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Wikidata, the first new project to emerge from the Wikimedia Foundation since 2006, is now beginning development. The organization, known best for its user-edited encyclopedia of knowledge Wikipedia, recently announced the new project at February’s Semantic Tech & Business Conference in Berlin, describing Wikidata as new effort to provide a database of knowledge that can be read and edited by humans and machines alike.

There have been other attempts at creating a semantic database built from Wikipedia’s data before – for example, DBpedia, a community effort to extract structured content from Wikipedia and make it available online. The difference is that, with Wikidata, the data won’t just be made available, it will also be made editable by anyone.

The project’s goal in developing a semantic, machine-readable database doesn’t just help push the web forward, it also helps Wikipedia itself. The data will bring all the localized versions of Wikipedia on par with each other in terms of the basic facts they house. Today, the English, German, French and Dutch versions offer the most coverage, with other languages falling much further behind.

Wikidata will also enable users to ask different types of questions, like which of the world’s ten largest cities have a female mayor?, for example. Queries like this are today answered by user-created Wikipedia Lists – that is, manually created structured answers. Wikidata, on the hand, will be able to create these lists automatically.

The initial effort to create Wikidata is being led by the German chapter of Wikimedia, Wikimedia Deutschland, whose CEO Pavel Richter calls the project “ground-breaking,” and describes it as “the largest technical project ever undertaken by one of the 40 international Wikimedia chapters.” Much of the early experimentation which resulted in the Wikidata concept was done in Germany, which is why it’s serving as the base of operations for the new undertaking.

The German Chapter will perform the initial development involved in the creation of Wikidata, but will later hand over the operation and maintenance to the Wikimedia Foundation when complete. The estimation is that hand-off will occur a year from now, in March 2013.

The overall project will have three phases, the first of which involves creating one Wikidata page for each Wikipedia entry across Wikipedia’s over 280 supported languages. This will provide the online encyclopedia with one common source of structured data that can be used in all articles, no matter which language they’re in. For example, the date of someone’s birth would be recorded and maintained in one place: Wikidata. Phase one will also involve centralizing the links between the different language versions of Wikipedia. This part of the work will be finished by August 2012.

In phase two, editors will be able to add and use data in Wikidata, and this will be available by December 2012. Finally, phase three will allow for the automatic creation of lists and charts based on the data in Wikidata, which can then populate the pages of Wikipedia.

In terms of how Wikidata will impact Wikipedia’s user interface, the plan is for the data to live in the “info boxes” that run down the right-hand side of a Wikipedia page. (For example: those on the right side of NYC’s page). The data will be inputted at data.wikipedia.org, which will then drive the info boxes wherever they appear, across languages, and in other pages that use the same info boxes. However, because the project is just now going into development, some of these details may change.

Below, an early concept for Wikidata:

All the data contained in Wikidata will be published under a free Creative Commons license, which opens it up for use by any number of external applications, including e-government, the sciences and more.

Dr. Denny Vrandečić, who joined Wikimedia from the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, is leading a team of eight developers to build Wikidata, and is joined by Dr. Markus Krötzsch of the University of Oxford. Krötzsch and Vrandečić, notably, were both co-founders of the Semantic MediaWiki project, which pursued similar goals to that of Wikidata over the past few years.

The initial development of Wikidata is being funded through a donation of 1.3 million Euros, granted in half by the Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence, an organization established by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen in 2010. The goal of the Institute is to support long-range research activities that have the potential to accelerate progress in artificial intelligence, which includes web semantics.

“Wikidata will build on semantic technology that we have long supported, will accelerate the pace of scientific discovery, and will create an extraordinary new data resource for the world,” says Dr. Mark Greaves, VP of the Allen Institute.

Another quarter of the funding comes from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, through its Science program, and another quarter comes from Google. According to Google’s Director of Open Source, Chris DiBona, Google hopes that Wikidata will make large amounts of structured data available to “all.” (All, meaning, course, to Google itself, too.)

This ties back to all those vague reports of “major changes” coming to Google’s search engine in the coming months, seemingly published far ahead of any actual news (like this), possibly in a bit of a PR push to take the focus off the growing criticism surrounding Google+…or possibly to simply tease the news by educating the public about what the “semantic web” is.

Google, which stated it would be increasing its efforts at providing direct answers to common queries – like those with a specific, factual piece of data – could obviously build greatly on top of something like Wikidata. As it moves further into semantic search, it could provide details about the people, places and things its users search for. It would actually know what things are, whether birth dates, locations, distances, sizes, temperatures, etc., and also how they’re connected to other points of data. Google previously said it expects semantic search changes to impact 10% to 20% of queries. (Google declined to provide any on the record comment regarding its future plans in this area).

Ironically, the results of Wikidata’s efforts may then actually mean fewer Google referrals to Wikipedia pages. Short answers could be provided by Google itself, positioned at the top of the search results. The need to click through to read full Wikipedia articles (or any articles, for that matter) would be reduced, leading Google users to spend more time on Google.

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Nous IGF.pngAwesome Shark Volcano brings identity-challenged artificial intelligence to life in its top-down arcade arena experience and IGF Student Showcase finalist Nous.

With the team's creation, they aim to bridge the gap between art-games and traditional titles. Nous is filled with reactive narrative, as the AI sorts its identity. The game also offers active play, where players bounce around the screen while racking up massive smash combos, and passive play, where players dodge and lead enemies to converters to make them allies.

Here producer/programmer Pohung Chen and game designer Brett Cutler speak about their freely downloadable title Nous. In particular, Cutler speaks of partly identifying as a "self-centered artist, full of himself but doubting his worth," and how this was channeled into the neuroses of the Nous itself.

What does Nous mean?

Brett Cutler, Game Designer: Nous (pronounced 'noose' or 'now-s') refers to a philosophical (Greek) term representing the ability of the mind to order and rationalize the world. Nous, the AI embodied in the game, can't decide what it is, and this drives the narrative - in each level, the AI proposes a purpose for itself and then rejects it, sometimes violently. You interact with Nous through your play style (you don't ever have to kill anything) and through dialogue trees.

So you, the player, by working through the game, build a model of Nous with your interactions and how you interpret it. Your experience of the game is the only place 'Nous' the character is ever alive. So your interpretation and ordering of this character literally defines it.

Now, the letters n-o-u-s are also the French word for 'you and I', or 'we'. Which makes Nous a poor title for internet searchability. But it also has a nice reflection of the themes of the game - you and the AI work together to build an experience.

In an industry where the biggest games have such clear identities and genres (Drake, Kratos, Mario, Sonic), how does a game with an ambiguous identity compete?

Brett: Short answer: poorly. Longer answer: fairly poorly. Obviously we have no grounds to complain about the reception our game has gotten, but I think we intended it to be more approachable than it is. I heard a fair amount of "Yeah, I've heard of it but I haven't played it." I don't think there's enough concrete material for potential players to latch onto - it's not a complicated game, but it doesn't have an aspect that slots easily into something players recognize. It's basically a top-down shooter, but because that's not obvious from pictures or video, and the story hook is hard to sell, we scare players off. Those first impressions are important, and I think we definitely stumbled on them.

On the other hand, if a player commits, I think we can give them a pretty deep cut. Nous is the type of game (personal, artistic, at times surprising) that can foster memories.

As a character, Nous isn't easy to sell. The AI doesn't have a face. It doesn't have a voice. It does, and it spits words. But it's not even consistent in its personality. What works, though, is that at the end players feel like they've gotten a personal experience. And when the pretence is dropped and we say, look, Nous is the farthest thing from a character, it's just bunch of words -- well, then players become more attached to it because they're all it has. The character feels real, but the world says it isn't - so the natural response is to cling harder, and treasure it more.

What served as inspiration for Nous?

Brett: The Coen Brothers' Barton Fink and Kanye West's My Beautfiul Dark Twisted Fantasy both occupied a lot of mind space at the time I was writing Nous. Both are about the self-centered artist, full of himself but doubting his worth - I identified with that. It helped me to put those fears and neuroses into the game and the character. It's messy but honest, I think.

There's a scene in Barton Fink where John Goodman runs down a hallway (the hallway is on fire), blasting away on a shotgun, shouting, "I"ll show you the life of the mind! I'll show YOU the life of the mind! I'll SHOW YOU the life of the mind!" That's what I want Nous to be.

Could you tell me about the team who worked on the game? Any notable previous game projects?

Pohung Chen: There were four of us who worked on Nous. I was a technical producer in charge of schedules, helping with playtest sessions, and making sure we ship on-time. I also wrote code for the game (mostly physics). Treb was our technical director, wrote the core engine, serialization, script binding and misc coding tasks. Brett was our game designer and gameplay programmer. He wrote most of our scripts and is in charge of the overall player experience. Jason was our graphics programmer and he made things pretty. We are all students at DigiPen Institute of Technology in Redmond, WA. Nous was our sophomore year project.

I grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area and tinkered with computers since I was a kid. Making games is cool because it is a product built by people from many different disciplines. There are so many unique challenges involved in shipping a game. I get to solve new and interesting problems everyday.

Brett: I grew up with a judgmental perspective and a desire to make things that were better than other things. I'm glad I'm making games, because it's almost as good as being an astronaut (Plan A). As a designer, I get to pretend I'm in charge. It's given me a great form of argument, the appeal to the game: "Guys, the game needs all these shaders. The game needs a completely different art style. The game is hungry, get me a sammich."

Pohung: And it is then my job to explain why we cannot do some of the crazy things Brett wants us to do, like getting him a sammich.

What development tools did you use? How long was the development cycle?

Pohung: We used Microsoft Visual Studio to manage and build our project. Most of our code is written in C++ with custom Lua binding as a scripting language to iterate on gameplay code. We're using DirectX 9 for graphics and FMOD for audio. Our engine is component-based and it deserializes composite game objects from XML files. We used Subversion for our source control. (We've gotten smarter since then and have all switched to Mercurial).

As for our production and development process, we had rigid milestones once a month as required by the DigiPen faculty. The instructors preached iteration for building great games. Unfortunately grades are due when they're due, so we are forced to build iterative processes within rigid, waterfall deadline structures. As much as we would like to go with the "we'll ship the game when it's done" approach, that option was not available to us.

We started on early ideas for our sophomore project and building our core engine technology early summer of 2010. We went through a bunch of vastly different ideas and mechanics hoping to stumble into something awesome. We didn't come up with the framing and theme of Nous until February of 2011. Once we did, we built early iterations of the game and the technology needed for it until the end of April. From there, three of us started moving onto new projects for our junior year. Brett continued to work on Nous and re-doing the writing and content for it until about October of 2011.

Brett: Caffeine. Sleep. Bravado.

Were there any notable advisors or external sources of help for the project?

Pohung: The environment at DigiPen is truly unique. We definitely could not have built Nous in isolation.

Playtesting was a big part of our process and we have a student-run organization that manages weekly playtesting for games being developed here at DigiPen. It was a really good avenue for seeing what people liked, what was stupid about what we built, and a conclusive decider on which ideas worked and which didn't. Playtesting is good for picking out ideas that work when the team is in conflict about which direction to go. You learn about implementation and execution as you build the game, but you have to watch real players interact with what you've built in order to have any validation that your game is engaging.

Our peers were also a great resource while building this game. Seeing other great games being built alongside us was incredibly energizing and encouraging. Watching some of the upperclassmen games being developed at the same time as Nous gave me a lot of insight on how other teams and games worked.

We have three instructors (Benjamin Ellinger, Chris Peters, Rachel Rutherford) that run all of the game projects classes at the sophomore and junior level. All three of them work tirelessly to make the structure of game class better and are often times helping out student teams late into the evenings. All three of them had a huge impact on the way we think about game design, technology, and team dynamics.

Brett: I'd like to thank everyone who sat down to play our game and told us it wasn't good enough. Because that's what drove us - it wasn't great, we were doing it wrong, we had to work harder. Eventually we exerted our way right into something kind of neat.

And don't stop telling us it's not good enough.

Why do you think your game deserves to win the Student Showcase?

Brett: Nous is clear and focused in its confusing messiness. It's an ultimatum to the player: Play Me, Or Maybe Don't, But I'd Prefer You Do. It's fun and sad. It asks the deep questions: do you like all these flashing lights?

Water cooler talk: why should the average gamer play your game?

Brett: Nous is an arty game, right, but it's not pretentious, and it tries to be a satisfying experience even to the player who skips past every piece of dialogue in the game (and there's a button to do that!). I don't want to see games with literary themes get shunted into their own ghetto - I want to see these messages get brought into a broader context. Nous is an experiment in bringing the goods while keeping the brains. A game is a game, in the end, and Nous works to keep that.

Play it. Marvel at the awesome graphics, make a lot of stuff blow up - it's pretty great! And when the screen goes dark, and you've got that time to think about what just happened, well, remember what Nous is.

What are some interesting things about your game that you haven't talked about before?

Brett: So the music in the game, the ambient rumbles and strings, were added literally the day we shipped. We had written several tracks in different styles across the iterations of the game, from when it was Dr. Gravity and the Invention of Gravity onwards, and the tracks weren't fitting completely with the Nous environment.

Then we remembered a program we had fiddled with months before, designed to get extremely slowed-down versions of sound files. Basically, the tool to make the music for Inception. It hadn't worked with our earlier concept but for Nous it was perfect - the menace, the fragments of almost-recognizable melody, the implication that time is slower within the world of the computer. We ran several classical music recordings through it and fragments of our old score and amazingly had found our soundtrack.

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It's often said that gaming is an expensive hobby. Major new releases retail for as much as £50, and with dozens of supposedly 'must-play' titles launching every year, the pennies can be quick to add up.

But brewing away beneath the surface of the industry - beneath the main bulk of the indie scene, even - is a world where money appears meaningless. It's a world in which developers pour their talents and their time into the creation of fantastic computer games, for which they ask nothing in return.

It's true that many of these free games are throwaway Flash efforts. But there are some gems: free releases that offer hours of play time, intricate stories, and fascinating game mechanics. Many developers working within this scene could easily justify demanding a few pounds in return for a copy of their latest masterpiece - so what compels them to say 'put your wallet away'?

Read more…

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The Independent Games Festival has announced the eight Student Showcase winners for the fourteenth annual presentation of its prestigious awards, celebrating the brightest and most innovative creations to come out of universities and games programs from around the world in the past year.

This year's showcase of top student talent include the lithograph-sketched 2D logic puzzler The Bridge, from Case Western Reserve University, Art Institute of Phoenix's magic-moth platformer Dust, and DigiPen Institute of Technology's part-psychological-evaluator, part-boot-camp-instructor, possibly-part-malware action game Nous.

In total, this year's Student Competition took in nearly 300 game entries across all platforms -- PC, console and mobile -- from a wide diversity of the world's most prestigious universities and games programs making the Student IGF one of the world's largest showcases of student talent.

All of the Student Showcase winners announced today will be playable on the Expo show floor at the 26th Game Developers Conference, to be held in San Francisco starting March 5th, 2012. Each team will receive a $500 prize for being selected into the Showcase, and are finalists for an additional $3,000 prize for Best Student Game, to be revealed during the Independent Games Festival Awards on March 7th.

The full list of Student Showcase winners for the 2012 Independent Games Festival, along with 'honorable mentions' to those top-quality games that didn't quite make it to finalist status, are as follows:

The Bridge (Case Western Reserve University)
Dust (Art Institute of Phoenix)
The Floor Is Jelly (Kansas City Art Institute)
Nous (DigiPen Institute of Technology)
One and One Story (Liceo Scientifico G.B. Morgagni)
Pixi (DigiPen Institute of Technology - Singapore)
The Snowfield (Singapore-MIT GAMBIT Game Lab)
Way (Carnegie Mellon University, Entertainment Technology Center)

Honorable mentions: Be Good (DigiPen Institute of Technology); Lilith's Pet (University of Kassel); Nitronic Rush (DigiPen Institute of Technology); Once Upon A Spacetime (RMIT); Tink (Mediadesign Highschool of Applied Sciences)

This year's Student IGF entries were distributed to an opt-in subset of the main competition judging body, consisting of more than 100 leading independent and mainstream developers, academics and journalists. Now in its tenth year as a part of the larger Independent Games Festival, the Student Showcase highlights up-and-coming talent from worldwide university programs, and has served as the venue which first premiered numerous now-widely-recognized names including DigiPen's Narbacular Drop and Tag: The Power of Paint, which would evolve first into Valve's acclaimed Portal, with the latter brought on-board for Portal 2.

Others include USC's The Misadventures Of P.B. Winterbottom (later released by 2K Games for XBLA); Hogeschool van de Kunsten's The Blob (later becoming one of THQ's flagship mobile/console franchises as De Blob); and early USC/ThatGameCompany title Cloud, from the studio that would go on to develop PlayStation 3 arthouse mainstays like Flow, Flower, and their forthcoming Journey.

For more information on the Independent Games Festival, for which Main Competition finalists were also just announced, please visit the official IGF website.

For those interested in registering for GDC 2012 (part of the UBM TechWeb Game Network, as is this website), which includes the Independent Games Summit, the IGF Pavilion and the IGF Awards Ceremony, please visit the Game Developers Conference website.

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Photographer Cornelia Hediger came to Harlem via Switzerland, yet feels more at home here. This is no surprise– as an artist, Ms. Hediger is no stranger to strong contrasts and dualities. Her composite photographs begin with a sketch that plays out a narrative between the main character and her doubles. Ms. Hediger plays all parts, and shoots it on film, noting that she’s the only one with enough patience to model in the complex images that seduce and unnerve as psychological portraits. Ms. Hediger is as close to the garret-dwelling hermit artist as you are likely to find in NYC. The tiny apartment where she lives with her pet guinea pig gets a fresh coat of paint for each new photograph, and is stuffed with props. She finds inspiration in the postures of people on the subway, often sketching on the train as while observing body language. The more telling gestures are sometimes appropriated for her photographs. While teaching photography at he Fashion Institute of Technology, she scrapes by with as little as she can, in order to have more resources for her artwork.

Gallery co-owner Debra Klomp Ching: “Every now and again one encounters artwork that literally takes your breath away, that causes a physical response, excites your entire being and challenges your visual perception and intellectual inquiry. This is the immediate response I had to Cornelia Hediger’s photography. She is committed to the making of her artwork, to expressing herself visually and technically – almost to the point of obsession. Her artwork is her life and her life is her artwork. She lives and breathes it.”

To create her multi-panel images, Ms. Hediger shoots each panel separately as a single photo, then digitally fits six or more together in a grid as one composition. An average of 120 images are shot for each six-panel image. The result is a fragmented figure in which objects grow and shrink from different angles and proportions in a single frame. Ms. Hediger’ show at the Klompching Gallery in Brooklyn’s DUMBO neighborhood opened last night, and will run through October 21st, 2011. All images courtesy Cornelia Hediger/Klompching Gallery.


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LLBMC: The Low-Level Bounded Model Checker

Google Tech Talk (more info below) February 22, 2011 Presented by Carsten Sinz, Stephan Falke, & Florian Merz, Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, Germany. ABSTRACT Producing reliable and secure software is time consuming and cost intensive, and still many software systems suffer from security vulnerabilities or show unintended, faulty behavior. Testing is currently the predominant method to ascertain software quality, but over the last years formal methods like abstract interpretation or model checking made huge progress and became applicable to real-world software systems. Their promise is to reach a much higher level of software quality with less effort. In this talk we present a recent method for systematic bug finding in C programs called Bounded Model Checking (BMC) that works fully automatic and achieves a high level of precision. We present our implementation, LLBMC, which---in contrast to other tools---doesn't work on the source code level, but employs a compiler intermediate representation (LLVM IR) as a starting point. It is thus easily adaptable to support verification of other programming languages such as C++ or ObjC. LLBMC also uses a highly precise (untyped) memory model, which allows to reason about heap and stack data accesses. Moreover, we show how LLBMC can be integrated into the software development process using a technique called Abstract Testing.
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