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'Cloning' process promises parallel universe of gaming

In this story:

Extensive research, other applications

Privacy, interactive implications


(CNN) -- Imagine a parallel universe where you are the hero.

3Q Inc. hopes gamers will be able to visualize such a scenario, one in which a computer-generated double exists to battle monsters, shoot enemies and evade peril.

Demo: 3Q launches 3-D 'Clone Generators'

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Although the number of compatible PC games is currently limited, 3Q launched its 3-D human form reproduction technology Friday at a Babbage's outlet in San Jose, California.

To have their digitized alter ego created, a person sits inside a converted photo booth that houses three precisely synchronized cameras. A technique known as Digital Surface Photogrammetry (DSP) is then engaged, which involves a random, non-laser light pattern projected on the subject's face to capture an image in as little as 8 milliseconds. Creators of the technique say speed is of the essence in order to reduce any slight movements that could negatively impact quality.

The resolution allows for 2,000 polygons, which can be modified depending on the game engine. The surface texture is 24-bit color, and the 3-D file format is available in Virtual Reality Modeling Language (VRML) and game file formats -- all rendered in about 10 seconds. Users then have a few minutes to add features such as scars or to change their hairstyle.

Players can then upload themselves to their favorite computer game. The cost is $25 for the image on a CD-ROM, which can include the specific game engine for an additional $5 each.

So far, the 3Q cloning booth is only located at the Babbage's Software Etc. store in San Jose, California. Two other booths will be launched in the coming days at Babbage's in Dallas, Texas, (on Saturday) and Seattle, Washington (on Monday). Officials at 3Q have said they intend to make them more widely accessible in the near future.

But not everyone is confident that it will sustain enough public interest.

Chris Kramer, editor in chief at PC Daily Radar, a Web site that reviews video games, said although the idea of becoming an avatar is fascinating, the means to transfer the image may still be too time-consuming and appeal to only a narrow market.

"I think it's a cool idea, but it probably won't get off the ground," Kramer said. "There are a million nifty high-tech ideas that just don't catch on."

Extensive research, other applications

According to 3Q, more than five years of continuous research has gone into developing DSP. The parent company of 3Q is TCTi, which is based in the United Kingdom and supplies the technology behind Atlanta, Georgia-based 3Q.

The same 3-D rendering system is already in use by the medical community for a variety of purposes, say 3Q officials, including allowing plastic surgery patients to preview their new look and monitoring the growth of children awaiting jaw surgery.

The scanning booth houses three precisely synchronized cameras that use a non-laser light to capture an image of the subject's face in as little as 8 milliseconds  

Designers of the digital capture procedure say future applications could enable a person's 3-D image to collaborate with colleagues on a virtual project, compete against friends in a computer game, visit a virtual doctor or even shop with a family member in a virtual mall.

Chris Lane, CEO of 3Q, suggested that when full-body scanning is widely available, a person could use their 3-D image to try on clothes in cyberspace to find out if they fit. For now, only faces can be scanned at the 3Q cloning booths.

The computers that run this technology have reached a point where the image quality is noticeably more realistic, said Lane.

"It's truly going to change the approach to home entertainment."

Among the games that can now accommodate 3Q's technology are "Quake III Arena," "Star Trek: Voyager Elite Force" and "Counter-Strike." Other games are also looking to eventually incorporate the cloning images, including "The Sims," "Duke Nukem Forever" and "Unreal Tournament."

Lane said 3Q opted not to align with a particular game manufacturer in order to remain independent, choosing Babbage's as a retail partner instead.

Privacy, interactive implications

For avid Internet gamers, the cloning technology offers a further extension of their virtual personas, said David Eddings, director of promotions at Gathering of Developers Inc., a computer and video game publisher.

"This technology will take games such as "Quake III" and "Rune" to the next level," Eddings said. "The biggest impact, however, will be in Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games (MMORPG) such as the upcoming 'Shadowbane' games. In these types of games players build unique online identities in a persistent universe. 3Q's technology further bridges the gap between virtual and reality."

Lane noted that 3Q is warning people to keep their new image private since it could be misused if it falls into the wrong hands.

When asked whether there are concerns about children using their own image in a violent video game, Lane said the company would address such issues as they arise.

He said they are pushing for ethical and responsible use from the beginning, and while there are no age restrictions on using the cloning booth, Lane said 3Q would consider such a measure if it becomes necessary.

"It's difficult to predict what could happen, but there's always a potential for misuse," he said. "Although you may be killed in the game, you can come back to life with the click of a mouse. But at this stage, it's all about having fun."

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