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Stottler Henke Launches Java-Based SimVentive Toolkit for Building "Serious Games''

New Turn-Key Solution Takes the Programming out of Building Instructional Games

Stottler Henke Associates, Inc. (www.stottlerhenke.com) has launched SimVentive, a new “smart software” toolkit that for the first time gives designers of instructional (“serious”) games the means to create training simulations and to define the behavior of characters and objects that populate those simulations, all without programming.

SimVentive incorporates the power of Stottler Henke’s SimBionic intelligent agent toolkit for defining the behavior of simulated teammates, adversaries, systems, devices, and other active objects within a simulation. SimVentive combines this capability with an innovative new Scenario Editor, a Java technology application that lets game designers rapidly construct single- or multi-player simulation scenarios without programming. Scenarios can be played by the SimVentive Scenario Player, running as a Java application, a Java applet or launched from a web browser using Java Web Start technology to support both classroom instruction and distance learning.

SimVentive supports “serious game” development by letting designers create intelligent objects and define how they respond to events, states and the passage of time far more easily than is possible using general purpose programming and media scripting languages. Such intelligence is critical because it’s not enough for training games to merely look right; the “entities” within them -- vehicles, characters, devices and other objects -- need to behave intelligently to provide students with challenging and realistic learning experiences.

SimVentive already has been piloted to develop games that train emergency medical professionals to respond to an anthrax attack, and military commanders to devise an air campaign to compel an adversary to negotiate. Another SimVentive-based game currently under development will teach flight controllers and astronauts to apply their understanding of spacecraft systems and their interactions to diagnose and recover from unexpected failures.

“Traditionally, constructing training simulations has been a software development task, requiring programmers to write code to define the behavior and appearance of the simulation,” Richard Stottler, president of Stottler Henke Associates, said. “This limits the ability of instructional designers to create their own training games, and it increases the cost and time needed to develop new simulations. SimVentive dramatically simplifies the process and puts the power in the hands of designers, making ‘serious game’ development faster and less expensive.”

One early user of SimVentive is Lt. Col. Dan Novak, USAF Retired ACSC Chief of Wargaming and Course Director at Air University. "I see this model growing in use beyond Air University classrooms by empowering instructors to make changes to a wargame or simulation, based on the needs of their students, without having to process software change requests in a system which can take weeks if not months to complete. Given time and a growing community library of SimVentive scenarios, this software will change the way instructors use games and simulations in the classroom."

The unique value of SimVentive revolves around its ability to speed and simplify the three basic dimensions of “serious game” development: User interface, simulation objects, and simulation behavior.

SimVentive’s drag and drop UI Builder lets designers create the user interface for a game by selecting, placing, and configuring user interface widgets such as images, web pages, maps, and tables. SimVentive provides more than 20 types of interactive widgets that display HTML formatted text and graphics, audio and video (using the Java Media Framework), text to speech (using the Java Speech API and third-party speech libraries), two dimensional Scalable Vector Graphics, Java 3D graphics with VRML and X3D support, mouse-sensitive maps and images, along with the usual buttons, tables and radio buttons. SimVentive provides a unique “event management framework”, which enables designers to specify how and when user interactions with widgets trigger events, and how widgets and SimVentive behavior rules respond to events sent by other widgets and rules.

Behind the user interface for a SimVentive scenario lies the simulation world, which is made up of entities that represent all of the things being simulated, and their behaviors. Entities can represent physical or animate objects such as people, vehicles, or systems, or abstract objects such as facts, decisions, brands, ideas or laws. The SimVentive Scenario Editor makes it easy to create and edit the different types of entities that a designer wants to exist in his scenarios.

Each type of entity in a SimVentive scenario has a set of user-defined attributes that describe qualities of that entity such as its size, speed, friendliness, or cost. Designers can modify the value of an entity’s attribute simply by typing the new value in the appropriate field. Entity types can be organized hierarchically, so specific types inherit attributes of more abstract types.

The entities that designers define in the Scenario Editor are tightly integrated with the scenario’s user interface so that changes to an entity will be reflected in the UI. For example, if the designer adds a map widget to the game’s user interface, the map can automatically display the location of the entities in the scenario, moving their icons as the entities’ locations change.

Rules define the logic behind the game by controlling how the simulation unfolds in response to player actions and by specifying how the entities in the scenario sense, reason, and act. This is accomplished by querying and updating entity attributes and by responding to events and triggering their own events. Traditionally this would be done by writing code, but SimVentive instead provides a graphical rule editor -- based on Stottler Henke’s award-winning SimBionic® intelligent agent development toolkit -- that enables designers to easily specify complex logic by drawing flowchart-like diagrams. SimVentive supports continuous and discrete event simulations and the ability to speed up or slow down time and schedule events that take place in the future.

SimVentive rules can also be used to incorporate intelligent tutoring system (ITS) capabilities that monitor, track and evaluate student actions during the scenario to infer strengths and weaknesses. These rules can coach students by offering hints or feedback immediately via a tutor or simulated characters, and they can generate feedback at the end of the simulation via a report card or an interactive dialog with the student. SimVentive can also be integrated easily with other intelligent tutoring system shells such as Stottler Henke’s Task Tutor Toolkit™ to gain additional tutoring and authoring functionality.

SimVentive is focused on making it easy to build stand-alone simulations and games, but it is also designed to be extensible. SimVentive can be integrated with existing Java applications and components via its SimBionic rule engine, making it easy to expand the capabilities of the system – for example, by adding database access or application-specific algorithms. SimVentive also allows users to plug in third-party user interface widgets to enable the creation of new kinds of simulation user interfaces in the UI Builder.

SimVentive is available immediately from Stottler Henke. It is priced at $1,500 per Scenario Editor seat. Customers can build as many scenarios as they wish and distribute them to users with the free SimVentive Scenario Player.

Founded in 1988, Stottler Henke Associates, Inc. applies artificial intelligence and other advanced software technologies to solve problems that defy solution using traditional approaches. The company delivers intelligent software solutions for education and training, planning and scheduling, knowledge management and discovery, decision support, and software development. Stottler Henke's clients include manufacturers, retailers, educational media companies and government agencies. In 2006, Stottler Henke was the subject of a NASA "Hallmarks of Success” video profile for its work developing and later commercializing advanced planning and training software systems. Stottler Henke received a 2004 “Brandon Hall Excellence in Learning” award for innovative technology. For the past four consecutive years, Stottler Henke was named one of the "top 100" companies making a significant impact on the military training industry by Military Training Technology magazine, and in 2005 received a Blue Ribbon recognizing it as a company that leads the industry in innovation. Email: [email protected]. Web: http://www.stottlerhenke.com.

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jdj news desk 12/05/06 04:57:16 AM EST

Stottler Henke Associates, Inc. (www.stottlerhenke.com) has launched SimVentive, a new 'smart software' toolkit that for the first time gives designers of instructional ('serious') games the means to create training simulations and to define the behavior of characters and objects that populate those simulations, all without programming.