PITTSBURGH – Carnegie Mellon University plans to incorporate characters and animation from the popular video game "The Sims" in its free educational software that strives to make computer programming more appealing to students.
The university will use the animation to enliven the next version of Alice, a teaching program developed over the past decade and used at more than 60 colleges and universities and about 100 high schools, said Randy Pausch, a computer science professor and director of the Alice Project.
"This is not some little crumb that got tossed. This is the most valuable intellectual property owned by the largest video game maker in the world," Pausch said Friday. "For the intended demographic we're trying to teach, 'The Sims' are more valuable than the Disney library."
The Alice programming language is designed to make abstract concepts concrete for first-time programmers, using three-dimensional images of things such as people or animals that can be controlled by clicking and dragging words with a computer mouse. Those words form a program.
While Alice has proven effective, its characters and animation remain rudimentary, Pausch said. The animation is expected to transform Alice from a crude three-dimensional programming tool into a more compelling programming environment.
The effort to revamp Alice is intended to boost interest in computer programming among students, who have historically found the skill frustrating to learn.
A 2005 University of California, Los Angeles study found there had been a 50 percent drop in computer science majors over the previous four years. The proportion of women who were considering majoring in computer science fell to levels not seen since the early 1970s, according to the study.
"The Sims" is a wildly popular game that lets players control virtual humans from birth until death.
Steve Seabolt, vice president of the Redwood City, Calif.-based company, said that "by marrying the characters, animations and playful style of 'The Sims' to Alice, we are helping make computer science fun for a new generation of creative leaders."
Electronic Arts, the world's largest video game publisher, has sold more than 54 million units of "The Sims," generating more than $1 billion in sales since it launched in 2000.
Work on the new version of the Alice program is expected to start immediately and continue for 18 to 24 months.