SDCN goes to Ireland for a project review

SDCN: Software Defined Cognitive Networking

[Author: Mu]

I accepted an invitation from Science Foundation Ireland to conduct a project review for one of its prestigious research programmes. It was a fantastic experience to visit Ireland and see how resilient people are off the back of hurricane Ophelia. The work at the host institution is forward-thinking and I am glad to witness all the positive changes made by a single research project over two years of time.

And yes, I did have a couple of hours to spend in Dublin before my late morning flight back home:


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SDCN visits BBC R&D

SDCN: Software Defined Cognitive Networking

[Author: Mu]

It has been a great visit to the BBC R&D South Lab in London. The main purpose of the trip is to discuss potential collaborations and an MSc student project on immersive TV with Rajiv (thank you for inviting us!) off the back of our success in ACM TVX 2017. I gave a talk on the modelling of human perception in media synchronisation and (shamelessly) inserted a quick intro of SDCN project at the beginning of my talk (like that kind of YouTube advert which you can‚Äôt skip ūüôā ). In fact, media sync and SDCN are two great examples of how multimedia research and communication network research complement each other.


I also sampled some very interesting VR demos arranged by Vino and her VR team. We exchanged some thoughts on future directions on VR particularly in the context of TV broadcasting.


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Leveling up (slowly) on game design

Inspired by some interesting discussions with the game team at work, I recently picked up Scott Rogers’ Level Up! The Guide to Great Video Game Design¬†in an attempt to learn how to design an engaging game. There are a lot of fascinating conventions, rule, and forms of thoughts in game design we can borrow in pedagogy, psychology, and immersive media (virtual/augmented/mixed reality) research. The book has 18 levels (chapters) and 11 bonus levels, and I am leveling up very slowly…

To better engage with the theories in the book, I also had to conduct 120+ hrs of “research” in¬†D3 Rise of Necromancer.¬†The book also repeatedly refers to¬†BioShock, so I’ll have to get back to that at some point.


Below are my progressively updated notes. They probably don’t make much sense to anyone who has not read the book.

Level 1: N00bs

  • What is a game: an activity that 1) requires at least one player, 2) has rules, and 3) has a win and/or lose condition.
  • A game needs a clear objective so the player knows what the goal is. As a designer, you should be able to sum up a game’s objectives quickly and clearly.
  • Games have two types of genres: story genre¬†( the type of story such as fantasy, sports) and game genre (the type of gameplay such as action, puzzle, shooter).
  • Games are made by people with different¬†skills: programmer, artist, designer, producer, tester, writer, product manager, creative manager, marketing, etc.

Level 2: Ideas

  • Think what gamers want (good games). Make players feel something that they aren’t in the real world (powerful, smart, sneaky, bad, etc.).
  • What’s the age of my audience? Kids always want what is made for an audience older than their own age group. Don’t make mistake by oversimplifying and talking down to younger¬†audiences. Kids today are far smarter and way better gamers than we give them credit for.
  • Despite some academic definition of fun (e.g., Marc LeBlanc’s sensation, fellowship, fantasy, discovery, narrative, expression, challenge, and submission), fun is completely subjective.
  • You have no guarantee that your game idea is going to be fun. Theory of Un-fun: Remove all the un-fun, all that should be left is the fun. Don’t be afraid to kill bad ideas. If un-fun is ruining your game, kill the un-fun.
  • Ideas are cheap; it’s how you use them that matters.

Level 3: Writing the story

  • The most basic structure of a story:
    • There is a hero with a desire (rescue a princess)
    • The hero encounters an event that interferes with obtaining the desired, causing a problem.
    • The hero tries to overcome the problem but his method fails
    • Reversal of fortune. The fail causes more trouble.
    • An even greater problem and one last problem¬†(boss).
    • The hero must resolve the final problem, and gain the object of desire.
  • Every time someone plays a game, she creates a narrative. As a designer, you need to look at all the narratives possible and make them ALL fun.
  • Designers help players to create the narrative. As each experience builds on the next, the goal is to create rising emotional states for the player. (Left 4 Dead uses AI that monitors players’ stress level – calculated using variables including health, skill, and location – then adjusts the items, enemies and the music.)
  • Players’ narratives can end up quite different from the game’s story.
  • The Triangle of Weirdness. ¬†Choose ONE from characters, activities, and world (to be weird). Choose more than one will risk alienating your audience.
  • Make the story be in service of the gameplay and not the other way around (example: BioShock have non-mandatory collectible audiotapes that reveal deeper storying without intruding on the main story). Keep your stories lively and moving. Change in the plot or action every 15 minutes.
  • Theme¬†(e.g., love conquers all, eat or be eaten) can be more important than a story to a game.
  • Determine how long the game should be.
  • A game by Any Other Name – Still, choosing a name is the most important thing.
  • Create characters your players care about. Give players time to bond with the characters. Make death matter.
  • Game for kids: teach your players things without their even knowing it.
  • License.

Level 4: Paperwork

  • Making a game design document (GDD) – communication to the player, your team members, and to your publishing partners. The book provides templates in the bonus levels.
  • Step 1: the One-Sheet – keep it interesting, informative, and short. Unique selling point – get readers excited about the features of a game without going into lengthy detail about them.
  • Step 2: the Ten-Pager¬†– people who finance your game will read this. Plenty of relevant visuals. Can be in PowerPoint. Tailor for audience type (the production team or marketing/executives). Includes the Title page, Game outline, Character, Gameplay, Game world, Game experience, Gameplay Mechanics, Enemies, Multiplayer/Bonus, and Monetization.
  • Step 3: Gameplay progression – several different ways to start a game (start with nothing, several skills but needs to unlock, skills but no knowledge of how to use them, power but lose it after a fight, etc.).
  • Step 4: The Beat Chart – describe level by level, as a “map” of the structure of the game.
  • Step 5: GDD – Game designs are living things. GDD provides that launching pad from which to soar. Documents connect the producer, the designer, the artist, and the programmer.
  • Step 6: Stay open-minded to ideas.

Level 5: Three Cs 1/3 – Character

  • The Three CsCharacter, Camera, and Control – are probably the most important elements of gameplay.
  • For the character design, an important rule is “Form follows function“. We want players to easily understand the personality of characters by their appearance (square->strong/dumb, circle->friendly, downward-pointing triangle->powerful or sinister depends on whether its body or face).
  • Anything you can do to let the players customize their character furthers their feeling of ownership (including physique: eat too much junk food and get fat).
  • Realistic or stylized design?
  • Using all the parts to communicate information to the players (movement, appearance, inventory, weapons, etc.).
  • Use a second character (playable or companion) and make players care about them. Use opposites attract where characters complement and contrast each other. Let the relationship develops early in the game.
  • Differentiate characters so that each one has a weakness and a strength. Rock, Paper, Scissor (RPS) design.
  • Use Non-player characters (NPCs) and how they are needed for the players to succeed (tools, access, gear, backstory, compliments,etc.). Given NPCs something to do when idle, which helps to enhance the environment. Have NPCs physically distinct in dress and body language. NPCs may even start a challenge with the player, mimicking a multi-player experience.
  • Characters are determined by their metrics including height, speed, jump distance, attack distance, etc. Keep the metrics consistent.
  • Walking is not gameplay. Avoid player travelling for long stretches sightseeing. Add moves, events, etc. Westerners are accustomed to reading things left to right, so have your characters walking to the left makes people feel “ill at ease”.
  • Alternating fast and slow gameplay is interesting.
  • Give your characters some short¬†animation while they are not moving (idle). It’s the art of doing nothing.
  • Jump is a complex movement. Think the mechanics of jumping. This reflects the decision on physics: real-world vs game physics. A certain fidelity to real life is necessary to sell real-world physics but break it to make the game fun.
  • The book then elaborates on jumping and falling. The key messages¬†are: 1) make the rules clear and consistent, 2) let players recover quickly (and continue with play).
  • Shadow design varies. A simple drop shadow lets players¬†understand where they’ll land.

Level 6: Three Cs 2/3 РCamera

  • Nothing will cause players to stop playing your game faster than a poor camera
  • Choosing the right camera view impacts the game design, control, and artwork.
    • Static camera – fixed position, focal distance or field of view
    • Scrolling camera – add advantages of a movement (better engagement) and reveal hidden stuff in a dramatic way. Parallax scrolling (world moves with camera), Forced scroll (players forced to keep up with camera movement or die), Mode 7, multiplane camera (multiple layers of objects moving independently, ¬†used a lot by Disney. aka 2.5D)
  • First person camera – watch DIMS (doom-induced motion sickness), influenced by the field of view. Remedies: high framerate, late stationary reference object, avoid whipping the camera too much, etc. No view, thus less bond with the characters.
  • Third person camera – clear view of the character (‘s backside). Challenges on camera design:
    • Camera movement: ¬†treat camera as a person, give it room to manoeuvre
    • Sorting: move through a geometry with a collision. 1) detection radius to avoid collision or 2) turn object translucent, etc.
    • Link to controls
    • Camera flipping: camera bounces between objects.
    • Obstruction: something gets between the camera and the player
    • Position: camera strictly follows the player or laid back and follow freely?
  • Who has the control of camera?
    • Player control – 1) Allow players complete control over the following camera: players can get quickly disoriented, miss events, DIMS. 2) Free-look camera: simulating character’s head. limited range. Put cameras on hydraulics (or elastics). In certain context, simulate a piece of equipment such as binoculars or transition to the first-person view.
    • No player control – less to worry about, designers focus on visible polygons or textures, no risk players missing key elements, must consider and match players movement, let players get out of it easily if the camera is blocked.
    • Probably a hybrid of the previous two.
  • Isometric camera – God view with no perspective adjustments. map 3d objects to 2d surfaces. In many cases, iso views¬†are actually bi-metric view since only two axis pairs share the same angles. This is to accommodate 2:1 pixel for less pixelation. Elevation can be an issue for iso.
  • Top-Down camera – sometimes top-down/side view.
  • AR cameras – make sure things are scalable. try not to clutter up HUD elements (to avoid DIMS).
  • Special case cameras – underwater or flying.
  • Tunnel vision – player moving through tight environments like caves. use a rail camera to maintain the feeling of claustrophobia.
  • Hollywood cheatsheet:
    • Camera Shot guide – From extreme wide shot to Point-of-View shot and over-the-shoulder shot.
    • Camera Angle Guide – Eye level, Worm’s-eye, Dutch tilt, etc.
    • Camera Movement Guide – Arc, Dolly zoom, Pedestal, etc.
  • Always point the camera to the objective. Even if players can’t see the objective, provide tools such as “detective mode” to pinpoints objectives, show an arrow/tag, turn obstruction transparent, etc.
  • Multiplayer cameras.

Level 7: Three Cs 3/3 – Control

  • Controls are universally applicable to every style of game.
  • Away remember that humans are playing these games and we should avoid making the control itself too challenging (whilst the gameplay can still be).
  • Assigning controls to different fingers based on what they are (not) good at.
  • When designing for young players, keep the controls (button presses, etc.) simple.
  • Do not go nuts with the uber complex controls.
  • There are a lot of different controls on touchscreens. Use as few as possible to minimise confusing.
  • A good designer will think about how the game is played in the real-world as well as in the game world. Button smashing -> Claw hands -> Occupational overuse syndrome.
  • Never have a button do nothing when pressed:
    • Play a “negative response”
    • Make it clear that a button is inactive, then make a big deal when it is unlocked.
    • Assign a redundant but related function (to engage players’ memory of that button)
  • Map the moves to logical control locations helps immerse the player into the game world.
  • Resembles that of other successful games.
  • As the button is pressed, the action should happen (more or less promptly). Use long animation carefully and with a purpose.
  • Most game controls are character-relative. Camera-relative ones don’t make much sense…
  • Actuators and gyroscopes in a controller. Silent Hill used two actuators at different frequencies to simulate a heartbeat. Creepy… ¬†Tilt controls getting popular in mobile games. As the gyroscope is hidden within the mechanism of the controller, remind players that this function is available.
  • Camera-based motion controllers – broad and mimic reality.

Level 8: Sign language: HUD and Icon design

  • The heads-up display (visual screen overlay) is the most effective way of communicating with players.
  • HUD is used for a wide spectrum of game elements to assist gameplay:
    • Healthbar
      • in reverse: damage bar
      • as a story device that represents the game’s narrative
      • wait for health?
      • replaced by first-person-style effects or a third-person view
    • Targeting reticule
      • stickiness (aim assist)
      • colour/contrast consideration, zoomed-in mode
    • Ammo gauge
    • Inventory
      • quick access to items
      • how players arrange items?
      • clear silhouettes
      • expandable
      • permanent location or “magic box” that follows players through the game world
    • Score/experience
      • arcade era
      • online gaming leaderboards
    • Positive messaging
      • “Finish him!” keep players excited about their performance
      • Positive re-enforcement for their actions that they don’t receive for their actions in everyday lives (or perhaps they are used to receiving those in real lives)
      • big and flashy. make players feel good
    • Radar/map
      • legible but not too big
      • make it easy for the player to move and look at the map at the same time
      • legend for icons to identify checkpoints, items, etc.
      • indicate changes in elevation
      • show current direction
      • fog of war (clear as players moving through it).
      • incorporate visual themes into the mini-map
    • Context-sensitive prompts
      • Icon of the button players have to use
      • Characters thinking loud – players feel like the characters
      • Use them as NPCs
      • Indicates where to jump or travel
      • Combat notification
  • Clean screen
    • Balance between HUD and “cinematic experience
    • Perhaps remove HUD altogether? Use sound, animation, and visual effects instead?
    • Or temporary HUD
  • Icons – keep your symbols simple
  • Quick-time event (QTE) – not button mashing, use as an emotional effect? “Press x to save Jason”.
  • Location of HUD
    • Avoid middle of the screen or translucent/holographic
    • Upper left used for most important information
    • Bottom of the screen – watch out for clipping
    • Should game continue while accessing inventory? Dead space didn’t – they wanted players not to be able to rely on the “gamey” mechanic.
  • Title screen – movie poster, heroic pose, enigmatic (secret message, etc.), logo.
  • Pause screen – order by most common selection. Think how players use them. Should be part of the game.
  • Loading screen – Can be seamless by disguising the loading screen with slowly opening doors, long elevator rides, etc.
  • Credit screen – give credit where credit is due.

Level 9: Level design

  • The design of levels has different aspects:
    • An environment or location where game play occurs
    • Break up physical space based on a specific gameplay experience
    • A unit of counting a player’s progression
    • Rank of a player based on earned score, experience, or skills.
  • Cliche video game themes: Outer space, Fire/ice, Dungeon/cavern/tomb, Factory, Jungle, Haunted house/graveyard, Pirate, Gritty urban, Space station, Sewer, etc.
  • Name your game based on function, location, descriptive, punny.
  • You can learn level design from theme parks like Disneyland. Theme parks are designed to move guests from one adventure to the net in the most effective way possible, like how a game should move players through different experiences.
  • Build a map to help the team understand the connection between all levels.
  • Use Foreshadowing to build anticipation.
  • Design goals for each level: Escape/survive, Explore, Educate, or Provide a moral.
    • Moral – Morals and consequences in games
  • Use Beat chart to design and revise levels. Help to alternate between experiences and keep things fresh.
  • Be smart with your art assets and repurpose them.
  • Use landmarks to help players re-orient themselves. Never intentionally get players lost.
  • If you need to make players go to a location more than twice, do something to make that experience different.
  • Fingers is a way to make a world feel deeper and fuller without complex geometry and multiple paths. Every finger should have an award at the end.
  • Alternating elevation and weather make an environment feel natural.
  • If it looks as if players can go there, they should be able to.
  • Don’t be bound by realism, especially when it contradicts game experience/camera, control
  • Design your games between “big moments” and “small moments” so players can get a rest between.
  • Pace out your game so you can control the overall length of a game.

Level 10: The elements of combat

  • Many video games are violent – easy to introduce actions.
    • graphic, dramatic, visceral
    • quick response feedback
    • pleasure principle – the instinctual seeking of pleasure and avoiding of pain
    • other human interactions such as conversation, romance, humour, etc are often hard to re-create
  • Think of a unique combat style for your character
    • distance – close-range, medium, long, area effects/bomb
    • elevations – standing position, low, hight, aerial
  • Build an attack matrix so you can make every character unique – this applies to weapons too.
  • When player press a button, waste no time on prolonged animations and perform actions immediately.
  • Use particle and visual effects to make attacks feel more dynamic and rewarding.
  • Provide super move for the big finish. The enemy should react to wherever he’s been hit.
  • Use camera movements to show the impact of strikes. – People want to play games that make them look cool
  • Weapon often defines a character.
  • Don’t forget impromptu weapons – chairs, pipes, etc.
  • Use lock-on system to help player aim
  • Allow players to defend themselves but don’t turn a defensive manoeuvre into a disadvantage
  • Make characters’ appearance reflecting statuses such as health or new ability.
  • A few tricks to scare players on Page 292. – Sound is the scariest thing there is. Use these principles in a positive way for trauma therapy, etc.
  • Don’t let the enemy have all the fun. Strive to enable the players.
  • Design death carefully so to keep players playing. Don’t give players a good reason to stop.
  • You can create conflict without combat: timer, speed, limited space, moral dilemmas, cost, etc.

Level 11: Enemy design

  • Form follows function
  • Size up the enemy based on the size of character – let it influence health and reaction to attacks
  • Enemy behaviour: patroller, chaser, shooter, guard, flyer, bomber, burrower, teleporter, blocker, doppelganger and they may swap between these.
  • The speed, size, and strength of an enemy are inversely proportional.
  • Give your enemies different movement patterns will make them feel more realistic
  • Enemy introduction – tell players they’ve encountered something new, exciting and dangerous.
  • Fighting enemies is supposed to be fun and not avoided.
  • Reasons to fight an enemy: loot, they block path, they have the key, need their power, they make fun of you, fun to fight.
  • Enemy offers you a chance to really flex your creative muscle as a designer
  • Steps:
    • start with your theme or story
    • tie two of them together
    • be economical with your enemies
    • make them look like an enemy
  • Make players hate their enemies
  • Non-enemy enemies
  • Design boss fights
    • Relates the boss to the hero
    • physical adversary or mental adversary
    • attack pattern to follow/understand
    • adaptive difficulty?
    • the last strike needs to be delivered by the player

Level 12: Mechanics

  • Flow channel that keep players between anxiety and boredom (again)
  • Orchestrate gameplay element:
    • start your hero moving through the world with simple movement
    • start with one mechanic¬† and repeat a couple of times
    • add a second mechanic then combine with the first
    • make things exciting with a hazard
    • now come the enemies
    • combine the enemies with hazards for more excitement
    • add variety to the above
  • checkpoints that allow players to save progress, take a break, or reassess choices of equipment, route, etc.
  • Puzzles and mini-games! simple and short

Level 13: Power up

  • Immediate effect
  • Four categories: defensive, offensive, movement, and game changers
  • Game changers alter the dynamics of the gameplay and player’s interaction with the game in a significant manner (pac man)
  • Love the player. Give them help when they struggle. Dynamic difficulty balancing, rubberbanding, etc.
  • Never underestimate the greed of the players (steam-powered chicken, i want one!)
  • Rewards, never have a victory without a reward (expose that early and reward asap).
  • High score, achievements, MoneyMoneyMoney. – give player the “delicious agony over what to buy”!
  • Bonus features: costume changes, alternative models/modes, downloadable content, new levels, multiplayer, different endings, big head, etc.

Level 14: Multiplayer

  • Styles: competitive, cooperative, conjugate.
  • MMORPGs – buffing, character customization, chattering, crafting, economy, grinding (slow progression repetitive), open world structure, trading/auctions.
  • Determine the impact of other players

Level 15: Monetization

  • Ways to make cash
    • pay to play
    • in-game advert
    • virtual goods – the association of real-world money and game-world efforts/skills
    • downloadable content
    • season pass
    • membership
    • subscription
    • Premium
  • Provide alternative ways to earn
  • Warn players that game costs to play
  • Provide discounts
  • Let players back out of the pay option

Level 16: Music

  • Music requires a lot of work and coordination between many members of a team so don’t leave it until the end.
  • Think what you can do with music creatively
  • Be careful of the licence
  • Break music into themes that play when a certain situation arises. Mystery, warning, combat, chase, victory, walking – Always make the music more exciting than the action on-screen.
  • Use silence – a sound not a sound.
  • Use sound for movement, attacks, impacts, weapons, hit reactions, vocal cues, death, success, etc.
  • Timing! synchronicity with events on screen.
  • Designate sounds into three categories: local (close to the source), distant (far from the source), and priority (regardless of source).
  • Some games use sound/music as part of the gameplay

Level 17: Cutscene

  • Allow the game world/characters to be shown in a way that may not be reproducible in the game engine.
  • Benefits:
    • you can create more emotion in a cutscene
    • pre-rendered scenes look awesome
    • you may take control away from the player so they can enjoy it
  • You can have cutscenes either non-interactive, fully interactive or between.
  • How to write a screenplay in eight steps:
    • Outline your story
    • Break the story down by scene and determine which characters are in each scene (location, etc.)
    • Determine which scenes are going to be cutscenes vs being told through gameplay
    • Write your scenes and dialogue
    • Write your script in official screenplay format (pseudo code)
    • Read your dialogue
    • Let it simmer for a day or two
    • Prepare your script for voice actors using a spreadsheet programme.
  • Find your voice – get voice director, actors, etc.

Level 18: Publish your game

  • Demo > GDD > pitch presentation > pitch outline
  • Pitch to the right audience
  • Build games using either horizontal layer– or vertical slice-style production
  • If something doesn’t work, throw it out – same for the sequel.

[end of post]

Waste Not – a Lean approach


What is productivity? A solid 8-hour of coding without interruption? Does it matter much if our project is on time or on budget, if we end up building something nobody wants? It would be a waste of human effort, investment, time and individual creativity, wouldn’t it? The Lean Startup by Eric Ries explores how we can avoid working efficiently on the wrong things by understanding what really matters to a product/project through iterations of (quick) Build-Measure-Learn loop.

I came across the concept of lean manufacturing/development a few years ago while doing project management for some EU/UK research¬†projects, but I was very sceptical about it. Releasing any “minimum viable product (MVP)” was a bad idea to me not only because I wanted the user experience to be absolutely great from day one but also because I believed that building MVP is a waste of resources. If our plan is to build a car, why do we want to spend a few days glueing two push bikes together for an early version? Surely we can never reuse any technology or know-how of building and glueing bikes together for a car, right? Well, the key is whether we factor “vision” as part of project management. If we are absolutely sure about the vision (e.g., we know exactly what car we’ll build), then it’s a matter of system-level efficiency (get the programmers to work as hard as they could and make sure they are “in the zone” all day and every day). However, we often don’t know what our users want. In fact, the users are often not sure about what they want either. Therefore, learning what we should build should be an integral part of the exercise to run a project and the learning must be done using the right testing and measuring methods such as sandbox split test, actionable metrics, etc.

One of the main reasons that I picked up this book again and read it from cover to cover is that we witness an increasing number of students claiming that they followed the “Waterfall” model in their dissertations (Seriously? you did a one-man waterfall?!), despite that they surely have learned other models like RAD, V-model, Agile, etc. So I am going to do a trial and introduce the lean framework in my second-year Interaction Design course. Many of the lean principles already resonate with elements in that course so I hope it’s a good starting point (by “hope”, I mean build, test and learn. LOL).

Disclaimer: I am not sponsored by the author of the book nor any publisher/reseller to use it as part of my course.

Alternate realities at ACM TVX 2017


I am fortunate to be involved in both communication networks and multimedia community. Following my visit to IEEE IM, I ventured to Hilversum, the Netherlands for ACM TVX, a flagship conference on interactive online TV and immersive experiences. I am a regular attendee of TVX and there are simply too many reasons for me not to miss this year’s iteration: 1. It’s at our¬†doorstep. 45 minutes flight to Amsterdam (although my driver did pick me up 4 HOURS before the flight, because “You never know what will happen on M1 southbound to London airports at that time in the morning”…). 2. My MSc student Hussein presents his short paper. 3. Felix and Jing from TU-Berlin did a great job getting our full paper accepted. and 4. I look after the WiP¬†track this year along with Elena and I am asked to chair the “Madness Session” in the conference programme.

We arrived at Hilversum, a small town ~20 miles east of the capital city, at lunch time. Hilversum is at the heart of Dutch multimedia research and industrial community and centre of media-related innovation in the Netherlands. It’s¬†Media Park is home to Dutch public broadcaster¬†NPO, as well as commercial broadcasters and audio-visual production companies. The decor at the railway station gives away the themes of the Hilversum Media Park.


Situated in Media Park, the Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision (NISV) is the host of ACM TVX 2017. NISV collects, preserves and provides access to Dutch audio-visual heritage for media professionals, education, science and the general public. Its collection contains more than a million hours of television, radio, music, film and other media from the beginning in 1898 until today.

IMG_4875   IMG_4877

In the photo below, you can see the workshop where movie reels are digitised (upper floors) and stored in a data centre (lower floors).


The conference was packed with exciting keynotes, presentations, posters and demos. Felix did extremely well with his presentation in the main track, considering it’s his first conference as an MSc student at TU-Berlin.

Felix’s presentation

My Madness session was also a success. It might have been one of the most challenging session to chair, as we need to fit 20 talks in a 30-minute slot. The aim is to provide a very quick overview of all poster and demo work, so people can be more selective when they attend poster/demo sessions (it’s like going through 20 movie trailers and decide which ones to watch). I have to say a big thank you to all presenters who all executed the 1-slide 1-minute rule beautifully! Our MSc student Hussein did a good job introducing his work on an IoT middleware to enable immersive¬†TV experience.

Hussein delivers a lightning talk in the madness session with other presenters standing by.

I particularly liked the Social VR and multisensory demo from TNO and University of Sussex SCHI LAB. The Social VR work superimposes live audio-visual feed of other gamers in a VR game, hence fostering the social interactions between gamers for better gaming experience. I did give it a go and lost the game because my opponent kept talking and waving at me and distracted me from the game (That’s my excuse and I’ll stick to it…). ¬†The multisensory work shows how we can use a matrix of ultrasonic speakers as a contactless haptic tool to enhance the movie experience. Despite being at a very early stage, both demos showed a promising start of some great research with substantial impact. Different parts of the BBC R&D also brought quite a few exciting work including 360 VR subtitle (best WiP paper), CAKE (object-based media production), and Tellybox (9 demos of future TV), etc.

TVX Demos

My main takeaway from TVX is that games design, especially interactive narratives, is becoming a key element in VR innovation. VR designers often complain about people not turning their heads or moving their bodies enough to appreciate the immersive environment. But how often do we look around curiously in the real world? I am sitting in an open-plan office and I won’t voluntarily check what’s behind or above me every few seconds unless there is something attracts my attention. So we can’t expect people to behave like a searchlight when they have a VR goggle on. There is a lot to learn from the games design field, and I am taking free BSc Games Design/Arts/Development courses from my colleagues.

EPSRC First Grant Success

There are few things that bring as much joy to an academic as receiving an approval email from EPSRC (on Monday morning!). My First Grant proposal Software Defined Cognitive Networking: Intelligent Resource Provisioning For Future Networks (EP/P033202/1) has been assessed through the EPSRC peer review process and has been recommended for funding. I am very pleased to see all four reviewers unanimously giving the best score available (6 out of 6), which are highly valued by the EPSRC ICT Prioritisation Panel April 2017 (ranked 3rd out of the 11 proposals). The 2-year project is set to start in August 2017 and to be joined by a Research Associate (starting in early 2018) and at least one PhD student (funded by the host institution). I am pleased to have Hewlett-Packard Enterprise Aruba and Lancaster University as the partners, who have been very supportive from the very beginning.

EPSRC¬†(Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council) is the main UK government agency for funding research and training in engineering and the physical sciences – from mathematics to materials science, and from information technology to structural engineering.¬†First Grant is a funding scheme set up by EPSRC to help “early career academics” establish their¬†research leadership. In ICT area, First Grant usually sees a higher success rate compared with the regular Standard Grants and yet it’s nothing less than a tough hunger game. Every eligible person has only one shot in First Grant. You wouldn’t even think of writing the first letter of your proposal before establishing a strong research track record and evidence of networks. A¬†proposal (including several mandatory sections) normally takes six-month to write and often re-write while you fulfil your standard teaching and admin duties. In the proposal, the PI must prove its expertise (and potentials) in his research area and also managerial skills in project management, finance, and impacts generation. Once submitted, the proposal will then go through a rigorous reviewing process where EPSRC invites comments from several field experts from academia and industry. The assessment criteria include Quality,¬†Importance,¬†Impact, Applicant, and Resources and management. A¬†panel, organised a few times a year, will then collect all new proposals accompanied with their reviews and determine which ones to fund.¬†Needless to say, I am very proud to see my work being recognised and awarded by a prestigious funding body.

I will publish more posts on my First Grant journey, project partners, and all the people who supported on the way. For now, back to exam paper marking!


A great experience at IFIP/IEEE IM 2017: 5G slicing, cognitive, E2E, blockchain…

The week trip to IFIP/IEEE International Symposium on Integrated Network Management (IM 2017) in Lisbon was fantastic. I had the chance to catch up with old friends and colleagues (Edmundo, Marilia, Alberto, etc.) and to meet other enthusiasts in network management, SDN, QoE, 5G, block chain and cognitive technologies.

I spent my first day with the QoE-Management workshop, which had one keynote led by seven presentations. There is a lot of work on measuring different aspects (delay, switching, fairness, buffer underrun) of the quality of adaptive streaming. Machine learning is also gaining its popularity in QoE management. In my opinion, the QoE communities face a few hurdles for a major leap ahead: human intent/perception, encrypted traffic, feasible machine learning solution in communication networks, and end-to-end multi-service management. I am glad to see that this community is very open to the challenges ahead. It is also quite interesting to see Tobias opening up the argument on Mean Opinion Score (MOS). MOS is essentially a method to gather and analyse user opinions in subjective experiments. MOS has been widely used in the QoE community for decades but it is mathematically flawed. I discussed this five years ago in a paper at IEEE CCNC: Statistical Analysis of Ordinal User Opinion Scores¬†(Warning! It will upset you if you’ve¬†done a lot of work using conventional MOS… If you ended up upset, seek doctor’s advice. Preferably a doctor¬†in Mathematics.). Tactile Internet was mentioned a few times as one of the use cases. I think someone also mentioned NFV in user terminal with incentives? Why not…

The second day’s programme started with Raouf Boutaba (University of Waterloo)’s keynote on 5G network slicing. Raouf talked about virtual network embedding (VNE) with which we map virtual network nodes and links onto physical infrastructure.¬†A good VNE would lead to better error tolerance, efficiency, and “collective wellbeing”, etc. It is surely linked to the cognitive networking that I am working on. Later on, a few papers from the industry dominated the experience track. Some highlights are Cisco’s model driven network analysis using a variation of RFC 7950 YANG¬†(YANG is a data modelling language used to model configuration data, state data, Remote Procedure Calls, and notifications for network management protocols.); UNIFY, a framework that brings cross-layer “elasticity” that unifies cloud and service networks; virtualization of radio access networks (for end-to-end management and other purposes); and IBM’s “BlueWall”, an orchestration of firewalls. BlueWall still keeps human-in-the-loop so it’s probably more of an Intelligence Augmentation system rather than Artificial Intelligence. The Panel on “Challenges and Issues for 5G E2E Slicing and its Orchestration” was packed with good talks on 5G. People were very optimistic of 5G open slicing, especially its potential in creating future generation mobile operators (“anyone can be an operator”) and the E2E benefits on VR and emergency use cases.

The third day was led by two inspiring keynotes: “Intent-Driven Networks” from Laurent Ciavaglia, Nokia and “The Future of Management is Cognitive” from Nikos Anerousis, IBM Research. They recognised that network/service management is¬†moving towards “dark room + algorithms” (machine learning), but human will still have pivotal roles: referring/curating knowledge and training systems to solve complex problems. I then went to the security session and SDN session for the rest of the day. An Ericsson talk discussed COMPA (Control, Orchestration, Management,¬†Policy, and Analytics) adaptive control loop as an automation¬†pattern¬†for carrier networks, a good work to follow if you do such high-level designs. There was an interesting paper on addressing the shortage of scarce and expensive TCAM memory on SDN switches using “memory swap”. The idea is to employ the memory of SDN controller for least frequently used flow rules to free up TCAM space. Is it impractical, naive? I think there are scenarios where this solution will actually work well…

David Gorman from IBM kicked started the fourth day with his excellent keynote talk on “Making Blockchain Real for Business”. David shared his vision on a world of shared ledger, smart contract, privacy (certificate) and trust. He used auditing as one of the use cases to demonstrate the uniqueness of blockchain in tracking transactions (changes) in comparison to conventional database solutions. His talk then converged on a brief introduction of Hyperledger, a community effort on cross-industry blockchain technologies. I had a short and interesting discussion with David on the impact and use cases of blockchain in higher education. Ultimately, blockchain is merely a technology and not a solution (in fact, the same applies to SDN). I think it can be a key technology to enable cross-service end-to-end management but in many cases, a¬†solution is not dictated by the technology but politics and regulations.

On the last day, I only stayed till lunch time before I had to leave to catch my flight. The highlight of the day is certainly Alex Galis (UCL)’s talk on Programmability, Softwarization and Management in 5G networking. He emphasised on the importance and impact of softwarization and network programmability, especially the quality of slice in future networks. I’d summarise his talk, blending in my own views, as autonomous, adaptive, and automated end-to-end resource management. Alex also spent a few slides concluding on the key challenges on network slicing, which are very helpful to new researchers in this field.

All in all, IM 2017 at Portugal has been a wonderful event (In fact, they’ve done so well that they also won Eurovision 2017). I am looking forward to its future iterations (NOMS and IM).