The Alice Project - Make Your Own Movie With The Sims
The Alice Project is part of the legacy left by Randy Pausch, a professor of Computer Science at Carnegie Mellon University. His vision is that kids learn to tell stories by making their own movies using real computer programming languages, without knowing they are doing anything other than having fun.
See the bottom of this page for a video of Randy's last lecture at Carnegie Mellon, delivered on September 18, 2007. Randy is dying of cancer - you can get medical updates here.
This Hub is not about Randy - he would hate that.
It is about this project, which is part of his legacy to the world. If you're going to spread the word, please don't go and tell people about "the dying professor" - please go out and talk about Alice instead.
Have you ever played The Sims?
It's incredibly addictive - there is always one more promotion to get, one more person to make friends with, one more baby to be born, one more reason not to shut down the computer just yet.
But those annoying Sims have minds of their own. Sometimes they just refuse to fall in love with the person you have picked out for them. Sometimes they just refuse to do their music practice, or read another cookery book. And sometimes they want to stay up all night before their big exam!
Wouldn't it be great if you could write the whole story, from beginning to end, and have the Sims actually follow the plan?
With a new collaboration between Electronic Arts and Alice.org, you will soon be able to do just that!
What is Alice?
Alice is a simple 3D programming environment which lets you use drag-and-drop menus to create your own animations.
"We like to refer to it as Pixar in your garage," says one of the creators, Professor Randy Pausch.
Right now, you can practice using the software, making movies with the standard Alice characters - and soon, the Sims characters will be available, too!
Here's what to tell your parents if they complain that you are spending too much time "playing" with Alice:
Alice allows students to immediately see how their animation programs run, enabling them to easily understand the relationship between the programming statements and the behavior of objects in their animation. By manipulating the objects in their virtual world, students gain experience with all the programming constructs typically taught in an introductory programming course.
Your imagination is the only limit when you play with Alice - take your characters to exotic places, fly them across the landscape, grow them as big as giants, or spin them around in a tornado.
If you have accidentally grown up, Alice is an opportunity to revisit childhood dreams - remember the things you imagined when you were out, playing, far from the reach of telephones or snooping adults? Recreate the wonder of those worlds in your own three-dimensional virtual reality movie.
If you have Alice installed, you can download an animation of Charles Babbage (inventor of the first calculating machine, although he didn't live to see it built and working) singing karaoke ...
I had a lot of fun learning how to use the program Alice. If someone told me that I was going to learn how to program I would think that that would be boring, but when you use Alice, you don't even realize you're learning.
I like how simple the interface is so it's easy to get into making an animation and it's easy to figure out how to do things ... Because the program has so many pre-made characters and environments, you feel like you are actually making something interesting. If you just had to learn programming from scratch you would probably start with very simple but also boring things. Alice lets you jump right in to making something cool.
"Walk into a middle school classroom and ask 'Who wants to be a computer programmer?' and hardly any hands go up," says Caitlin Kelleher, a post-doctoral researcher in Computer Science & Human Computer Interaction at Carnegie Mellon University. "Walk into the same classroom and ask, 'Who wants to make Pixar movies?' and it's a different story."
Alice is the best of both worlds - a fun way to make your very own animated movies, just like Pixar, and be doing something your parents think is "educational" ... or maybe you're old enough that you are more worried about what your spouse thinks?
Whether you should be "developing new marketable skills" or can afford to be "just playing around" - there's no longer any need to argue about it. In this case, it's not one or the other. You can have your fun, and learn something, too.
I wonder whether the Sims in Alice will "woo hoo" like the ones in the game?
Randy Pausch - The Last Lecture
This video is Randy Pauch's contribution to the Last Lecture series at Carnegie Mellon. He talks about fulfilling childhood dreams, enabling others to fulfil their dreams, some of the cool things he has been able to do in his working life, and how those things led to the development of the Alice project. It's a hour-long lecture, and it's absolutely worth investing the time to watch it. I usually hate audio and video, because they are so slow compared with reading, so if I found this worth watching I can guarantee you will, too.
Randy Pausch won the 2007 Karl V. Karlstrom Outstanding Educator Award from the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM). The award recognizes his innovative efforts to teach computer science in ways that are accessible and fun, and will be presented at the ACM Awards Banquet on June 21 in San Francisco.
Randy has also been named a 2007 ACM Fellow and is the winner of the 2007 ACM Special Interest Group on Computer Science Education (SIGCSE) Award for Outstanding Contributions to Computer Science Education. This award will be presented March 12 at the ACM SIGCSE Conference in Portland, Oregon, where he is scheduled to deliver a keynote address.