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Buyers Guide to Parental Control Software

The Internet is now part of our everyday live and people are learning more about both good and bad sides of the internet. Everyday almost we hear stories about predators looking for children on the internet in chat rooms on social communities as MySpace. Parents are more aware that there are lots of information, pictures and people on the net that can be harmful for children out there on the on hate site, pornographic site and etc. Then there is the problem of kids overusing the internet and developing internet addiction and therefore not showing up for school, getting bad grades and quitting their sports and hobbies.

Parents want to guide and watch their children but at the same time know they cannot be there all the time sitting with them when they are online. So even though parents are aware of the danger of the internet, talk to their kids and monitor them at home, parents know it is not possible to be the one that keep them safe all the time on the internet. They also know even if they trust them well, there are accidental search that can lead to harmful and material even they are not looking for it. So deciding on buying parental control software is considered a logical and responsible step more parents are taking.

Buying parental control software could be something you just take few minutes in doing. You sit down in front of the computer, “Google” some right words for it, press a link and buy a product. At the same time there is not certain that best software’s are those that will appear in top ten of Google search and you might be want to consider thinking what do I want my parental control software be able to do for me?

You could start buy asking other parents what they are using and asking for their experience. You could also try to browse around test look at their sites and read about that software; even send email to the sales apartment. You should check if the software has a 15 days trial period so you can test the software. Check for things like is the software being updated, which is very important in this day by day changing online world were dangers of the internet is always changing and software that the parental control software needs to work with is also updating and changing.

The biggest question you need to ask yourself when deciding on buying parental control software is the function of it. What do you want the parental software to do for you? Parental control software do not all have the same features and possibilities and you should therefore spend some time on thinking “what kind of parental control software do I need” Most of them will do different things for you and you may need different things for best safe surfing in your family. The possibilities are enormous. Let’s go over few things parental control software may have in their toolbox, so for you to use it in your buying guide you can look for those things you want to have when browsing through parental control website doing your own parental control software review.

Filtering: Does the software have filtering option? Most software will filter (pornographic filter, hate site filters, making bomb filter, violence filter etc. sites for you, but you may want to think how and how much control you have over the filtering system. 1. Does the parental control software have a database of blocked and family friendly sites? 2. Does the software allow you to create additional filtering list of sites you want to block? 3. Does the software have ability for you to only allow certain sites you choose and filter all other sites? 4. Does the software have a allow list have the ability to allow sites permanently and therefore overriding all other filtering system. 5. Does the software have dynamic content filter that block sites based on the content on each site you open?

Blocking software: You may also want to know if the parental control software is also blocking software, allowing you to block software’s you may think is harmful.

1. Does the software Block p2P file sharing like e.g. torrent software that are often used to download illegal software, music, movies, games and adult material?

2. Does it block chat programs?

3. Does the software block games that are considered more addictive e.g. MMORPG games?

4. Does the software allow you to choose additional software from the computer and block it?

Monitoring Software: You may want to check if the parental control software allows you to monitor the overall use of the computer and give you a good report on what has been happening. Does the software monitor all keystrokes that will enable you to read what has been written on the computer based on the software the words were written in? You may also want to have a screen shots recording in the software to able you to see how what has been happening in a form of picture of the screen. The screen shots recording is also good as a proof if something bad happens, e.g. Predator harassing the child, or some other child bullying the child on chat application. With screen shots you have a proof of what has happened after these incidents. Some software also has email monitoring of incoming and outgoing emails. Last option you may want to check for if the software monitors all cut and paste-ing on the computer both picture and text.

Time control software: This is a feature that can be extremely important in avoiding the computer will take too much time from school work, friends, sports and possibly preventing internet addiction. You may want to look closely into if the software allows you to specify how many hours a month, week and per day. You may want to control differently at what time of day and different between weekdays and weekends. At last the possibility of controlling some specific behavior such as applications or watching movies could be an option you want to check for

Protecting Privacy: The internet is a dangerous place for kids with predators lurking in chat rooms the importance of protecting privacy is important factor in buying a safe surfing tool as parental control software. Therefore a software that allow you to block user for sending out private information as address or phone number and/or take screen shots and notify you when private information are being sent from the home computer.

Alerts and Reports: Parental control software is not as useful if it never tell you what is happening. Good report system is important to go over the computer use and good alert system that notify you in an email or SMS can be extremely important to be able to get alert as soon as something bad things happen.

There are many other factors to look for, how easy to use the software is, is it doing what it is supposed to do, what kind of support can I a get and does the website provide me with some other useful tools or information’s. There are of course other things as well to look for as does the software provides me with specific tool for specific things I am aiming to avoid or control. These specific things could be related to e.g. all the emerging internet addiction, that is gaming addiction prevention, gambling addiction prevention, pornographic and cybersex addiction prevention. Are there some helpful tools for younger children or older children .

You may also want to look at how sure am I of being able to control the computer and my kid’s not just get around the software. You want to choose a software that is password protected, can be set in stealth mode and stop others from changing anything in the computer control panel.

Most important thing is to take your time searching, reading, asking, testing and in the end when you are happy choosing the right parental control software.

Do Boards Need a Technology Audit Committee?

What does FedEx, Pfizer, Wachovia, 3Com, Mellon Financial, Shurgard Storage, Sempra Energy and Proctor & Gamble have in common? What board committee exists for only 10% of publicly traded companies but generates 6.5% greater returns for those companies? What is the single largest budget item after salaries and manufacturing equipment?

Technology decisions will outlive the tenure of the management team making those decisions. While the current fast pace of technological change means that corporate technology decisions are frequent and far-reaching, the consequences of the decisions-both good and bad-will stay with the firm for a long time. Usually technology decisions are made unilaterally within the Information Technology (IT) group, over which senior management chose to have no input or oversight. For the Board of a business to perform its duty to exercise business judgment over key decisions, the Board must have a mechanism for reviewing and guiding technology decisions.

A recent example where this sort of oversight would have helped was the Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) mania of the mid-1990’s. At the time, many companies were investing tens of millions of dollars (and sometimes hundreds of millions) on ERP systems from SAP and Oracle. Often these purchases were justified by executives in Finance, HR, or Operations strongly advocating their purchase as a way of keeping up with their competitors, who were also installing such systems. CIO’s and line executives often did not give enough thought to the problem of how to make a successful transition to these very complex systems. Alignment of corporate resources and management of organizational change brought by these new systems was overlooked, often resulting in a crisis. Many billions of dollars were spent on systems that either should not have been bought at all or were bought before the client companies were prepared.

Certainly, no successful medium or large business can be run today without computers and the software that makes them useful. Technology also represents one of the single largest capital and operating line item for business expenditures, outside of labor and manufacturing equipment. For both of these reasons, Board-level oversight of technology is appropriate at some level.

Can the Board of Directors continue to leave these fundamental decisions solely to the current management team? Most large technology decisions are inherently risky (studies have shown less than half deliver on promises), while poor decisions take years to be repaired or replaced. Over half of the technology investments are not returning anticipated gains in business performance; Boards are consequently becoming involved in technology decisions. It is surprising that only ten percent of the publicly traded corporations have IT Audit Committees as part of their boards. However, those companies enjoy a clear competitive advantage in the form of a compounded annual return 6.5% greater than their competitors.

Tectonic shifts are under way in how technology is being supplied, which the Board needs to understand. IT industry consolidation seriously decreases strategic flexibility by undercutting management’s ability to consider competitive options, and it creates potentially dangerous reliance on only a few key suppliers.

The core asset of flourishing and lasting business is the ability to respond or even anticipate the impact of outside forces. Technology has become a barrier to organizational agility for a number of reasons:

o Core legacy systems have calcified
o IT infrastructure has failed to keep pace with changes in the business
o Inflexible IT architecture results in a high percentage of IT expenditure on maintenance of existing systems and not enough on new capabilities
o Short term operational decisions infringe on business’s long term capability to remain competitive

Traditional Boards lack the skills to ask the right questions to ensure that technology is considered in the context of regulatory requirements, risk and agility. This is because technology is a relatively new and fast-growing profession. CEOs have been around since the beginning of time, and financial counselors have been evolving over the past century. But technology is so new, and its cost to deploy changes dramatically, that the technology profession is still maturing. Technologists have worked on how the systems are designed and used to solve problems facing the business. Recently, they recognized a need to understand and be involved in the business strategy. The business leader and the financial leader neither have history nor experience utilizing technology and making key technology decisions. The Board needs to be involved with the executives making technology decisions, just as the technology leader needs Board support and guidance in making those decisions.

Recent regulatory mandates such as Sarbanes-Oxley have changed the relationship of the business leader and financial leader. They in turn are asking for similar assurances from the technology leader. The business leader and financial leader have professional advisors to guide their decisions, such as lawyers, accountants and investment bankers. The technologist has relied upon the vendor community or consultants who have their own perspective, and who might not always be able to provide recommendations in the best interests of the company. The IT Audit Committee of the Board can and should fill this gap.

What role should the IT Audit Committee play in the organization? The IT Audit function in the Board should contribute toward:

1. Bringing technology strategy into alignment with business strategy.
2. Ensuring that technology decisions are in the best interests of shareholders.
3. Fostering organizational development and alignment between business units.
4. Increasing the Board’s overall understanding of technological issues and consequences within the company. This type of understanding cannot come from financial analysis alone.
5. Effective communication between the technologist and the Committee members.

The IT Audit Committee does not require additional board members. Existing board members can be assigned the responsibility, and use consultants to help them understand the issues sufficiently to provide guidance to the technology leader. A review of existing IT Audit Committee Charters shows the following common characteristics:

1. Review, evaluate and make recommendations on technology-based issues of importance to the business.
o Appraise and critically review the financial, tactical and strategic benefits of proposed major technology related projects and technology architecture alternatives.
o Oversee and critically review the progress of major technology related projects and technology architecture decisions.
2. Advise the senior technology management team at the firm
3. Monitor the quality and effectiveness of technology systems and processes that relate to or affect the firm’s internal control systems.

Fundamentally, the Board’s role in IT Governance is to ensure alignment between IT initiatives and business objectives, monitor actions taken by the technology steering committee, and validate that technology processes and practices are delivering value to the business. Strategic alignment between IT and the business is fundamental to building a technology architectural foundation that creates agile organizations. Boards should be aware of technological risk exposures, management’s assessment of those risks, and mitigation strategies considered and adopted.

There are no new principles here-only affirmation of existing governance charters. The execution of technology decisions falls upon the management of the organization. The oversight of management is the responsibility of the Board. The Board needs to take appropriate ownership and become proactive in governance of the technology.

Do Boards need a Technology Audit committee? Yes, a Technology Audit Committee within the Board is warranted because it will lead to technology/business alignment. It is more than simply the right thing to do; it is a best practice with real bottom-line benefits.

If Technology Is Effective in the Classroom – Why Do Some Students Dislike It So Much?

The effectiveness of technology use in the classroom has become a controversial issue. While many teachers and students feel that it’s best to use technology because it enhances teaching many others feel that it causes too many challenges and that it is a waste of time. If technology is as effective in the classroom as many teachers believe it to be; why do some students dislike it so much?

In order to objectively respond to this question, 3 articles were examined. 2 out of the 3 relate how the use of technology in the classroom frustrates students while the last one translates the thoughts of students who feel that technology in the classroom has responded to their need. So the issue is not that technology is not effective but rather that some teachers need to be mindful about technology use in the classroom and others need to be trained in order to properly use technology to teach so that students do not view technology as obstruction learning but as an enhancing tool.

After summarizing the 3 articles that have been reviewed we will be able to prove that there are 2 groups of students who claim to dislike technology in the classroom: Those who are improperly exposed to it by their teacher and those who did not give themselves enough time to familiarize themselves with it. We will then be able to get to the logical conclusion that those same students would appreciate the value of technology in the classroom if their teachers used it properly. Let us first summarize the articles that we are referring to.

The article “When good technology means bad teaching related that many students feel that teachers and professor use technology as a way to show off. Students complain of technology making their teachers “less effective than they would be if they stuck to a lecture at the chalkboard” (Young) other problems related by students include teachers wasting class time to teach about a web tool or to flab with a projector or software. When teachers are unfamiliar with the technological tools, they are likely to waist more time trying to use them the technological software that is used the most according to students is PowerPoint. Students complain that teachers use it instead of their lesson plan. Many students explain that it makes understanding more difficult “I call it PowerPoint abuse” (Young). Professors also post their PowerPoint Presentation to the school board before and after class and this encourages students to miss more classes.

Another problem reported in the article with the use of technology in the classrooms is that many schools spend time to train their staff about how to use a particular technology but it does not train them on “strategies to use them well” (Young). The writer believed that schools should also give small monetary incentives to teachers and professors to attend workshops.

In an interview made with 13 students, “some gave their teacher a failing when it came to using Power Point, Course Management systems and other classroom technology” (Young ) some of the complains were again about the misuse of PowerPoint’s and the fact that instructors use it to recite what’s on the scale. Another complaint was that teachers who are unfamiliar with technology often waste class time as they spend more time troubleshooting than teaching. The last complain mentioned is that some teachers require students to comment on online chat rooms weekly but that they do not monitor the outcome or never make reference to the discussion in class.

Similarly, the article “I’m not a computer person” (Lohnes 2013) speaks to the fact that students expectations as far as technology is concerned is very different. In a study done with 34 undergraduate university students, they advise that technology is an integral part of a university students life because they have to do must everything online from applying for college or university, searching and registering for classes, pay tuition and that in addition to being integrated in the administration, etc. technology is also widely used to teach and is valued by higher education.

Those students, however, feel that technology poses a barrier to success as they struggle to align with the ways in which the institution values technology.” A student explains that technology is used in her freshman year to turn in assignments, participate in discussion boards and blogs, emailing the professor, viewing grades and for a wide range of other administrative task including tracking the next school bus. This particular student whose name is Nichole says that she does not own a laptop but shares a family computer. She has a younger brother who also uses the computer to complete his school work so she consequently has to stay up late to complete assignments. She states “technology and I? We never had that connection” (Lohnes). Nichole dislikes the fact that her college requests that she had more contact with technology than she is conformable with. Nonetheless, she explains that as she started doing those school online assignments so frequently she came to realize that they were not that bad.

One of her issues though with technology is that she had come from Puerto Rico about a year prior entering college and that she never had to use the computer so much there. The articles relates that other college students like Nichole have admitted that they are “reluctant technology users” (Lohnes) The article wants to explain, in essence, that although most people would expect that college students prefer technology and are already familiar with it,” that assumption is faulty” (Lohnes).

On the other hand, the article “What Screenagers Say About… ” High school age students were asked about what they thought of technology but most expressed liking it. One of them said about PowerPoint: “My history teacher did a good job with Power Points. He would put them online, which made for really great reviews.” (Screneagers, 2011) Others expressed how technology was really who they are and that teachers should understand for example that when they text in class, they are not being rude but that they have gotten used to multi tasking. Another student invites teachers to not be afraid of technology “Teachers shouldn’t be afraid of technology. Understand that it’s how we live our lives. So don’t just push it out. Learn to cope with us and how we work.” (Screenagers, 2011)

Another student however, expressed how she prefers simpler technology that her teacher is comfortable with rather than high tech that the teacher does not manipulate well “The most important thing for teachers is to be comfortable with what they’re using. It doesn’t have to be super high tech. My math teacher used a projector, and it was one of my favorite classes. Then I would go to this other class where the teacher used Power Points and the SMART board, but I didn’t get any more out of it because she wasn’t comfortable with the technology” (Screenagers, 2011) Students spoke about their appreciation for virtually all types of technology used in the classroom. Another said “One of my teachers used Skype. That’s face-to-face interaction. If I had a problem with some math problem I was working on, I could take a picture of it and put it on the Skype screen. She could see where I was making my mistake. It really helped.” (Screenagers, 2011) The bottom line is that those high school students wanted to let teachers know that they really like technology and that it is already a great part of their daily routine but that it had to be used properly in order for them to enjoy it.

Similarly, they summarize a few things that they dislike as well. Among the list, they said: reading on the computer, paying a lot for an online textbook and the fact that they often forget everything else when they get caught up with using technology.

Nonetheless, they had much more positive things they liked in technology like for example that some teachers would text a question for them to think about before class, so if they do not know they answer, they would communicate with classmates to discuss the possibility for the answer before class. This allows them to go to class prepared. They also like using Skype, emailing their teachers instead of going to speak to them in person. They also enjoy discussion boards. The advice they would like to convey to their teachers is to make sure that they are comfortable with whatever technological tools they are using, to give them more freedom to use the good sites and those in the middle range when they are surfing the net using school computers and to understand that technology is part of their lives.

After summarizing those articles, we can see that the students mentioned in Youngs, 2004 dislike technology because their experience with it was not satisfactory. In other terms, a group of students dislike technology because some teachers are not mindful about technology use or they need additional training. For example, some students are frustrated because they feel that instructors waist their time when they are not properly trained to use the technological tools. Others disliked the fact that some teachers had PowerPoint presentations which were either not meaningful or they would just read whatever they wrote and add no additional comments. Those examples are called “bad teaching (Young, 2004) and they are in fact terrible examples that teachers should not follow because technology is not meant to help teachers do the least work or to adopt poor teaching practices. Somme students related that PowerPoint was widely used by teachers so they even call it PowerPoint abuse.

I can relate to what is being expressed by those students. I observed a Teaching Assistant teach a grammar class recently. He purchased a device to allow him to monitor the screen without touching the computer. He was able to walk throughout the class while changing slides. It all looked so impressive but despite all of this show, students were left so confused at the end of the lesson. When they asked questions, he went back to the slide that had the grammar rule and read it over to the class. The PowerPoint was a duplication of the textbook chapter. The same examples of the book were used. At the end of the course, he felt that he had done a great PowerPoint when in fact, it was not meaningful. It was a copy/paste project from the text book to the screen. This example shows that we need to use common sense when using technology. When teaching grammar, a teacher has to be able to come up with examples other than those in the book, you have to write on the board, have student practice what they have learned. PowerPoint use was a real bad idea, in my opinion, for teaching this course. It was just not the right technological tool for the lesson.

Students in that class may decide that they hate Power Points because it confuses them more while the issue is not with the use of PowerPoint but instead with the teacher’s poor choice of technology. The point I also want to make here is that teachers may sometimes be unaware of their improper use of technology. This is why, as educators, we sometimes need to ask students for their feedback so we may make corrections where needed.

We can then conclude that those students dislike technology as a result of improper technological use by teachers, and also because many teachers do not attend workshops or training sessions to help them obtain a broader knowledge of technology since they are so busy. Like suggest (Youngs, 2004) and (Lohnes, 2012), those same busy teachers would have attended those trainings if there were given an incentive. In the article “Technology Standards in a Third-Grade Classroom” (Kovalik, 2001), it is related how a study done on a 3rd grade class of 25 showed that students were properly using technology. There is no indication that those students dislike using technology. The article also mentioned how the teachers were highly trained because the Ohio board pays incentive to teachers to participate in technology training which teaching them not only how to use technology by teaches them strategies on when to use them.

Boards from other states should consider doing the same thing to ensure that their teachers are responding to the technological need of their students and that they are teaching them according to the standards. The Ohio school mentioned above met the standards as far as technology is concerned because of the technology coaching received by the teachers. If teachers learn how to properly use technology in the classroom, it will be a less frustrating experience for them and for the student who will less likely dislike technology since it will meet its purpose to enhance teaching.

The other groups of students who dislike technology are those who were not exposed to it for long enough. The College Freshman, Nichole advises that she was not exposed to so much technology while she was in high school in her home country; consequently, it seemed to be a burden to her to have to need a computer to complete most of her school assignments but also to interact with her classmate via a discussion board. What is interesting though is that even though she claimed to dislike technology so much, she advised that once she started to spend so much time using it, she realizes that it is not so bad. Even though it is likely that some people do not like the telephone and texting so much, the computer and some website have become part of most people daily routine. In Nichole’s case, she does not own a laptop and has to wait for her turn to use the family computer which means that she has no attachment to this media because her use of it is controlled. However, once she gets to own her own computer, it is a guaranteed that her view of technology will change.

I returned to school after about 12 years. When I was in college the 1st time around, nothing was electronic but when I contacted USF to apply, they told me that everything was online. At first, I asked why everything was online but once I got used to it, I started to understand the value of having the convenience to do a lot of things without having to live my home.

Therefore, Nichole will certainly not continue to dislike technology that much once she gets more familiar and more attached to it. The fact is that she stated that she started to realize that it was not that bad once she started doing so many assignments. She came to the conclusion that the computer was not yet a friend but that it was no longer an enemy; it became to her an acquaintance.

With this understanding, depending on the background of some ELL students and depending on whether or not they were exposed to technology in their home country, they may not like technology at first but this should not be a sign that they will never come to appreciated it. As teacher, we will need to allow them time to familiarize themselves with it while we continue to properly use it so that we do not advocate against it or involuntary send missed information about its true value.

On the other hand, the last article testifies to the fact that the new generation is technology driven and that when used properly, they benefits from it in the classroom, there are several examples of how teachers originally used technology to teach which are appreciated by students. What should the conclusion be then?

We have proven that technology use is effective in the classroom but that teachers need to take some actions in order to make this tool useful to students. It is necessary that they received some training if they lack it, and like a student suggested in the Screenager article, they should refrain from using complicated tools if they are not sure about how to use them. It’s best to properly use something much simpler that they are familiar with like a high school student suggested.

In addition, it is important for teachers to screen the countless technological tools and to research them before introducing them to their teaching. Should they test some that do not work well, they have to stop using them and seek one that is more appropriate. Most importantly, technology is not always the answer this is why teachers should be balanced when using it. If it is required that we use the board and chalks to help students better understand, this is what we should do. Doing so, we will ensure that more students appreciate the use of technology in the classroom for what it is worth.

Work Cited

Kovalik, Cindy, Lynn Smolen, and Jazmine Toddy. “Technology Standards In A Third-Grade Classroom.”
Journal Of Research On Computing In Education 33.5 (2001): 1-17. Academic Search Premier.
Web. 9 Aug. 2013

Lohnes Watulak, Sarah. “‘I’m Not a Computer Person': Negotiating Participation in Academic
Discourses.” British Journal Of Educational Technology 43.1(2012):109-118. OmniFile Full Text
Mega (H.W.Wilson). Web.9Aug. 2013.

Young, Jeffrey R. “When Good Technology Means Bad Teaching” Chronicle Of Higher Education
51.12(2004): A31-A31. Academic Search Premier. Web.9Aug.2013.

What Screenagers Say About… (2011). Educational Leadership, 68(5), 44-46 Wed. 9 Aug.2013.

By

NICK MYRCA MALEBRANCHE- GAUTHIER

Subject: Classroom Technology
8/9/13

Gamers in the Game

Sometimes at night, while I sleep, I dream that I am the point guard on Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls. Other nights, I bat cleanup for the Chicago White Sox. If that isn’t busy enough, I still often find time to quarterback Jimmy Johnson’s Dallas Cowboys.

The bad thing about my dreams: they end.

By no means am I a professional athlete. Yet almost every night, I watch myself on TV draining three pointers, hitting towering home runs, and throwing sky scraping touchdown passes with the best in the game.

I realize all my sports dreams are make believe. I live for life’s little pleasures.

The tiny light at the end of my tunnel is thanks to today’s digital technology. I can become a professional athlete by creating myself in a video game.

I’m not the only person to do it, or to have ever done it.

Joffrey Lupul is a winger for the Anaheim Mighty Ducks. In addition, he is also a featured athlete in EA Sports’ NHL 2004.

“I used to create my own player and try to make it look as much like me as possible,” said Lupul in an interview with John Gaudiosi of ESPN Gamer. “I guess now I won’t have to do that.”

Sports video games have been evolving since “Pong,” a tennis-like game where two players use long bars to defend their end of the screen from what vaguely resembles a ball. It debuted on the Atari game system in 1976. In 2003, the top-selling game of the year was EA Sports’ Madden NFL 2004, which sold over 1.3 million copies in its first week.

Unlike me, many athletes today do not need to create a digital image of themselves to be featured in a game. Today’s popular sports video games have the characteristics of all active players. Professionally licensed games even have players’ accurate height, weight, and hometown. The best games even feature individual trademarks of certain players, like Vince Carter’s classic double-handed sky point after a furious dunk, or Ichiro’s bailout first step as he swings at an inside pitch.

“When I was a little kid, everybody could do the same dunks and lay-ups,” said Jay Williams in an interview with Patrick Hruby of ESPN Gamer. Williams, formerly an NBA point guard, plays video games daily as a diversion from the rigors of rehabilitating his left leg following a 2003 motorcycle accident. “I remember last year, the game version of me was doing the same hand gestures I do.”

The NCAA prohibits endorsement by its amateur athletes, but that doesn’t mean collegiate athletes are less fortunate. All the player attributes are there, only the names are deleted to protect the unpaid.

Jason Colson is a 6’1″, 215 pound, sophomore tailback who proudly wears No. 24 at West Virginia University (WVU). In EA Sports’ NCAA Football 2005, his name has been changed to “HB #24,” but the height, weight, and class rank are all the same. When No. 24 steps into the backfield, the game player knows they are about to hand off to Mr. Colson.

“As a youngster, I never pictured myself being in a video game,” said Colson. “It’s cool playing as yourself.”

Today’s younger athletes have grown up in the video game generation. All of them have memories of playing games as kids and teens. Many still play.

“One of my favorite game players growing up was Terrell Davis in the Madden games,” remembers Kay-Jay Harris, another WVU tailback you can find in NCAA Football ’05, starring as “HB #1.” “[Davis] never looked like he was running that fast, yet no one could catch him. Our running styles are similar.”

Most athletes play video games the way most gamers play: as entertainment, for fun. In WVU’s football player lounge, a PlayStation2 (PS2) is plugged in next to the team TV. Several players take the games they play on the screen as serious as the games they play on the field.

Ray Lewis, whose spastic pre-game dances and primal, near death-causing hits on the field make him one of the most intimidating players in the NFL, is also known to be one of the most competitive video game players in the league. Lewis hates to lose at anything he does. Thanks to his competitiveness on the field and in front of the screen, Lewis became the first defensive player to be chosen as cover man for the 2005 installment of EA’s Madden NFL series in August.

Video game popularity with athletes has soared because of the free time they have in the off-season.

“[Games are] relaxing. It’s pure entertainment. This is the way you kill four, five hours,” Lewis said in an interview with Matt Wong of ESPN Gamer. “You have your boys over, you have your kids over, and you have a big tournament. We might have three TVs going.”

“I played [EA Sports’] MVP Baseball 2004 all summer long, and Rasheed Marshall and I played MarioKart on [Ninetendo] Gamecube for a week straight,” said Harris. “I could play games like that all day, 10 straight.”

Games are clearly the best cure for the off-season blues, but many athletes see the benefits video games have as recruiting tools.

“Video games can be a positive influence for younger kids, who might not have started skating yet,” said Minnesota Wild center Pierre-Marc Bouchard, in an interview with Gaudiosi. “If you get into the realism of the video games, kids might try street hockey and eventually graduate to the rink.”

The National Hockey League has been entrenched in a lockout since Sept. 16. With no end in sight, holding the interest of young fans will be crucial to its future. While it seems possible that the entire 2004-2005 season could be cancelled, fans can still find excitement by turning on their PS2.

“It’s tough to replicate the battles along the boards in video games,” said Eric Staal in an interview with Gaudiosi. Staal plays center for the NHL’s Carolina Hurricanes. “But if kids don’t know anything about hockey, are fun to play because it’s up and down action and scoring goals.”

Microsoft’s Xbox, PS2, and GameCube allow sports to be played year round. Fans can get their fix at any time of the year with a simple flip switch. Indeed, they are simulated, but the World Series can go on in the dead of winter, and hockey games can hit the ice in the scorch of summer.

For athletes, video games can help them stay entertained, or distracted, when they aren’t on the field.

For future athletes, gaming consoles provide the ultimate first step to falling in love with a sport.

Video games allow all who play to live outside themselves. Armchair quarterbacks become heroes. On the field quarterbacks get the opportunity to dominate their most hated rivals. Everyone can live out dreams in cyber world they never could on the field.

The Game Audio Explosion – A Guide to Great Game Sound Part I: Pre-production and Sound Design

I. FAR BEYOND BLEEPS AND LOOPS

The new console era is upon us. It has been met by developers everywhere with
great anticipation, promise, …and yet, reluctance. Programmers have spent a
large portion of the past decade squeezing every last bit of potential from our
PS2s, Xbox’s and Gamecubes.
Now, after tricking these machines into performing beyond their expectations,
the shackles of technology have been lifted yet again. But will the next
generation consoles guarantee better audio?

No. We can certainly expect more audio due to an increase in available
memory, and the ability to add additional content within BD-ROM and dual
layer DVD-ROM formats. But what makes audio sound good doesn’t
necessarily have anything to do with performance and delivery specs. Surely,
our ability to manipulate audio will improve, but it will mean nothing if the
content doesn’t deliver. This article focuses on sound creation, and will enable
you to pave the way for effective and successful interactive game sound.

You have the ability to put the creative spark in motion regardless of which
game format you are developing. Knowing and preparing your sound team as
well as understanding the processes through which they work, will ultimately
help you to keep the audio on track, both artistically and financially.

II. THE AUDIO TEAM

A few years back, I was scoring a short animated film. One of the animators for
this film held a day job at a well-known entertainment company that had just
released a CG movie about dinosaurs. I asked him what he did on that project,
to which he replied, “I did all the toenails.”
I couldn’t help but think of the army of people responsible for the teeth, eyes,
scales, and so on. None-the-less, I saw the movie and it was visually stunning.
Realistically, game budgets will not allow for such an extravagant audio team,
but it does illustrate a good principle; that your audio personnel have well-
defined roles with which to focus their efforts. Collectively, your audio will be
that much better for it.

Game budgets once mandated that production costs stay low, so it wasn’t
unusual to find that one or two people produced all of a game’s audio. Today,
the stakes are much higher, and so are the budgets. Consumer expectations
have grown, requiring a movie-like experience within the confines of their
homes. The interactive market has become a battlefield for franchise
superiority. Bland, over-used audio must not be the exposed link in the armor
of any publisher or developer.

Whether you are using an in-house audio department or outsourcing the audio
completely, it is important that individuals have well-defined roles that do not
cross over into the other aspects of sound production. If the Audio Director is
splitting time as the Sound Designer, and the Sound Designer is also the
Composer, you can be sure that none of these shared jobs will get the proper
attention they require. It is important to obtain a list of your entire audio team
that breaks down the responsibilities of each member. Use your sound budget
to fortify any areas in sound production that need particular emphasis. We will
discuss more on budgets later, but for now let’s start at the beginning.

III. COMMUNICATING THE VISION: PRE-PRODUCTION

A. EARLY BIRD CATCHES THE WORM

By their very nature, creative people are passionate about what they do. You
shouldn’t have difficulty finding the enthusiasm amongst your sound team. Yet
this inherent motivation is not something to be left without guidance. You will
be doing your budget as well as your team’s morale, a disservice by letting
your sound team simply “have at it”. When it comes time to add sound, the
sound designers have both an advantage and a disadvantage compared to the
other production team members.

The advantage is, that by the time the game is ready for audio creation, the
game has taken real shape and personality. This helps to guide the direction of
the sound effects design. The disadvantage is, that since the sound design is
one of the last stages to be developed, previously fallen deadlines become the
responsibility of the sound design team to make up. By bringing your sound
designers up to speed early, you can avoid costly third and fourth revisions.

B. THE DOCUMENTS, PLEASE!
Giving the sound team the most recent build to play, only gives them a partial
picture of the artistic direction of the game. The sound team, like the art
department, must understand the metamorphosis of the game’s characters and
landscapes.

To do this, compile a book or digital archive that chronologically depicts the
artwork, from the earliest sketches to the final in-game representations.
Arrange an in-depth meeting between the sound designers, composer and the
Art Director to discuss the game’s development from an artistic standpoint.
This will help your audio team create the proper palette of sounds in much the
same way an artist creates a palette of colors.

For story-driven games, distributing copies of the script will be necessary to
illustrate the motivation and goal of the game. While this is critical for
composers, the sound designers will benefit by the added sense of immersion
into the game.

Perhaps the best form of communicating the vision will come from the Game
Designer. The game designer works tirelessly in his pursuit to create “the best
game ever”. He is never short of words when describing the intent of the game.
Though his work is creative, his methods are mostly technical. No one
understands the abilities of the characters in such detail as the game designer,
as the great number of technical documents he produces will attest. These
documents are invaluable to the audio team. By thoroughly examining level
overviews and enemy specs, both sound designers and composers can create
complimentary aural depictions. Bosses that are slow but powerful, or enemies
that are stealthy will be revealed in great detail within these documents,
providing the backdrop from which the sound designers can create.

C. THE DEMOS – GETTING ON THE SAME PAGE

Once the above preproduction steps have been completed, it’s time for the
sound design team and composer to begin creating demos from game capture.
Create three to four movies 60 to 90 seconds in length from different levels in
the game. Be sure to include the ambient portion prior to the action in order
to hear the game shift from low to high levels of activity. However, this may
not be possible for some arcade style games.

Once the sound design and music are complete, a mix of all the audio content
should be performed by the Sound Lead or Audio Director in either stereo,
surround or both, and exported with the movies for review.
It is important to have in place a team of reviewers that appropriately represent
those who have creative input. These might include, but are not limited to, the
Developing Producer, Publishing Producer, Executive Producer, Associate
Producer, Game Designer, Art Director, Audio Director and a franchise
representative if applicable. A robust review team will help generate an
accurate and collective review. If changes in the demonstration audio are
required and then subsequently agreed upon, your audio is ready for
production.

IV. SOUND DESIGN PRODUCTION

A. EMOTIONAL RESPONSE TO SOUND

From the beginning we have been programmed to respond to sound.
A mother’s voice, a church bell, or police sirens conjure an emotional
response. Sounds help us to decipher the world around us. They warn us of
danger, call us to action and bring peace and tranquility to our lives. The more
expressive the sound is, the greater our emotional response to it. Sound
effects correctly placed in a game should evoke this response while defining
the environment, circumstance and personas on screen. Due to the random
nature by which sounds are triggered in a game, they must effectively co-exist
without losing definition or character when multiple sounds occur in close
proximity to each other. Let us examine some general observations in game
sound design.

B. BEWARE OF SONIC SLUDGE!

There is a finite amount of sound data that the ear can properly interpret
before fatigue sets in. It is the role of the sound programmer or director to
prioritize which sounds are most important and at what times they are
important. The sound designer on the other hand, must always create content
that will be effective, regardless of the circumstances that exist at the time a
sound is played. Good sound effects should work well alone and in
combination with many other sounds. This is a challenging task, but careful
forethought and planning will produce a rich, dynamic and satisfying
interactive soundscape.

The key to preventing sonic fatigue is to create sound effects that vary in
volume and frequency in relation to each other. A single sound effect that is
loud and contains equal amounts of low, middle and high frequencies may be
effective when played alone, but if all the sound effects are loud and contain a
similar frequency spectrum, it becomes difficult to decipher one sound from
the next.

In most cases, the sound designer delivers the sounds at a reasonably loud
volume, to allow the audio director or programmer to appropriately mix those
sounds into the game, setting the playback volume for each sound. However, it
is the job of the sound designer to emphasize different frequencies according
to the requirements of each sound. To do this, the designer must know which
sounds are likely to be played together at any given time, then selectively
decide which sounds will emphasize specific frequencies. Higher frequencies
provide detail. Upper middle frequencies provide presence, while lower
frequencies depict power or energy. Too much emphasis on high and upper-
middle frequencies will lead to fatigue, while too many sounds containing
lower or sub frequencies, will become muddy and detract from the overall
detail of the sound design. The goal is to create individual sounds that do not
compete, but compliment. With this in mind, the sound designer must
appropriately focus on the frequencies that will best suit each sound effect.
This process essentially carves out any unnecessary sound space to allow
additional room for other sound effects to be heard. When volumes and
frequencies are selectively assigned, the sound effects will breathe and
compliment each other regardless of when they play.

C. PACING – BUILDING TOWARD CLIMACTIC MOMENTS

Now let’s examine the sound design from the “Big Picture” perspective. Game
and level design documents will provide the structure of the game in terms of
moments of emphasis. Generally, these structures take the form of peaks and
valleys that convey changes in difficulty as the game progresses. Usually, the
peaks represent a boss fight, though not necessarily so. When examined as a
whole, the sound design should appropriately compliment these arching
structures, and allow, from a sound perspective, a sense of building toward
these peak moments. If the sound designer has examined the enemies and
situations thoroughly, the overall sound design will naturally fall into place,
appropriately following the peaks and valleys within the game. However, if for
example, minions sound as powerful as bosses, some adjustment will be
necessary to bring down the emphasis of these weaker and less difficult
enemies. By not doing so will result in sound design that does not match the
arching pattern of the game. To put it simply, there can be “too much of a
good thing”. Let’s now look at the specific areas of game sound design.

D. AMBIENCE – DEFINING ENVIROMENTS THROUGH SOUND

Initially, ambient sound should effectively portray the setting, location and time
frame of the game or its various levels. For instance, percussion and double
reed music, a multitude of bartering voices and distant clanking iron would
suggest a medieval marketplace. As the game progresses the role of the
ambient sound is to support the circumstances with which the player is
involved. Does the sound within the environment evoke danger or safety?
Activity or inactivity? Conversely, ambience can be used to deceive the player
through suggesting a false circumstance, such as creating a sense of calm
before an ambush. Under all these conditions, good ambient sound should
portray a living environment.

The psychological impact of ambient sounds can add much to the onscreen
imagery, though not physically present in the scenery. For instance a distant,
sustained cry of an infant suggests vulnerability or insecurity. A broken fence
rattling in the wind of an abandoned city, suggests to the player a previous
traumatic event. These are subtle examples used to arouse awareness in the
player. More obvious sounds should be used to cue the player of his direct
proximity to danger. Dark drones or muffled enemy vocalizations will prepare
the player for fierce combat ahead. Fear, anticipation and anxiety are easily
evoked by the careful placement of ambient sounds.

E. IMPACTS AND DESTRUCTION – BREATHING DEATH INTO THE NON-LIVING

Early on, comic books depicted the sound of the action scenes through the use
of words that sonically mimicked the action. Over time, words like “thud” “pow”
and “zap” lost their effectiveness. Comic book writers had to jog their
imaginations to express sounds in more creative and exciting ways, such as
“Kathwaaap’, “fwuuuhmp” and so on. Similarly, the sound effects in early
games experienced a renaissance as memory increased and streaming
technology allowed for more and varied sounds to be launched under the
animations. However, no increase in playback performance will ensure the
effectiveness of the sound effects, if the sounds are not expressive.

From a sound perspective, impacts and destruction must primarily convey
suffering and submission. These terms apply naturally to the vocal efforts
triggered under an opponent or avatar under attack, but are more abstract
when applied to inanimate objects. Since the human voice is the most
expressive instrument in existence, applying human-like characteristics to the
‘non-living’, will help give the sounds a more life-like and expressive quality.
Twisting, screeching metal, the deep thud and release of broken concrete and
wood that creaks, pops and splinters convey expressive responses to the
forces applied to them, in much the same way a grunt, moan and exhale
expresses human injury.

Additionally, impacts and destruction sounds should proportionately depict the
transference of energy between the weapon and the target. A metallic ping
with a ricochet is an effective response to a bullet on metal, in which the
transfer of energy between a low-mass object at high speed can be observed.
A missile explosion, on the other hand, is more powerful and slower to
develop, therefore requiring an equally proportionate response. The sound of
larger impacts with destruction should develop through three basic phases:
Attack, Sustain and Release.

The Attack is the first and shortest event of the three. It is important to note
that the attack is not the sound of the weapon or projectile. In this case, a
missile, contains it’s own dry explosion sound that is launched under the
animation of the missile explosion. Therefore the attack will be the impact
sound based on the material composition of the target. Since the attack and
the dry explosion of the missile will happen simultaneously, the attack should
have a short period of ‘lead-in’ or silence to allow the peak, or initial part of
the explosion of the missile to be heard uncompromised by the attack of the
material impact.

Next is the Sustain, which introduces the debris and material breakdown
created by the explosion. Over this phase, detail should be observed. The
sustain should sound less dense than the attack so that the specific details of
the destruction can adequately be heard.

The final phase is the Release, which is a response to the destruction that
should characterize a kind of ‘submission’. This phase of the destruction
should contain lighter falling debris based on the materials destroyed,
movement of dust and earth and perhaps steam.

When all three of these phases are exhibited, the destructions will sound more
expressive and compliment the weapons by adequately portraying their
explosive energy.

For “The Incredible Hulk – Ultimate Destruction” we maximized the detail and
movement of large, explosive forces by dynamically altering the stereo field
throughout the three phases of the destruction. The attack phase was almost
entirely monophonic, while a quickly widening stereo field was applied to the
sustain, finally resting on a wide and fixed stereo field for the release. The
result was destruction that moved rapidly over a wide area, thereby adequately
portraying the Hulk’s enormous power.

F. WEAPONS – KNOW THYSELF, KNOW THY ENEMY!

It is a lesser-known fact that a gunshot at close range, sounds less threatening
than from 40 or even 80 yards away. Since most people have never fired a gun,
their expectations for the sound of gunshots as depicted by the entertainment
media are very high. Therefore, even in games based on historical simulation,
some amount of sonic sweetening will be necessary. In the case of a “period”
war game, multiple recordings of the specific weapon should be blended
together to create a satisfying gunshot. These might include mixing together
the various distances recorded for the gunshot, as well as the dry trigger and
shell discharge sounds for the specific firearm. Sounds created this way will be
sonically interesting while retaining the historical accuracy of the weapon.

For science-fiction or fantasy games, the imagination is the sound designer’s
only limitation. As mentioned previously, the design documents will shed light
on the abilities of the enemies and characters within the game. The weapons
detailed in this document should explain the amount of damage incurred by
each weapon. It is important that these sounds appropriately match the
damage potential, since the player will, to some extent, be judging the amount
of damage from each weapon by the sound it creates. For example, weapons
that contain a charge-up sound before firing, indicates to the player that a
great amount of force is forthcoming. Likewise a weapon that produces a large
discharge noise would produce the same result.

From a stylistic perspective, weapons are an extension of the personalities of
each character and should compliment the character’s physical attributes,
abilities and in some cases, their heritage or history. For instance, the sounds
of swords, knives and shuriken should be as stealthy as the master ninja who
wields them. The character of these sounds should compliment the physical
qualities exhibited by the ninja and reflect the mastery of the ninja tradition.
With this in mind you should expect the sounds to be light but fierce, focused
and evoke quickness of movement.

G. VEHICLES

Since vehicle sounds typically respond to controller movements, and not
animations, they can be difficult to perform in a plausible manner. Developers
for racing games are likely to have robust code for manipulating vehicle
sounds. Since we are focusing on sound production, and not programming,
let’s examine the basic elements that make up vehicle sounds.

In most cases the sound designer will provide four separate engine sounds per
vehicle: an idle loop, acceleration, a steady thrust loop and a deceleration
(engine decompression or braking). The idle will simply indicate that the
vehicle is engaged. The acceleration and deceleration sounds should be
designed to seamlessly crossfade into, and out of the steady thrust loop via
programming. This formula is effective for simple vehicles with a low threshold
of speed in which the vehicle will quickly reach maximum velocity until the
button or trigger is released.

If the visual perspectives of the vehicle can be changed, so too should the
sounds that accompany the vehicle. This will ensure a greater sense of realism.
For instance, if inside and outside perspectives are available, subtle shifts in
the observed engine sounds should be present to support the change in
perspective. An inside perspective will result in a de-emphasis of the higher
frequencies that are present within the engine sounds, giving those sounds the
muffled quality one would expect when listening to the engine from inside.
One way to perform this, is for the sound designer to supply separate versions
of the engine sounds based on the perspective observed. If the sound designer
has access to recordings from the various perspectives, this will be easy to
supply. However if these sound perspectives are not available, or if the vehicle
is fictitious, separate mixes that include changes in equalization should be
performed in order to support the visual perspectives.

For added realism, intermittent sounds can be supplied to add feedback based
on the driving conditions or the state of the vehicle while operating. For
instance, wheel-based vehicles will contain surface noises used to indicate the
terrain (tarmac, gravel etc.). Metallic rattling and scraping is used to indicate
the state of a vehicle that is damaged. The addition of these and other
intermittent sounds add a heightened sense of realism and immersion when
operating the vehicle.

H. MENUS – LESS IS MORE

As games have become more sophisticated, so too have the menus. Player’s
can customize a variety of options as well as view or purchase an array of
unlock-able content. This, of course requires more navigation. In most cases,
sounds will accompany the navigation to provide greater sensory feedback. No
matter how enjoyable these sounds may be, their repetition will soon become
an annoyance. It is always safe to create short and subtle sonic events that are
felt rather than heard.