Thursday, July 01, 1999

The Cyber Scene in Austin - by Will Kreth

Hello and welcome to my first Cyber Scene report from Austin, TX - where both the weather and the people are always warm, sometimes hot, but never cold. On July 1st, we checked out a meeting of the ACM-SIGCHI Austin Chapter (CHI-Austin) at interactive game and media developers Human Code's offices.

Located on Congress St.'s "media strip" of design houses and Web site, CD-ROM, and PC/video game developers, such as Digital Anvil, Frog Design, Excite, Monkey Media, and Living.Com (all on Congress and all within about a quarter-mile of the Colorado River [AKA: Town Lake]), Human Code has been developing or co-developing titles for several years. Of late, they've been working on Web site architecture and design (such as the redesign of Austin-based, and games titles for kids (such as Mattel's Barbie's Riding Stable, which was the best selling kids' CD-ROM title during Christmas '98). Giddy-up Barbie!

Human Code senior designer Tim Gasperak took the CHI-Austin audience through not only a demonstration of the products Human Code has worked on, but also some of the ideas and methodologies involved in their work. One of the phrases that he mentioned that stuck in my mind was the idea of creating a "user-tropic" experience. Unlike the "user-centric" design that is bandied about quite a bit these days, Gasperak defined "user-tropic" interaction design as design that "turns like a flower or plant turns toward the sun [e.g.- heliotropic], accommodating each unique user's needs or level of skill/ability." In an era of increasingly 1:1 relationships with customers, where companies have to personalize to compete, this seems to make sense.

Designer Heather Kelley then demo'd "Redbeard's Pirate Quest" - a new kind of kids' game that mixes both real and virtual characters to great effect. Co-designed with Zowie Intertainment (a spin-off Interval Research - Paul Allen's Menlo Park, CA-based research and development lab), "RPQ" comes with a plastic ship model, four action figures, and a CD-ROM with game software. The play action is determined by the figures, which when set on the deck of the ship, can control the action that happens on a virtual ship on the computer screen. If the game on the screen depicts a sword fight with some villains approaching, the action figure characters can be moved around the deck of the "real" ship to fend off the attackers. Beyond the ordinary mouse or joystick as controllers, this use of a pirate ship model as an input device for the action on the screen was a big hit with the crowd. (Some parents may not want to stop playing with this one!) Another game using this technology is called "Ellie's Enchanted Garden." Both games are set to be in stores in the US in time for Christmas 1999.

Afterwards, a posse of CHI-Austinites, including current CHI-Austin Chair Perry Arnold, Harald Friz (of Trilogy); Brian Frank (ex-Trilogy, moving on to BeCandid in Boulder), Roger Tilson (of IBM), Tanya Payne (of Kazan) and Tim and Heather from Human Code all repaired to the Sava Blue Water Grill for drinks and appetizers. Harald turned me on to a drink called the "Mohito" - a rum and lime concoction served in a tall glass and on the rocks - somewhat similar to the Brazilian "Caiparhina." Tasty stuff! Well, that's all for now from Austin.
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** Austin Shakers & Stirrers ~ by Bill Holloway **

Seeking to add a seasoned executive to its management team, CyBerCorp, the fast-growing electronic trading technology company, has hired Steve Wagh as its Vice President of Sales and Marketing.