Thursday, 25 February 2010

Wandering aimlessly pays off

After having seen some big and monumental tourist attractions in the first two days of my trip, I took to a little wandering. One thing I really love doing is just getting lost in the streets of a city at night. The first night I did this in Rome was probably the best time I've had in this city.

I took the metro to the Colosseum and headed west. I knew that direction held a lot of what's left of ancient Rome, so I figured I'd run into something interesting along the way. At first, I popped my headphones in (listening to M.I.A.'s Kala at the moment) and started walking as the sun went down.

 I was rewarded with this wonderful view of Foro Traiano (Trajan's Forum).

As I drifted along with the masses I went through shopping districts and night markets. I stopped for a while to watch someone do a painting by the roadside. I went into a few shops that were in these wonderful amazingly old buildings and just wandered until I was hopelessly lost (although not really disturbed, I was enjoying myself too much). I found my way into a piazza and decided to sit down, check my map and see where I was. There was a big ancient building in front of me, complete with Roman pillars, so I thought I'd go in and check it out. It turns out I'd found my way to the Pantheon by accident. What an amazing building. I should've taken some photos but I was too busy soaking it all in . . . and it closed very soon after I got there.

I continued my wandering and ended up in the Piazza Navona. I stopped for a meal there, and afraid of the Italian sized 3 course meal (I'd had one a couple of days earlier and skipped lunch the next day because I was still full) I went straight for the main . . . Porchetta, which is roast pork flavoured with herbs. Very tasty. It started raining as I turned to go home, but luckily it didn't last . . .

I leave you with a kewl little diorama I saw in a toyshop on the way back:

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Interview with Restore, Restart, Quit?

I had a brief chat with a guy named Rohan Harris on the Byteside forums following the Game Jam and the awesome media attention we got there.

Among other things, he runs a podcast called Restore, Restart, Quit? and he asked me to join in for a chat. I was there along with Glen Forrester, the maker of Gnilley (the awesome vocalisation based game made in the same Game Jam as Spy Wear) as well as Epona Schweer who teaches at the Academy of Interactive Entertainment in Sydney. We had a really interesting chat about all kinds of things related to the Jam, Indie game dev and things like that. By we I unfortunately mean that a lot of Glen's chat was separate because of his fickle internet connection, but I hope it doesn't affect the final product (which I'm about to listen to now). Also props to Glen for managing to play Bioshock 2 at the same time as supposedly being in an interview :P

Head over and check it out :)

Sunday, 21 February 2010

First guy I met in Rome tried to rip me off

Someone had given me a less than glowing impression of what this city is like, and I guess I got it firsthand quite quickly . . . someone tried to charge me 60 euros for a 15 minute cab ride. It's highly unfortunate that I met them first before getting to any of the airport's official taxis. Otherwise it would've been a pretty quick 20 euro cab ride to my hotel.

Instead, being the unknowing tourist that I am, I took a shuttle bus into the centre of the city, only to be told by the tourist information service person I found that I'd gone past my hotel and I'd have to turn around and head back in the opposite direction.

It happens, I guess. I got there in the end and the hotel is nice (an near public transport, which is always a plus).

I've also noticed that Italians are insane drivers . . . lines are merely suggestions and if your car can physically fit there, then you might as well drive it there :P I have this fear however, that having been taught to drive in an ex British Empire country that one day I'll die in a head on collision (or being run over because I was looking the wrong way) in a more civilised nation.

I've had two days to walk around Rome. On the first day, I checked out the Vatican . . . very impressive. I think the funniest moment for me was walking into San Pietro's Basilica and saying to myself "Fucking Holy Shit". It's ironic that the blasphemy was brought about by the sheer size and grandeur of the church. It's probably 10 storeys high in it's internal dimensions . . . here's a photo (excuse the iPhone camera . . . my good camera's sitting on my desk at work back in Sydney):

On the second day I went to check out some ancient ruins. First stop was the Colosseum. It's impressive that they built such a gigantic stadium with no machinery . . . Supposedly it could have held about 40,000 people.


Here's a picture I took from the inside. They had a complete underground area that could be used to store gargantuan sets and wild animals for hunting and all kinds of craziness. It seems like it was home to massive and brutal spectacles . . . both impressive and shocking at the same time (I heard of an emperor celebrating a military victory by slaughtering 10,000 beasts in a "hunt".

Anyways, more of Rome soon . . . Hope Sydney's warm, this place isn't nearly as cold as I expected :P

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Lost My Wallet

It's an incredibly annoying experience I'm sure . . . but when you're leaving the country in 2 days it gets a bit worse.

After an hour or so of turning the car upside down and Yvonne's house, we were pretty certain that my wallet had completely disappeared. I was reasonably sure it'd popped out of my back pocket in a mad rush through the rain at KFC in Maroubra. Supposedly it's the world telling us we shouldn't be eating such unhealthy food :P I'd come up with a crackpot theory that the guy who'd pulled in next to us and rather suspiciously not gone in to order any food was the culprit. I think after turning the car and house over, I couldn't come up with any other ideas.

So I went through the annoying list of things you need to do . . . cancelled my bank cards and started trying to figure out how to get cash for overseas. I ended up picking up a "travelling cash card", which is pretty much travellers' cheques on a card . . . very handy. I started checking out the forms I'd need to get a new driver's licence and all those other things that are really annoying to lose . . .

Then yesterday afternoon I got a call from someone in student services at UNSW. "Hello Marc . . . have you lost something recently?" "Hell yeah . . . I lost my wallet yesterday". It turns out someone had found it lying by the side of the road at UNSW and handed it in. It'd been stripped of all cash, discount cards, bus tickets and bank cards . . . but at least I got my driver's licence and UNSW staff card back . . . not to mention the wallet itself.

If anyone out there works at Boost and someone orders a free Boost (yeah, I had exactly 10 points) with the name "Marc", can you perform a citizen's arrest for me? hehehe. Likewise if someone spends a JB Hifi voucher for $20 with my name on it . . . I love the idea of a citizen's arrest . . . it's like "Pistols at Dawn" carried out by honourable gentlemen in a bygone era.

Thursday, 11 February 2010

Active Stereo Systems and Headaches part 1 - 3D at home

Do you like the double entendre in the title?

I recently tested out the Nvidia 3D Vision system at home . . . it's a 22 inch monitor and a set of shutter glasses, both going at 120hz. Batman looked astoundingly good (it was one of those games that was developed with Nvidia so its 3D is perfect). Other games like TF2 and Left 4 Dead (1 and 2) were similarly awesome.

The only downside is that after a few hours of play I started to get that eystrain . . . like your two eyes are trying to slide out the sides of your head. The first time I tried this (with Burnout Paradise a few months ago) I was so impressed I played through the eye strain for a few hours only to end up with a headache that lasted through a night's sleep.

My verdict is that it's awesome in small doses. Unfortunately the price tag is still a large dose . . . so I'm shelving the idea of buying it for now. I was highly impressed by Nvidia's ability to pull depth information from their drivers so that games that weren't intended or designed for stereoscopic 3D viewing still look great in 3D.

So NVidia is selling 3D and hardware physics support while ATI is going for the multiple monitor thing (Eyefinity). It's interesting to see that in PCs the hardware has surpassed the software to such a point that to sell graphics cards now, they have to attach a whole bunch of new and strange features. Anyone who games a lot, maybe on 2 year old hardware like the famous Nvidia 8800GT and a 22" monitor will have noticed that a great deal of brand new titles aren't pushing their hardware enough to force them to upgrade . . . so the incentive the manufacturers are coming up with are gimmicky things like 3D and triple monitor setups. I'm not expecting that many people to take the bait here . . .

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Holy Robot Empire

After the game jam last weekend and our happy moment of receiving the "Jammers' Choice" award, we decided to stick together and finish our game as well as make more games. It's funny how things like this just fall on you . . . when a few days before I didn't even think of myself as a game developer, just a guy with a whole lot of ideas about game design.

Well, we've got our company up and running now, and the website is up at: Holy Robot Empire. I haven't had that much time to populate our website, but there's just enough info up there to leave you wanting more :P

The main thing though is that our version 1.0 of Spy Wear is up there. This first release version runs a lot smoother without crashing on weird network stuff and has most of the bugs ironed out. If you give it a go (and if you're one of my close friends I'll probably force it on you at some stage) please buzz me in one way or another and let me know what the play experience was like . . . we're always looking to improve :)

Monday, 8 February 2010

Going to Rome

I'm headed to Rome for an iCinema exhibition in just over a week. It's really exciting :)

I took the liberty of taking a couple of days off and getting my flight there booked a little early . . . so I've got time to check out all those crazy Roman ruins in person (yeah, I blatantly stole the above image from wikipedia's Colosseum entry.

It should be a lot of fun . . . I'm just getting all my bits and pieces together. I have my flight itinerary and my hotel booking . . . most of my time at work at the moment is spent preparing what I'm going to be doing over there. We're going to be setting up an AVIE that will run for about 2 months showing some kewl immersive panoramic art pieces.

I've done my obligatory "Is anyone going to be in Rome?" status on facebook, and if all goes well, will be meeting up with one of my cousins there. Looking forward to it!

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Jury Duty Part 2

In the end rather anti-climactic.

I went to the court, was inducted into the process of being a juror . . . sat around and waited for a bit, then I was excused because I'm going overseas in a couple of weeks.

I'm still on the list though, so maybe sometime this year I'll get to see a court case . . .

Tuesday, 2 February 2010

Resident Evil 5

What an interesting game.

I picked it up a bit later than it was released on a steam sale over Christmas. I'd played a bit of Resident Evil 4 on the Wii, but never finished it. Since I've started playing Mass Effect 2 and it's pushed all the other games on my list down a rung, I thought I should publish this post.

Resident Evil fits in such a strange genre of games . . . this "Horror/Action" where the only horror is the fact that you can't move properly while rather slow moving enemies crawl towards you at a snail's pace absorbing large amounts of ammunition. I guess I'd seen the play style before in Dead Space, but that was some time ago so I'd forgotten what it was like.

I keep wanting to be able to turn properly, aim and move at the same time and all those normalities you expect if you've played a lot of action or first person games. Having said that, the game is mighty compelling. There's something satisfying about it and the flow of the game, along with the variety of scenes and small challenges makes it quite an interesting game and worth playing . . . even if it doesn't get to the top of my list of current games.

I was struck again, however, by the Nvidia vs ATI (graphics card manufacturers) war that has been leaking into games recently. Batman: Arkham Asylum had it also . . . where it was developed alongside Nvidia and they helped them out a lot in making sure that the game looked absolutely stunning in their 3D system . . . but for some reason, ATI cards were unable to turn on Anti Aliasing (AA). AA is a reasonably simple graphics feature in pretty much all modern games that helps to soften the jagginess of pixels you can get when you try to draw a diagonal line using only a square grid of dots.

RE5 has an issue where if you are using an ATI card and have AA enabled, the ingame cutscenes (pre-rendered short video bits) don't display . . . you only get a black screen. It's another game that Nvidia specifically helped develop and that offers proper support for Nvidia's 3D Vision system. I don't really know whether this is Nvidia trying to drive the competition out by making sure things only work on their hardware or ATI being slack in implementing AA properly on their cards . . . but it's mighty annoying.

I'm not sure if it's too much to ask, but I'd like for software written for the PC to work on both kinds of PC graphics hardware . . .