Title:
User-Powered Always Available Contextual Game Help
Kind Code:
A1


Abstract:
A player encounters a challenge present in a video game without succeeding thereat and requests contextual help from a service by way of a guide. The guide gathers a current context of the game including the encountered challenge and calls to the service with the gathered current context for such contextual help. The service compiles a list of entries based on the gathered current context and returns the compiled list of entries to the guide. Each entry in the list has been authored by a player of the game and includes information purportedly relevant to succeeding at the encountered challenge as represented by the current context. The player receives the compiled list of entries from the service by way of the guide, reviews same, and resumes playing the game and in doing so employs the gathered information in an effort to succeed at the challenge.



Inventors:
Vrignaud, Andre (Seattle, WA, US)
Gruhl, Robert E. (Seattle, WA, US)
Application Number:
12/032042
Publication Date:
08/20/2009
Filing Date:
02/15/2008
Assignee:
Microsoft Corporation (Redmond, WA, US)
Primary Class:
International Classes:
A63F9/24
View Patent Images:
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Primary Examiner:
WEATHERFORD, SYVILA
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
Microsoft Technology Licensing, LLC (Redmond, WA, US)
Claims:
What is claimed:

1. A method of playing a video game on a computing device, comprising: encountering a challenge present in the game without succeeding thereat; accessing a service access guide instantiated on the computing device, the guide being in communications with a game service and including a user interface to facilitate interaction with the service; requesting contextual help from the service by way of the guide, the guide in response to the request gathering a current context of the game including the encountered challenge and calling to the service for such contextual help, the call including the gathered current context of the game, the service receiving the call from the guide including the gathered current context of the game and based thereon compiling a list of entries and returning the compiled list of entries to the guide, each entry in the list of entries having been authored by a player of the game and including information purportedly relevant to succeeding at the encountered challenge as represented by the received current context of the game; receiving from the service by way of the guide the compiled list of entries; reviewing the received list of entries to gather information regarding how to succeed at the encountered challenge; and resuming playing the game and in doing so employing the gathered information in an effort to succeed at the challenge.

2. The method of claim 1 wherein the challenge is a situation in the game situation where the player has to determine how to take an action.

3. The method of claim 1 wherein the video game is played on a video game console and wherein the guide is instantiated on the console.

4. The method of claim 1 comprising selecting filtering parameters, wherein the guide filters the received list of entries based on the selected filtering parameters, and reviewing the received and filtered list of entries to gather information regarding how to succeed at the encountered challenge.

5. The method of claim 1 wherein an entry in the list includes content copied from the game by the authoring player of such entry, the content being selected from at least one of a screen shot from the game as captured by a guide of a console, a video clip from the game as captured by a guide of a console, and an annotation thereof as created by a guide of a console, the method comprising rendering the content upon reviewing the entry.

6. The method of claim 1 wherein an entry in the list includes identifying indicia representing that the entry deserves attention, the identifying indicia being selected from at least one of an indicia identifying that a friend has recommended the entry and an indicia identifying that the authoring player has experienced a challenge to which the entry relates, the method comprising reviewing the entry upon discerning the identifying indicia.

7. The method of claim 1 further comprising, upon reviewing an entry, contribute a rating thereto.

8. The method of claim 1 further comprising, upon succeeding at the challenge, authoring an entry relating thereto.

9. The method of claim 1 wherein each object in the game is supplied with a tag having a unique ID, wherein each time an object in the game is encountered the corresponding tag thereof is pushed onto a stack, and wherein the guide gathering the current context of the game includes copying a number of the tags on top of the stack.

10. The method of claim 9 wherein the service receives the call from the guide including the copied tags and employs the received tags to search for appropriate entries to be compiled into the list of entries.

11. A method of operating a video game on a computing device for a player, wherein the player encounters a challenge present in the game without succeeding thereat, the method comprising: receiving from the player a request for contextual help from the service; gathering in response to the request a current context of the game including the encountered challenge; calling to the service for such contextual help, the call including the gathered current context of the game, the service receiving the call including the gathered current context of the game and based thereon compiling a list of entries and returning the compiled list of entries to the guide, each entry in the list of entries having been authored by a player of the game and including information purportedly relevant to succeeding at the encountered challenge as represented by the received current context of the game; receiving from the service the compiled list of entries; displaying the received list of entries to the player to allow such player to gather information regarding how to succeed at the encountered challenge; and allowing the player to resume playing the game and in doing so employing the gathered information in an effort to succeed at the challenge.

12. The method of claim 11 wherein the challenge is a situation in the game situation where the player has to determine how to take an action.

13. The method of claim 11 wherein the video game is played on a video game console.

14. The method of claim 11 comprising allowing the player to select filtering parameters, filtering the received list of entries based on the selected filtering parameters, and allowing the player to review the received and filtered list of entries to gather information regarding how to succeed at the encountered challenge.

15. The method of claim 11 wherein an entry in the list includes content copied from the game by the authoring player of such entry, the content being selected from at least one of a screen shot from the game as captured by a guide of a console, a video clip from the game as captured by a guide of a console, and an annotation thereof as created by a guide of a console, the method comprising rendering the content upon allowing the player to review the entry.

16. The method of claim 11 wherein an entry in the list includes identifying indicia representing that the entry deserves attention, the identifying indicia being selected from at least one of an indicia identifying that a friend has recommended the entry and an indicia identifying that the authoring player has experienced a challenge to which the entry relates, the method comprising displaying the entry in the received list of entries to the player with the identifying indicia.

17. The method of claim 11 further comprising, upon reviewing an entry, allowing the player to contribute a rating thereto.

18. The method of claim 11 further comprising, upon succeeding at the challenge, allowing the player to author an entry relating thereto.

19. The method of claim 11 wherein each object in the game is supplied with a tag having a unique ID, wherein each time an object in the game is encountered the corresponding tag thereof is pushed onto a stack, and gathering the current context of the game includes copying a number of the tags on top of the stack.

20. The method of claim 19 wherein the service receives the call including the copied tags and employs the received tags to search for appropriate entries to be compiled into the list of entries.

Description:

BACKGROUND

The present invention relates to video games, and particularly relatively complex video games such as video games played from consoles or the like. As may be appreciated, such complex video games are not necessarily intended to be completed so much as experienced. Accordingly, each such relatively complex video game includes multiple challenges, characters, objects that can be acquired, scenes, and the like that collectively form a universe that is hopefully of interest to a player of the game. As a result, a player of the game experiences high play value in connection with such a video game by exploring the universe of such game, by encountering new challenges within such universe, and by triumphing or otherwise overcoming such challenges. Notably, although such a video game may offer points for overcoming such challenges, the points may actually be of little actual value to the player as compared with the experience.

The perceived value of the points may increase measurably, however, when the player of the game participates with other players in playing the game in a multi-player context, or when comparing the player wishes to compare oneself with other players, among other things. Accordingly, it is known that the video game may be communicatively coupled to a service or the like to which multiple copies of the game are also communicatively coupled. By so doing, the player of the game may compare the points obtained thereby with the points obtained by other players at other copies of the game. Additionally, communities of such players may be established, where players may communicate with each other regarding the game as well as other games and other matters. As should be understood, one topic of particular interest to such players may be overcoming challenges within the context of the game, and accordingly such players may create discussions on the service about the game, including the challenges therein.

One particular instance of such a service is the XBOX LIVE service as provided by MICROSOFT Corporation of Redmond, Washington with regard to the XBOX game-playing console. As may be understood, each player having such an XBOX console may subscribe to the LIVE service and may communicatively couple the console thereof to such LIVE service, typically by way of an Ethernet condition to a high-speed Internet connection. As coupled, the player may play any of several XBOX video games and while doing so communicate with the LIVE service regarding the game being played, or regarding other games, or even regarding non-game issues. Thus, the player may set up a group of on-line friends and be informed when any such friend is coupled to the service, may exchange mail and other communications with such friends, and may perform many other functions. In addition, a developer of a particular XBOX game may establish a site or the like at the LIVE service that is dedicated to the particular game, where the site includes promotional materials, tips, background, and other game-related materials.

Inasmuch as a complex video game is typically very challenging to play, it would seem appropriate that a developer of the game that has a corresponding site at a service such as the Live service would have help information at such site. Thus, if a player playing the game was unable to overcome a particular problem, obstacle, challenge or the like (hereinafter, ‘challenge’), the player could access the service by way of the console and in particular the site for the game at the service, and obtain such help information as needed. However, providing such help could represent a significant burden to the developer, both in the time and effort needed to develop help information relating to all possible challenges, and in allowing the user to search for such help information based on the challenge at issue. As a result, such help information is not often provided by way of the service, or if provided is not provided in a satisfactory manner.

Accordingly, a need exists for a method and mechanism for providing help information regarding a challenge in a complex video game by way of a service communicatively coupled to the console on which the game is being played. In particular, a need exists for such help information that is provided as entries in a directory or database associated with the service by way of players of the game, and that is searchable. Moreover, a need exists for such help information that is searched at the direction of a player at a console on which the game is being played based on a present context of the game at the console.

SUMMARY

The present invention leverages a service related to and accessible from a game playing console and a community of players that create player-generated game help entries. The service receives a help request from a player playing the game at a console, where the help request includes a present context of the game, identifies entries believed to be relevant based on such context, and returns such search results including the identified entries in an ordered manner. The player reviews at least some of the identified entries and in doing so information relating to popularity and/or satisfaction with such entries is gleaned and returned to the service. Thus, entries at the service can be scored, and the scores can be used during future searches to order search results.

An entry as newly provided to the service by a player can at least preliminarily be scored based on a rating of the providing player with regard to the game. Such rating may be based on points accumulated by the providing player, an amount of time spent by the providing player playing the game, scores of other entries from the providing player, whether the providing player has personally experienced the challenge to which the provided entry relates, and the like. Additionally, a providing player can include within an entry captured content from the game, including screenshots, video clips, annotations thereof, and the like.

In the present invention, then, a player encounters a challenge present in a video game without succeeding thereat, accesses a service access guide that is in communications with a game service, and requests contextual help from the service by way of the guide. In response, the guide gathers a current context of the game including the encountered challenge and calls to the service for such contextual help. The call includes the gathered current context of the game, and the service receives the call from the guide including the gathered current context of the game and based thereon compiles a list of entries and returns the compiled list of entries to the guide. Each entry in the list has been authored by a player of the game and includes information purportedly relevant to succeeding at the encountered challenge as represented by the received current context of the game. The player receives the compiled list of entries from the service by way of the guide, reviews same, and resumes playing the game and in doing so employs the gathered information in an effort to succeed at the challenge.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

FIG. 1 is a block diagram of an example computing environment in which example embodiments and aspects may be implemented.

FIG. 2 is a block diagram showing a system for providing player-authored contextual help in accordance with various embodiments of the present invention.

FIG. 3 is a flow diagram showing key steps performed in connection with the system of FIG. 2 in accordance with various embodiments of the present invention.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION

Turning now to FIGS. 2 and 3, in a typical user scenario, a player 10 is playing a video game 12 on a corresponding console 14 to which the game 12 is loaded (301). Player 10 in doing so encounters a particular challenge but thus far has not succeeded at the challenge (i.e., has not been able to get past the challenge) (303). Note here that the game 12 and console 14 may be any appropriate game and console as long as such game and console are appropriately provisioned with the functionality necessary as set forth herein. Note too that the challenge may also be any appropriate challenge, and can include most any situation where the player has to figure out how to take some action. Thus, the challenge may be epic, such as a fight or battle with a character, may be mundane, such as how to acquire an object or maneuver a certain way, or may be somewhere in between, such as how to make a character go to sleep, among other things.

After trying to solve the challenge multiple times, player 10 selects a service access guide 16 at the console 14 (305). As may be appreciated, such a guide 16 may be hardware and/or software at the console that allows the user to access a service 18 such as that which was set forth above. Thus, the guide 16 may include appropriate communications functionality necessary to communicate with the service 18, as well as a user interface to facilitate interaction between the player 10 and the service 18. Such a guide 16 and service 18 are generally known and therefore need not be set forth herein in any detail other than that which is provided. Accordingly, such guide 16 and service 18 may be any appropriate guide and service. In the context of an XBOX console 14, then, the guide 16 is accessed by actuating a button on a game controller (not shown), after which a video representation of the guide 16 is displayed alongside the game 12, which may or may not be automatically paused. The user then employs the guide 16 as necessary and/or desired to access information from the service 18 regarding the game 12, as will be set forth in more detail below.

Note here that the service 18 in the context of the XBOX console 14 is the XBOX LIVE service 18, which as was set forth above is appropriately communicatively coupled to such console 14 by way of a network connection such as the Internet. Inasmuch as multiple player 10 at multiple consoles 14 are also coupled to such a service 18, players 10 may communicate with each other by mail or messaging by way of the service 18, and may establish communities or the like regarding particular games 12 and other matters. As should be understood, one topic of particular interest to such players 10 may be overcoming challenges in a game 12, and accordingly such players may create discussions on the service about the game 12, including the challenges therein.

Upon selecting the guide 16 at the console 14, such guide 16 establishes a connection with the service 18 if not already present and then opens a viewer in the display upon which the game 12 is being viewed. The player 10 then selects contextual help from the viewer (307), after which the guide 16 requests such contextual help from the service 18 (309) and in response thereto the service 18 returns a list 20 of relevant help entries 22 which the guide 16 presents in the viewer or in another viewer in the display (311). Inasmuch as the help is contextual, the guide 16 as part of the request for contextual help as at 307 includes information regarding a current context of the game 12 and the player 10 thereof. As will be set forth in more detail below, such current context is based at least in part on tags associated with objects in connection with the game 12, and whether each tag is active such that the player 10 is currently associated with such object.

The entries 22 in the returned list 20 may include entries 22 relating to items possessed by the player 10 in the context of the game 12, recently and/or currently encountered challenges in the context of the game 12, recently and/or currently visited locations in the context of the game 12, and the like. As may be appreciated, each entry 22 is from a database or the like within which all entries 22 relating to the game 12 are stored, where such database maybe resident at the service 18 or at least accessible and searchable by the service 18. Generally, each entry 22 may be about most any topic relating to the game 12, although it is expected that most entries 22 would relate to overcoming or succeeding at challenges that can be encountered in the game 12. Accordingly, such entries 22 might include some level of information necessary to overcome a particular challenge, or perhaps information on how to find a particular challenge. Significantly, each entry 22 in the list 20 is ordered by the service 18 based on a pre-determined weight assigned to the entry 22 based at least in part on perceived relevance to the current context of the game 12 so that entries 22 in the list 20 are ordered in descending perceived relevance.

Thus, the player 10 with the returned list 20 of entries 22 selects the first entry 22 in the list 20, upon which the guide 16 obtains the selected entry 22 from the service 18 and presents same in the viewer or in another viewer in the display. Significantly, each entry 22 is written by an authoring player 10 and not by the developer of the game 12, thus freeing the developer from having to do so, and also allowing each entry 22 to contain as much or as little information as the authoring player 10 cares to provide, and further allowing multiple entries 22 to be written regarding the same subject.

Note here that each entry 22 may be categorized based on any factor, such as a relevant amount of information provided (i.e., hints only, detailed information, etc.), and the selecting player 10 may select corresponding categories to filter the entries 22. For example, if the selecting player 10 only wants hints, only the entries 22 categorized as hints only are presented. The selecting player 10 may modify such filtering as necessary or desired, such as for example if none of the presented entries 22 seem to be of help.

Note too that each entry 22 as written by an authoring player 10 may include screen shots and/or video clips of the game 12 and annotations thereto as provided by such authoring player 10. As may be appreciated, such authoring player 10 may employ the guide 16 thereof to capture such screen shots and/or video clips from the game 12, and also to annotate same such as for example with an electronic grease pencil. Additionally, the authoring player 10 may employ the guide 16 thereof to add audio commentary and/or video to the entry 22 authored thereby.

Note further that each entry 22 as provided by the service 18 may be marked with special indicia as necessary or appropriate. For example, one indicia may be employed when a friend of the selecting player 10 has recommended the entry 22 or found the entry to be useful, helpful, or the like. Another indicia may be employed to signify that the authoring player 12 has experienced the challenge to which the entry 22 relates. Thus, the selecting player 10 can view such indicia as a seal of approval, or at least as an indication that the entry 22 deserves special attention.

Upon reviewing a number of the entries 22 in the returned list 20, then (313), the selecting player 10 hopefully has gathered enough information regarding how to succeed at the challenge which prompted the request contextual help request from such selecting player 10. Such selecting player 10 may then resume playing the game 12 and in fact employ such gathered information to succeed at the challenge, hopefully (315).

At some point, and perhaps upon reflection, the selecting player 10 may decide that a particular selected entry 22 was not helpful. In such a case, the selecting player 10 may employ the guide 16 to connect to the service 18, access the particular entry 22, and contribute a rating thereto (317). Such rating could be a simple positive or negative, could be scaled from 0 to 10, or the like. As may be appreciated, the service 18 employs such rating when calculating the aforementioned pre-determined weight for the entry 22 in response to a future request. Thus, such weight is also based at least in part on ratings as provided by other players 12.

The selecting player 10 may also decided that he or she would like to author his or her own entry 22 regarding a challenge (319). Such an authored entry 22 may be based on a previous entry 22 or may be entirely new. In any case, the now-authoring player 10 may either access the service 18 by way of the guide 16 of the console 14, or may employ an appropriately networked personal computer or the like, especially if the guide 16 is not amenable to authoring. Such an authored entry 22 will itself be provided with a weight to order same in lists 20 that include such authored entry 22. If especially good, the authoring player 10 may in fact receive an award in connection with the game 12, such as extra game points, extra expert points, or the like.

As was alluded to above, various objects in the game 12, such as challenges, creatures, items, etc., may be tagged with a unique ID or the like. Accordingly, each time such an object is encountered or experienced by a player 10 playing the game 12, the corresponding tag thereof may be pushed onto a stack or the like. Additionally, each such tag may have a corresponding counter and such counter may be incremented when the tag is pushed. As should be understood, then, the counters identify a relative popularity of each object, and such information may be provided to the service 18 by way of the guide as necessary and/or appropriate.

More significantly, a certain number of tags on the top of the stack or the like may be employed to represent the current context of the game 12 when the guide 16 requests contextual help from the service 18, as was set forth above. Thus, the guide 16 can send the tags to the service 18 along with the request for help as at 309, and the service 18 may employ the sent tags when compiling the list 20 of entries 22 to be returned. For example, the service 18 may employ the corresponding ID of each sent tag to locate entries 22, assuming that such entries 22 at the service 18 are appropriately locatable based on such IDs. Alternately, each ID may correspond to a text string that is employed when the service 18 performs a text search of entries 22.

In response to a request for contextual help from a guide 16, the service 18 may not immediately return a list 20 of entries 22. Instead, the service may compile a contextual table of contents (TOC) 24 based on the tags included with the request. Thus, the TOC 24 identifies subjects of possible interest to the player 10, who in response can select a particular subject from the TOC 24. The guide 16 then notifies the service 18 regarding the selected subject, and the returned list 20 of entries is complied to be relevant to such subject.

When developing the game 12, a developer should provide the service 18 with a base TOC 26 for the game 12. Such base TOC 26 may provide links to base entries 22, each of which corresponds to a tag. Accordingly, the developer can at least highlight areas he or she believes is important or will require help. Thus, an authoring player 10 that authors an entry 22 can specify that the authored entry 22 is to be linked to one or more particular base entries 22, and in so doing at least implicitly allows the authored entry 22 to be located based on the ID of the tag.

At least initially, an authored entry 22 has little if any information associated therewith that can be employed to provide a weight therefor. Accordingly, such an initial weight may be derived based on the authoring player 10. In particular, such an initial weight may be based at least in part on a number of points accumulated by the authoring player 10, be they game points, expert points, or the like, whether the authoring player 10 has experienced the challenge to which the authored entry 22 relates, an average weight value of other entries 22 authored by the authoring player 10, and the like.

Exemplary Computing Arrangement

FIG. 1 shows an exemplary computing environment in which example embodiments and aspects may be implemented. The computing system environment 100 is only one example of a suitable computing environment and is not intended to suggest any limitation as to the scope of use or functionality. Neither should the computing environment 100 be interpreted as having any dependency or requirement relating to any one or combination of components illustrated in the exemplary operating environment 100.

Numerous other general purpose or special purpose computing system environments or configurations may be used. Examples of well known computing systems, environments, and/or configurations that may be suitable for use include, but are not limited to, personal computers, server computers, hand-held or laptop devices, multiprocessor systems, microprocessor-based systems, set top boxes, programmable consumer electronics, network PCs, minicomputers, mainframe computers, embedded systems, distributed computing environments that include any of the above systems or devices, and the like.

Computer-executable instructions, such as program modules, being executed by a computer may be used. Generally, program modules include routines, programs, objects, components, data structures, etc. that perform particular tasks or implement particular abstract data types. Distributed computing environments may be used where tasks are performed by remote processing devices that are linked through a communications network or other data transmission medium. In a distributed computing environment, program modules and other data may be located in both local and remote computer storage media including memory storage devices.

With reference to FIG. 1, an exemplary system includes a general purpose computing device in the form of a computer 110. Components of computer 110 may include, but are not limited to, a processing unit 120, a system memory 130, and a system bus 121 that couples various system components including the system memory to the processing unit 120. The processing unit 120 may represent multiple logical processing units such as those supported on a multi-threaded processor. The system bus 121 may be any of several types of bus structures including a memory bus or memory controller, a peripheral bus, and a local bus using any of a variety of bus architectures. By way of example, and not limitation, such architectures include Industry Standard Architecture (ISA) bus, Micro Channel Architecture (MCA) bus, Enhanced ISA (EISA) bus, Video Electronics Standards Association (VESA) local bus, and Peripheral Component Interconnect (PCI) bus (also known as Mezzanine bus). The system bus 121 may also be implemented as a point-to-point connection, switching fabric, or the like, among the communicating devices.

Computer 110 typically includes a variety of computer readable media. Computer readable media can be any available media that can be accessed by computer 110 and includes both volatile and nonvolatile media, removable and non-removable media. By way of example, and not limitation, computer readable media may comprise computer storage media and communication media. Computer storage media includes both volatile and nonvolatile, removable and non-removable media implemented in any method or technology for storage of information such as computer readable instructions, data structures, program modules or other data. Computer storage media includes, but is not limited to, RAM, ROM, EEPROM, flash memory or other memory technology, CDROM, digital versatile disks (DVD) or other optical disk storage, magnetic cassettes, magnetic tape, magnetic disk storage or other magnetic storage devices, or any other medium which can be used to store the desired information and which can accessed by computer 110. Communication media typically embodies computer readable instructions, data structures, program modules or other data in a modulated data signal such as a carrier wave or other transport mechanism and includes any information delivery media. The term “modulated data signal” means a signal that has one or more of its characteristics set or changed in such a manner as to encode information in the signal. By way of example, and not limitation, communication media includes wired media such as a wired network or direct-wired connection, and wireless media such as acoustic, RF, infrared and other wireless media. Combinations of any of the above should also be included within the scope of computer readable media.

The system memory 130 includes computer storage media in the form of volatile and/or nonvolatile memory such as read only memory (ROM) 131 and random access memory (RAM) 132. A basic input/output system 133 (BIOS), containing the basic routines that help to transfer information between elements within computer 110, such as during start-up, is typically stored in ROM 131. RAM 132 typically contains data and/or program modules that are immediately accessible to and/or presently being operated on by processing unit 120. By way of example, and not limitation, FIG. 1 illustrates operating system 134, application programs 135, other program modules 136, and program data 137.

The computer 110 may also include other removable/non-removable, volatile/nonvolatile computer storage media. By way of example only, FIG. 1 illustrates a hard disk drive 140 that reads from or writes to non-removable, nonvolatile magnetic media, a magnetic disk drive 151 that reads from or writes to a removable, nonvolatile magnetic disk 152, and an optical disk drive 155 that reads from or writes to a removable, nonvolatile optical disk 156, such as a CD ROM or other optical media. Other removable/non-removable, volatile/nonvolatile computer storage media that can be used in the exemplary operating environment include, but are not limited to, magnetic tape cassettes, flash memory cards, digital versatile disks, digital video tape, solid state RAM, solid state ROM, and the like. The hard disk drive 141 is typically connected to the system bus 121 through a non-removable memory interface such as interface 140, and magnetic disk drive 151 and optical disk drive 155 are typically connected to the system bus 121 by a removable memory interface, such as interface 150.

The drives and their associated computer storage media discussed above and illustrated in FIG. 1, provide storage of computer readable instructions, data structures, program modules and other data for the computer 110. In FIG. 1, for example, hard disk drive 141 is illustrated as storing operating system 144, application programs 145, other program modules 146, and program data 147. Note that these components can either be the same as or different from operating system 134, application programs 135, other program modules 136, and program data 137. Operating system 144, application programs 145, other program modules 146, and program data 147 are given different numbers here to illustrate that, at a minimum, they are different copies. A user may enter commands and information into the computer 20 through input devices such as a keyboard 162 and pointing device 161, commonly referred to as a mouse, trackball or touch pad. Other input devices (not shown) may include a microphone, joystick, game pad, satellite dish, scanner, or the like. These and other input devices are often connected to the processing unit 120 through a user input interface 160 that is coupled to the system bus, but may be connected by other interface and bus structures, such as a parallel port, game port or a universal serial bus (USB). A monitor 191 or other type of display device is also connected to the system bus 121 via an interface, such as a video interface 190. In addition to the monitor, computers may also include other peripheral output devices such as speakers 197 and printer 196, which may be connected through an output peripheral interface 195.

The computer 110 may operate in a networked environment using logical connections to one or more remote computers, such as a remote computer 180. The remote computer 180 may be a personal computer, a server, a router, a network PC, a peer device or other common network node, and typically includes many or all of the elements described above relative to the computer 110, although only a memory storage device 181 has been illustrated in FIG. 1. The logical connections depicted in FIG. 1 include a local area network (LAN) 171 and a wide area network (WAN) 173, but may also include other networks. Such networking environments are commonplace in offices, enterprise-wide computer networks, intranets and the Internet.

When used in a LAN networking environment, the computer 110 is connected to the LAN 171 through a network interface or adapter 170. When used in a WAN networking environment, the computer 110 typically includes a modem 172 or other means for establishing communications over the WAN 173, such as the Internet. The modem 172, which may be internal or external, may be connected to the system bus 121 via the user input interface 160, or other appropriate mechanism. In a networked environment, program modules depicted relative to the computer 110, or portions thereof, may be stored in the remote memory storage device. By way of example, and not limitation, FIG. 1 illustrates remote application programs 185 as residing on memory device 181. It will be appreciated that the network connections shown are exemplary and other means of establishing a communications link between the computers may be used.

Although the subject matter has been described in language specific to structural features and/or methodological acts, it is to be understood that the subject matter defined in the appended claims is not necessarily limited to the specific features or acts described above. Rather, the specific features and acts described above are disclosed as example forms of implementing the claims.