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U.S. Patent No. 6,913,537: Recording medium and entertainment system
Issued July 5, 2005, to Sony


Summary:

The ‘537 patent allows a player to advance a game by controlling his character through a key input according to the player’s intentions. Whenever the player selects at least one command, the character acts within its designed permissible range. The permissible range of actions expands as the character increases. The patent also provides for the implication of two or more commands combined into a special command, when the combination of the tow commands meets a predefined requirement.

Abstract:

An entertainment system includes an application program recording system which record an application program which can input at least one command of operation an which the player sets the action of the character on a display screen. The command is stored in an action set frame in the unit of one operation to action set frame used to create the movements of the player character. The system further has an input, operation system where the player inputs instructions and a control system which controls the operation of the player character on the display screen based on the command from the application program recorded by the application program record system and the input operation system.

Illustrative Claim:

1. A recording medium containing a program that allows a player to advance a game by manipulating a selected character displayed on a display screen through a key input according to the player's intention, wherein said program recorded in the recording medium enables input of at least one command related to an action of said selected character so as to set up the actions of said selected character as a single operation, and wherein said recorded program enables inputs of a plurality of said commands if action points are within the permissible range of action points after said action points corresponding to said action command types are determined.

I (Ross Dannenberg) will be at GDC next week from March 2-6.  If anyone would like to meet up while there, send me a note either via my work email or through twitter (@gamelawyer).

Queen Mary University Law School is hosting an event on 24 April 2015.  Some details:

April 24, 2015
Time: 2:30pm
Venue: Lecture Theatre, Centre for Commercial Law Studies, Queen Mary University of London, 67-69 Lincoln's Inn Fields, London WC2A 3JB

Interactive Entertainment is bursting with Intellectual Property. In this environment, creativity meets the latest technologies, thereby spawning cutting-edge law issues. This seminar will address some of the fundamental questions related to the legal nature of video games, the boundaries of protectability, and the relationship between Interactive Entertainment and Intellectual Property law, including digital exhaustion and key selling, and the issues surrounding interactivity as a form of creativity.

This seminar will provide a platform for academics, practitioners, developers and publishers to share views, exchange ideas, discuss challenges and explore solutions; in order to map the Intellectual Property issues that must to be addressed for a more appropriate promotion and protection of interactive entertainment works.

Click here for the event page.

I will be one of the speakers at the event.  Hope to see you there.

U.S. Patent No.: 6,699,127: Real-time replay system for video game
Issued March 2, 2004, to Nintendo Co. Ltd.


Summary: 

The ‘127 patents allows for real-time replay in interactive video games. The user can back up a set amount of gameplay and watch it play forward in real time. The player also has the ability to pause the replay and rotate and zoom the camera in and out to get a complete view of the player and the surrounding action. Finally, the player can adjust the playback speed and watch the previous action as slow or as fast as he wants, allowing the player full control while viewing of the previous action. Now if only Bud Selig would take the hint . . . .

Abstract:

A system and method for enabling real-time replay for videogames, wherein the player can selectively rewind the videogame to previously played points in the game in order to replay portions of the game during real-time. Inline keyframes are periodically recorded, together with the controller information, so that upon selecting the replay option, the game can be rewound to the nearest keyframe. Once rewound, the game is restored based on the keyframe and is then played back from the keyframe using the stored controller information. At any point during playback, the player can take-over the action and use the actual game controller to begin actual play of the game from that point in the playback sequence. The player can also change cameras and speed for the playback in real-time at any time during the playback.

Illustrative Claim:

1. A method of providing real-time replay during gameplay in an interactive video game system, comprising: starting real-time gameplay; recording an inline keyframe at predetermined time intervals during gameplay; recording controller input from a user during gameplay; upon selection by the user of a predetemined controller input prior to the end of a game: backing-up the gameplay a set period of gameplay time from the current gameplay condition to a previous gameplay condition; using a recorded inline keyframe generally corresponding to the previous gameplay condition and the recorded controller inputs to generate and display at least a partial real-time replay of the game from the previous gameplay condition to the current gameplay condition; and enabling the user to take over the replay to begin real-time gameplay at any time during the replay and from a point in the replay where the user has taken over the replay by supplying controller input, wherein the recordings of inline keyframes and recording of controller inputs is performed based on an internal logic rate of the video game system; and further including enabling the replay to be frozen at any time during the replay and allowing the user to change at least one of camera characteristic and playback speed for the replay while the replay is frozen, and further including recording any changes to the camera characteristic or playback speed in an array of random keyframe buffers together with information that determines on which frame of the replay the recorded changes are to take effect.


U.S. Patent No. 6,846,237: Entertainment system, entertainment apparatus, recording medium, and program
Issued January 25, 2005, to Sony


Summary:

The ‘237 patent describes an entertainment system whereby a player can manually control the actions of his animated character with the push of a button. During gameplay, situations arise which require the player to act in response. When the user reacts to a specific scene, if the timing of the action is correct, the character will react in a certain way. If the time is not correct, however, the action sequence will be different. This patent has arisen in role-playing games mostly. An example that used it was Diablo.

Abstract:

An entertainment system comprises parameter changing means for permitting a user to input manipulation data by successively pressing a decision button when a button icon is displayed on a display monitor. Based on the manipulation data, the parameter changing means changes damage of a virtual enemy (e.g., monster). The parameter changing means comprises button icon displaying means for displaying the button icon on the display monitor for a predetermined period of time, accumulating means for counting the number of times the decision button is pressed for inputting manipulation data when the button icon is displayed on the display monitor, and damage calculating means for changing damage of the monster based on the counted number of times.

Illustrative Claim:

1. An entertainment system comprising: an entertainment apparatus for executing various programs; at least one manual controller for inputting a manual control request of a user to said entertainment apparatus; a display monitor for displaying an image outputted from said entertainment apparatus; and parameter changing means for permitting the user to input manipulation data by specific manipulation of said manual controller when a symbol indicating permission to input the manipulation data by said specific manipulation is displayed on said display monitor in a scene of a game, and for changing a predetermined parameter of a program presently executed by said entertainment apparatus based on the manipulation data inputted by said specific manipulation.


U.S. Patent No. 7,491,123: Video game voice chat with amplitude-based virtual ranging
Issued Feb. 17, 2009, to Nintendo


Summary:

The ‘123 patent describes a system during online multiplayer games where a player’s voice varies depending on the distance between the two characters. Thus, whenever a player’s character is in the immediate vicinity of his teammate, that teammate will be heard loud and clear. But as the distance between the two characters grows, the voice will quiet and become less clear. This invention helps the game feel more life-like in that voices vary much like they would in person.

Abstract:

The amplitude of a video game player's voice determines how far his or her message is carried to other players in the game. The range a message carries is based on the relative virtual proximity of avatars associated with said players within the virtual game environment.

Illustrative Claim:

1. A video game system comprising: an audio transducer that receives acoustical information including speech; an amplitude detector that detects the amplitude of said received acoustical information; and a messaging arrangement that selectively messages other players of said video game as a function of (a) said received acoustical information, (b) said detected amplitude, and (c) the respective relative virtual proximity of avatars within said video game that represent said players.


U.S. Patent No. 7,497,776: Multiplayer game mode with predator feature
Issued March 3, 2009, to Microsoft


Summary:

The ‘776 patent provides a new multiplayer feature for the user. One of the users has a car different from the others (for example, player 1 can be a cop car while the other players are sports cars). All the cars are designed, when playing this mode, to have the same features so that no car has an unfair speed advantage over the other cars. The user who starts as a different cop is the ‘predator’ whose goal is to catch the other players (the prey). A prey is caught whenever his car is run into by a predator, which then turns the prey into another predator to help hunt the remaining prey. The last player to remain as prey is the winner.

Abstract:

Methods and systems for administering and playing a multi-player computer game are disclosed. During the multi-player computer game, players are either identified as a predator or as prey. The predator players attempt to catch the prey, and the prey-players attempt to evade the predator(s). When a prey is caught, the caught prey becomes an additional predator. During game play, predator players' display screens may display a directional arrow indicating the direction of the closest prey, and may also display a map indicating a position of each remaining prey. Predators may be displayed on each participants display screen with a first graphically depicted appearance (e.g., a police car), while prey may be depicted having a second graphically depicted appearance (e.g., a sports car). The game ends when no prey remain, and the last caught prey is the winner.

Illustrative Claim:

1. A computer-implemented method for playing a multiplayer computer game comprising an automobile driving simulation, comprising steps of: a computer identifying at least one player on a first team and a plurality of players on a second team, each player corresponding to a different automobile in a graphically depicted simulated driving environment in which the multiplayer computer game is played, wherein the at least one player on the first team has at least a first corresponding automobile with a first graphically depicted appearance and all of the players on the second team have automobiles that are graphically distinguished from the at least first corresponding automobile, and wherein each automobile of the at least one player on the first team is given enhanced capabilities so as to always have at least a same speed and capabilities as a fastest and strongest automobile corresponding to all of the plurality of players on the second team and regardless of any type of automobile that is being driven by the at least one player on the first team; initiating game play, during which each player on the first team tries to catch any player on the second team in the graphically depicted simulated driving environment, wherein a player on the second team is caught when a player on the first team drives the at least first corresponding automobile into an automobile that corresponds to the player on the second team; when any player on the first team catches any player on the second team by driving the at least first automobile into the automobile corresponding to the player on the second team, reassigning the caught second team player to the first team by at least changing an appearance attribute of the automobile corresponding to the caught second team player to reflect that the second team player is assigned to the first team and such that the automobile corresponding to the caught second team player has a changed graphically depicted appearance that is graphically similar to the first graphically depicted appearance of the at least first corresponding automobile; and ending game play when a predetermined event occurs.

White Knuckle IP, LLC v. Electronic Arts, Inc.
US District Court for the District of Utah
1:15-cv-00014
Filed January 16, 2015

In a new case, plaintiff White Knuckle IP accuses Electronic Arts of infringing U.S. Pat. No. 8,529,350 entitled "Method and System for Increased Realism in Video Games."  The '350 patent, dating back to October 2002, describes a method for updating sports video games based on real-life events during a season.  According to the disclosure, prior art games were fixed as of the day they were released, and a player's outstanding performance or a major trade during the season would not be reflected until the next version of the game was released.  The system described in the '350 patent solves this problem by downloading updates to game attributes that are based on real-life changes in players, teams, and venues.

US Pat. No. 8,529,350, Fig. 1


The '350 patent is a divisional application related to U.S. Pat. No. 8,540,575 (not raised in this suit).  The '575 patent's claims are directed to updating a real-life player's statistics and attributes based on his performance during a real-life season.  The claims of the '350 patent in this suit are directed to updating the appearance and attributes of the virtual venues, stadiums, and arenas based on changes to their real-life counterparts.  One example in the '350 patent is updating the appearance of Wrigley Field based on the growth of the ivy in the outfield.

The ivy at Wrigley Field.  Image courtesy Wikipedia.*
The claims recite a method of downloading an updated attribute and modifying the appearance of the virtual venue to such that it "more closely represents the changed real-life stadium or field attribute."  See '350 patent claim 1.  While a reader may generally understand this concept, such relative and subjective language is generally frowned upon and may be invalid as indefinite under 35 U.S.C. 112.  One issue may be whether one of ordinary skill in the art would know with certainty what it means to "more closely represent[] the changed real-life stadium."

The accused products include EA's NCAA Football 10-14 and Tiger Woods PGA Tour 10-14.  Based on our experience with NCAA Football, the accused features might include stadium updates based on the real-life bowl game schedules.  However, White Knuckle did not identify any specific feature in its complaint.

The problem addressed in the '350 patent seems to stem from the generally offline nature of consoles circa 2002.  As a result, console games were rarely updated as there was no good way to supply the update.  However, PC games have been receiving updates in the form of balance patches and bug fixes since well before 2002.  One issue in this case may be whether it would have been obvious to include updates based on real-life changes in a patch for a sports game on PC, and whether that would fall within the scope of the claims and potentially render the claims invalid.

We'll continue to watch this case for any interesting developments.

* "Wrigley Field 400 foot sign" by flickr user jimcchou - http://www.flickr.com/photos/jimchou/246066558/. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Wrigley_Field_400_foot_sign.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Wrigley_Field_400_foot_sign.jpg

U.S. Patent No. 7,090,576: Personalized behavior of computer controlled avatars in a virtual reality environment
Issued Aug. 15, 2006, to Microsoft



Summary:

The ‘576 patent describes a racing video game which offers enhanced computer AI to give the computer-controlled cars a more “human” feel to them. The game records a player’s movements during training and then applies samplings from this behavior to the computer-controlled cars during game play. Thus, instead of acting solely as a computer (with quicker, more perfect reaction times than a human), the computer-controlled cars act with the same reaction times and in the same manner as the human players. This invention allows a player to enjoy playing the computer as much as he does when he plays another human.

Abstract:

Racing-based computer games typically include a mode in which one or more human players can compete against one or more computer-controlled opponents. For example, a human player may drive a virtual race car against a computer-controlled virtual race car purported to be driven by Mario Andretti or some other race car driver. Such computer controlled opponents may be enhanced by including a sampling of actual game behavior of a human subject into the opponent's artificial intelligence control system. Such a sampling can allow the game system to personalize the behavior of the computer control opponent to emulate the human subject.

Illustrative Claim:

1. A method comprising: computing an avatar behavior definition based on environmental context of a virtual reality environment and a randomly selected training behavior from a training set of personalized sample behaviors; and generating at least one control signal to guide behavior of an entity in the virtual reality environment in accordance with the avatar behavior definition.

Summary:
While the ‘668 patent does not cover video game systems or hardware, it does rely on access to a video game controller and aim to limit access to game consoles. The patent describes a device that only allows a game console or television to be turned on if a user uses a handheld controller to correctly answer one or more educational questions.


Abstract:
The invention generally relates to a lock-box device that requires a child or any other user to answer one or more educational questions correctly before being allowed access to one or more entertainment systems that require power such as a television, a computer, and a video game console.


Illustrative Claim:
1. A device for controlling access to and use of a video game console, comprising:
a tamper-resistant housing including a lock mechanism;
a power outlet disposed within the housing and for receiving and electrically connecting to a power plug at the end of a power cord of the video game console, the lock mechanism operable to lock the power plug within the housing after the power plug is inserted into the power outlet;
a device power cord extending from and external to the housing and terminating in a device power plug for insertion into an electrical outlet;
one or more connectors accessible external to the housing to allow a display to be connected to the device;
one or more other connectors accessible external to the housing to allow at least one handheld controller unit of the video game console to be connected to the device; and
a logic and control system disposed within the housing and for supplying images to be shown on the display to a potential user of the video game console, the images including educational content in the form of one or more questions in one or more educational subject matter areas, the logic and control system also for allowing responses to the one or more questions by the potential user, the at least one handheld controller unit of the video game console for use by the potential user to provide the responses to the one or more questions, the logic and control system also for controlling the supply of power to the power outlet based on the responses to the one or more questions, the logic and control system configured to not supply power to the power outlet unless the responses to the one or more questions are acceptable.
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