Debbie Rankin successfully defended her PhD thesis yesterday and should be able to graduate in the summer after making a few minor changes. She demonstrated a great depth of knowledge in her area of research, Iris Recognition, and the results of her experiments show that the Iris pattern can change significantly over a short period of time (it is a common assumption to make that the Iris is does not change).
Debbie has started work at SilverFish Studios and is now the 3rd person employed there who has a PhD qualification and joins a team who have all graduated from the University of Ulster. I called into SilverFish recently and I was impressed with the exciting range of apps and games related projects that they are currently developing. I think the highly qualified, young team makes a great difference to the culture of the company and innovative qualities of their products.
I taught Richard through his degree and supervised him through his PhD along with my colleagues David McSherry and Michael McNeill. This week he got to the end of his long journey at Coleraine by successfully defending his PhD thesis within the area of interactive adaptive digital storytelling.
During his research he developed a storytelling system called MIST. For me this research project was very interesting and Richard made several very useful contributions to adaptive story planning – particularly in relation to plan failure detection and re-planning within the context of persistent, multi-player online worlds. My motivation for being interested in this work is partly that I’m dissatisfied with MMO game design over the past decade – and I’ve played almost all the big games. What we set out to achieve on Richard’s project was to develop a way for story-lines to be more emergent, for player and NPC behaviour, actions and choices to have an impact on the story that other players experience. Existing games use variations of instancing and phasing along with fixed quests to provide stories, and to a large extent players all experience the same story. Personally, I have become bored with this.
What we achieved on Richard’s project was to remodel HTN planners within the MIST architecture so that the system can provide abstract story plans, which have many instance permutations within a dynamic, non-deterministic game world. A story manager, much like a dungeon master in D&D games, then ensures that stories are valid and structured properly.
Richard’s thesis needs a few minor corrections before it is ready but we have 2 published papers that provide some the detail of the MIST story system:
The XNA game development toolset is an excellent starting point for students who want to get into games programming. It is also a motivating way to teach programming in general. The video below shows a mixture of games made by our 2nd year students over 5 weeks (2 lab sessions per week). For the majority of students it is the fist time that they have made a game. The graphics aren’t always the best but they are on a software engineering course so I mark them mainly on design and code quality/structure.