Friday, 30 July 2010

Lego . . . I love it

Those of you who know me well will know that I'm a bit of a Lego fanatic.

From the ultra detailed batmobile to the Star Wars AT-AT that has batteries and walks, you can see I'm hooked. Also, there's the still unbuilt Lego Death Star diorama of sheer awesomeness that I'm going to start soon.

I just thought I'd post a couple of things that have popped up recently. First of all, I found my way into the Lego Universe beta. As I've had no internet moving house I haven't actually tried it out yet, but either way, I wouldn't be allowed to talk about it here anyway :P (For those of you who are interested in Lego computer games, there's also a huge number of Lego themed games, Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Harry Potter etc. And they're also a lot of fun).

I've also noticed that Lego's just released a bunch of board games . . . particularly this one, Creationary:
I just love the idea . . . take Pictionary rules and apply them to construction of Lego :)

Wednesday, 28 July 2010

Moving House

It's ok . . . I'm not dead . . . just moving house (and I have no internet at home at the moment, it's still being connected)

It's amazing when you've been living in one house for more than six years and you have a good look at how much crap you've accumulated . . . Over the last week I've been packing it all into boxes, suitcases, backpacks etc and climbing the three flights of stairs to my new apartment (yeah, I bought property).

We're now in a situation where we have appliances, most of our furniture is in the spots we want for them and we're just unpacking the last few boxes and suitcases and putting them into place. I'll post some photos of the new joint once I get some spare time :)

Thanks to all the people who helped us move . . . it was great to have a big posse, both in numbers and in a couple of large people who could manhandle big pieces of furniture around. We'll have you all over for dinner once we actually build the table.

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Eyefinity Rig

I could write about it . . . or just show the photo . . .

Bring on the nerd jealousy . . .

Monday, 19 July 2010

Alien Swarm

Some of you may remember Alien Swarm . . . it was a mod for Unreal 2003 that had you playing a squad of marines who land on an off world colony that has been taken over by parasitic aliens . . . and yes, the plot was lifted nearly verbatim from the fight scenes of James Cameron's Aliens.

The gameplay was super fast, scary, tactical . . . and above all, super hard. As a house, we struggled through the campaign, with lots of glorious moments of yelling and screaming among nail biting finishes of missions and desperate rushes through seemingly unlimited numbers of aliens.

And we thought the fun was over . . .

The team that made the mod was picked up by Valve, and later did some work on Left 4 Dead, bringing their experience to that game (and probably helping make it into the amazing game that it is). The beautiful thing, however, is that they never quite left Alien Swarm behind and have been working on it in their spare time. The new game is finished and it comes with so much icing on top . . .

The new source engine version of the game is going to be free to download, and they've also included all their source for it, so you can modify it to your heart's content!

Bring it on!

Friday, 16 July 2010

Playing Games in a Big Dome

We have a 3m hemispherical dome at iCinema. It's a pretty impressive piece of visualisation technology . . . mainly because it's capable of immersing you quite heavily in something by engaging large amounts of your peripheral vision.

The first question is always: "Can I connect my playstation/xbox to this?" Well . . . no . . . but kinda. We've been doing some experimentation recently with warping technologies and putting normal game engines into the iDome.

One of the issues we come across first is . . . how do you map a rectangular surface (ie a computer monitor) onto a spherical surface (our dome). You can't really do it as a one to one relationship. Somewhere along the way something's going to get lost/distorted. It's a bit like if I gave you a sheet of A4 paper and said: "Wrap this around this basketball here without wrinkling or tearing it." They're just not objects that work together geometrically. We've got a solution that uses excessive stretching and compressing of a regular rectangular output so that it maps at least vaguely to the dome. There's a compromise between getting vertical and horizontal correct and keeping all the information that was originally in the image.

On top of that, when we're thinking about computer game engines, they're built quite fundamentally on the assumption that they're displaying on a flat screen. The concept is that of a View Frustum (image courtesy of Wikipedia):
What appears on your screen is everything that is inside this frustum in the virtual world. For example, while playing a computer game, the simulated camera will be pretty much where your eyes are, the Near plane is your monitor and the frustum there is your field of view. By setting up the view of the virtual world like this, we can represent it to the person sitting in front of the monitor in a nice and natural way. Everything inside the frustum is displayed to them.

Now imagine what happens when you want the field of view to widen to 180 degrees (this is what our theoretical field of view is in our iDome). If you widen the sight lines coming out of the camera to 180 degrees you end up with a big flat plane. The Near plane, Far plane and all the other sides of the frustum all get squished into this single plane and so it has no volume and hence there's nothing in it that will be rendered (displayed to the viewer).

We played around a bit with CryEngine. Like a bunch of other FPS games, they allow you to have a certain amount of control over the field of view. Once we got to about 160 degrees horzontal FOV, things started to streth in strange ways (again due to the compressing of the view frustum), but we got a pretty decent result out of 140 degree FOV. It's not a perfect mapping onto the dome, but to a certain extent, we did have Crysis running in our dome, which meant that we'd pretty happily run most FPSs (so long as you can widen their FOV). One day I'll record a video of it to show off . . .

Wednesday, 14 July 2010

Unintended (and silly) subtext in Games

I went to a talk recently by Paul Callaghan, a writer for video games. I was quite inspired by his talk . . . teaching us a fair bit about how to craft a story in an interactive environment so that it remains interesting.

He used a few examples of what constitutes a compelling vs a boring story in a game and why something might or might not be interesting.

He was describing the futility of Gears of War (Spoilers incoming!):

You spend half the game trying to find a resonator that will map the Locust tunnels . . . in the end, it doesn't work . . . magically, you get given a map. Then you spend the 2nd half of the game trying to make sure a particular bomb is set off that should wipe out the Locust . . . but it doesn't work either. The whole plot of the game tells you that no matter what effort you put in, everything you've done is futile.

I came up with my own crackpot theory . . . because it's ironic that while you've been playing a character in a game who's efforts eventually amount to nothing . . . you've also been wasting your time playing computer games . . . and in the end, your efforts will also amount to nothing . . . I'm sure it's completely unintended, but it was a fun idea.

I also just finished playing God of War 3. On a side note, it's a fun, gory, visceral romp through beautiful environments with epic scale and cinematic camera angles. Highly recommended as a game for letting off steam and stuffing around :) Partway through the game I came up with another stupid idea: Kratos represents Christianity. He spends the entire game systematically wiping out the entirety of Greek Mythology . . . like a giant monotheistic crusader, tearing gorgons' heads off and gouging out gods' eyes . . . I can just hear him screaming out: "No one will believe in you anymore once I'm finished!"

Monday, 12 July 2010

Anthropomorphic Comics

I just recently bought a few graphic novel collections and noticed that they were pretty much all anthropomorphic stories. (On top of that, I realised that I've posted a lot of things recently without any pictures . . . the wall of text was insulting my sense of aesthetic. So I've gone a little picture happy here, but I'm talking comics, so why not?)

Blacksad, a private eye noir story set in post WW2 USA.

Usagi Yojimbo, a ronin rabbit who wanders feudal Japan helping the peasants and trying to escape the betrayals in his past.

The Mouse Guard: Winter 1152, a series of mice trying to defend their cities against marauders (like other small mammals and creatures) and sometimes threats from within.

I've read Blacksad and The Mouse Guard so far and they were both really amazing tales. I was particularly impressed with Blacksad . . . it had a very cinematic quality to it . . . emotive and powerful stories told with masterful artwork (not to mention the interesting use of animal types to convey peoples' characters).

Saturday, 10 July 2010


I've just recently started learning Unity3D.

I've got two projects going with it at the moment . . . one which involves using Paul Bourke's iDome software to do a fisheye projection onto a hemispherical dome (it uses multiple cameras and projected textures to warp the image into a shape that can be projected onto a portion of a spherical mirror). It's also using some simple Touch OSC stuff to allow an iPhone to have rudimentary control over what's going on in the scene.

The other is a more straightforward game engine . . . I can't really say anything about it yet, but it's going to have simple interaction between a person and a 3D scene.

I have to say I'm really happy with Unity . . . it has a lot of really simple drag and drop functionality that allows you to get a lot out of it without having to do much, but at the same time allows you a great deal of depth with its scripting to be able to import code from other projects to do specific and more complex tasks. Not to mention that it happily compiles onto multiple platforms, including a web player. Here's something I knocked up over a day or so just to get the hang of some simple scripting:

To top it off, the community is amazing. Nearly every problem I've had has been solved with a really simple Google search for "Unity3d " + problem. The wiki and forums are very active and friendly. I'd definitely recommend it for small projects and quick prototyping.

Thursday, 8 July 2010

Playstation 3

I finally got myself a PS3.

I guess over the last 5 years they've been out, I've either been playing only one game (yeah, you know what it is) or else playing PC games. I own a Wii, but in some ways I don't even consider that to be a current generation console . . . I guess it's just not flashy enough for my high end graphics tastes.

In the end, the decision to buy a PS3 came from the great exclusive titles they've got (Little Big Planet and Heavy Rain are two on my list of games I want to play) as well as the fact that most developers seem to be targeting consoles these days rather than PC (except for maybe Valve and Blizzard).

The beauty of getting a console this late is that everything's really cheap now! I'm looking at games that won game of the year etc over the last 3 years and seeing them selling in stores for $30-40 (Metal Gear Solid 4). I'm also looking forward to some interesting PSN (Playstation Network) titles like Fat Princess, the PixelJunk series and Flower (Castle Crashers is also coming out soon on PSN).

So far I'm quite impressed by the quality of the graphics . . . God of War 3 was particularly well done, and of course, the joy of 4 player co-op Fat Princess has been quite hilarious.

Tuesday, 6 July 2010

Le Tour de France

It's that time of the year again.

The Tour has just started and it's going to be late nights and bleary eyes for the next three weeks :) We've got a schedule going of sleeping in the afternoon then getting up to watch the Tour between 10 and 2 each night . . . although I can see this going pear shaped and us needing some of our own "rest days" soon.

It's looking like a really interesting bike race this year. Lance Armstrong has announced that it's definitely his last this time, after coming back out of retirement to snag 3rd place last year. He's opened up with a bang, beating last year's winner Alberto Contador by 5 seconds in the opening Time Trial. Still . . . the real test will be whether the 37 year old can still climb mountain after mountain as the ride goes through the Swiss and Spanish alps.

On the other hand, the Schleck brothers, Andy and Frank, 2nd and 5th overall last year respectively will both be expecting to be masters of the hill climbs . . . and that's where they'll be hoping to regain time against Contador that they will inevitably lose in the individual time trials on flat ground.

As for the Australian contingent, Cadel Evans now has a new team built around him and seems to be in decent form, but whether he can turn that into a serious attempt at the podium remains to be seen. Mick Rogers has the weight of HTC Columbia behind him, one of the strongest teams in the tour . . . it'll be very interesting!

Sunday, 4 July 2010

Sound Library

Sourcing sound effects for projects can often be a very difficult thing to do, involving spending a lot of time on google downloading what amounts to cheap, free clip art for sound effects.

If you're lucky enough to have a kind of benefactor, you might get a quality set of sound effects CDs to use on your projects and if you're lucky enough, you'll get time to copy some of them for use later . . .

Otherwise, life as a low budget sound designer can be difficult. However, I recently came across a website by Stephan Schutze, Sound Library. Out of the kindness of his heart, he's put together over 14,000 sounds he's recorded or created over the years and he's letting us use them free. I did a few sample searches based on two of the projects I'm working on right now and they came up with good possibilities . . . so it seems to be a very comprehensive set of sounds.

It's sure to come in handy.

Friday, 2 July 2010

Game Day

AIE Sydney and IGDA Sydney are putting on a Game Day this Saturday, the theme being "Game Design: Unplugged".

Looks like it's going to be an interesting day, with a bunch of Sydney's local indie game designers turning up to hang out and discuss design without being overly tethered to computers.

I'm sitting on a panel along with Sash from BitBattalion and Glen of Gnilley fame being hosted by none other than Junglist (you big slut . . . you turn up everywhere, don't you man? :P). As far as I know, we're going to be talking about the trials and tribulations of trying to be an indie game designer in Sydney. Should be fun.