Virtual World

All posts tagged Virtual World

I often take for granted that readers of the blog and our customers know the different types of roles available through Visual Purple’s training simulations. It wasn’t until we re-crafted our website text that I began to realize we had never really spelled it out publicly. So here it is officially on the blog and also showcased on our newly designed website.

An often-overlooked critical aspect of simulation training is the best manner in which to train: individual or collectively. Visual Purple offers three modes:

1) Single Player, Single Role – The trainee will always play one role; synchronous interaction with live players not supported or desirable due to intelligent simulation world.
Available: Decision-Based, Virtual World, Hybrid, Embedded

2) Single Player, Multi-Role– The trainee may select from available roles and play the simulation from the unique perspective afforded by that role; synchronous interaction with live players is not supported or desirable due to intelligent nature of simulation world. Expect longer production time than single player, single role simulations but per role production time and costs will be lower.
Available: Decision-Based, Virtual World, Hybrid, Embedded

3) Multiplayer– Playable by several trainees at the same time with the ability to choose from a variety of different roles. Live interaction supported for collective training but not required through use of intelligent Non-Player Characters (NPCs) that fill-in for trainees that may not be able to participate as expected. In other words, the training can always occur if even only one trainee shows up. Expect increased production costs to craft and support a custom, intelligent persistent virtual world.
Available: Virtual World

We’re pretty excited! This post has been a long time coming… We are officially announcing a new capability of which we are very proud: ‘Hybrid Simulations’…where we lovingly bake in the best elements of Decision-Based Sims with the cost-effectiveness and flexibility of Virtual Worlds. Decision-Based Simulations are great except when it comes to expanding the world or making rapid changes in a cost-effective manner. Virtual worlds make it easy to expand or update but often fall short when it comes to perceptions that trainees won’t stay on task. We’ve learned through experience that many clients are looking for something beyond the perennially popular decision-based simulation, but aren’t quite sold on virtual worlds, mostly because of the negative perceptions associated with SL-based worlds. Working with select clients over the past 18 months, we have created a successful new approach and began delivering Hybrid Sims earlier this year – marrying the best of both worlds.

These interactive, decision-based virtual environment simulations perform exceptionally well and are produced quicker (in a few months) and at lower cost. We think we like to call it “3D vWorld-DB simulation software” – though our CEO still calls them Hybrid Sims. So, maybe, just maybe, we’ll stick with Hybrid Sims. These 3D animated simulations are custom built and the scenarios play out in a private virtual world. So what other advantages do these custom-built simulations present you may ask? Increased immersion, interactivity, layered decision-making, and feedback to the user (just to name a few). And perhaps the biggest advantage of all, is that this hybrid vWorld-DB simulation, er, I mean Hybrid Sim, is able to run in a browser!

Hybrid simulations also bring their own ‘tool kit’ if you will, which includes the following:
• Idea Generating Tools designed to break current, routine thinking patterns and encourage thinking beyond the status quo through the use of provocation and challenge;
• Focus Tools designed to broaden where, and from whom, students search for new ideas;
• Treatment Tools that are designed to consider real-world constraints, available resources, and other means of support; and
• Harvest Tools that are designed to maximize value received from idea generating output.

Visual Purple isn’t the typical virtual world builder where the ‘average’ virtual world will offer a free roaming character that the trainee can navigate around, our virtual worlds have walls (visible and invisible) and threaded missions to accomplish rather than just the free roaming nature that so many businesses worry about turning an employee loose in, just to “wander” around aimlessly. So there you have it folks, our latest and greatest way of presenting our clients with cutting edge simulation technologies. Stay tuned for more in-depth reviews of the new Hybrid Simulations.

With the recent announcement of Linden Labs (you know the company behind Second Life) to begin restructuring, one must wonder what the future has in store for our friends. Does this really translate to the end of all the hype surrounding virtual worlds? Well as most of you know that follow this blog, I have long predicted the VW hype to trend downward. The news that Linden Labs will more actively pursue browser-based virtual worlds, doesn’t really surprise me (our CEO has been beating them up on this for some time). It seems as though this future for VW’s is inevitable, in my opinion it’s not a matter of if, just when. The large client download that virtual worlds tend to entail does not entice the critics nor skeptics, however once browser-based virtual worlds become more of a reality, those skeptics may be hard pressed to not change their minds.

The second announcement from LL entailed the fact that SL may become more integrated with social networking, again not a big surprise to most as I and many others have been predicting this for a while. With the meteoric rise of social networking the past few years, I believe this only to be a natural progression in the right direction.

What happens if Linden shuts down the enterprise sector of the company? Why wouldn’t companies go for the enterprise edition of Second Life? The opportunity for Second Life to be big is still there, despite the downturn of the hype cycle that exists now. If Linden Lab is able to introduce a valuable social networking integration within a virtual world, many may adapt to the idea and become believers. As for the browser-based usability access of a VW, if it is done right it has great potential. Time will tell if Linden Lab, the company behind Second Life, has the ability to re-capture believers and reel in the skeptics.

By Rudy Helm, Audio and Quality Assurance Tech, Visual Purple, LLC.

Continuing with our vlog ‘how-to’ series called, ‘Emulating Human Voice-overs with TTS Voices’ we now offer this newer presentation, suffixed as ‘Part Three’. We recommend that you review Part One and Part Two first but that is not necessarily a requirement. For this exercise we snipped out a small piece from one of our past projects. Unlike the premise of Part 2, where you learned to sync a TTS voice to a human voice-actor, this video tutorial will focus on the tactics of humanizing synthetic voice-clips with added detail. Today’s presentation does not only reinforce the techniques discussed in Part 1 and Part 2, but will show how to set the talk-pace to improve the phrasings and expressions of synthetic voices. And the concept of formant manipulation is introduced as well. Disclaimer: these are helpful tips, but generalized. Not all editing tools or TTS engines respond to specific techniques that you might try in the very same way. Mainly, just try to grasp the concepts, then adapt your technique to idiosyncrasies of your chosen tools.

The How-To-Humanize your TTS Clips exhibit (Exhibit Part 3). A follow-up on VO elements originally presented in Part 2’s vlog. This time, we introduce Formant handling.

As always check back in for more on this topic and other fun and useful information!

By Rudy Helm, Audio and Quality Assurance Tech, Visual Purple, LLC.

Since there was great interest in a blog entry last Fall called, ‘Emulating Human Voice-overs with TTS Voices’ I have elected to present those lessons as a Vlog, and so it makes sense that we give this newer presentation the same title, but suffixed with ‘Part Two’. We recommend that you review Part One’s scenario before you proceed (to do so, click here) but doing so doesn’t have to be a requirement. For this exercise we snipped out a small piece from Part One’s cut-scene where there were several actors in the cast, but there is only one actor dealt with in this clip. Recall that the premise is that your project’s budget can afford only one human voice-actor. So, you’ve recorded your one human voice actor doing each role of the entire cast. This video tutorial will show the techniques discussed in Part One. Learn how to sync synthetic voices to the phrasings and expressions of your human model. Disclaimer: these are helpful tips, but generalized. Not all editing tools or TTS engines respond to specific techniques that you might try in the very same way. Mainly, just try to grasp the concepts, then adapt your technique to idiosyncrasies of your chosen tools.

Sound effects were mentioned in Part One, but that discussion will need to wait for a future vlog. Music was mentioned also, but we cover music in other vlogs, so be sure to look for those as well.

(Ex. Part 2) The How-To-Create synchronize TTS to Human Model exhibit. A Vlog on how we developed the VO elements originally presented in Part 1.

As always check back in for more on this topic and other fun and useful information!

By Rudy Helm, Audio and Quality Assurance Tech, Visual Purple, LLC.

This is to fulfill my promise to describe how we were able to develop that functional, copyright free, royalty free, original music that we showcased within the video that we presented in Part 3. Click here for a review of that video, as it is essentially prerequisite viewing to get the most from this article’s tutorial. Yes, this video-blog contains the bona fide instructional ‘how-to’. That is — a fun, informational video show-and-tell regarding the background music-making tool and processes involved with the production in the Part 3 exhibit.

Recall that Exhibit Part 3, embodied a variety of musical styles. In this latest video, Exhibit Part 4, animated avatars will act as both your tour guide and mentors. Also remember that we had promised to discuss the usage of the music tool, with emphasis on reinforcing ‘the 1-4-5 principle’ (we initially introduced that here). But today…well, with this video you can see that principle in action.

We think you will enjoy this. Please don’t hesitate to send us feedback!

The How-To-Create BGM exhibit (Exhibit Part 4). Learn how we developed the musical elements originally presented in Exhibit Part 3.

By Rudy Helm, Audio and Quality Assurance Tech, Visual Purple, LLC.

Well, it’s been a while, so I thought that we should continue with the theme from my previous blog entry. There are many interesting and fun things to learn. You may recall that we were discussing the notion of your project’s background music (BGM) having the desirable attributes of being copyright free, royalty free, and an original composition at that! Those characteristics undoubtedly appeal to virtual-world developers, makers of cutscenes, trailers and Machinima projects. With the tutorials that we present here, there is no reason why even non-musicians can’t generate musically useful results (even for foreground musical elements, but that discussion is for a later time).

This exercise exhibits a variety of musical styles and embodies them into a single animation sequence. The exhibit portrays a conference room where the attendees are gathered to give their ‘boss man’ a report on the TV and film entertainment industry (actually it’s taken from the 2010 Golden Globes). Embedded in this viewable animation we’ll feature synthetic actors with synthetic speech (TTS voice-overs) as foreground elements (click here for a refresher on the technique). With this test-scene we utilize only 2 TTS male and 1 TTS female voice libraries to cover a cast of 11 adult attendees.

The animation sequence was borrowed from one of our past projects. It had been a full-motion video of a dramatized high-level meeting and for this exhibit it has been ‘cartoon-ized’ to mask logos, etc. The original human VO audio discussed issues about how to save the world, but here we have replaced them with a TTS script chattering about the entertainment world. So, obviously the script is intended to be nonsense; the focus of this little project being on ambient background music production, and less on the TTS actors (but don’t worry, we will have some more in-depth tutorials on TTS production in the near future!).

Now, please view and listen to the animation sequence. Imagine that at this meeting there might be a radio playing in the background for this scenario.

“- Link to”
YouTube Visual Purple When Your Musician is a Robot, Part 3 (Can musical assets be free in a Virtual World?)
The Conference Room exhibit –listen to the musical elements as they each segue. Note how well BGM serves the animation and VO.

In part 4 of this series I will discuss the usage of the music tool. Remember these numbers: 1-4-5? (if not, click here). Essentially, it’s all you need to know about music theory to engage in these tutorials.

[to be continued]

It recently came to my attention that I refer a lot to Non-Player Characters (or otherwise known as NPCs) within my blog posts. This is simply out of sheer habit. So here you go, an entire post devoted to these second rate characters in virtual worlds.

First, let’s further define a NPC, unlike an Avatar which is human controlled, a Non-Player Character (NPC) has the freedom to wander around in some cases or in other instances may remain as a stationary character. Regardless, of mobility or location, the more ‘intelligent’ a NPC, the greater it’s value in learning, training or entertainment. Intelligently-powered NPC’s have can have many purposes – such as giving a quest to a player, pointing the player in the right direction in the virtual world, etc. Player Characters or PC’s, are the avatar within the virtual world. So now that we have the basic definitions down lets delve a little deeper into what these characters are capable of within a virtual world environment. Questing through intelligent NPC’s brings out a realism that is unseen in virtual worlds sans NPC’s or non-intelligent NPC’s. NPC’s also provide the unique ability to advance the storyline within a virtual world. The Player Character (PC) can thus be guided through certain scenarios without the freedom to get ‘lost’ along the way. The social interaction between the player and non-player characters can be the ultimate key to success especially when training within a virtual world space, ultimately changing the ways that a VW simulation may be played out. The key is engaging the player character in realistic human-like interaction like that found in the real world.

The role of NPCs can range from very simplistic to advanced (carrying a full on conversation with the player). The norm for non-player characters is to wait for the player to involve them in an interaction, normally the NPC will then play through a pre-defined script with the player character. Although this type of interaction does have a predictability about it, it does lead to a higher level of engagement for the player within the virtual world space. These ‘support characters,’ if you will, reinforce the storyline. Although current technologies for NPC’s remain somewhat limited, I see the role of the NPC and capabilities within the virtual world expanding dramatically in the very near future. Bringing a new level of interaction to the virtual world. Of course console and computer- role playing games also have varied forms of NPC’s. Over time the landscape of virtual worlds has changed, from more realistic avatars to better 3-D representations of the real world. It’s only natural and desirable that Non-Player Characters (NPC’s) within virtual worlds will evolve as well.

By Rudy Helm, Audio and Quality Assurance Tech, Visual Purple, LLC.

How does one tame a virtual musician? For a discussion on the UI, let’s go step by step with the process I underwent to generate a music bed. What follows is the style palette. (Other competing software tools may not look like these screenshots but will offer similar functions.) In one scenario, I chose one of the very many available country styles, but one that includes pedal steel guitar, as in Figure 1.

Figure 1 – The Country music selection from the musical styles palette window. Note that there are many sub-styles to choose from.

You can set the key (Figure 2). If you don’t care what key, leave this alone, your music will default to the key of ‘C’ (I didn’t; and mine did the default – for both styles). You can also set the tempo (Figure 3). This is a trial-and-error kind of thing. Experiment until it feels right for your purposes. If you don’t set the speed, it will default to 120 BPM (beats per minute…think Sousa March).

Figure 2 – Key selection menu.

Figure 3 –Tempo selection dialog box.

Figure 4. The interface is like a spreadsheet. Each cell entry represents which of the (1,4,5) chords will fall in the timeline. The first cell defaults to ‘1’ (in this case ‘C’), so you don’t need to enter any values yet.
Figure 4 – Cell one defaults to ‘C’ chord

Figure 5. But move over to the next cell (‘bar 2’ in musical lingo) and enter the number 4. It automatically knows which proper chord to enter within that key (in this case, the ‘F’ chord).
Figure 5 –Enter ‘4’; the ‘F’ chord appears

Figure 6. Move to the next cell and let’s enter the number we haven’t used yet, ‘5’. Let’s leave cell four empty.
Figure 6 – Enter the digit ‘5’ into cell three

Figure 7. Now, at cell three, you will see that the tool has automatically assumed the ‘G’ chord for you.
Figure 7 – The ‘G’ chord appears

What you have then is 1 bar of C, one bar of F and two bars of G. To finish preparing the body of your new music bed, highlight and copy the upper row of cells you instantiated, as in the following Figure 8.
Figure 8 – Copy four bars of music (cells one through four)

The next step is to paste those 4 copied bars into three more rows of cells. Now you end up with a 16 bar loop, as in Figure 9.
Figure 9 – Four bars pasted three times results in sixteen bars

Figure 10. Enter 16 bars (16 cells) to define the start and end of your loop.
Figure 10 – Enter 16 to indicate which cell is the end

Figure 11. Choose how many repeats for your loop. How many times your music bed should loop-play depends on how long you need it to play. If the music engine in your project will repeat the loop as many time as you need, set the loop count to ‘1’. If not, set it to the number of loops that will fill the time required.
Figure 11 – Click the loop button and select repeats from a pull-down menu.

I commonly say that whenever you can afford real musicians for crucial sonic moments such as main themes, hire them. But when budget cries Mary, maybe try some of the things I have offered in these blogs about synthetic music production, especially for BGM.

Let’s review the positive points — copyright free, royalty free, original music…that can be created by anyone on your team (with the help of your synthetic musician, of course). In our next blog we will cover a few more fascinating creations from our virtual composer, so stay tuned! And by the way, if you would like some consultation or some help developing your project please don’t hesitate to contact us.

By Rudy Helm, Audio and Quality Assurance Tech, Visual Purple, LLC.

This writing is a follow-up to a promise I made at the end of my previous blog ‘Emulating Human Voice-overs with TTS Voices’. For now, consider this proposition — what if your project’s background music (BGM) had these characteristics:
· copyright free
· royalty free
· original composition
· authored by you!

Does this appeal to you virtual-world developers of cutscenes, trailers or Machinima projects? Moreover, if you consider yourself a non-musician, then this should certainly be happy news for you! It’s true that being musically inclined can be a boon to this process, but there is no reason why a non-musician can’t generate some musically useful results.

I thought that this exercise would be a fun opportunity to exhibit two musical styles and apply them to the same animation sequence (not at the same time, of course!). The first exhibit will portray a rural cafe where the clientele would be people who appreciate country music. The second exhibit, while actually the same animation, let’s pretend is a ‘blue-collar’ cafe where the clientele would appreciate, um…, ‘roadhouse rock’ (whatever that is – let’s use our imagination!). In keeping true to my past themes of NPC VO, our YouTube animations embedded in this blog will star synthetic actors with synthetic speech as foreground elements (and which have been synced to the phrasings of a prerecorded human model; click here for a refresher on the technique). With this test-scene we utilized only 1 TTS male voice to cover a small cast of 2 adult males.

I borrowed the animation sequence from one of our past projects and the original voice-over tracks were actual professional VO talent. For these exhibits, however, I replaced the VO with TTS voices reading scripts I made up off the top of my head. The Country script and the Roadhouse script are largely nonsense, so please don’t strain yourself too hard trying to make sense of it (although I did try very hard to keep the lip sync to match the syllables). The original voice track may have expressed some confidential things (it was a training project), so it was prudent to make up nonsense TTS chatter and replace the original speech. Remember. The intent of this study is to focus on ambient BGM production, and not the TTS actors! So let us begin.

First, I’d like you to listen to the musical elements my automated composer has generated for this test (click here for the roadhouse sample). Notice how realistic the electric slide guitar and backing instruments sound. People, we have come a long way in auto-generated music in just the last two years!

Now, please listen to the country sample. Notice how realistic the steel guitar player sounds. And yes, you non-musicians can do this, nearly effortlessly. And it is equally easy to deal with almost any musical style!

Next, view and listen to the animation sequence for both BGM scenarios. After that I will discuss the usage of the music tool and present some screen shots.

“- Link to”
YouTube Visual Purple Can Automated Music Play Nice in Virtual Worlds? #1
The Roadhouse Cafe example – note the effective emulation of the synthetic musicians. The slide guitar is very convincing.

“- Link to”
YouTube Visual Purple Can Automated Music Play Nice in Virtual Worlds? #2
The Country Cafe example – note that the steel guitar is very realistic. Also notice how well background sound effects and music work together.

Remember these numbers: 1-4-5 (say, “one four five”). These three numbers represent the three principal chords of any given musical key (in Western culture). The number 1 represents the tonality of the key’s foundation. If the key is the key of ‘C’, then ‘1’ informs musicians to play the ‘C’ chord. The numbers 4 and 5 represent two other complimentary chords in the key structure. Almost any combination of the 1-4-5 chords sound ‘right’. There now, you know all you need to know about music theory to proceed. Three chords are all it takes!

While there are a number of choices that can be made as to selecting software packages that generate automatic or algorithmic music, this tutorial will reflect a user interface as found in a tool available by Canada’s own PG Music. This company, I believe, has recently set the bar rather high. Their impressive technology now allows you to generate music where the output is actual human recordings. And at the price of a song (pun intended). While MIDI is still an available technology in this tool (good for Rave/Techno/HipHop, etc), we have the good fortune of not being locked in to MIDI-only renders. [To be continued]