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Publication numberUS20110165939 A1
Publication typeApplication
Application numberUS 12/985,267
Publication date7 Jul 2011
Filing date5 Jan 2011
Priority date5 Jan 2010
Publication number12985267, 985267, US 2011/0165939 A1, US 2011/165939 A1, US 20110165939 A1, US 20110165939A1, US 2011165939 A1, US 2011165939A1, US-A1-20110165939, US-A1-2011165939, US2011/0165939A1, US2011/165939A1, US20110165939 A1, US20110165939A1, US2011165939 A1, US2011165939A1
InventorsKarl Joseph Borst, Stephen Braund, Nathaniel Croce, Jessica Boyd, Michael Kwant, Rose Bianchini, Ted Ludzik, Allan Turner, Nelson Pavao
Original AssigneeGanz
Export CitationBiBTeX, EndNote, RefMan
External Links: USPTO, USPTO Assignment, Espacenet
Method and system for providing a 3d activity in a virtual presentation
US 20110165939 A1
Abstract
Provided is a method of developing user-generated challenges in a virtual environment. The method includes receiving registration information transmitted over a communication network, validating the registration information, establishing a user account on a computer and associating a first virtual character with the user account. A user is granted access to a course creation tool comprising a plurality of different course portions that are to be arranged in the virtual environment to construct a course to be navigated from a start point to an end point. Included along the course, to be encountered by another virtual character between the starting point and the end point, is a challenge region that is to interfere with a progression of the another virtual character along the course in a direction generally toward the end point. Two or more virtual obstacles represented by icons are selectable for inclusion in the challenge region. The another virtual character will be required to interact with at least one of the virtual obstacles included in the challenge region before continuing the progression along the course beyond the challenge region.
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Claims(74)
1. A method of developing user-generated challenges in a virtual environment, the method comprising:
receiving registration information transmitted over a communication network;
validating the registration information;
establishing a user account on a computer and associating a first virtual character with the user account;
granting a user, via said user account, access to a course creation tool comprising a plurality of different course portions that are selectable to be arranged in different ways in the virtual environment to construct a course to be navigated from a start point to an end point,
controlling access to said course to allow navigation of the course by another virtual character in the virtual environment, different than said first virtual character;
including along the course, to be encountered by the another virtual character between the starting point and the end point, a challenge region that is to interfere with a progression of the another virtual character along the course in a direction generally toward the end point; and
offering a plurality of virtual obstacles represented by icons that are selectable for inclusion in the challenge region, wherein the another virtual character will be required to interact with at least one of the virtual obstacles included in the challenge region before continuing the progression along the course beyond the challenge region.
2. The method according to claim 1, further comprising establishing a second user account on the computer and associating a second virtual character with the second user account.
3. The method according to claim 1, further comprising granting the different user, via another user computer, access to navigate the course with the second virtual character as said another virtual character.
4. The method according to claim 1, wherein said plurality of virtual obstacles can be included in a first challenge region and are prohibited from being included in a second challenge region.
5. The method according to claim 1, wherein said course is a simulated three-dimensional maze.
6. The method according to claim 1, wherein the registration information comprises a registration code associated with a real-world toy that is received over the Internet.
7. The method according to claim 6, wherein the virtual character is a virtual replica of the real-world toy.
8. The method according to claim, 7 wherein the real-world toy is a plush hamster and the virtual character is a virtual hamster.
9. The method according to claim 1 further comprising:
subsequent to validating the registration information, receiving additional registration information associated with a purchased real-world toy over the communication network; and
granting the user access to at least one additional course portion in the course creation tool in response to successful validation of the additional registration information, wherein said access to the at least one additional course portion is restricted at a time between said validating the registration information and said receiving additional registration information.
10. The method according to claim 1 further comprising, during arrangement of the different course portions in the virtual environment, receiving an instruction to rotate at least a portion of the course, and in response to said receiving the instruction, rotating the at least a portion of the course about one or more axes in a simulated three-dimensional space to provide the user with views of the course from multiple different angles.
11. The method according to claim 1, wherein the different course portions comprise a plurality of substantially-tubular segments that collectively form an interior passage through which the another virtual character is to travel, wherein each of said substantially-tubular segments comprises a different shape.
12. The method according to claim 11, wherein the different course portions further comprise a virtual room that is to be installed between two or more of the substantially-tubular segments, wherein an interior portion of the virtual room includes the challenge region.
13. The method according to claim 1, wherein each of the plurality of obstacles comprises an input device that the another virtual character must interact with to allow the another virtual character to exit the challenge region and continue the progression along the course.
14. The method according to claim 13, wherein each of the plurality of virtual obstacles available for selection and inclusion in the challenge region appears as a graphic in an obstacle menu from which the virtual obstacles can be placed at desired locations in the challenge region using a drag-and-drop operation.
15. The method according to claim 14 further comprising receiving, over the communication network, an order in which the another virtual character is required to interact with each of the virtual obstacles included in the challenge region to exit the challenge region and continue the progression along the course toward the end point.
16. The method according to claim 15, wherein said order is specified via an iconic programming interface in which the icons representing each virtual obstacle are programmed.
17. The method according to claim 1 further comprising granting the user access to a user-generated course constructed by a different user to navigate the user-generated course with the virtual character.
18. The method according to claim 1, wherein said granting the user access to the course creation tool comprises transmitting information indicative of a quantity of one or more of the course portions available for selection.
19. The method according to claim 18 further comprising:
offering for sale to said user a unit of the one or more of the course portions selectable by the user, wherein a purchase of said unit by said user increases the quantity of the one or more course portions available for selection by the user; and
associating the quantity of the one or more course portions available for selection with the user account.
20. The method according to claim 19, wherein the one or more course portions are purchased using virtual currency that does not constitute legal tender outside of the virtual environment, currency that is legal tender outside of the virtual environment, or a combination of the virtual currency and the legal tender.
21. The method according to claim 18 further comprising:
serving content that allows the user to perform a build operation to build a unit of the one or more of the course portions available for selection, wherein the build operation increases the quantity of the one or more course portions available for selection; and
associating the quantity of the one or more of the course portions available for selection with the user account.
22. The method according to claim 21, wherein a delay required between performance of consecutive build operations depends at least in part on a number of virtual characters associated with the user account.
23. The method according to claim 1 further comprising associating a difficulty to said course relative to at least one other course in the virtual environment.
24. The method according to claim 23 further comprising grouping the course with at least one similarly-difficult course in the virtual environment.
25. The method according to claim 1 further comprising recording a time required for the another virtual character to complete the course.
26. A method of creating a user-generated challenge in a virtual environment, the method comprising:
associating a first virtual character with a user account created for a user on a computer;
granting access to a maze creation tool based on said user account, said maze creation tool comprising a plurality of maze portions that are selectable to be arranged in the virtual environment to construct a simulated three-dimensional maze to be navigated from a start point to an end point by another virtual character in the virtual environment, wherein said another virtual character is associated with another user account created for a different user;
transmitting information indicative of a quantity of a plurality of the maze portions available for selection by the user to be included in the maze;
associating a second virtual character with the user account;
prior to associating the second virtual character with the user account, prohibiting the user from access to a previously-restricted maze portion for inclusion in the maze, and subsequent to associating the second virtual character with the user account, granting the user access to the previously-restricted maze portion that is selectable for inclusion in the maze, the previously-restricted maze portion being different from the plurality of maze portions; and
granting the different user, via another user computer, access to navigate the maze with the another virtual character.
27. The method according to claim 26, wherein said granting the different user access to navigate the maze comprises:
receiving a request to establish the user and the different user as friends in the virtual environment;
allowing the different user to navigate the maze with the another virtual character; and
restricting access to the maze by a non-friend user with a third virtual character in the virtual environment.
28. The method according to claim 26 further comprising transmitting information indicative of a quantity of one or more of the maze portions available for selection by the user.
29. The method according to claim 28 further comprising:
serving content that allows the user to perform a build operation to build a unit of the one or more of the maze portions available for selection, wherein the build operation increases the quantity of the one or more maze portions available for selection; and
associating the quantity of the one or more of the maze portions available for selection with the user account.
30. The method according to claim 29 further comprising receiving, over a communication network, a designation of selected virtual characters associated with the user account to be allocated to the build operation, wherein
a length of time required following the build operation before a subsequent build operation involving at least one of the selected virtual characters can be initiated depends at least in part on the number of selected virtual characters allocated to the build operation.
31. The method according to claim 28, wherein the quantity of the one or more maze portions is increased in response to association of a third virtual character with the user account.
32. The method according to claim 31, wherein the third virtual character is associated with the user account in response to validation of a registration code associated with a purchased toy.
33. The method according to claim 32, wherein the third virtual character is a virtual replica of the purchased toy.
34. The method according to claim 26 further comprising, during arrangement of the maze portions in the virtual environment, receiving an instruction to adjust a viewpoint of the maze and, in response to said receiving the instruction, adjusting the at least a portion of the maze about one or more axes in a simulated three-dimensional space to provide the user with views of the maze from multiple different angles.
35. A method of creating a user-generated challenge in a virtual environment, the method comprising:
associating a plurality of virtual characters with a user account created for a user on a computer;
receiving an access request for the virtual environment from a user computer over a communication network;
granting access to a maze creation tool, based on said user account, said maze creation tool comprising a plurality of maze portions that are selectable by the user to be arranged in the virtual environment to construct a simulated three-dimensional maze to be navigated by another virtual character in the virtual environment, wherein said another virtual character is associated with another user account created for a different user;
transmitting information indicative of a quantity of a plurality of the maze portions available for selection by the user from the maze creation tool to be included in the maze;
receiving an instruction to perform a first build operation that adds at least one unit to the quantity of one or more of the maze portions available for selection by the user;
receiving, over the communication network, a designation of one or more of the virtual characters associated with the user account as selected virtual characters that are to be allocated to the first build operation;
requiring a length of time to elapse before a subsequent build operation involving at least one of the selected virtual characters allocated to the first build operation can be initiated, where said length of time depends at least in part on a quantity of selected virtual characters allocated to the first build operation; and
granting the different user, via another user computer, access to navigate the maze constructed using the maze portions with the another virtual character.
36. The method according to claim 35 further comprising associating with the user account the quantity of the one or more of the maze portions available for selection by the user, including the at least one unit added to the quantity by the first build operation.
37. The method according to claim 35, wherein said associating the plurality of virtual characters with the user account comprises:
receiving registration information associated with a purchased toy over the communication network;
validating said registration information; and
associating at least one of the virtual characters with the user account in response to successfully validating said registration information.
38. The method according to claim 37, wherein the at least one of the virtual characters is a virtual replica of the purchased toy.
39. The method according to claim 35 further comprising receiving a selection of a specific maze portion from the plurality of maze portions included in the maze creation tool, wherein the first build operation adds the at least one unit to the quantity of the specific maze portion.
40. The method according to claim 35 further comprising transmitting information indicative of the length of time remaining before the subsequent build operation can be initiated involving the at least one of the selected virtual characters allocated to the first build operation, wherein the length of time remaining is to be displayed by the user computer.
41. The method according to claim 40, wherein the information indicative of the length of time comprises information that allows the user computer to display a countdown to completion of the length of time.
42. The method according to claim 35 further comprising limiting the quantity of the selected virtual characters that are selectable for allocation to the first build operation to no more than a maximum number of the virtual characters, wherein the maximum number is less than a total number of the virtual characters associated with the user account.
43. The method according to claim 35 further comprising:
adding the at least one unit to the quantity of the one or more of the maze portions available for selection by the user in response to said receiving the instruction to perform the first build operation; and
restricting use of the selected virtual characters in the subsequent build operation for at least the length of time following said adding the at least one unit to the quantity of the one or more maze portions.
44. A method of interacting in a virtual world, the method comprising:
associating a virtual character representing a purchased toy with a user account created for a user on a computer that has a connection to a communication network;
associating a plurality of non-player characters with each of a plurality of virtual zones of the virtual world;
subsequent to said associating the virtual character, receiving commands input via the communication network to control the virtual character within a three-dimensional rendering of the virtual world, wherein the commands input request an interaction between the virtual character and one or more of the non-player characters within the three-dimensional rendering of the virtual world;
in response to said receiving commands, establishing the interaction between the virtual character and the one or more of the non-player characters, resulting in a communication from the one or more of the non-player characters to the virtual character; and
subsequent to said associating the virtual character, serving content over the communication network to be received by the user computer and said content representing a three-dimensional rendering of a virtual course that is to be navigated by the virtual character.
45. The method according to claim 44, wherein the content to be used to generate the three-dimensional rendering of the virtual course comprises a third-person view of the virtual character navigating the virtual course.
46. The method according to claim 45, wherein the virtual character comprises an appearance of a hamster in a ball and the virtual course comprises a network of generally-tubular interior passages.
47. The method according to claim 44, wherein each of the plurality of different non-player characters is associated with one of the plurality of zones, and is specific to a theme of the one of the plurality of zones.
48. The method according to claim 44, wherein the communication resulting from said interaction comprises a challenge issued by the one or more of the non-player characters to the virtual character.
49. The method according to claim 48 further comprising associating a relationship parameter with the virtual character, wherein the relationship parameter is indicative of a relative closeness of a relationship between the virtual character and the one or more of the non-player characters and is improved in response to successful completion of the challenge.
50. The method according to claim 44, wherein the three-dimensional rendering of the virtual world comprises an open, substantially-unbounded arena and the three-dimensional rendering of the virtual course is separate from the arena.
51. A method of developing a user-generated challenge in a virtual environment, the method comprising:
entering registration information into a user computer and transmitting the registration information over a communication network for validation;
receiving first information indicative of successful validation of the registration information;
providing second information for creating a user account;
subsequent to said providing, accessing a virtual character associated with the user account;
using a course creation tool on said user computer to select one of a plurality of different course portions that are selectable to be arranged in the virtual environment;
using said course creation tool to select others of said plurality of different course portions, to select plural course portions;
arranging the plural different course portions in the virtual environment to construct a course to be navigated from a start point to an end point;
selecting for inclusion along the course, to be encountered a virtual character travelling between the starting point and the end point, a challenge region that is to interfere with a progression of the virtual character along the course in a direction generally toward the end point;
selecting a plurality of virtual obstacles for inclusion in the challenge region, wherein the virtual character will be required to interact with at least one of the virtual obstacles included in the challenge region before continuing the progression along the course beyond the challenge region; and
submitting the course for publication to allow the course to be accessed and navigated by another virtual character.
52. The method as in claim 51, further comprising allowing the course to be accessed by a different user.
53. The method of claim 51, wherein the course is a simulated three-dimensional maze.
54. The method according to claim 51, wherein the registration information comprises a registration code associated with a real-world toy and said virtual character is a virtual replica of the real-world toy.
55. The method according to claim 51 further comprising:
subsequent to said receiving the information indicative of successful validation, transmitting additional registration information associated with a purchased real-world toy over the communication network for validation; and
gaining access to at least one additional course portion in the course creation tool in response to successful validation of the additional registration information, wherein said access to the at least one additional course portion is restricted at a time between said receiving information indicative of successful validation of the registration information and said transmitting additional registration information.
56. The method according to claim 51 further comprising requesting rotation of at least a portion of the course during construction, and in response to said requesting, displaying rotation of the at least a portion of the course about one or more axes in a simulated three-dimensional space to provide views of the course from multiple different angles.
57. The method according to claim 51 further comprising specifying an order in which another virtual character is required to interact with each of the virtual obstacles included in the challenge region to exit the challenge region and continue the progression along the course toward the end point.
58. The method according to claim 57, wherein said order is specified via an iconic programming interface in which icons representing each virtual obstacle are programmed.
59. The method according to claim 51 further comprising initiating a build operation that increases a quantity of the one or more course portions available for selection.
60. A method of creating a user-generated challenge in a virtual environment, the method comprising:
transmitting, over a communication network, a request to register a first virtual character and associate the first virtual character with a user account;
accessing a maze creation tool comprising a plurality of maze portions;
selecting the plurality of maze portions and arranging the plurality of maze portions selected into a three-dimensional maze in the virtual environment that is to be navigated from a start point to an end point by another virtual character in the virtual environment, wherein said another virtual character is associated with another user account created for a remotely-located user;
receiving an indication of a quantity of a plurality of the maze portions available to be included in the maze;
transmitting, over the communication network, a request to register a second virtual character and associate the second virtual character with the user account;
subsequent to said transmitting the request to register the second virtual character, selecting a previously-restricted maze portion for inclusion in the maze, the previously-restricted maze portion being different from the plurality of maze portions; and
submitting the maze for publication to allow the maze to be accessed by the remotely-located user, via a user computer, and navigated with the another virtual character.
61. The method according to claim 60 further comprising requesting performance of a build operation to build a unit of the one or more of the maze portions available for selection, wherein the build operation increases the quantity of the one or more maze portions available for selection.
62. The method according to claim 61 further comprising designating selected virtual characters associated with the user account to be allocated to the build operation, wherein
a length of time required following the build operation before a subsequent build operation involving at least one of the selected virtual characters can be initiated depends at least in part on the number of selected virtual characters allocated to the build operation.
63. A method of creating a user-generated challenge in a virtual environment, the method comprising:
requesting registration of a plurality of virtual characters to be associated with a user account;
accessing a maze creation tool comprising a plurality of maze portions;
selecting the plurality of maze portions and arranging the plurality of maze portions selected to construct a three-dimensional maze in the virtual environment to be navigated by another virtual character in the virtual environment, wherein said another virtual character is associated with another user account created for a remotely-located user;
receiving an indication of a quantity of a plurality of the maze portions available for selection from the maze creation tool to be included in the maze;
requesting performance of a first build operation that adds at least one unit to the quantity of one or more of the maze portions available for selection;
designating one or more of the virtual characters associated with the user account as selected virtual characters that are to be allocated to the first build operation, wherein
a length of time before a subsequent build operation involving at least one of the selected virtual characters allocated to the first build operation can be initiated depends at least in part on a quantity of selected virtual characters allocated to the first build operation; and
submitting the maze for publication to allow the maze to be accessed by the remotely-located user, via a user computer, and navigated with the another virtual character.
64. The method according to claim 63, wherein at least one of the virtual characters is a virtual replica of a purchased toy.
65. The method according to claim 63 further comprising selecting a specific maze portion from among the plurality of maze portions available in the maze creation tool, wherein the first build operation adds the at least one unit to the quantity of the specific maze portion.
66. The method according to claim 63 further comprising receiving an indication of a remaining portion of the length of time before the subsequent build operation can be initiated involving the at least one of the selected virtual characters allocated to the first build operation.
67. The method according to claim 66, wherein the indication of a length of the remaining portion of the length of time comprises a countdown timer.
68. The method according to claim 63, wherein the selected virtual characters are limited to less than, or equal to a maximum number of allowable virtual characters that can be allocated to the first build operation, the maximum number being less than a total number of the virtual characters associated with the user account.
69. A method of providing a virtual presentation, the method comprising:
requesting registration of a virtual character representing a purchased toy and association of said virtual character with a user account;
transmitting an instruction requesting an interaction between the virtual character and at least one of a plurality of non-player characters associated with a virtual zone forming a portion of a virtual world, wherein the interaction between the virtual character and the at least one of the non-player characters is to occur within a three-dimensional rendering of the virtual world;
receiving a communication from the one or more of the non-player characters in response to the interaction between the virtual character and the at least one of the non-player characters; and
subsequent to said associating the virtual character, displaying a three-dimensional rendering of a virtual course that is to be navigated by the virtual character.
70. The method according to claim 69, wherein said displaying the three-dimensional rendering of the virtual course comprises displaying a third-person view of the virtual character navigating the virtual course.
71. The method according to claim 70, wherein the virtual character comprises an appearance of a hamster in a ball and the virtual course comprises a network of generally-tubular interior passages.
72. The method according to claim 69, wherein each of the plurality of different non-player characters is associated with one of a plurality of zones, and is specifically adapted to a theme of the one of the plurality of zones.
73. The method according to claim 69, wherein the communication resulting from said interaction comprises a challenge issued by the one or more of the non-player characters to the virtual character.
74. The method according to claim 73 further comprising: successfully completing the challenge issued by the one or more of the non-player characters, thereby improving a relationship parameter associated with the virtual character indicative of a relative closeness of a relationship between the virtual character and the one or more of the non-player characters.
Description
    CROSS-REFERENCE TO RELATED APPLICATIONS
  • [0001]
    This application claims the benefit of U.S. Provisional Application No. 61/292,317, filed Jan. 5, 2010, and of U.S. Provisional Application No. 61/417,826, filed Nov. 29, 2010, both of which are incorporated in their entirety herein by reference.
  • BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION
  • [0002]
    1. Field of the Invention
  • [0003]
    This application relates generally to a method and system for providing a virtual presentation with a three-dimensional (“3D”) interface, and more specifically to method and system for providing content to a user computer that allows a user of the user computer to develop a 3D activity within a virtual presentation and optionally share the 3D activity with another participant accessing the virtual presentation over a communication network via another user computer.
  • [0004]
    2. Description of Related Art
  • [0005]
    Traditionally, users can access a website to participate in a variety of different two-dimensional (“2D”) activities such as games and puzzles for entertainment purposes. More recently, websites have offered games and puzzles using the so-called two-and-a-half dimensional (“2.5D”) display. Such games displayed in 2.5D which involve graphical projections that create the impression of a three-dimensional display, but are actually limited to moving objects along two axes on a 2D plane. Graphics limited to a 2D plane offer limited amusement to participants. Traditional 2D website activities have also included a virtual character that users can use as a game piece on the website during game play. However, the characters available to users exist only within the virtual presentation of the website. Users lack a connection to their characters outside of the website, in the physical world.
  • [0006]
    Activities made available on such websites are also selected for inclusion on the website by the website's owner. Thus, there are a finite number of activities offering challenges to users on the website, and the particular challenges available are left to the discretion of the website's owner. The website's owner is also burdened with the responsibility of maintaining various other aspects of the website and tending to the business aspects of website ownership, so the activities available on the website have traditionally been slow to evolve.
  • BRIEF SUMMARY
  • [0007]
    According to one aspect, the subject application involves a method of developing user-generated challenges in a virtual environment. The method includes receiving registration information transmitted over a communication network, validating the registration information, establishing a user account on a computer and associating a first virtual character with the user account. A user is granted, via said user account, access to a course creation tool comprising a plurality of different course portions that are selectable to be arranged in different ways in the virtual environment to construct a course to be navigated from a start point to an end point. Access to the course is controlled to allow navigation of the course by another virtual character in the virtual environment that is different than the first virtual character. Included along the course, to be encountered by the another virtual character between the starting point and the end point, is a challenge region that is to interfere with a progression of the another virtual character along the course in a direction generally toward the end point. A plurality of virtual obstacles represented by icons are offered as being selectable for inclusion in the challenge region. The another virtual character will be required to interact with at least one of the virtual obstacles included in the challenge region before continuing the progression along the course beyond the challenge region.
  • [0008]
    According to another aspect, the subject application involves a method of creating a user-generated challenge in a virtual environment. The method includes associating a first virtual character with a user account created for a user on a computer, and granting access to a maze creation tool based on the user account. The maze creation tool includes a plurality of maze portions that are selectable to be arranged in the virtual environment to construct a simulated three-dimensional maze to be navigated from a start point to an end point by another virtual character in the virtual environment. The another virtual character is associated with another user account created for a different user. Information indicative of a quantity of a plurality of the maze portions available for selection by the user to be included in the maze is transmitted. A second virtual character is associated with the user account. But prior to associating the second virtual character with the user account, the user is prohibited from accessing a previously-restricted maze portion for inclusion in the maze. Subsequent to associating the second virtual character with the user account, the user is granted access to the previously-restricted maze portion that is selectable for inclusion in the maze. The previously-restricted maze portion is different from the plurality of maze portions. The different user is granted, via another user computer, access to navigate the maze with the another virtual character.
  • [0009]
    According to another aspect, the subject application involves a method of creating a user-generated challenge in a virtual environment. The method includes associating a plurality of virtual characters with a user account created for a user on a computer, and receiving an access request for the virtual environment from a user computer over a communication network. Access is granted to a maze creation tool, based on the user account. The maze creation tool includes a plurality of maze portions that are selectable by the user to be arranged in the virtual environment to construct a simulated three-dimensional maze that is to be navigated by another virtual character in the virtual environment. The another virtual character is associated with another user account created for a different user. Information indicative of a quantity of a plurality of the maze portions available for selection by the user from the maze creation tool to be included in the maze is transmitted. An instruction to perform a first build operation that adds at least one unit to the quantity of one or more of the maze portions available for selection by the user is received. Also received, over the communication network, is a designation of one or more of the virtual characters associated with the user account as selected virtual characters that are to be allocated to the first build operation. A length of time is required to elapse before a subsequent build operation involving at least one of the selected virtual characters allocated to the first build operation can be initiated. The length of time depends at least in part on a quantity of selected virtual characters allocated to the first build operation. The different user is granted, via another user computer, access to navigate the maze constructed using the maze portions with the another virtual character.
  • [0010]
    According to another aspect, the subject application involves a method of interacting in a virtual world. The method includes associating a virtual character representing a purchased toy with a user account created for a user on a computer that has a connection to a communication network. A plurality of non-player characters are associated with each of a plurality of virtual zones of the virtual world. Subsequent to associating the virtual characters with the plurality of virtual zones, commands input via the communication network are received to control the virtual character within a three-dimensional rendering of the virtual world. The commands input request an interaction between the virtual character and one or more of the non-player characters within the three-dimensional rendering of the virtual world. In response to receiving the commands, the requested interaction between the virtual character and the one or more of the non-player characters is established, resulting in a communication from the one or more of the non-player characters to the virtual character. Subsequent to associating the virtual character, content is served over the communication network to be received by the user computer. The content represents a three-dimensional rendering of a virtual course that is to be navigated by the virtual character.
  • [0011]
    According to another aspect, the subject application involves a method of developing a user-generated challenge in a virtual environment. The method includes entering registration information into a user computer and transmitting the registration information over a communication network for validation. First information indicative of successful validation of the registration information is received, and second information for creating a user account is provided. Subsequent to providing the second information, a virtual character associated with the user account is accessed. Using a course creation tool on the user computer, one of a plurality of different course portions that are selectable to be arranged in the virtual environment is selected. Using said course creation tool to select others of said plurality of different course portions, to select plural course portions is also performed. The plural different course portions are arranged in the virtual environment to construct a course to be navigated from a start point to an end point. The method also includes selecting for inclusion along the course, to be encountered a virtual character travelling between the starting point and the end point, a challenge region that is to interfere with a progression of the virtual character along the course in a direction generally toward the end point. A plurality of virtual obstacles are selected for inclusion in the challenge region. The virtual character will be required to interact with at least one of the virtual obstacles included in the challenge region before continuing the progression along the course beyond the challenge region. The course is submitted for publication to allow the course to be accessed and navigated by at least one of the virtual character and another virtual character.
  • [0012]
    According to another aspect, the subject application involves a method of creating a user-generated challenge in a virtual environment. The method includes transmitting, over a communication network, a request to register a first virtual character and associate the first virtual character with a user account, and accessing a maze creation tool comprising a plurality of maze portions. The plurality of maze portions are selected and arranged into a three-dimensional maze in the virtual environment that is to be navigated from a start point to an end point by another virtual character in the virtual environment. The another virtual character is associated with another user account created for a remotely-located user. An indication of a quantity of a plurality of the maze portions available to be included in the maze is received. The method also includes transmitting, over the communication network, a request to register a second virtual character and associate the second virtual character with the user account. Subsequent to transmitting the request to register the second virtual character, a previously-restricted maze portion is selected for inclusion in the maze, the previously-restricted maze portion being different from the plurality of maze portions. The maze is submitted for publication to allow the maze to be accessed by the remotely-located user, via a user computer, and navigated with the another virtual character.
  • [0013]
    According to another aspect, the subject application involves a method of creating a user-generated challenge in a virtual environment. The method includes requesting registration of a plurality of virtual characters to be associated with a user account, accessing a maze creation tool including a plurality of maze portions, and selecting the plurality of maze portions and arranging the plurality of maze portions selected to construct a three-dimensional maze in the virtual environment to be navigated by another virtual character in the virtual environment. The another virtual character is associated with another user account created for a remotely-located user. An indication of a quantity of a plurality of the maze portions available for selection from the maze creation tool to be included in the maze is received. Performance of a first build operation is requested to add at least one unit to the quantity of one or more of the maze portions available for selection. One or more of the virtual characters associated with the user account are designated as selected virtual characters that are to be allocated to the first build operation. A length of time before a subsequent build operation involving at least one of the selected virtual characters allocated to the first build operation can be initiated depends at least in part on a quantity of selected virtual characters allocated to the first build operation. The maze is submitted for publication to allow the maze to be accessed by the remotely-located user, via a user computer, and navigated with the another virtual character.
  • [0014]
    According to another aspect, the subject application involves a method of providing a virtual presentation. The method includes requesting registration of a virtual character representing a purchased toy and association of the virtual character with a user account. The method also includes transmitting an instruction requesting an interaction between the virtual character and at least one of a plurality of non-player characters associated with a virtual zone forming a portion of a virtual world. The interaction between the virtual character and the at least one of the non-player characters is to occur within a three-dimensional rendering of the virtual world. A communication is received from the one or more of the non-player characters in response to the interaction between the virtual character and the at least one of the non-player characters. And subsequent to associating the virtual character with the user account, a three-dimensional rendering of a virtual course that is to be navigated by the virtual character is displayed.
  • [0015]
    The above summary presents a simplified summary in order to provide a basic understanding of some aspects of the systems and/or methods discussed herein. This summary is not an extensive overview of the systems and/or methods discussed herein. It is not intended to identify key/critical elements or to delineate the scope of such systems and/or methods. Its sole purpose is to present some concepts in a simplified form as a prelude to the more detailed description that is presented later.
  • BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS
  • [0016]
    The invention may take physical form in certain parts and arrangement of parts, embodiments of which will be described in detail in this specification and illustrated in the accompanying drawings which form a part hereof and wherein:
  • [0017]
    FIG. 1 shows an illustrative embodiment of a system for generating a virtual world accessible to multiple users via remotely-located user computers;
  • [0018]
    FIG. 2 is a block diagram showing an illustrative embodiment of a server system for hosting a virtual world;
  • [0019]
    FIG. 3 shows in illustrative embodiment of an object in the form of a plush hamster that can be registered and associated with a user account;
  • [0020]
    FIG. 4 shows an illustrative embodiment of a tag bearing registration information to be validated;
  • [0021]
    FIG. 5 shows an illustrative example of a terms page for presenting at least one of a rule and a term of use governing activities in the virtual world;
  • [0022]
    FIG. 6 shows an illustrative embodiment of a registration interface;
  • [0023]
    FIG. 7 shows an illustrative embodiment of a preview window for presenting a user with a virtual character;
  • [0024]
    FIG. 8 shows an illustrative embodiment of an email transmitted to a parent in response to validation of registration information;
  • [0025]
    FIG. 9 shows an illustrative embodiment of a prompt window displayed to prompt a user to install a 3D web player on a user computer;
  • [0026]
    FIG. 10 shows an illustrative embodiment of a home screen;
  • [0027]
    FIG. 11 shows an illustrative embodiment of a Hamlet menu for selection of an activity to be performed in a virtual playing field;
  • [0028]
    FIG. 12 shows an illustrative embodiment of a playing field on which a user can participate in a scavenger hunt activity;
  • [0029]
    FIG. 13 shows an illustrative embodiment of a challenge menu that includes a plurality of challenges that are selectable by the user;
  • [0030]
    FIG. 14 shows an illustrative embodiment of a playing field on which a scavenger hunt activity can be performed;
  • [0031]
    FIG. 15 shows an illustrative embodiment of a maze menu;
  • [0032]
    FIG. 16 shows a collection of challenge mazes available for selection by a user;
  • [0033]
    FIG. 17 shows an illustrative embodiment of a group detail screen providing details about a selected group of mazes;
  • [0034]
    FIG. 18 shows a third-person view of a virtual hamster traveling through a hamster tube in a hamster ball;
  • [0035]
    FIG. 19 shows a collection of user-generated mazes available to other users of a virtual world;
  • [0036]
    FIG. 20 shows a maze library that is to store mazes generated by a user;
  • [0037]
    FIG. 21 shows a portion of a maze editor for construction of a 3D maze in a virtual environment;
  • [0038]
    FIG. 22 a shows a first orientation of a tubular segment being included in a maze under construction in a maze editor;
  • [0039]
    FIG. 22 b shows a second orientation of the tubular segment shown in FIG. 22 a to establish a desired 3D arrangement;
  • [0040]
    FIG. 23 shows a menu from which virtual rooms to be included in a maze under construction can be selected;
  • [0041]
    FIG. 24 shows a menu from which designs to be applied to tubular segments included in a maze under construction can be selected
  • [0042]
    FIG. 25 shows a build interface for building an inventory of tubular segments to be included in a maze;
  • [0043]
    FIG. 26 shows a construction editor for allocating one or more virtual characters to a build operation;
  • [0044]
    FIG. 27 shows an illustrative embodiment of an electronic store;
  • [0045]
    FIG. 28 shows an illustrative embodiment of a challenge region within a room coupled to a generally-tubular maze portion;
  • [0046]
    FIG. 29 shows an illustrative embodiment of an effects menu from which an effect can be selected to be provided to a virtual obstacle;
  • [0047]
    FIG. 30 shows an illustrative embodiment of a door restricting access to an exit from a challenge region;
  • [0048]
    FIG. 31 shows an animated virtual obstacle in the form of a swinging pendulum interfering with the advancement of a virtual character beyond a challenge region; and
  • [0049]
    FIG. 32 shows an illustrative embodiment of a challenge region including virtual objects that a virtual character must interact with in a predetermined order defined by a user to open a door 296 to advance along a maze beyond the challenge region.
  • DETAILED DESCRIPTION
  • [0050]
    Certain terminology is used herein for convenience only and is not to be taken as a limitation on the present invention. Relative language used herein is best understood with reference to the drawings, in which like numerals are used to identify like or similar items. Further, in the drawings, certain features may be shown in somewhat schematic form.
  • [0051]
    FIG. 1 shows an illustrative embodiment of a computer system 10 that can be used to generate a virtual world to be presented to a remotely-located user operating a user computer 18. As shown, the computer system 10 includes an administrative server 12 for managing a variety of administrative tasks. For example, the administrative server 12 can validate registration information associated with items being registered by a user, the administration of user accounts, and other such administrative matters.
  • [0052]
    A web server 14 can also be included as part of the computer system 10. The web server 14 can host a website comprising the virtual world as well as other features that are to appear within the virtual world. The web server 14 can serve content via a communication network 16 to a first user computer 18 and a second user computer 20, each being remotely located from the web server 14 and each other. Although shown as separate entities in FIG. 1 for illustrative purposes, the administrative server 12 and the web server 14 can optionally be embodied by a single terminal. The communication network 16 can include a wide area network (“WAN”), a local area network (“LAN”), or a combination thereof. For example, the web server 14 may communicate with the user computers 18, 20 in a known manner using a TCP/IP protocol over the Internet, which is an illustrative embodiment of the communication network 16. One or both of the user computers 18, 20 can optionally be connected to the Internet via an internal gateway, router, switch and/or any other networking devices as is known in the networking art. In one embodiment, the web server can produce output over the network as an HTML webpage, based on a request.
  • [0053]
    FIG. 2 shows an illustrative architecture of the computer system 10, particularly the administrative and web servers 12, 14 that collectively operate to generate the virtual world. As shown in the present example, a non-transitory computer-readable medium such as a hard disk drive is operable as a storage component 22 for storing data involved in maintaining the virtual world and other content to be served to user computers 18, 20 via the communication network 16. The storage component 22 may also store computer-executable instructions that, when executed by a computer processing unit, provide for the generation and maintenance of the virtual world as described herein.
  • [0054]
    A registration component 24 is also provided to receive registration information transmitted by the user computer 18 over the communication network or otherwise conveyed to the administrative server 12 for validation purposes. The registration information can optionally include a registration code or any other information associated with a purchased product possessed by a user of the user computer 18. For example, the registration code can optionally be a unique code 26 (FIG. 4) provided on a tag 28 attached to a plush toy animal 29 (FIG. 3) to be transmitted for validation as described in U.S. Pat. No. 7,604,525 to Ganz, which is incorporated in its entirety herein by reference. According to alternate embodiments, the registration information can include data transmitted by the user computer 18 in response to a purchase of a product, a physical real-world object or an intangible virtual object that exists in the virtual world for example, made from an electronic store on a website. The website from which the object is purchased can optionally be the website comprising the virtual world, a separate but related website, or an unrelated website. Further, the object can be purchased in consideration of legal tender, points and/or virtual currency that are not legal tender but can be accumulated in the virtual world, or a combination thereof.
  • [0055]
    Also shown in FIG. 2 is a user account management component 30. In response to, or subsequent to successful validation of the registration information by the registration component 24, a user account can be established for the user by the user account management component 30. As a result of successful validation of the registration information, a virtual character to be used by the user in the virtual world can be associated with the user account by the user account management component 30. This virtual character can optionally be a virtual replica of the object associated with the registration information which, in this example, is a plush hamster. Accordingly, the virtual character may have a digitized appearance similar to the plush hamster.
  • [0056]
    For other embodiments, the user may transmit registration information associated with a plush toy animal other than a hamster such as that offered for sale by GANZ as part of the Webkinz® line of products. Registering such information commonly results in the association of a virtual character having an appearance other than a hamster (such as a virtual replica of the plush animal) being associated with a user account. However, according to the present embodiment, the user can be provided with the option to receive access to a virtual character with an appearance representing a hamster rather than the plush toy animal associated with the registration information. For such an embodiment, the offer to receive a virtual hamster as the virtual character can optionally be extended during a limited time, such as during an initial introduction of the virtual hamster to the virtual world.
  • [0057]
    A virtual world content component 32 in FIG. 2 can serve the content to be transmitted to the user computer 18 over the communication network 16 to allow the user computer 18 to display the website comprising the virtual world. As the virtual character under the control of the user navigates the virtual world with the virtual character, the virtual world content component 32 can serve content used by the user computer 18 to generate a three-dimensional (“3D”) rendering of the virtual world, and optionally a 3D rendering of the virtual character in the virtual world. The 3D rendering of the virtual character can optionally include a so-called third-person point of view, where the user is presented with a view of the virtual world looking over the virtual character as described below. Alternate embodiments can include a first-person point of view through the eyes of the virtual character, or any other desired point of view.
  • [0058]
    The components can be software modules in a single computer or in multiple connected computers, or can be separate processors or computers.
  • [0059]
    The content served by the virtual world content component 32 can be used by the user computer 18 to display a simulated 3D graphical representation of the virtual world, such that virtual characters and other objects can be moved along three virtual axes that respectively represent the three dimensions of width, height and depth (often referred to as X, Y and Z axes). Such a 3D graphical representation is to be contrasted with a so-called 2.5D representation, where techniques are employed to create the appearance of a 3D game, but game play is limited to a two-dimensional plane or grid, such that a user can only freely move a virtual character along two axes. In some cases such 2.5D representation will allow the user to control some limited movement of the character along a third axis, for example to simulate jumping, ducking, dodging or the like. In some 2.5D representations the game may automatically move a character along a third axis (outside of the users control), for example to allow the character to follow the terrain up and down as the user moves character in a two-dimensional plane. By contrast, for the virtual world rendered in the 3D graphical representation the virtual character is able to travel through the virtual world in all three dimensions as desired.
  • [0060]
    A non-player character (“NPC”) component 34 can maintain a graphical representation and attributes associated with NPCs that are to be encountered by the virtual character in the virtual world. As described below, the virtual character can approach a NPC in the virtual world to interact with the NPC. Examples of such interactions can include receiving and/or transmitting a written communication from/to the NPC; receiving a challenge from the NPC to be performed by the virtual character that, if successful, results in the virtual character receiving a reward; giving the NPC a gift; or any combination thereof. Any of the interactions between the virtual character and a NPC can bolster a relationship there between as described below. This relationship level can optionally be associated with the user account by the user account management component 30. In one embodiment, there can be a relationship ‘bar’ that shows the amount or other indication of the quality of the relationship between the virtual character and the NPC. Users can also establish a list of NPCs that the user considers to be friends, or at least an acquaintance. Thus, a user can initiate an interaction with NPCs on the list by selecting the respective name of the NPC and an option to interact with that NPC.
  • [0061]
    A maze component 36 is also included to facilitate the participation in, and optionally the creation of an activity involving a 3D course having a start point and a finish point. One example of such a course is a maze that can: be navigated from the start to the finish, optionally include a collection of items to be found and collected by the virtual character to complete the maze, or a combination thereof.
  • [0062]
    A description of the virtual world and the activities therein that can be provided by the computer system 10 executing suitable computer-executable instructions is described below with reference to FIGS. 5-26. FIG. 5 shows an illustrative example of a terms page 38 presenting the user with rules 40 governing participation in activities in the virtual world, and optionally terms of use 42 of the website comprising the virtual world. An affirmative agreement to the rule(s) and/or term(s) of use can be required from the user, such as be requiring check boxes 44 or other agreement indicator(s), before selection of a “CONTINUE” button 46 that allows the user to continue with the registration process.
  • [0063]
    In response to the user's agreement with the rules 40 and/or terms of use 42, a registration interface 48 (FIG. 6) for transmitting the registration information to the administrative server 12 for validation is presented to the user via the user computer 18. Similar to retrieving the terms page 38, the user can enter a URL into a web browser application such as Internet Explorer® from Microsoft® Corp. executing on the user computer 18, for example, to retrieve a website on which the registration interface 48 can be found. As shown, the registration interface 48 can include an entry field 50 in which the registration information is to be entered by the user to be submitted for validation by the administrative server 12. Along with the registration information, the user can enter a desired username in a username field 52 and a desired password in a password field 54. The username-password combination can be associated with a user account created for the user, and subsequent access to the website comprising the virtual world can be granted using this combination.
  • [0064]
    A parent's or guardian's email address can optionally be entered into a suitable field 60 provided on the registration interface 48 for directing future communications involving the user account and/or other aspects of the virtual world that may only be properly addressed by an adult. For instance, communications concerning financial ramifications of visiting the virtual world may be directed to such an email address. Such an email address can also be aimed at granting supervisory privileges to a parent of a minor child who visits the virtual world. Fields 58, 60 allowing entry of the user's birth date and gender, respectively, can also be provided. Entry of information may be required in each of the fields 50, 52, 54, 56 and 58, while the gender information may be optional.
  • [0065]
    Following submission of the information entered into the registration interface 48 a preview of a virtual character 62 (FIG. 7) associated with the user account, and optionally in response to validation of the registration information, can be transmitted to the user computer 18 to be presented to the user in a preview window 64. Further, an email 66 (FIG. 8) can be sent to the email address entered in the corresponding field 56 in the registration interface 48. The email 66 can include a link, such as a hyperlinked confirmation button 68 for example, to a portion of the website where the parent's email address, and accordingly, the user's registration can be confirmed. Confirmation can optionally be required before fully access to all features of the virtual world is granted to the user. The email 66 can also optionally include the username and password combination 70 for record-keeping purposes, and to enable the parent to log on to the user account and monitor information associated therewith. Any updates to the user account, such as a change of the username and/or password, for example, can optionally automatically be transmitted to the email address entered into the field 56 on the registration interface 48.
  • [0066]
    As mentioned above, the virtual world can be presented on the website in full 3D. For rendering the virtual world in 3D, a 3D graphics engine such as the Unity Web Player available from Unity Technologies may be required to be installed on the user computer 18. The Unity Web Player allows the 3D content to be displayed in a conventional web browser window. As shown in FIG. 9 upon entry into the virtual world, submission of the registration information for validation, or at any time thereafter, content transmitted over the communication network 16 can initiate a query of the user computer 18 to determine if a suitable graphics engine is present. If the player is not detected, content can be served from the administrative server 12 or web server 14 to display a prompt window 72 the user to download such a player. The prompt window 72 can optionally include a hyperlinked icon 74 linked to a website from where the suitable player can be downloaded and installed on the user computer 18. Alternately, the prompt window 72 can include an autorun feature that automatically directs the user to the download source of the player.
  • [0067]
    With the player installed on the user computer 18 and the registration information validated, the user is granted access to the virtual character 62 in a home screen 76 of the virtual world as shown in FIG. 10. The home screen 76 includes a plurality of activity options available to the user. One such option is a substantially-open arena or playing field referred to herein as the “Hamster Hamlet”, which the user can access by selection of a Hamlet icon 78 appearing on the home screen 76.
  • [0068]
    Upon selection of the Hamlet icon 78 an animation is performed using the 3D web player. The animation can optionally include a virtual character 62 running or otherwise passing through a generally-tubular interior passage having the appearance of a virtual hamster tube 174 (FIG. 18). During the animation the virtual character 62 may not be controllable by the user. The animation concludes upon the arrival of the virtual character 62 in the Hamster Hamlet, the entry screen of which, referred to as the Hamlet menu 80, is shown in FIG. 11. From the Hamlet menu 80, the user is granted access to one or a plurality of daily activities 82 and an explore option 84 that, when selected, allows the user to explore the playing field 88 (FIG. 14) making up the hamster Hamlet with the virtual character 62.
  • [0069]
    Each of the daily activities 82, and optionally the explore option 84, can involve a type of virtual scavenger hunt during which the virtual character 62 is controlled by the user on the playing field 88 to collect predetermined virtual objects. Further, the daily activities 82 can optionally be performed by navigating the virtual character 62 in the same playing field 88 navigated by the virtual character 62 according to the explore option 84. However, unlike the explore option 84, selection of the daily activities 82 results in placement of virtual objects on the playing field to be collected by the virtual character 62 that are not available when the explore option 84 is selected. Further, the daily activities have an end goal that, when accomplished, concludes the activity. The explore option 84 can lack a predetermined end goal, allowing the user to determine when to conclude the activity.
  • [0070]
    For example, selection of the daily activity “Key Craze” 86 from among the available daily activities 82 brings the virtual character 62 to a virtual playing field such as that shown in FIG. 12. The playing field 88 in FIG. 12 includes a substantially-open and 3D arena having the appearance of a fanciful virtual meadow. The playing field 88 is said to be substantially open in that the direction in which the virtual character 62 is to travel in the three dimensions of the playing field is not constrained, and left to the discretion of the user. The playing field 88 can optionally include obstacles that can interfere with the ability of the virtual character 62 to explore limited portions of the playing field 88, but the path around such obstacles can be chosen by the user rather than dictated by a fixed, predetermined path the virtual character 62 must follow. Further, the playing field 88 can include a simulated force of gravity which can prevent the user from instructing the virtual character 62 to fly, but the user can instruct the virtual character 62 to climb on some of the obstacles present in the playing field 88. For instance, various rock formations 90 positioned throughout the playing field 88 can be climbed by the virtual character 62 to reach an elevation above the ground on which the rock formations 90 rest.
  • [0071]
    In the Key Craze daily activity, the user controls the virtual character 62 on the playing field 88 to uncover virtual keys. Each time the virtual character 62 collects such a virtual key the virtual character 62 is to return to a treasure chest also situated on the playing field 88. If the proper key that will unlock the treasure chest was recovered by the virtual character 62, the treasure chest will be opened and a prize will be give to the virtual character 62 as a reward. The prize can optionally include virtual currency that is not legal tender but can be spent to purchase virtual items in an electronic store 310 (FIG. 27) within the virtual world, a virtual object that can be placed in a dock 92 from where it can be subsequently retrieved for use by the virtual character, or any combination thereof. The electronic store 310 can optionally include at least one of: a tubular maze portion inventory 312, a tube design inventory 314, a room inventory 316, and a ball design inventory 318, each for use in constructing or navigating mazes. The electronic store 310 can also optionally include an inventory 320 of virtual items that are usable in another virtual world that is different than the virtual world in which the electronic store 310 is accessed.
  • [0072]
    The dock 92 is a graphical representation of an inventory of items owned by the virtual character 62 and associated with the user account for the virtual character 62. Examples of virtual objects given to the virtual character 62 as a reward can include a maze portion such as a tubular segment 238 (FIG. 25) as described below, virtual food that can be fed to the virtual character 62 to replenish an energy level associated with the virtual character 62, or any other item that can be used by the virtual character 62 in the virtual world.
  • [0073]
    In the event that the key obtained by the virtual character 62 does not unlock the treasure chest, the user is to control the virtual character 62 to find another key disposed elsewhere on the playing field 88. This process is repeated until one of two conditions is met: the proper key is returned by the virtual character 62 to open the treasure chest and earn the reward, or a time limit for opening the treasure chest expires.
  • [0074]
    Selection of the “Gift Grab” 94 activity from the daily activity menu 82 shown in FIG. 11 brings the virtual character 62 to another form of scavenger hunt activity. Just as with the Key Craze 86 activity, the Gift Grab 94 activity can be played on the playing field 88 forming the hamster Hamlet shown in FIGS. 12 and 14. Instead of attempting to locate keys to open a treasure chest, the virtual character 62 is controlled to locate virtual gifts 96 (FIG. 12) scattered throughout the playing field 88. The virtual character 62 may be limited to locating and obtaining a single virtual gift 96, a plurality of virtual gifts 96, or may be permitted to locate and obtain as many virtual gifts 96 as possible in a predetermined period of time. Once the allowable number of virtual gifts 96 has been obtained by the virtual character 62 the game concludes and the user is returned to the Hamlet menu 80 shown in FIG. 11. According to alternate embodiments, the virtual character 62 can be permitted to locate virtual currency distributed throughout the playing field 88 in addition to the objects to be found, such as the key and virtual gifts 96 subject of the daily activities 82. Virtual currency obtained by the virtual character 62 in this manner can be credited to a user account with which the virtual character 62 is associated.
  • [0075]
    Also shown in FIG. 12 is an energy indicator 98 displaying an energy level of the virtual character 62. The virtual character 62 is required to have a minimum energy level to perform various tasks within the virtual world. Should the energy level fall below this minimum level in an attempt is made to initiate a task within the virtual world, the user will be notified that a rest or recovery period, or consumption of virtual food or other source of energy is required before the virtual character 62 can engage in the requested activity. For example, the virtual character may expend energy building a tubular segment 238 (FIG. 25) or other maze portion to be used for constructing a maze as described in detail below. A recovery period is required following a build operation before the virtual character 62 can again participate in a subsequent build operation as described in detail below.
  • [0076]
    A world map 100 is also available to the user to open a map of the virtual world. The virtual world includes a plurality of different zones that the virtual character 62 can visit. Each zone can have its own theme such as the open meadow of the playing field 80 shown in FIG. 12, a forest environment, or any other desired theme. Opening the world map 100 allows the user to quickly move the virtual character 62 from one zone to another.
  • [0077]
    Each zone can optionally also include one or more NPCs (not shown), which can optionally have an appearance consistent with the theme of their respective zone. For example, for the playing field 88 shown in FIG. 12, and NPC in the form of a life-like body of water that would fit in the open meadow would be consistent with the theme of the playing field 88. The body of water can be personified, and can speak or otherwise communicate with the virtual character 62. Another example of a NPC is a park ranger that patrols the open meadow playing field 88 shown in FIG. 12. For other zones such as a forest of zone, and NPC may take the form of a personified tree with which the virtual character 62 can interact.
  • [0078]
    The virtual character 62 can optionally establish a relationship with one or more of the NPCs. A relationship parameter is associated with the virtual character 62 to indicate a relative degree of closeness of the relationship between the virtual character 62 and one or more NPCs. Each interaction between the virtual character 62 and a NPC can serve to strengthen their relationship, and accordingly, increase a value of the relationship parameter. The relationship parameter between the virtual character 62 and an NPC can also optionally decrease over time during which there is an absence of interactions between the virtual character 62 and that NPC. Thus extended periods of time during which there are no interactions between the virtual character 62 and the NPC will result in a decrease in the value of the relationship parameter, which is indicative of a weakening relationship. Thus, the user is encouraged to interact with the NPC on a regular basis.
  • [0079]
    The interactions between the virtual character 62 and the NPCs can take many forms. For example, the user can simply control the virtual character 62 to approach a NPC and exchange a communication such as a chat message. According to alternate embodiments, the virtual character 62 can give a NPC a gift such as virtual currency that results in an increase of the relationship parameter. According to other embodiments, upon approaching the NPC, the virtual character 62 may be issued a test or challenge by the NPC. Successfully completing such a task or challenge can result in an increase of the relationship parameter. Yet other embodiments can increase the relationship parameter associated with the virtual character 62 for a particular NPC with the combination of any of the foregoing embodiments.
  • [0080]
    The degree of closeness between the virtual character 62 and NPC can fall into one of a plurality of different levels, and can change levels to reflect the changing nature of the relationship. For example, the virtual character 62 is considered a stranger to the NPC before any interactions between the two have occurred. On the opposite end of the spectrum, the virtual character 62 is considered to be a confidant of the NPC when the value of the relationship parameter exceeds a threshold value associated with that relationship level. There can be any number of levels in between those two extremes such as five intermediate levels that are achieved when the value of the relationship falls into different ranges associated with the different levels. The intervals between those levels may be the same, or optionally different to make it more difficult to advance relationship levels the closer the virtual character 62 gets to becoming a confidant of the NPC. A reward can also be granted to the virtual character 62 in response to any such interactions between that virtual character 62 and an NPC. The reward can also become greater in value as the relationship between the virtual character 62 in the NPC grows closer. An illustrative embodiment of the relationship levels possible between the virtual character 62 and an NPC include a plurality of the following relationship statuses, in order from most distant to closest: stranger, acquaintance, chum, peer, friend, ally and confidant. Further, the value of the relationship parameter to reach increasingly stronger relationship statuses can optionally set to make it more difficult to advance to the next closest level the closer that next closest level is. For example, it may take more time, interactions and/or effort by a virtual character to advance a relationship status with a NPC from ally to confidant than to advance the relationship status with that NPC from stranger to acquaintance.
  • [0081]
    Referring once again to FIG. 11, the user may select the explore option 84, resulting in the presentation of the challenge menu shown in FIG. 13. The explore option 84 allows the user to control the virtual character 62 throughout the playing field 88 and explore all that it has to offer, and optionally determine when the exploring is concluded. However, as shown in the challenge menu 102 the user can optionally elect to participate in one or more of a plurality of different challenges, and can further elect whether to race against the clock by selecting the appropriate option in the right-hand column 104 in the challenge menu 102. The user can also elect to simply participate in the challenges without being timed by selecting the appropriate option from the left-hand column 106 in the challenge menu 102. Aside from whether the activities are timed or not, the challenges offered in each column 104, 106 in the challenge menu 102 are substantially the same. Similar to the daily activities 82, the challenges available for the explore option 84 can all involve a scavenger hunt type of activity, and can optionally be performed on the same playing field 88 as the daily activities. According to such embodiments, the common playing field 88 is used for all such activities and hamster hamlet.
  • [0082]
    For example, an activity named “Find the Flags” 108 requires the virtual character 62 to locate and collect a predetermined number of flags distributed throughout the playing field 88. As shown in FIG. 14, the virtual character 62 collects flags 110 by approaching the flags 110 in the playing field 88. A flag counter 112 includes the number of flags found 114 and the total flags 116 to be found to successfully complete the activity.
  • [0083]
    Each of the activities represented in the challenge menu 102 in FIG. 13 can optionally be divided into a plurality of levels. A level is considered complete once the goal for that particular level has been achieved. For the illustrative example of find the flags 108 shown in FIG. 14, the virtual character 62 must locate three flags to complete the current level as indicated by the flag counter 112. Once three flags 110 have been found by the virtual character 62 the level is complete, and reward is given to the virtual character 62 and the activity advances to the next level. The reward given to the virtual character 62 for successfully completing a level becomes greater the higher the level is that is completed. To provide the user with a challenge, however, the difficulty also increases with the successful completion of each level. Thus, a greater number of flags 110 may be required to be found, and/or one or more of the flags may be hidden and not as easily located as in prior levels. And for timed activities, a time limit for finding all of the flags 110 may be shortened upon successful completion of a level, or the amount of time to locate each flag may be decreased as the levels advance. The time remaining for completion of a level may be indicated by a countdown timer 118. If an activity is not successfully completed, such as when the user elects to quit the challenge or time expires for a timed challenge, the user is required to replay the same level until that level is successfully completed before advancing to the next level.
  • [0084]
    Although Find the Flags 108 has been described in detail, the other activities available through the challenge menu 102 in FIG. 13 involve a similar scavenger hunt of some sort. For example Hidden Objects 120 involves locating hidden objects that appear on the playing field 88 in a partially transparent manner, making them slightly more difficult to see than a non-transparent image. But similar to Find the Flags 108, levels can be successfully completed upon locating a predetermined number of hidden objects, optionally within a predetermined time limit.
  • [0085]
    Likewise the Matching Pairs 122 activity requires the virtual character 62 to locate virtual objects distributed throughout the playing field 88. However, the virtual objects must be collected in pairs. So if a heart shaped object is located by the virtual character 62 the very next object collected by the virtual character 62 must also be a heart shaped object for the virtual character 62 to be credited with finding a pair. The particular object to be collected by the virtual character 62 may not be readily apparent to the user as the virtual character 62 approaches the virtual object before that virtual object has been collected for the first time. However once the virtual object has been collected and a subsequently-collected virtual object does not match the first virtual object, the first virtual object is returned to the spawn point from where it was originally collected. The identity of the first collected item can be, from that point forward, displayed on the playing field 88 in a readily-apparent manner. Thus, a first erroneous attempt to collect matching pairs is unlikely to be repeated. Again, the Matching Pairs 122 activity can include a series of levels to be completed, and additional reward can be granted upon successful completion of all levels.
  • [0086]
    Zum Roundup 124 also involves scavenging for virtual items arranged throughout the playing field 88. The so-called Zums to be collected appear as small flying creatures. Each Zum encountered by the virtual character 62 becomes coupled to the virtual character 62 and hovers above the virtual character 62 as the virtual character 62 travels throughout the playing field 88. The object of the Zum Roundup 124 is to collect a predetermined number of the Zums and return them to a gathering point on the playing field 88. And just as with the other activities in the Zum Roundup 124 can be divided into levels and optionally timed.
  • [0087]
    With reference once again to FIG. 10, the user may select a “Play Maze” option 126 from the home screen 76. In response to selecting the Play Maze option 126 an animation involving virtual character 62 passing through a hamster tube 174 to arrive at the maze menu shown in FIG. 15 is performed. The maze menu 128 includes a plurality of maze-related activities that can be performed using the virtual character 62. A collection of challenge mazes 130 require the virtual character 62 to navigate a 3D maze of hamster tubes and collect a predetermined number of virtual objects distributed throughout the maze. The virtual objects to be collected by the virtual character 62 in the challenge mazes 130 can be similar to those collected by the virtual character 62 in the playing field 88 of the Hamster Hamlet.
  • [0088]
    The maze menu 128 also includes a collection of timed mazes 132. The timed mazes 132 can optionally include the same collection of mazes including hamster tubes 174 (FIG. 18) as the challenge mazes 130. But instead of collecting virtual objects distributed throughout the mazes like the challenge mazes 130, the object of the timed mazes 132 is to complete each maze from a start point to a finish point within a predetermined period of time.
  • [0089]
    A collection of community mazes 134 is also included in the maze menu 128. The community mazes 134 include a plurality of different mazes created by users of the virtual world and published to be shared with other users as described in detail below.
  • [0090]
    The collection of challenge mazes 130 shown in FIG. 16 can be viewed in response to selection of the challenge maze 130 activity from the maze menu 128 in FIG. 15. Challenge mazes are arranged in groups 136 in FIG. 16, and each group 136 is assigned a rating based on the difficulty of the mazes in the group 136. For the illustrative embodiment shown in FIG. 16 the rating includes a symbolic rating 138 that includes the color and number of markers 140 adjacent a maze icon 142 representing a group of mazes, and optionally a ring 144 surrounding the maze icon 142. A textual rating 146 can optionally be included instead of, or in addition to the symbolic rating 138.
  • [0091]
    Details regarding the makeup of the group of mazes highlighted by the cursor 148 can be provided in a maze summary window 150. The maze summary window 150 includes a name of the group 152, a progress indicator 154 detailing any progress in completing the group of mazes, and the difficulty 156 of each of the constituent mazes. A summary 158 can also be provided detailing what must be done to successfully complete the mazes in the group. A silhouette 160 of a trophy to be awarded to the virtual character 62 for completing all mazes in the group can also be provided. The silhouette 160 is converted to a full-color image once all mazes within the group have been successfully completed.
  • [0092]
    Selection of a group 136 of mazes in FIG. 16 reveals a group detail page 162 as shown in FIG. 17. A preview 164 showing a perspective view of the main layout for each maze in the group is included in the group detail page 162. A reward 166 that is to be given to the virtual character 62 for successful completion of the highlighted maze and the potential virtual currency 168 that can also be found in the highlighted maze are shown.
  • [0093]
    Before beginning a maze, the user has the option to select a walking option 170 that requires the virtual character 62 to navigate the maze on foot by walking and/or running A ball option 172 is also presented in the group detail page 162 that, when selected, requires the virtual character 62 to navigate the maze within a hamster ball 176 (FIG. 18) or other suitable vehicle.
  • [0094]
    Once the user has started the challenge maze the virtual character 62 is required to navigate through a network of hamster tubes 174 in search for the virtual objects to be collected in order to complete the maze. According to the embodiment shown in FIG. 18, the virtual character 62 is encapsulated within a hamster ball 176 that rolls through the hamster tubes 174 according to commands entered by the user via the user computer 18. The maze is formed from a plurality of maze portions such as hamster tubes 174 formed from tubular segments 238 (FIG. 25), virtual rooms 224 (FIG. 23), designs 230 (FIG. 24), and the like. Collectively, the maze portions define a course that extends in three dimensions limiting movement of the virtual character 62 to a path along the course. The virtual character 62 can be visible from a third-person point of view from behind the virtual character 62. According to alternate embodiments, the user can have a first-person point of view or any other point of view in navigating the 3D course.
  • [0095]
    The 3D nature of the maze or other course along with the complexity of some of the mazes may cause the user to become disoriented and revisit the same portion of the maze believing that the portion has not yet been explored. In an effort to assist users, a portion of the maze may change in appearance once the virtual character 62 has traveled beyond the portion a first time. For example, FIG. 18 shows a ring 178 defining a perimeter of the hamster tube 174. Before the virtual character 62 traveled beyond the ring 178, the ring 178 appeared as a relatively light-colored object, similar to the appearance of the ring 180 seen ahead of the virtual character 62 in FIG. 18. Thus, the ring 178 changed from a relatively-light color to a relatively-dark color, indicating that the virtual character 62 has already passed beyond that ring 178. When confronted with a fork in the road, a user may be able to readily determine which path the virtual character 62 has not previously traveled based on the appearance of the rings defining the hamster tubes 174. Although the color of the rings 178, 180 is used to identify previously-traveled portions of the maze, any visual indicia other than the rings 178, 180 can also be used.
  • [0096]
    Upon successfully completing a maze, whether it is a challenge maze, a timed maze, or a community maze, the user may be prompted to rate the maze that was just completed. According to alternate embodiments the user may be required to submit a rating of the maze before being allowed to return to the menu corresponding to the maze completed and performing other activities in the virtual world.
  • [0097]
    Selecting the community mazes 134 in FIG. 15 will direct the user to the community detail screen 182 shown in FIG. 19. Similar to the group detail screen 162, the community detail screen 182 includes the name 184 of the highlighted maze along with the publication date 186. A ranking 188 of the highlighted maze on a scale of one to five stars is also shown. Again, the user can select a walking option 170 or the ball option 172, and begin to navigate the virtual character 62 through the maze.
  • [0098]
    Unlike the challenge mazes and the timed mazes, however, the community mazes are constructed by other users in the virtual world as described in detail below. Because the number of community mazes can be quite large, the community detail screen 182 can allow the user to sort the community mazes according to a plurality of different criteria. For example, a spotlight search icon 190 can be provided for selection by the user to present all mazes spotlighted by the website proprietor. The proprietor or other authorized party can spotlight any maze the proprietor considers to be unique. Likewise a publication date search icon 192 can be provided to arrange the community mazes in order based on a date the community mazes were published. Selecting the publication date icon 192 the first time can arrange the community mazes in ascending order and selecting the icon 192 again reverses the order. A favorite icon 194 can be selected to display only those mazes that the user has personally identified as being a favorite. Thus ratings from others in the virtual world do not affect the status of a maze as a favorite since that is a selection that is personal to the user. The ratings icon 196 can be selected to return those mazes have, on average, received the highest ratings from the users in the virtual world that have experienced those mazes. And a most played icon 198 can be selected to return those mazes in the virtual world that have been played the most often.
  • [0099]
    From the home screen 76 in FIG. 10 the user may select maze creation 200 to cause the maze library 202 to be displayed by the user computer 18 as shown in FIG. 20. The maze library 202 includes the inventory of all mazes constructed by the user. As shown in FIG. 20, if there are no mazes in the inventory 204 the user is prompted to create a new maze using the maze editor 206, which is shown in FIG. 21.
  • [0100]
    The maze editor 206 includes a three-dimensional workspace 208 in which individual maze portions 210 can be retrieved from a menu 212 and assembled into a three-dimensional maze under construction 214. Selected maze portions 216 can simply be dragged from the menu as icons and dropped at the desired location within close proximity to an existing maze portion already assembled in the workspace 208. The selected maze portion 216 can optionally snap into place once it is close enough to the existing maze portions to indicate a desired installation location.
  • [0101]
    Once positioned, the selected maze portion 216 can then be rotated or otherwise adjusted to achieve the desired arrangement in the three-dimensional workspace 208. For example, the selected maze portion 216 shown in FIG. 22 a has been positioned adjacent to a starting point 218 where virtual characters will eventually begin the maze under construction 214 once it is published. As oriented in FIG. 22 a, the selected maze portion 216 forms a sweeping right hand turn as a virtual character exits the starting point 218. When the user selects a rotation button 222 from an adjustment tool 220 appearing in the maze editor 206 the selected maze portion 216 is rotated approximately 90° in a clockwise direction at the interface between the selected maze portion 216 and the starting point 218. The result, as shown in FIG. 22 b, is that instead of a sweeping right hand turn in the plane of the starting point to 218, the selected maze portion 216 now forms and upward climb for the virtual character 62 as it advances from the starting point 218 towards a finish point.
  • [0102]
    In addition to the maze portions 210 shown as tubular segments in FIG. 21, the menu 212 also includes a plurality of virtual rooms 224 that can be included in mazes adjacent to an open end of at least one of the tubular segments 238. For example, the starting point 218 in FIGS. 22 a and 22 b is represented in the menu 212 by a flag 228 shown in FIG. 23, which can be dragged and dropped into the three-dimensional workspace 208 to establish the desired location of the starting point 218. Similarly, a desired finish point to be included in the maze is represented by another flag 226.
  • [0103]
    The menu 212 also includes a plurality of different designs 230 such as those shown in FIG. 24 that can be selected by the user and applied to the tubular segments 238 (FIG. 25) with a decorative design. For example, a design 232 has been applied to provide the tubular segments forming the hamster tube 174 in FIG. 18 with the appearance of flowers growing up the sides of the hamster tube 174. Like the maze tubular segments 238 and virtual rooms 224, the designs 230 can also be dragged from the menu 212 and dropped where the user wishes to apply the selected design 230.
  • [0104]
    As shown in FIG. 25, the computer system 10 can also facilitate the construction of one or more of the maze portions 210, including but not limited to the tubular segments 238 that are to collectively form the hamster tubes 174, rooms 224 and designs 230 that are selectable from the menu 212. For example, the embodiment of the build interface 234 shown in FIG. 25 allows the user to select different tubular segments 238 defining an interior passage to be built and added to the inventory of maze portions 210 associated with the virtual character 62. The tubular segments 238 built can then be arranged to form the hamster tube 174 included in various community mazes 134.
  • [0105]
    A quantity 236 of each tubular segment 238 in the virtual character's inventory is shown in FIG. 25, and the quantity of each room 224 in the inventory is shown in FIG. 23. The designs 230 can optionally be unlimited in quantity, and available to be applied to as many tubular segments 238 forming the hamster tubes 174 as desired. The quantity 236 of each tubular segment 238 and room 224 decreases by one unit each time those tubular segments 238 and rooms 224 are selected from the menu 212 and added to a maze under construction 214.
  • [0106]
    One or more of the rooms 224 included in the maze adjacent to at least one, and optionally between a plurality of maze portions 216 can form challenge regions 280 (FIG. 28) within the maze. The challenge regions 280 interfere with the progression of a virtual character along the maze generally toward a finish. The challenge region 280 shown in FIG. 28 appears within a room 224 including an exit 282 through which a virtual character must pass to advance beyond the challenge region 280 towards completion of the maze. The exit 282 can lead into a tubular segment 238 forming a portion of the hamster tubes 174 of the maze, possibly leading to another room 224 and challenge region 280. The challenge region(s) 280 can each impede the progress of a virtual character controlled by a user other than the user who constructed the maze until one or more virtual obstacles within the challenge region 280 are overcome.
  • [0107]
    As shown in FIG. 28, the virtual obstacles can include a variety of objects represented by icons 284 that can be dragged and dropped by the user from the dock 92 during construction of the maze as described above. For example, the icons 284 in FIG. 28 appear as geometrical shapes such as a cubical icon 286 that the virtual character participating in the maze must avoid. The virtual character participating in the maze can optionally stand on top of the cubical icon 286 in the challenge region 280 or otherwise interact with the cube.
  • [0108]
    The inventory of virtual obstacles available to be placed within the challenge region 280 can optionally be limited to a finite number for each challenge region 280. For instance, a limit of one of each geometric shape 284, 286 can be imposed for each challenge region 280. Alternately, the number of available virtual obstacles can be limited for the entire maze. For such embodiments, up to five of each virtual obstacle can be placed in rooms 224 throughout the maze. Thus, more than one of each virtual obstacle can be placed in a given challenge region, so long as the total number of a given virtual obstacle does not exceed the maximum throughout the entire maze. In other words, a plurality of virtual obstacles can be included in a first challenge region 280, but are not available to be, or are prohibited from being included in a second challenge region.
  • [0109]
    One or more of the virtual objects can optionally be made interactive. For instance, the pyramidal-shaped icon 288 in FIG. 29 can be provided with an effect that is exhibited in response to an interaction with a virtual character. During construction, the user can select a desired effect 290 such as a fireworks display from an effect menu 292 that is displayed in response to selection of a menu option 294. When the virtual obstacle with the effect is encountered by a virtual character participating in the maze, the fireworks display can be displayed. To provide a virtual obstacle with an effect in the challenge region 280, the user can also optionally drag the desired effect 290 from a menu and drop it onto the subject virtual obstacle.
  • [0110]
    The icons 284 in FIG. 28 appear as simple, geometric shapes, representing a base level of complexity of the virtual obstacles that are available to be placed in the challenge region 280. Further, the icons 284 appearing in FIG. 28 offer a limited challenge difficulty that the user can pose to other users who are navigating the maze with their virtual characters. Upon completing construction of a predetermined number of mazes, achieving a predetermined rating from other users who have participated in the user's mazes, or based on any other criteria, a user's virtual character can be advanced a level of experience. According to alternate embodiments, the user may be granted access to a previously-restricted level of virtual obstacle icons 284, more complex than the base level, in response to completing an activity in the virtual world. For example, the user can participate in a game or other challenge, optionally using the virtual character, and the reward for completing the game or other challenge is access to a level of virtual obstacle icons 284 more complex than the base level, but were prevented from being accessed prior to completion of the activity. There can optionally be a plurality of different levels of virtual obstacle icons 284 to which the user can be granted access in response to completion of a plurality of different activities in the virtual world.
  • [0111]
    The elevated experience level can optionally make additional, more complex virtual obstacle icons 284 available for selection from the dock 92. As the complexity of the virtual obstacle icons increases, the level of interactions required between virtual characters and the virtual obstacles placed in a challenge region 280 to allow the virtual characters to advance beyond that challenge region 280 can also optionally be increased. For instance, as shown in FIG. 30, at a relatively-low level, a door 296 can optionally be made available for selection by the user to be included in the challenge region 280 to restrict access to the exit 282 until a virtual character that encounters the challenge region 280 interacts with one or more of the virtual obstacles in a manner pre-defined by the user constructing the maze. The virtual character may be required to make contact with the cubic virtual obstacle 286, for example, displaying the fireworks effect, before the door 296 is opened. For such embodiments, a single interaction with a single virtual obstacle is sufficient to overcome the challenge and advance along the maze beyond the challenge region 280.
  • [0112]
    Animated obstacles such as the pendulum icon 298 can be dragged from the dock 92 to a location adjacent to the door 296. Once in place within the challenge region 280, the pendulum icon 298 can appear animated, swinging back and forth in front of the exit 282. Thus, a virtual character navigating the maze would be required to contact the cubical icon 286 to open the door 296, then avoid the swinging pendulum 298 to exit, and advance beyond the challenge region 280. For such embodiments, the virtual character would be required to overcome a plurality of such virtual obstacles to advance beyond the challenge region 280.
  • [0113]
    FIG. 32 shows an embodiment of an even more complex set of virtual obstacles from which the user can choose to be included in the challenge region 280 of the room 224. For the embodiment shown in FIG. 32, the user can select various interactive virtual obstacles to be included in the challenge region 280 by dragging and dropping their respective icons from the dock 92 into the challenge region 280. However, the user can also open an iconic programming interface or “sequence menu” 300 that allows the user to specify an order in which the virtual character navigating the maze must interact with the various virtual obstacles to be able to pass through the exit 282. For the exemplary embodiment shown in FIG. 32, the sequence menu 300 displays each of the virtual obstacles in the challenge region 280 as icons that can be programmed.
  • [0114]
    Programming the icons allows the user to apply programming logic to the virtual objects placed in a challenge region 280 using a drag-and-drop interface. For example, a user could drag a button object (such as button 302 in FIG. 32) onto a door object placed in the challenge region 280. Dragging the button object and dropping it onto the door 296 when placing the button in the challenge region 280 establishes a link between the button 302 and the door 296. This link serves to establish that the button 302, when actuated by a virtual character that has encountered the challenge region 280, opens the door 296 or is at least included in a sequence of steps that must be performed to open the door 296. Then, regardless of where the button 302 is placed in the room, pressing the button 302 will open the door or satisfy at least one step in the sequence to be performed to open the door 296. The more complex programming of sequences can be created by dragging multiple virtual obstacles, such as the button 302 and a first lever 306 as shown in FIG. 32 to a single object such as the door 296 to require an interaction with both the button 302 and lever 306 to open the door 296.
  • [0115]
    Likewise, the button 302, for example, could also be dragged and dropped onto another virtual obstacle such as the swinging pendulum 298, for example, placed in a challenge region 280, which can be a challenge region 280 other than where the button 302 will eventually be placed. Dragging and dropping the button 302 in such a manner establishes a link between the button 302 and the swinging pendulum 298. A virtual character navigating the maze can actuate the button 302 to start and/or stop the swinging pendulum 298 from swinging. Thus, pre-programmed virtual objects such as the swinging pendulum 298 made available for selection by the user can be further programmed by allowing the user to drag and drop other virtual obstacles such as the button 302 thereon to create a user-generated challenge in the virtual world, optionally without requiring the user to engage in the keyed-entry of code using a keyboard.
  • [0116]
    The user can arrange the icons representing the virtual obstacles to define the order in which the virtual character must interact with each virtual obstacle in order to open the door 296. For example, the push button 302 placed on top of a pedestal 304 must be stepped on by the virtual character to open the door 296, but is not initially reachable by the virtual character. Instead, a first lever 306 in the challenge region 280 must be actuated in order to cause a step 308 to rise from the floor, allowing the virtual character to climb to the top of the pedestal 304 and reach the push button 302 to open the door 296. The order in which a virtual character is required to interact with various different virtual obstacles can optionally be made adjustable, without requiring the user who constructed the maze to remove and replace the virtual obstacles in the desired order. According to alternate embodiments, the use can optionally require a virtual character to interact with a virtual obstacle in a separate room 224, other than the room in which the challenge region 280 is located to open the door 296, or at least gain access to another virtual obstacle at the challenge region 280 that will open the door 296.
  • [0117]
    In addition to the rooms 224 included in a maze, the user can elect to include virtual obstacles in a virtual home for the virtual character within the virtual world. The virtual home can optionally include virtual furnishings and represent a residence where the virtual character lives. By including the virtual obstacles in the virtual home and allowing other virtual characters under the control of other users in the virtual world, the virtual home can be a sort of funhouse, creating a challenge for other virtual characters to navigate.
  • [0118]
    To increase the inventory of the tubular segments 238, the user can retrieve the build interface 234 over the communication network 16 using the user computer 18 and locate the tubular segment 238 to be built. As an example, the building of a “Medium Rising Curve” 240 will be described, but a similar build operation can be performed to increase the quantity 236 of any of the accessible tubular segments 238. The Medium Rising Curve 240 is said to be accessible to the user, meaning that access to build such tubular segment 238 has been granted to the user as indicated by the construction icon 242 having an appearance of a hamster wearing a hard hat. Tubular segments 238 that are not available to be built are said to be locked, and are labeled with a lock icon 244. Access to locked tubular segment 246, such as the “Winding Snake” in FIG. 25, is restricted. As such, locked tubular segments 246 are not presently available to be built by the user to increase the quantity of the locked tubular segments 246, if any, that are included in the virtual character's inventory.
  • [0119]
    All tubular segments 238 in the virtual character's inventory appearing in the menu 212 are not necessarily accessible to be built via the build interface 234. As can be seen from FIG. 25, the “Long Slide” 248 tubular segment is locked, but the long slide tubular segment icon 250 appears in the virtual character's inventory, with a quantity of 1. The user can optionally be granted access to an initial inventory after, and optionally in response to successful validation of initial registration information when the user account was created as described above. According to alternate embodiments, one or more units of a tubular segment 238 such as the Long Slide 248 can be placed in the virtual character's inventory as a reward for reaching a milestone in the virtual world, completing a challenge, finding the tubular segment 238 during a scavenger hunt activity in the virtual world, or for any other reason. For the present example, the user has been granted access to a single unit of the Long Slide 248 that can be retrieved from the menu 212 and included in a maze under construction 214. But the user is prevented from building an additional unit of the Long Slide 248 until access to that tubular segment 238 in the build interface 234 is granted by the computer system 10.
  • [0120]
    Access to build a unit of a locked tubular segment 246 in the build interface 234 can be granted to the user in response to any desired condition. For example, access to build one or more units of the Long Slide 248 can be granted in response to successful validation of additional registration information received by the administrative server 12 via the communication network and validated subsequent to successful validation of initial registration information. Two, three, four or more successful validations of subsequently-transmitted registration information can optionally be required to unlock, and grant a user access to build locked tubular segments 246. As explained above, the registration information to be validated before unlocking a locked tubular segment 246 or other maze portion may include a registration code associated with a toy or other item that has been purchased. Regardless of how a locked tubular segment 246 is unlocked,
  • [0121]
    Once the Long Slide 248 has been unlocked, the user can select that as the tubular segment to be built, and proceed to the construction editor 252 shown in FIG. 26. The selected tubular segment which, in the present example is Long Slide 248, is displayed. The user is also presented with a worker selection tool 254, which allows the user to select one or more virtual characters 62 associated with the user account and allocate those selected virtual characters 62 to the building of the Long Slide 248. For the illustrative embodiment shown in FIG. 26, a plurality of virtual characters 62 a-62 f associated with the user account are displayed. An add button 256 also appears adjacent to each of the plurality of virtual characters 62 a-62 f that are available to be allocated to the build operation. The add button 256 adjacent to each of the four virtual characters 62 a-62 d has been selected by the user, thereby allocating each of those virtual characters 62 a-62 d to the build operation as indicated by the matrix 258 of allocated virtual characters. A remove button 260 can be placed adjacent to each virtual character in the matrix 258 to allow one or more of the virtual characters 62 a-62 d allocated to the build operation to be removed. With the virtual characters 62 a-62 d included in the matrix 258, the “Build It!” button 262 can be selected to execute the build operation.
  • [0122]
    The quantity 264 of Long Slide 248 units in the inventory associated with the user account is incremented by one unit (from 0 to 1 in the illustrated example) as a result of the build operation. The quantity 264 can be incremented substantially immediately following selection of the Build It! button 262, making the new unit of the Long Slide 248 available for inclusion in a maze under construction 214. Following the execution of the build operation, however, the virtual characters 62 a-62 d will be required to rest, recover or otherwise delay before being available for use in a subsequent build operation. The length of time required before a subsequent build operation can be performed using at least one of the virtual characters 62 a-62 d can optionally depend on the number of virtual characters 62 a-62 d allocated to the build operation that the delay is to follow. For example, a rest time 266 of 30 minutes following execution of the build operation will be required for each of the virtual characters 62 a-62 d used in that build operation. If only two virtual characters 62 a, 62 b were used, the rest time 266 required will be greater than 30 minutes, and optionally doubled to 60 minutes since only half of the virtual characters 62 a-62 d were allocated to the build operation. Virtual characters 62 e, 62 f in FIG. 26 are resting during a recovery period that followed a previous build operation. A time indicator 268 indicative of the time remaining until a subsequent build operation can be performed can optionally be displayed. For example, the time indicator 268 can include a graphic representation such as a progress indicator, a countdown timer, a combination thereof, or any other suitable indication of the time remaining before a subsequent build operation can be performed using one or both of the recovering virtual characters 62 e, 62 f.
  • [0123]
    The quantity of a tube segment 238 and other maze portion in inventory is decremented by one unit when that tube segment or other maze portion is added to the maze under construction 214 as shown in FIG. 21. When the user feels the maze under construction 214 is complete, the user can elect to test the maze, on foot or in a hamster ball 176, by selecting the walking option 170 or ball option 172 and then the “Test” button 270. A test can include an untimed attempt by the user to navigate the maze.
  • [0124]
    Maze portions with a numerical quantity, such as the tubular segments 238 for example, that are included in the maze under construction 214 and completed mazes that have been saved and associated with the user account are not returned to the inventory to be used for subsequent mazes. Thus, the quantity of maze portions in inventory is not the number available for each maze, but the total number of maze portions available. However, maze portions included in a maze or maze under construction 214 can be returned to the inventory by deleting those maze portions from the maze or maze under construction 214, or recycling the maze as a whole. The maze library 202 in FIG. 20 includes a “Recycle” button 272 that, when selected, deconstructs the maze and returns the maze portions from that maze to the inventory for use in constructing a subsequent maze.
  • [0125]
    If the user wishes to share the newly-completed maze with other users in the virtual world, the user can publish the maze. As shown in FIG. 19, the user can select the “My Mazes” button 274 from the community detail screen 182. The user's own maze creations are returned, along with an option that allows the user to designate one or more of those mazes to be published, making them accessible to others over the communication network 16. As other users participate in the user-generated, published mazes, the mazes can be rated and otherwise critiqued.
  • [0126]
    Illustrative embodiments have been described, hereinabove. It will be apparent to those skilled in the art that the above devices and methods may incorporate changes and modifications without departing from the general scope of this invention. It is intended to include all such modifications and alterations within the scope of the present invention. Furthermore, to the extent that the term “includes” is used in either the detailed description or the claims, such term is intended to be inclusive in a manner similar to the term “comprising” as “comprising” is interpreted when employed as a transitional word in a claim.
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Classifications
U.S. Classification463/29
International ClassificationA63F9/24
Cooperative ClassificationA63F13/63, A63F13/79, A63F13/577, A63F13/69, A63F2300/69, A63F2300/6018, A63F2300/8058, A63F2300/5546, A63F13/71
European ClassificationA63F13/12
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22 Mar 2011ASAssignment
Owner name: GANZ, ONTARIO
Free format text: ASSIGNMENT OF ASSIGNORS INTEREST;ASSIGNORS:BORST, KARL JOSEPH;BRAUND, STEPHEN;CROCE, NATHANIEL;AND OTHERS;SIGNING DATES FROM 20110204 TO 20110317;REEL/FRAME:025994/0843