creating games remains a slow, unsystematic, chaotic and often wasteful process.

"Teams are built on a per-game basis and then dissolved," he notes, "while training times on game engine toolsets are increasing. Code modules are crafted for specific games, with less than 30% reuse of that code for subsequent efforts.

"First-person shooters are currently the only games that have reusable engines. Those engines are proprietary. They cost $6 million or more and even with large teams, take more than a year to develop. They are used for a few games only, and licensed at exorbitant cost. "

Zyda noted that as games gain sophistication, problems are intensifying.

"Times for game production are increasing steadily as our graphics cards provide more visual capabilities and as the game-playing public demands more in terms of interactivity and verisimilitude."

The number of technical elements that have to be combined to create a successful game is intimidatingly long, and game producers are so caught up in the competitive development of their next title that they have little time to step back and consider ways to improve the process, said Zyda.

"I think we have a real contribution to make here," he said, noting that ISI, IMSC, and other elements of the Viterbi School included prominent researchers in almost all game elements, and that the school's Information Technology Program (ITP) already offers degree programs in game production and design.

GamePipe Research and Development will be concentrated in four key areas:

Infrastructure: The next generation of game software and hardware, including game engines and tools, streaming media, next generation consoles, and wireless and mobile platforms; along with techniques needed for massively multiplayer online games —spacious digital arenas that can accommodate hundreds, thousands or even hundreds of thousands of players.
Cognition and Gaming: Developing theories for modeling and simulating computer characters and story, human emotion; finding ways to analyze large scale game play and creating ways to use games for teaching - to integrate pedagogy and story.
Immersion: Creating technologies to engage the mind through graphics, sound, and haptics (touch), building new forms of user interfaces and developing a theoretical framework for how gamer engagement works, and how greater "presence" can be achieved.
Serious Games: Basic research on the roles interactive media and games can play in education, training, human performance engineering and testing; on finding new applications of games to issues of health, policy, and communication, and actually developing such games.

Zyda noted other USC Schools, including the USC School of Cinema-Television, have strengths in interactive media, and have potential contributions to make with GamePipe Labs in all of these areas.

"The general sophistication of USC in this area was apparent last month when we held a "Games Summit" involving more than 30 faculty from 9 different schools," Zyda said

Zyda has a DSc in computer science from Washington University in St. Louis, and in 2003 was named a National Associate of the National Academies, in recognition of "extraordinary service."