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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.
Gamecaster, Inc. v. Dreamworks Animation SKG, Inc.
Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit
Case No. 2014-1380
January 8, 2015

The Federal Circuit affirmed a finding by the USPTO during an inter partes re-examination that Gamecaster's patent on a physical control device for a virtual camera was invalid.

Gamecaster filed U.S. Pat. No. 7,403,220 in July 2005.  The '220 patent is generally directed to a video camera device that allows a camera operator to control a virtual camera in a virtual environment.


Gamecaster's GCS3 virtual cinematography system
(http://www.gamecaster.com/news/GCS3-Revolutionary-Virtual-Camera-Control-)



Gamecaster sued Dreamworks in April 2009 for infringement of the '220 patent.  See Gamecaster, Inc. v. Dreamworks Animation SKG, Inc., Case No. 2-09-cv-02723 (CACD 2009).  Dreamworks filed a request for re-examination in August of 2009, which was instituted by the USPTO.  The Examiner agreed with Dreamworks that the claims were anticipated by each of 7 different references, as well as obvious over two references - Paley, "Interaction in 3d Graphics: Designing Special Purpose Input Devices" and Vincent, US Pat. No. 7,050,102.

Gamecaster appealed the obviousness rejection to the PTAB, and the PTAB affirmed the examiner's findings of invalidity (the PTAB did not address the anticipation rejections as it found the obviousness rejection adequate).  On appeal, the Federal Circuit affirmed the PTAB's decision without further comment.

Paley's "Cyclops"
The device described in the Paley reference, at first glance, appears strikingly similar to that disclosed in the '220 patent.
It’s a simple concept: take a standard fluid-head tripod and instrument it, then mount a flat-panel display on the tripod where the camera would normally go. Now feed the tilt and pan angles into the animation program, while simultaneously displaying a real-time preview of the animation. Voila! You’ve brought camera control back out into the real world....
Second, we're using the past again. Not only as inspiration this time, but directly. What we get is a device that's completely intuitive to use, and one that taps into years of experience that a cinematographer may have acquired on the somatic level. We're using the interaction of cinematographer's eye and visual sense (where the artist is), muscle-memory of the arm and hand (where the training is) and the grip and fluid-damped head of the tripod.
The Vincent reference was relied on to teach the use of gyroscopes and accelerometers in cameras.

One interesting issue in this case was that Paley described a video camera control for use in virtual worlds, while Vincent described a traditional video camera for use in the real world.  Gamecaster argued on appeal to the PTAB and in its appeal to the Federal Circuit that the two references were directed to wholly different applications (physical world versus virtual worlds).  However, the examiner found that the use of Vincent's gyroscopes and accelerometers was nothing more than combining familiar elements according to known methods to yield predictable results, and the board affirmed this finding.  See Appeal No. 2013-000375 at 8 (PTAB 2013).  A significant portion of Gamecaster's arguments at the Federal Circuit centered on whether the references could be combined based on this, but the Federal Circuit was not convinced and affirmed the PTAB without any comments in its opinion.

This case provides an interesting example of the crossover between real world and virtual world concepts.  Vincent illustrated that it was known at the time of invention to use accelerometers in optical video cameras to control the movement of the camera.  As found by the courts and the USPTO in this case, it would have been obvious to one of ordinary skill in the art to adapt these features for use in controlling a virtual camera.  This opinion illustrates that, in some cases, it may be obvious to adapt real world techniques for use in virtual environments and that real-world techniques may serve as prior art against virtual techniques.

U.S. Patent No. 6,454,652: Video Game System and Method with Enhanced Three-Dimensional Character and Background Control Due to Environmental Conditions
Issued September 24, 2002, to Nintendo Co. Ltd.


Summary:

The ‘652 patent details a video game system which permits game play involving three-dimensional images to have a depth and realism that exceeds previous known game systems. This video game feature, exemplified by Super Mario 64, features unique player controls which permits control over a character’s exploration of the three-dimensional world. Before, when a level was completed, the player would be forced along the controlled path to the next object, but with this patent came the ability to continue to explore the worlds the player had completed in order to collect all stars, coins, etc. before moving on at his liking. In the case of Super Mario 64, whenever a player would go into a room in Bowser’s castle, he was free to jump through any portrait on the wall and explore any world he wanted, as many times as he wanted, in whatever order he wanted. It was a pretty novel idea for an ordinary plumber.

Abstract:

A video game system includes a game cartridge which is pluggably attached to a main console having a main processor, a 3D graphics generating coprocessor, expandable main memory and player controllers. A multifunctional peripheral processing subsystem external to the game microprocessor and coprocessor is described which executes commands for handling player controller input/output to thereby lessen the processing burden on the graphics processing subsystem. The video game methodology involves game level organization features, camera perspective or point of view control features, and a wide array of animation and character control features. The system changes the "camera" angle (i.e., the displayed point of view in the three-dimensional world) automatically based upon various conditions and in response to actuation of a plurality of distinct controller keys/buttons/switches.

Illustrative Claim:

1. For use with a video game system console having a game program executing processing system to execute said video game program and at least one player controller operable by a player to generate video game control signals; a portable storage device for controlling the operation of said video game system console comprising: a memory medium for storing video game instructions and graphics data; accessing circuitry for coupling said video game instructions and said graphics data retrieved from said memory medium to said video game system console; said video game instructions including instructions for causing said video game executing processing system to generate digital representations of a plurality of different three dimensional courses within which a player controlled character may enter and achieve goals, and for generating a pause screen in response to a particular player input; wherein said pause screen includes an option for enabling the player to exit the course only if the pause screen was selected by the player when the player controlled character was not moving.

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