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Do you dream of a World of Warcraft simulator?

Years ago, before vanilla WoW became vanilla WoW, a friend of mine made the passing comment, "If only I ran as much as my night elf. I'd be in amazing shape."

I've been dreaming about a World of Warcraft simulator ever since.

Mind you, I'd suffer the fate of Pheidippides if I ran a fraction of what my night elf runs (I'm a terrible long-distance runner), but I suppose that's what makes the idea of a WoW simulator so appealing. Of course you'd be awful when you first started, but over time you could expect to get better. In my overly optimistic imagination, I saw hardcore raiders becoming sculpted athletes, sprinting from left to right to avoid boss abilities.

But in the absence of a holodeck or some other form of simulated reality, is a WoW simulator even feasible? I got my first look at an answer in 2010, when researchers at the USC Institute of Creative Technologies released a video demonstration of their Flexible Action and Articulate Skeleton Toolkit (FAAST). The middleware toolkit allows motion control to be integrated into games without existing motion control support, by translating gestures into mouse and keyboard inputs. In the demonstration video, a Microsoft Kinect is used to control a mage running around Dustwallow Marsh. Awesome, right?

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Filed under: Analysis / Opinion

15 Minutes of Fame: Full-body WoW with motion-sensing software

From Hollywood celebrities to the guy next door, millions of people have made World of Warcraft a part of their lives. How do you play WoW? We're giving each approach its own 15 Minutes of Fame.

The boss is enraging at 7% health and you're locked on target, hunched over your keyboard in a white-knuckled frenzy to squeeze every last drop of DPS from your avatar. Finally, the beast succumbs to your assault, and you sit back, exquisitely aware of the tension crumpling your neck and shoulders and radiating into your fingertips. As you pull in a deep, shuddering breath of relief, you wonder if perhaps it might be more natural to simply stand in front of your screen and show the computer, using gestures similar to those of your character, what to do.

Now, you can.

Dr. Skip Rizzo, associate director at the University of Southern California's Institute for Creative Technologies, is head of a research project that's applying the same kind of technology used in the Xbox Kinect to the World of Warcraft. The aim of the project, however, is not so much to turn games like WoW into virtual tarantellas of movement and gesture but to make games more accessible to disabled players and to open new avenues for rehabilitation, therapy and even education. The project's Flexible Action and Articulated Skeleton Toolkit (FAAST) middleware integrates full-body control with games and virtual reality applications, using tools like PrimeSensor and the Kinect on the OpenNI framework.

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Filed under: Interviews, 15 Minutes of Fame

Researchers use Kinect to play WoW

Microsoft's Kinect motion addon for the Xbox 360 has been a huge success, not only in the retail world but in the hacker community as well. We've seen some awesome mods for the Kinect in the past few months of its release -- and finally, we've combined the Kinect world with WoW. The USC Institute for Creative Technologies has released a program called FAAST (Flexible Action and Articulated Skeleton Toolkit) that allows the Kinect to be used as a controller for off-the-shelf games.

Check out the video of Kinect being used to control a World of Warcraft character. The software emulator acts as a layer over the keyboard, reading movement as key presses. Personally, I love that the depth sensors of the Kinect can be used to move backwards and forwards by leaning forward and back. So awesome.

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