Monday, March 14, 2005

Getting MS agent to work in your PowerPoint

Some of you have communicated to me that they cannot get the Microsoft agent to work in order to create the animated PowerPoint. Here are the detailed steps to make sure that it will work - for Windows XP.

Windows XP comes with the agent runtime installed - but only have one character file for you to use. Go to the windows directory and open the msAgent sub-directory. Inside there is a chars sub-directory. Inside you will see the characters that your system has. By default, it will only have one file: merlin.acs.

So go to Microsoft Agent download page for end-users. At the top of the page, there is a content section. Get the following via links in the content section.

  • Microsoft Agent character files. Get all of them, except Merlin which you already have. Save them somewhere. After downloading, double click to install. You can check your installation by looking at the chars directory as above. Here is another website which has more characters for you to download.

  • text-to-speech engine. I downloaded British version. The American version sounds better in fact.

  • SAPI 4.0 runtime support. This is the required speech support file. Download and save to somewhere. Double click to install. For some reason, the license of the file is invalid, so you CANNOT install directly from the link on the web page!

  • To get the sample, go to Microsoft Agent 2.0 Sample: PowerPoint 97 Presentation Narrator and download the sample. [You may like to get the 2000 version] Save it somewhere. Double click to open. It will ask you if you want to allow the script to run. Choose "yes". By default, it will open the PowerPoint in the notes view. Run it to see the demonstration. You need to "wiggle" your mouse over the word "Merlin" in the front page to get the agent to come out. Please watch through a few slides before you stop it. Make sure you can see the bird (Peedy) come out too.

If you can get to this stage, you have all tools you need to meet my challenge in the last post. So don't stop here. Read on. You are just one step from liberating your creativity.

Stop your PowerPoint presentation (press ESC). Go back to the first slide. In the notes view, you will see the instruction. Here are a few key points.

  • For each slide, any wordings before the funny ^*#{}#*^ is your notes. Any thing after that line is commands to the agent.

  • If you already have an agent on screen, you don't need to show the agent. As in the first slide, you cannot assume there is any agent on screen. So you can use the command SHOW to show the agent. (All commands are in CAPITALS) This SHOW command takes the name of the agent, the agent file name and position on screen. Please experiment.

  • The command SAY is the activation of the text-to-speech engine to say the words by the agent. If the pronunciation of the word is different from the rule, you can put the correct pronunciation in a bracket.
    For example, in slide 3 we have the command
    SAY This is where I come {inn=in}.
    It will display "in" in the balloon, but sound like "inn".

  • MOVE command allows you to move the agent to anywhere on the screen.

  • PLAY command is the most interesting - and you and your students may spend most of your time playing with. PLAY will play an animation loop available with the agent. Different agent supports different animation loops and they may be all different. Check the documentation of which animations are supported by your agent.

These are all technical stuff. The important thing about the design challenge is to create a pedagogical demonstration which can motivate your students to use the technique to write stories - animated play to be accurate.

So get your creativity going and send me your PowerPoint before 28th March 2005. The prize is a one year subscription (6 issues) to e-Learning Magazine.


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