'Surrogates' aid design of complex parts and controlling video games

May 10, 2011
This graphic illustrates a drawing editor for a new class of software, named "surrogate interaction," a term coined by researchers at Purdue University. The approach enables designers and video gamers to more easily change features of complex objects like automotive drawings or animated characters in video games. Credit: Purdue University image/Niklas Elmqvist

Researchers have defined a new class of software, calling it "surrogate interaction," which enables designers and video gamers to more easily change features of complex objects like automotive drawings or animated characters.

The new interactive approach is being used commercially and in research but until now has not been formally defined, and doing so could boost its development and number of applications, said Ji Soo Yi, an assistant professor of at Purdue University.

Conventional computer-aided design programs often rely on the use of numerous menus containing hundreds of selection options. The surrogate interaction uses a drawing that resembles the real object to provide users a more intuitive interface than menus.

The Purdue researchers have investigated the characteristics of surrogate interaction, explored potential ways to use it in design applications, developed software to test those uses and suggested the future directions of the research.

are interactive graphical representations of real objects, such as a car or a video game character, with icons on the side labeling specific parts of the figure, said Niklas Elmqvist, a Purdue assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering.

"If you click on one label, you change color, if you drag a border you change its width. Anything you do to the surrogate affects the actual objects you are working with," he said. "The way it is now, say I'm working on a car design and wanted to move the rear wheels slightly forward, or I want to change an object's color or thickness of specific parts. I can't make those changes to the drawing directly but have to search in menus and use arcane commands."

Several techniques have been developed over the years to address these issues.

"But they are all isolated and limited efforts with no coherent underlying principle," Elmqvist said. "We propose the notion of surrogate interaction to unify other techniques that have been developed. We believe that formalizing this family of interaction techniques will provide an additional and powerful interface design alternative, as well as uncover opportunities for future research."

The approach also allows video gamers to change attributes of animated characters.

"For computer games, especially role playing games, you may have a warrior character that has lots of different armor and equipment," Elmqvist said. "Usually you can't interact with the character itself. If you want to put in a new cloak or a sword you have to use this complex system of menus."

Research findings are detailed in a paper presented during the Association for Computing Machinery's CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems through May 12 in Vancouver, British Columbia. The research paper was written by industrial engineering doctoral student Bum chul Kwon, electrical and doctoral student Waqas Javed, Elmqvist and Yi.

Kwon and Yi helped theorize the idea of surrogate interaction with relation to previous models of interaction.

The method also makes it possible to manipulate more than one object simultaneously.

"In computer strategy games you might be moving an army or maybe five infantry soldiers, and you want to take a building," Elmqvist said. "Using our technique you would let a surrogate, one soldier, represent all of the soldiers. Any commands you issue for the surrogate applies to all five soldiers."

Current video game technology lacks an easy-to-use method to issue such simultaneous commands to all members of a group.

The method also could be used to make maps interactive.

"In maps, usually you have a legend that says this color means forest and this symbol means railroad tracks and so on," Elmqvist said. "You can see these symbols in the map, but you can't interact with them. In the new approach, you have a surrogate of the map, and in this surrogate you can interact with these legends. For example, you could search for interstate highways, bridges, public parks."

Explore further: A new kind of data-driven predictive methodology

More information: ABSTRACT

Direct Manipulation Through Surrogate Objects, by Bum chul Kwon, Waqas Javed, Niklas Elmqvist, and Ji Soo Yi, www.chi2011.org/

Direct manipulation has had major influence on interface design since it was proposed by Shneiderman in 1982. Although directness generally benefits users, direct manipulation also has weaknesses. In some cases, such as when a user needs to manipulate small, attribute-rich objects or multiple objects simultaneously, indirect manipulation may be more efficient at the cost of directness or intuitiveness of the interaction. Several techniques have been developed over the years to address these issues, but these are all isolated and limited efforts with no coherent underlying principle. We propose the notion of Surrogate Interaction that ties together a large subset of these techniques through the use of a surrogate object that allow users to interact with the surrogate instead of the domain object. We believe that formalizing this family of interaction techniques will provide an additional and powerful interface design alternative for interaction designers, as well as uncover opportunities for future research.

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iPan
not rated yet May 10, 2011
This is actually how I imagined the Galaxy Editor in Starcraft 2 working.

It would make modding so much easier.
Quantum_Conundrum
1 / 5 (1) May 10, 2011
This is actually how I imagined the Galaxy Editor in Starcraft 2 working.

It would make modding so much easier.


I had been excited about the editor before it was released, but honestly it got too boring and complicated.

I worked on modding back in Warcraft 3 and even did LOTs of stuff in Starcraft and Broodwar.

Anyway, I had worked on an "Better than Blizzard quality" epic RPG map for several months in Warcraft 3.

The truth is, to do the type of mods I would like to do at the quality I would like, it takes a whole team of people. Some interface shortcuts aren't going to help much in the end.

I wrote my own abilities from scratch, A.I. scripts, dynamic menus, password save/load feature, character classes, monster spawn, interactive dialogue and special effects...all by myself.

I never finished the damn map, and was only about 1/10th of the way done with it. Even still, in play testing, people told me it was one of the best maps they'd ever seen...
Quantum_Conundrum
3 / 5 (2) May 10, 2011
Oh yeah, I had dynamic inventory as well, which is to say, characters could hold more than 6 items and have their abilities stack, etc, and was planning on re-doing it to be better.

The galaxy editor was actually so new and powerful overall, but in the end, Karune lied, and they did NOT add the food production vs consumption feature I requested, which he claimed was going to be in it, which made my entire mod concept I was developing to be impossible.

I HAD intended to do a few mods, but all of them are very, very time consuming.

1) a REAL civilization mod (very big project)
2) 4th race mod (probably easiest)
3) Lords of Magic RTS (very big project)
4) Final Fantasy 6 re-make (biggest project)

If I'm going to make a mod game, I'm going to do something epic, and I'm going to do it "blizzard quality or better", else what's the point?

Anyone can make a crappy maze game or a madness map and post it online.

A real game takes months or years for an individual to make...
Quantum_Conundrum
3 / 5 (2) May 10, 2011
Current video game technology lacks an easy-to-use method to issue such simultaneous commands to all members of a group.


Not sure what games they've been playing, but Blizzard solved this like 15 years ago...

Infact, during the development of Starcraft 2, the professional gamers were critical of the new and improved multi-unit select and multi-building select menu options, because according to them, it lowers the skill gap too much...

I'm pretty sure the people working on D&D based games solved this at least 10 years ago as well, as I know BG2 and NWN1 had this, as did Age of Empires 2...
CSharpner
not rated yet May 10, 2011
Current video game technology lacks an easy-to-use method to issue such simultaneous commands to all members of a group.

In "Age of Empires" (been around since the 1990's, I think, you can drag a rectangle around a group of villagers and issue instructions to them all. In CorelDraw, as early as the early 1990's, (and FreeHand before it), you can multi-select visual objects and apply properties to them all as well as directly move or size them with one mouse gesture. Even some 3D packages have had this ability since at least the early 1990's. Heck, the mac popularized it with their GUI in 1984.

I'm not knocking the idea. It's obviously great, but plenty of current and plenty of old...very old software does this. It's nice that they've given it a formal name though. Maybe it WILL encourage that type of UI a little more. Though, the reason not all software does this is because it's significantly more programming effort.
Quantum_Conundrum
3 / 5 (2) May 10, 2011
Csharper:

Yeah, who ever wrote this article is an idiot.

It already exists, as I said, and has for at least 15 years, going back to Warcraft and Warcraft 2.

Blizzard has always called it "Multi-Unit Select" and "Multi-Building Select" (MBS).

Back in the day, they didn't actually have MBS because the developers did not realize how good the players would become at the game, and MBS only becomes relevant once someone starts to approach the skill level of about a modern D+ to C- (Starcraft). And to put that in perspective, almost everyone who plays Starcraft and Starcraft 2 rank as an F if a pro gamer ranks as an A+.

But the point is, Multi-Building Select only helps a player if they have high enough Actions Per Minute and a good enough build order to actually make use of it.

About 90% to 95% of gamers never get good enough to even know the difference.
Quantum_Conundrum
3 / 5 (2) May 10, 2011
Plus, Blizzard actually removed some aspects of MUS and MBS, because it makes it too easy to execute some tactics or mass spam some special abilities, which then makes those units "broken".

some abilities are fair as Mass selectible, such as Stimpack on Marines, but some abilities are only fair when it takes some skill to use them, such as the infamous "Psionic Storm".