This invention relates in general to location-based communication and, in particular, to a system and method for providing adjustable attenuation of location-based communication in an online game.
People have enjoyed playing games for thousands of years. The Egyptians had board games and the ancient Greeks held the Olympics. Interpersonal games provide entertainment, relaxation, and an opportunity for competition. Games also encourage people to come together and socialize. The advent of the personal computer and public data networks, such as the Internet, has led to the development of online games. Players from across the world connect and play games with, and against, one another. Online games are played solo, one on one, team versus team, and in many other scenarios.
In particular, massive multiplayer online games (MMOGs) involve hundreds to thousands of people playing simultaneously. The largest MMOGs have a player base, usually through subscriptions, of over ten million. MMOGs offer players a persistent gaming environment. Players create a character that serves as their in-game persona. Player achievements and character attributes persist even when a player is offline. The player can return to the game at any time and continue game play. Online virtual worlds are similar to MMOGs. Virtual worlds offer users the ability to interact with one another online via an avatar that they have created. Through their avatar, users can explore the virtual world and socialize with other users. Unlike MMOGs, the virtual worlds are not games, as there are no points, winners, or levels. Hybrid virtual worlds with attributes of online games are possible.
Currently, MMOG players, as well as users of virtual worlds, interact or “chat” primarily through text messages, though audio and video messaging capabilities are increasingly available. Messages can be received from many sources. For instance, other players may send private messages for a specific recipient player. Group messages are exchanged between members of a particular group. Clan or guild messages are similarly sent. Further, a game server may send non-chat messages relating to what is generally happening in the game or to a player's character, such as when advancing a level.
Location-based chat requires a player' character to be virtually co-located in a specified zone or within a certain distance of other players' characters. Any character that is within a limited “spatial” area may receive or “hear” spatial messages from other players within the “zone” or “distance.” A player at a zone boundary is also able to “hear” players in adjacent zones irrespective of distance. Other “sounds” within the gaming environment are also “heard” based on zone or distance.
Nevertheless, virtual environments lack real world physics. In the real world a pair of ears allow us to identify the direction and angle of a sound source. We can determine if the sound is near or far, left or right, and up or down. In contrast, players in a virtual environment only have one “ear” in-game in the form of a chat box. All messages sent within the player's current zone or hearing “range” are received at the same “volume,” which leads to a false impression as to the distance and direction of the message source. A message sent from a player whose character is far away is as “loud” as one sent by a player whose character is nearby. Players are thus deprived of the ability to sense where a message source is located and the proximity of the source.
Therefore, an approach is needed to introduce a surrogate of real world physics into a virtual environment to simulate sound source location and proximity. Preferably, such an approach would further game play, such as by enabling serendipitous eavesdropping.
Players in online games receive a variety of communications. Location-based communication requires a player to be situated in a defined area to receive the communication. Although online games provide a dynamic virtual world, online games lack real world physics. Players only have one in-game ear in the form of a chat box, depriving the player of the ability to locate the source of the communication relative to the player's own position in the game. The present invention simulates real world hearing by affecting the probability that a player will notice a communication. Each communication received by the player is processed to determine the location, such as proximity and direction, of the communication relative to the player. Additionally, adjustors can be applied to modify the attenuation state of the communication.
One embodiment provides a system and method for providing attenuation of location-based communication in an online game. A communication to a recipient in a display from within a simulated environment of an online game is accepted. An apparent proximity and direction of the communication relative to the recipient is evaluated. Recipient specific adjustors are applied to modify presentation of the communication by the apparent proximity and direction to the recipient in the display.
A further embodiment provides a system and method for presenting location-based communication in an online game relative to a player from a communication source. A communication to a recipient from within a simulated three-dimensional environment of an online game is accepted. A source co-located with the recipient of the communication is determined. An apparent proximity and direction of the source relative to the recipient is evaluated. A recipient specific adjustor to the communication is applied. Presentation of the communication is modified by the apparent proximity and direction of the source to the recipient in the display based on the adjustor applied.
BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS
Still other embodiments will become readily apparent to those skilled in the art from the following detailed description, wherein are described embodiments of the invention by way of illustrating the best mode contemplated for carrying out the invention. As will be realized, the invention is capable of other and different embodiments and its several details are capable of modifications in various obvious respects, all without departing from the spirit and the scope of the present invention. Accordingly, the drawings and detailed description are to be regarded as illustrative in nature and not as restrictive.
FIG. 1 a functional block diagram showing, by way of example, an online game environment.
FIG. 2 is an exemplary screen shot of an online game.
FIG. 3 is a process flow diagram showing a method for providing adjustable attenuation of location-based communication in an online game.
FIG. 4 is a flow diagram showing the routine for evaluating proximity and direction in the method of FIG. 3.
FIG. 5 is a data flow diagram showing, by way of example, hearing factors for use with the method of FIG. 3.
Online Game Environment
FIG. 6 is a data flow diagram showing, by way of example, adjustor types for use with the method of FIG. 3.
Conventional in-person games involve players who are physically located near one another, while online games involve players generally in remote locations who “meet” virtually. FIG. 1 is a functional block diagram showing, by way of example, an online game environment 10. Each player 11 a-e uses a computer 12 a-b that is remotely interfaced to a server 13 over a public data communications network 14, such as the Internet, to participate in an online game. Additionally, the computers 12 a-b can be interfaced via a telephone landline, wireless network, or cellular network. Other forms of remote interfacing and network configurations are possible. Preferably, the computer 12 a-b is a general-purpose computing workstation, such as a personal desktop or notebook computer, for executing software programs, including Web browsers. The computer 12 a-b includes components conventionally found in computing devices, such as a central processing unit, memory, input/output, network interface, storage, and components for network interconnectivity. Other user devices, systems, and components are possible, for example, cell phones 15, wireless devices, Web-enabled television set-top boxes 16, and gaming consoles 17. Each computer 12 a-b is connected to a display having the capability to present text. Displays having other capabilities, such as the display of graphics, are more common. Various user input devices, for example, a keyboard, mouse, microphone or game controller, are interfaced to the computer 12 a-b. Other input devices, wired and wireless, are possible.
The computers 12 a-b connect to the server 13, which enables the players 11 a-e to participate in the online game. Users connect to virtual worlds in similar fashion. The server 13 functions as the hub of game play activity and enables the game environment 10 to continue, from a player's perspective, on an indefinite basis. Player information persists independently from active participation to enable players to log in or out of the game at will. Player profiles 18 are created and maintained by the server 13 in a database 15. Player profiles could also be stored locally. The server 13 is generally a server-grade computing platform configured as a uni-, multi- or distributed processing system, which includes those components conventionally found in computing devices, as discussed above.
One form of online game is a massively multiplayer online game (MMOG). A MMOG is presented to players as a persistent gaming environment in which the player's character and corresponding characteristics are created and stored by a server. A player is a human who plays the game, while a character is a simulated being that is created and controlled by the player for use in the game. Tens of thousands of players can be simultaneously playing the game. For example, World of Warcraft, developed by Blizzard Entertainment, Irvine, Calif., is a subscription-based MMOG having over ten million players. Players initially purchase the game software and afterwards pay a monthly subscription fee for continued access to the game. World of Warcraft takes place in a fantasy world of magic, demons, and warriors. A player uses his character to explore the virtual landscape of the game, fight monsters or other characters, undertake quests, and perform other virtual actions. Rewards in the game include money, items, and experience, which allow a player to increase the skill and power of his character or to earn other accolades. A player can have more than one character.
During play, a player can receive many text messages. The messages can be from other players, non-player characters (NPCs), moderators, or generated automatically. NPCs are computer-controlled characters that interact with players through scripted events or artificial intelligence. NPCs can be friendly, neutral, or hostile to players and, thus, can advise, train, or attack players. Moderators are humans who enforce the rules of the game and prevent harassment of players by other players, known as griefing. Automatic messages are triggered based on in-game actions or events. General game status or information can also be sent to the players. Other messages are possible.
Furthermore, although MMOGs have been discussed above, other online games and activities follow similar formats. A player uses software, either purchased or downloaded for free, to enter the computer generated environment. Once in the environment, the player may explore and interact with the world and other players.
- Online Game User Interface
One example of such online activity is virtual worlds. Virtual worlds and other computer-simulated online worlds allow users to interact over vast physical “terrains” where users can create any item of virtual property imaginable. “Inhabitants” of the virtual worlds communicate, play, and even conduct business using virtual alter egos, or avatars, of themselves. The avatars can collaborate on an objective, network with one another, or simply “wave” hello to a stranger. Virtual worlds often employ text-based chat boxes similar to that as described above for MMOGs. Accordingly, the discussion herein applies equally to those other on-line activities.
Players of online games follow the game's action and receive information on a screen display, which represents the player's virtual “eyes” and “ears.” FIG. 2 is an exemplary screen shot 20 of an online game.
In a graphical user interface, the game environment is presented through a first person's view or by some other perspective, such as an overhead map. For interactive online games, a character's name 21, health 22, and location 23 are often displayed. Other information could also be provided. An overhead map view 24 can be provided as a guide to the character's location within the game environment. Icon buttons display the character's inventory 25 of items and possible actions 26 that the player can take. A text chat box 27 contains scroll up 28 a and scroll down 28 b buttons allowing the player to scroll though text messages appearing outside the chat box 27. Text chat button 29 a toggles the ability of the player to text chat “on” or “off.” Audio chat button 29 b toggles the ability of the player to audio chat on and off. Although the exemplary screen shot 30 contains graphical elements, other controls and information displays are possible, for example, a display that presents only text, only audio, or only text and audio.
Additionally, due to the large number of players, all of whom can interact at any time, a player can quickly become overloaded with text messages. The size of a text chat box is fixed and only a limited number of lines of text can be displayed. To see more messages, a player must scroll up or down in the chat box. Similarly, a player finds difficulty in following more than one audio message at a time. Players must either ignore the messages received, potentially missing useful information, or lose focus on their main conversation and activity, as further described in commonly-assigned U.S. patent application, entitled “System And Method For Managing a Multiplicity Of Simultaneous Text Messages In An Online Game,” Ser. No. ______, pending, the disclosure of which is incorporated by reference.
Online games provide a continuous stream of location-based communication information in the form of text messages to a player, or sounds that are “heard.” FIG. 3 is a process flow diagram showing a method for providing adjustable attenuation of location-based communication in an online game, in accordance with one embodiment. The method is performed as a series of process steps by the server 13, or any computing device connected to the network 14 with access to the text messaging stream.
By way of background, online games offer a rich set of meta, characteristic, behavioral, communicative, and other information about each player 11 a-e. This player information can be mined (step 31) to identify information of likely interest to the player 11 a-e, which can then be stored by the server 13 (shown in FIG. 1) as a player profile 18. The player profile 18 can then be used to modify the messages or sounds received by a player 11 a-e, as further described below with reference to FIG. 6. Other types of player information are possible.
Each message or sound is processed during an iteration of a processing loop (steps 32-39). As a player receives a message (step 33), an initial attenuation state is generated for the message (step 34). Although text messages are described, other communication types are possible, such as audio or video. “Attenuation” includes anything that modifies a message or sound to affect the likelihood that a player will notice the message. Thus, attenuation simulates “hearing” a message or sound within a virtual environment. For instance, attenuation can increase or decrease the probability that a message or sound will be noticed, including not presenting, even hiding, the message or sound. The initial attenuation state generated can include no attenuation state at all.
The “location” of the source of the message or sound within the virtual environment is determined (step 35). The source includes messages from other players, non-player characters (NPCs), moderators, or generated automatically. Other sources are possible. The proximity and direction of the message or sound source relative to the recipient player is evaluated (step 36), as further described below with reference to FIG. 4.
Attenuation is modified by adjustors, which can be set up and controlled by the player or automated. Adjustors are queried (step 37). The queried adjustors modify the initial attenuation state of the message or sound. Adjustors can be as simple or complex as desired. For example, a simple adjustor can be a Boolean decision to present or hide the message or sound. More complex adjustors are possible, as further described below with reference to FIG. 6. The message or sound is then presented to the player based on the final modified attenuation state (step 38). The message or sound can be provided in a manner to identify the relative position of the source relative to the recipient player. For example, the message or sound can be placed in the text box in a position that denotes the direction or proximity of the source. Additionally, the size or color of the text can be changed based on the “loudness” of the message or sound. Messages or sounds from nearer sources will be “louder” than those from sources that are further away. Furthermore, an identifier of the message or sound source displayed on a map, such as a dot, can be highlighted by brightness or blinking. Other ways to present the message or sound in adjusted attenuated state are possible. Processing continues with each successive message (step 39).
As real world physics are non-existent in a virtual environment, the position of a message or sound source must instead be simulated. FIG. 4 is a flow diagram showing the routine 40 for evaluating proximity and direction of the message or sound source relative to the recipient for use in the method 30 of FIG. 3. Each message is processed during an iteration of a processing loop (steps 41-46). The location of the message recipient character is determined (step 42). Next, the location of the message or sound source is determined (step 43). The orientation of the recipient character is also determined (step 44). Orientation includes, for example, the direction that the character is facing. The virtual distance between the recipient character and message or sound source is then determined (step 45). Processing continues with each successive message (step 46).
- Hearing Factors
Additionally, other “hearing” factors may be determined, including the orientation of the message source, relative elevation of the source and recipient, environmental factors, as further described below with reference to FIG. 5.
- Adjustor Types
Hearing factors affect the presentation of messages or sounds “heard” by a player. FIG. 5 is a data flow diagram, showing, by way or example, types 50 of hearing factors 51. Hearing factors can include proximity 52, direction 53, elevation 54, and environment 55. Proximity 52 is how near or far the message or sound source and recipient are from one another in-game. Likewise, direction 53 is the direction the source is from the recipient. Direction may be based on Cartesian coordinates or degrees of rotation in a unit circle. Other direction determinations are possible. Elevation 54 is the relative height of the source and recipient, which are determined in similar fashion to direction. Environmental factors 55 can include the geography of the area where the message or sound source and recipient are located and virtual weather factors. For example, a message or sound from a source located in a cave will “sound” different than a source located on a plain. Likewise, messages or sounds sent or received while rain is falling may be more difficult to understand than when the sun is shining. Other 56 types of hearing factors are possible.
Adjustors modify the attenuation state of messages or sounds received by a player. FIG. 6 is a data flow diagram showing, by way of example, types 60 of adjustors 61 for use with the method of FIG. 3. Adjustors 61 can include shared characteristics 62, message content 63, collaborative filtering 64, receiver interest 65, and broad user control 66. Other 67 types of adjustors 61 are possible.
Shared characteristics 62 attenuate messages or sounds based on similar characteristics between the sender and receiver. The characteristics 62 can be intrinsic or extrinsic to the game or player. For example, the level of the player's character in the game, time of play, and character inventory are intrinsic characteristics. Age and location of the player, as well as any hobbies that a player has, are examples of extrinsic characteristics. The characteristics 62 may be player-identified or automatically determined. Other types of shared characteristics 62 are possible. For example, a group of characters may be interested in forming a clan. The group would like to have a character of a certain class, such as Paladin, and level, such as Level 50, join their clan. As a Paladin character of Level 52 is wandering through a village quest, he passes by a group discussing the addition of a Paladin. The messages between the group is adjusted to increase the likelihood that the player will notice the messages based on his Paladin character fitting the class and level sought by the group.
Message content 63 attenuates messages based on content or meaning. For example, the message can be parsed for keyword, such as described in commonly-assigned U.S. patent application, entitled “System And Method For Managing a Multiplicity Of Simultaneous Text Messages In An Online Game,” Ser. No. ______, pending, the disclosure of which is incorporated by reference. A player may have undertaken a quest to find the “Sword of Forever” and failed. Later, as the player is doing other activities, two other nearby players are discussing how to get the Sword of Forever. The other players' discussions are attenuated upwards due to the player's previous attempt to find the sword matching the content of the two other player's conversation, thereby creating serendipitous eavesdropping. The meaning of a term or keyword can affect similarly whether a message is displayed. For example, a message including the word “duck” could mean a warning to lower a player's character to evade some danger or a type of waterfowl. Depending upon the circumstances, one meaning will have more importance to a player than the other.
Collaborative filtering 64 automatically attenuates messages or sounds from a particular sender based on other players, who are similar to the receiving player. For example, if a number of players are actively ignoring the messages of a particular player, then messages from the ignored sender will be automatically blocked from reaching a player who has this adjustor activated.
Receiver interest 65 modulates, in a general manner, the number of messages or sounds that a player receives. For example, the radius of listening of audio messages, if available, could be narrowed to reduce the audio noise in favor of greater comprehensibility. Other players can increase the number of messages received. The adjustor can be player-defined or automatic. A player may want to block messages or sounds sent from other players or sources who are more than ten feet from the player. This adjustor 65 can decrease the total number of messages or sounds received by a player, allowing a player to more fully read and comprehend the messages or sounds actually received.
Broad user control 66 fine-tunes the attenuation state. For example, a player can spike the attenuation with small amounts of noise. This adjustor 61 allows a player to mostly screen messages, but still allow some utterances to leak through. For instance, a healthy and vibrant trade of inventory items often takes place in online games, which has led to a large number of “spam” or junk messages offering to sell items to be sent to players. A player may want to block most of these messages, but to still receive a certain number or percentage of the messages to allow for serendipitous discovery of items for sale. Other types of adjustors 61 are possible.
While the invention has been particularly shown and described as referenced to the embodiments thereof, those skilled in the art will understand that the foregoing and other changes in form and detail may be made therein without departing from the spirit and scope of the invention.