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Microsoft Agent Download ButtonIt's not difficult to use Microsoft Agent Technology to support your own Sunday School ministry!  I use the PowerPoint version "live" in our Sunday School class, and the kids love it (attentive, knew the answers to
the review questions, and ask to see it again).  I also use it to provide free-running promotional presentations for Vacation Bible School and other events.  This page is designed to help you get started in making your own presentations. Remember, almost all the Microsoft Agent technology is available free of charge.

Contents
Background
Easiest Method
Grow Your Own
For The Experienced Developer
Links

Easiest Method

It is easy to modify an existing PowerPoint presentation to personalize it for your group.  Here are the steps:

  1. Download one of my Bible story presentations from The Bible Story Page at  http://sschool.com/kids/MSAgent/launch.htm 
  2. Open the presentation using Microsoft PowerPoint.
  3. Open the Notes Page view (click on "view", then "Notes Page")
  4. Edit any of the text after the "SAY" keyword.  This is the text that James speaks, and you can make it say anything you wish.
  5. Save your new presentation with a different name and try it out!

Some quick notes to help you out:

bulletEach notes page script must begin with the special string
                ^*#{}#*^
Any text before this string is ignored (and can be used for comments).
bulletThe text-to-speech interpreter is reasonably good, but will have trouble with some words.  To give James a hint, use the construct
                {spoken form=printed form}
where "spoken form" is the phonetic spelling of the phrase (use hyphens and try different phonetic interpretations), and "written form" is what appears in the text balloon.
bulletTo emphasize a word, place the construct
                  \emp\
before the word.

You'll want to obtain the complete documentation of the Presentation Narrator if you plan to do much with this medium.

Grow Your Own

To design your own Bible story, you can again start with one of mine and modify it more extensively.  You will need to download the free package available from Microsoft in the Presentation Narrator for MS Agent, which includes full documentation and a PowerPoint template including the macros.  You may use either the template or one of my presentations as a starting point.  In either case, you will need to delete all slides except the first.

The hardest part is actually finding the illustrations.  Check for my favorite sources here.

Once you have selected your images, start with the PowerPoint template and:

  1. Prepare the basic presentation with your illustrations and any desired text.
  2. Modify the first (title) slide with your own title.  Do not delete the title text box (which is linked to begin scripting the presentation), but rather modify its text to fit your presentation.  (You may change words, format, color, etc., and resize the text box...just don't delete it.)
  3. Go to the Notes Page view and enter your script.  Use one of my scripts as an example.  Remember to begin each notes page with the special character string.  Also remember that commands such as SHOW, MOVE, HIDE, PLAY, and SAY must be all capitals.
  4. Determine where your Agent character should stand for each slide, and use the MOVE command to place it there.  Remember that the MOVE coordinates refer to percentages of the screen, and point to the upper left corner of the Agent character's bounding box (so screen center will be something like MOVE 45,40 to allow for the character height and width) .
  5. Select a variety of animations to PLAY to add variety and expression to the Agent character.
  6. Use the SAY command to actually narrate the story.
  7. Preview your presentation, making notes about needed changes as you go through, and then refine it.

 A very useful tool to familiarize yourself with the available animations is the free AgentSight utility available from Freeman Labs.  This utility displays all available animations for any Agent character and lets you preview each one, plus allowing you to preview spoken phrases.

Some philosophy:  I personally don't like to use the animal characters for Bible presentations.  James is the best character I have found providing the right level of realism and dignity for the serious nature of the scripture message.  

For The Experienced Developer

There is much more available in Agent technology.  Check out the links section for some starting pointers.

You can create your own Agent characters with the free Character Editor available from Microsoft.  This requires generating all of the graphics for the animation frames.

A voice recognition command capability also is provided, which will allow pupils to select from a specified menu of verbal commands to drive program choices.  It will also require programming in Visual Basic, C++, or other script language.

Links

bullet The Bible Story Page contains links to all of the illustrated and narrated Bible stories currently available on The Sunday School Page.
bulletThe Microsoft Agent Home Page (http://www.microsoft.com/msagent/downloads/user.asp) is the starting point for all the resources available from Microsoft.  It contains all the components necessary to play or produce Agent presentations.
bulletThe Presentation Narrator for MS Agent (http://www.microsoft.com/downloads/details.aspx?FamilyID=bac44698-90b8-4116-bdac-139d349ee399& displaylang=en) is provided as an example of how Agent technology can be used in PowerPoint, and is the starting point for my own Bible Story Presentations.  Full documentation is included.
bulletThe Microsoft Agent Web Ring  is a great starting point for a collection of over 150 web sites utilizing Microsoft Agent technologies.  It also contains download links for the most popular Agent characters, and a great tutorial for getting started.  Click on "agent setup" for help on getting started, as well as a helpful  table which tells you which Microsoft Agent tools are installed on your computer.
bulletAgent Viewer is a very useful free utility from DVASoft which allow you to preview the available animations and voice characteristics of any Agent character installed on your system.  Great for tuning the phonetic spelling of Bible words!

Background

Microsoft® Agent is a set of programmable software services that supports the presentation of interactive animated characters within the Microsoft Windows® interface. Developers can use characters as interactive assistants to introduce, guide, entertain, or otherwise enhance their Web pages or applications in addition to the conventional use of windows, menus, and controls. Microsoft Agent enables software developers and Web authors to incorporate a new form of user interaction, known as conversational interfaces, that leverages natural aspects of human social communication. In addition to mouse and keyboard input, Microsoft Agent includes optional support for speech recognition so applications can respond to voice commands. Characters can respond using synthesized speech, recorded audio, or text in a cartoon word balloon.