By Ed Heinbockel, Visual Purple’s President/CEO

We’ve been producing compelling simulations for 15 years now. Initially interactive video, because our clients’ hardware for the most part was 2-5 years behind the technology curve, then for the last 9 years various flavors of virtual worlds: decision (scenario) based, real-time immersive 3D, and hybrid (a user efficient mash-up of the two).

We’ve trained everything from counter-terrorism to sales training. We’ve learned over the years that our first-person thinkers play best to preventing things from going boom. Yes, boom. In other words, wherever there exists the potential for bad things to happen, you better be employing training that is realistic and sticks. That the individual needs to know what to do and now. That can often make the difference between life and death. This all means that we at Visual Purple have become obsessed with playing to the highest and best use of our technology and collective expertise. This has become our mantra and strategy for success.

So, today, you find us fervently committed to applying our F.I.S.T. toolbox to difficult situations – situations demanding of accuracy and realism in a high consequence environment – all the while lashing it all together through the power of story.

Left is good…Left of Boom, that is!

Most have wondered where we have been for the past little bit, let me tell you it hasn’t been a boring time for us here at Visual Purple headquarters. In reality we have been on some really cool projects. One of which being the creation of simulations for a nuclear power plant based upon lessons learned from the Fukushima incident.

Since the tragic 2011 Fukushima Daiichi power plant disaster, nuclear regulators and plant operators around the world have re-focused their energies toward training and readiness of personnel – in the context of thinking the unthinkable. Or, what is known in the industry as beyond design basis events, such as the 9.1 magnitude earthquake and resulting tsunami that hit Japan on 3/11/11. It was that crisis that illustrated the urgent need to prepare plant personnel to handle plant functions through the use of improved planning, additional equipment and training. Training for beyond design basis events enters a realm of training that can often only be realized in an immersive 3D world. To attempt to train otherwise is prohibitive from both cost and effectiveness perspectives. Visual Purple’s F.I.S.T. powered simulation training allows for rapid development and modifications as new procedures are defined and evolved through iterative testing in the virtual world.

Simulation based technology is the perfect tool to train personnel in protocols for dealing with potential incidents. It gives the personnel the ability to train in a true-to-life replicated environment that accurately mirrors their plant, down to the inch. Visual Purple has 15 years of experience in creating life like simulations that replicate the real-world while providing a safe practice environment for the trainee.

We are pleased to provide innovative simulation training solutions to a variety of sectors, and more recently to the energy industry (both nuclear and non-nuclear). Visual Purple’s proven training simulations and proprietary F.I.S.T. technologies deliver unparalleled training value across the energy, business and government sectors.

A movie’s main draw is its story. The team here at Visual Purple have long been evangelists of the ‘Power of Story’ but realize that not all simulation companies are created equal when constructing a simulation and utilizing the power of story to draw the trainee in and engage them. There are parallel challenges (both in games and intelligent simulations) when crafting together game play and story. Ask any producer, cracking the code on making a blockbuster movie is tough. Usually, Hollywood blockbuster movies have a mix of a-list actors (and of late way too much CGI) and a great script with some character development. One Hollywood blockbuster after another shines with a terrific story, well written from the likes of well-known (and maybe overpaid) Hollywood writers and tons of captivating, if not over-the-top, special-effects.

While some may think it a stretch to compare an intelligent simulation to a Hollywood movie, they do both contain much of the same elements (and in the case of Visual Purple simulations, Hollywood writers, too!). Some games and/or simulations offer a storyline but that’s as far as it gets. Sometimes the storyline is poorly written and irrelevant or perhaps it may be barely developed and still irrelevant. While it may be a thin line to get a happy medium of just enough of a story-line matched to game play, it is possible to do when crafted correctly. Some may consider making the simulation more directed and constrained in order to protect the element of story, but putting the player “on rails” may make them feel more like they are on a ride at Disneyland than mastering skills in a simulation environment. The key is immersing the player in a story construct/world that the player always perceives to be large with many interesting choices. In essence, player-directed game play allows for the story to have distinct and useful paths, all dependant upon player choices. The story will take different paths and have appropriate experiences based on player decisions balanced against training goals. By utilizing narrative devices, the story unfolds at a pace influenced by the player as specific events unfold. By intelligently guiding the trainee through the sim, many training goals are achieved, e.g., the sim is ‘aware’ and will in real-time challenge the player to their level of competence or skill so as to continually raise the training bar – seamlessly and automatically.

“When you think of the word “simulation,” what comes to mind? Some people instantly think of screen capture tutorials. Others might think of medical simulations, interacting with a patient or medical equipment. Others might think of military simulations. But what you probably don’t think of is story.”- Jack McGrath

When you play through a simulation one seeks to be challenged, to be drawn in and placed in the environment by feeling like they can relate to the events unfolding and the realness of the surroundings. Visual Purple simulations have the unique ability to draw the trainee in because of the use of a story allowing for the trainee to play the simulation through not only for the challenges that it presents but for the COMPELLING STORY that unfolds and captures attention. Learning objectives (ELO’s and TLO’s) are easily met when basing a simulation around a storyline. Some worry about game play detracting from the story, but in reality our experience of producing intelligent simulations for the past fifteen years allows for a proven approach to blending the two together: arguably, as much art, as it is science.

Some companies offer a troubled approach to storytelling, making the storyline hard to follow and character development just plain awkward. Tools often used to help deliver a message and/ or story are typically in the form of Non-Player Characters (NPCs for short) but the use of the surroundings help as well. Some simulations may seem primitive at best and it is these that give the simulation training market a bad name: Second Life’s many technical, social and story deficiencies have not done well-executed training simulations any favors.

There is, however, a better choice that represents a balanced marriage of game play and storyline – harnessing “The Power of Story” to achieve measurable training results.

Not to name names here, but Google, Yahoo, Facebook, Apple and others have been unceremoniously modifying user terms of service so you tacitly agree to them using your data (search habits, email content scanning, FB postings, etc.) in any manner they desire. Unless you’ve been living under a rock the last few weeks, it has become mainstream knowledge that the government is accessing this same data for horizon scanning of potential terrorist threats/plots. The National Security Agency (NSA) is at the heart of this debate in light of Edward Snowden’s leak of classified information, a federal crime. Some people are re-thinking the concept of privacy. We believe there is value in providing choices and privacy has been an area of interest at Visual Purple for some time and has influenced GisterPRO’s feature set.

In wake of the recent Google snooping scandal a few weeks back other search engines that are not tracking user information have seen a big bump in folks visiting their site to conduct searches in a non-tracked environment. As an example this past Monday, June 17th, Duck Duck Go saw a record 3 million searches in just one day as people conducting searches on the internet looked for an alternative search engine free of user tracking. In fact Duck Duck Go traffic has increased over 33% in the past two weeks in wake of the Google scandal.

Europe has already seen a lot of debate over data privacy and has therefore begun enacting new data protection laws to protect its citizens. It may not be long before the U.S. starts to think (and act) more about this hot topic as well… how much is enough when letting the big guns track you?

When you stop to think about it we are constantly under surveillance – everything from simply browsing the internet to smart phones and even driving around in our fancy, black box equipped cars. The concept of privacy is being recast before us… apathy might prevail, or some of us may decide to use a different search engine or private email service. Options are a good thing!

Search privacy

We are awash in facts. Have a question? Google has an ‘answer.’ If you wanted to know the gross domestic product of New Zealand, you can find that online in a few seconds. Or in the world of training, you can endure traditional CBTs (that’s short for Computer-Based Tranings) rich in facts, and as exciting as a root canal. What matters more now than ever is the ability to put facts into context and deliver them in bite-sized pieces with emotional impact; we all know this as story. This is the magic of bringing context and building connections – if you want to convey important lessons and subject matter in ways that stick, you must first recognize the power of narrative and effectively lead your organization by creating and delivering engaging story with a beginning, middle, and an end. It’s in our DNA.

We carried this successful theme beyond Intelligent Simulations with GisterPRO. Both 1.0 and 2.0 (currently in BETA) build a story by extracting terms and concepts then displaying them in what we term a ‘Gister Graph’. This visualization bakes in an interesting story of meaning by displaying relative relationships and strengths of terms and concepts. So, with just a glance, a dense dataset of facts yields its ‘story.’

GP OldGP New

Our mission with GisterPRO, is to give people something they didn’t know they were missing: their data has a story to tell; an important story.

I wanted to take a few minutes and share some quick comments I have on a presentation that Kate Crawford, a researcher at Microsoft Research, presented at the Data Edge ( Conference last week: “Six myths of Big Data.” While I tend to agree with most of Ms. Crawford’s points, I believe two of the myths are open to debate at some level…

Myth 1- Big Data is New
Agree. As Ms. Crawford states the scale and prevalence of Big Data is reaching us in new ways. Big Data is only at the beginning climb of the hype cycle. With the way that the internet and social media are today as well as large organizations amassing data in great amounts, Big Data is here to stay. So, yes, Big Data has been around for some time and is only going to grow exponentially.

Perhaps one of the most important take-aways is that there are “…two prominent issues today in Big Data, display and insight […have] been around for awhile.” GisterPRO is a tool that helps solve these perennial challenges.

Myth 2- Big Data is Objective

Disagree…Big Data is objective. I think she really wants to say that the complexion or sources for a given dataset may or may not accurately describe a population as in the cited Hurricane Sandy biasing example. Thus, the person analyzing the data needs to be experienced and savvy enough to pose basic statistical questions around data capture/composition & thus validity.

Myth 3- Big Data Doesn’t Discriminate
Disagree. The people using Big Data may not be, however, be discriminating. Reporting truth is not discriminating. Correlations will be made, whether we like them or not.

Myth 4- Big Data Makes Cities Smart
Agree. I would go further to suggest that Big Data making cities smart will lead to an individual being more vulnerable to Orwellian-type abuse.

Myth 5- Big Data is Anonymous
Agree. Unforeseen correlations have repeatedly proven to lift the veil of privacy in a myriad of ways. Look out!

Myth 6- You Can Opt Out

Agree….kinda of. Think of it this way. If something is free (Google search or Yahoo mail to name just two of many examples), you are the product; you pay by giving up your privacy so they can sell stuff to you. There are options for opting out. Fodder for future posts…

Blogs are great if you treat them right! Our mea culpa is too much to do, and not enough time. So, things had to take a back seat…like blog posts.

We are coming out of two major technology advancements for both our simulation technology: F.I.S.T., and GisterPRO 2.0. Only recently have we been able to breathe a sigh of relief and look out to the real world of business development. So, thank you for your patience as we go about updating our websites and working to communicate our exciting new capabilities and relationships. Stay tuned!

No, we haven’t been living under a rock. In fact we have been busy, make that very busy. Why? You might ask. We are excited to announce that David Ostby and Ed Heinbockel (both resident Visual Purple geeks) have launched a project campaign on Kickstarter. It’s called Gooey Search and it actually is a spin off of the GisterPRO search technology. With Gooey Search they are setting out to change the way you and I search the internet (while still harnessing the power from Google) yet bringing in a creative and interactive approach to it. Oh and also ranking results better, cutting out all the Spam and serving up only the most relevant results to your search. To learn more about the campaign and Gooey search click on any of the below links.

Gooey Search Website

So maybe you are, or maybe you are not a gamer. A 2011 study by the Entertainment Software Association showed that at least 72 percent of American households actually are gamers. That number has risen by almost 10 percent in the last two years. In addition, the study showed that 42 percent of gamers are women and that women ages 18 years and older represent more than one third of the gaming population.

Parents are even getting into it, the study showed that forty-five percent of parents play video and/or computer games with their children at least once a week. The report stated that parents actually believe in the education and mental stimulation that the game brings to their child.

So much for the ‘ol board game and quality family time.

National Defense Magazine featured an article this month on Avatars invading military training systems. Interestingly enough the Army is looking into training where an avatar is created for each soldier. These digital figures would stay with the service member throughout their training career. Training would then be customized to each individual trainee by a full fledged digital representation of oneself. My thoughts are that if it can be done cost effectively and the “realness” of the avatar makes the soldier more immersed in the game then I am all for it. But if the personalization options are limited then it may be money/ time wasted and the military may be better off just training with general avatars so that the trainee can escape reality for time and become someone else.