Friday, 25 December 2009

Unreal Tournament 3 engine for the iPhone

Epic Games is bringing its Unreal Engine 3 to the iPhone, an endeavor already in the tech demo phase (see video below). The results are very impressive and could spark off a great set of new titles for one of the biggest sleepers in mobile gaming for years (i.e. the iPhone platform).


This version requires OpenGL ES 2.0, so it doesn't work on the 2G or 3G versions of the device. Epic has also said to expect to see UE3 running on "another mobile platform entirely" as early as the CES in January, with further announcements coming throughout 2010.

Thursday, 24 December 2009

Super Street Fighter 4 coming in 2010

One of the most successfull non-photorealistically rendered games of the last few years is getting a sequel (or more appropriately an update) in 2010. This is Street Fighter 4, the game which Capcom is giving a few extra characters (rumoured to be up to 8) and a lower price tag.

The lower price tag is intended to cover those who initially expected this as a free XBox Live update. Unlike those early rumours the title will be released under the name Super Street Fighter 4 and is an excellent example of quality cel-shading in a modern gaming setting.

Sunday, 20 December 2009

Dragon's Lair now ported to the iPhone

One of the most classic games ever and one I always point out to my students for the sheer shock it induced to people because of its graphics in 1983, is now available for the iPhone (and iPod Touch). I am of course talking about Dragon's Lair, where you guide Dirk the Daring in the right direction and use your sword to take on all that the Evil Wizard Mordroc throws at you.


Don Bluth's game is also one of the most famous games featuring cartoonish, hand-drawn graphics too... If you're interested in downloading it you can check it out at the link below.

http://bit.ly/7gHQsA

Guardian article about game engines

A recent Guardian article from a couple of weeks back can be found online at the newspaper's website. Well worth a read, you know it'll be good when it begins by calling game engines the engineering marvels of the 21st century!

The article features quotes along the way from people such as Tim Sweeney from Epic Games, Rich Hackett from Blitz, Bryan Marshall from Codemasters, OGRE's Steve Streeting and finally UCL's Andrew Hudson-Smith. Titled The Hidden Story of the 3D Engine, you can find the full article here.

New versions of CityEngine and CityScape

Arguably the two best automatic 3D urban modelling tools have gained new versions in the last few weeks. Procedural Inc has released CityEngine 2009.3 and PixelActive CityScape 1.8. Both come with a variety of updates and new features. I've blogged about both of them in the past but it's always good to see new versions of the software coming in regural intervals.


For example, the CityEngine app now allos for global texture mapping and advanced roof types while CityScape tackles automated and advanced city traffic. Both of them also support GIS data as well (from the free repository of OpenStreetMap) so the possibilities of creating real-world locations other than fictitious ones is also there.

Check them out at http://www.procedural.com/cityengine and http://pixelactive3d.com.

Friday, 18 December 2009

Emotiv, a new brain-computer interface

I am about to pull the trigger on purchasing the EMOTIV headset, a brand new brain-computer interface that according to its creators, Emotiv Systems, will make it possible for games to be controlled and influenced by the player's mind, and facial expressions. It connects wirelessly with the PC, and may in the future work on other game platforms such as consoles.

There is a version available for researchers which includes a high resolution, neuro-signal acquisition and processing wireless neuroheadset and also a proprietary software toolkit that exposes APIs and detection libraries such as the Affectiv Suite, the Cognitive Suite and the Expressiv Suite. These allow for monitoring emotional states, conscious thoughts and intent and also facial expressions.

I am very much looking forward to using this for research, particularly into the non-photorealistic rendering realm as it could well form the next logical step to some of the research work carried out for my PhD. The cost alone makes it incredibly appealing, will post a follow-up when I receive the hardware and test it.

http://www.emotiv.com/

Pandora, an open-source handheld games console

The portable games market has a new competitor, the open-source Pandora. This device, developed by a company called OpenPandora, is a unique blend of a UMPC and a handheld game console. In processing terms the Pandora outperforms both the DS and PSP and boasts an impressive feature list.

Powered by an ARM 600Mhz CPU and Linux OS the device also houses a 4.3” 800x480 LCD screen, 802.11b/g wi-fi, Blutooth, high-speed USB, TV out, dual analogue controls and a full QWERTY keyboard. There have been some delays with it but it finally starts shipping in Jan 2010. It will be interesting to see whether it can compete with the Sony and Nintendo devices which are already established as it can certainly rival them in terms of computational power.

http://www.open-pandora.org/

Unity opens UK studio

Unity Technologies, one of the most up and coming game engine companies, has today announced the official opening of its UK studio. It's the third office for the firm behind the increasingly popular multi-platform game development tools for PC, Mac, Wii, PS3, Xbox 360 and iPhone. The other two are in Denmark (where the company originates from) and the States.

Unity UK is based in Crawley and headed by former EA/Criterion man Graham Dunnett. The company is also said to be hiring at the moment. It's very encouraging to see one of the most promising firms in the field opening an office domestically, so best of luck to them!

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

WebGL, the new standard for 3D graphics on web browsers?

3D graphics became ordinary first in games, then in operating systems, and then last week, it took a significant step toward being built into Web browsers as well. The Khronos Group, which oversees the OpenGL graphics interface (which is an open standard), announced that its work with Mozilla to bring hardware-accelerated 3D graphics to the Web has now reached draft standard form. The standard is going to be called WebGL and allows programmers who use JavaScript language take advantage of the fact that video cards can handle 3D graphics.

The group now wants commentary from web developers and other experts who might be involved with WebGL so it can be finalized. Exciting news that bodes well for the future, I expect we'll see some interesting developments going live next year.

Monday, 14 December 2009

3D urban models in New Scientist

A great article on 3D mash-ups has appeared in the latest issue of New Scientist. The article includes quotes from the Ordnance Survey head of research, the people at the Digital Urban blog and people behind the Infoterra Skape project.

The article focuses on the potential of 3D mapping, with Bournemouth in southern England claimed to be the best mapped place on the planet since lasers were fired at the town from the ground and from the air to capture the height of buildings, trees and other features. This has resulted in a map accurate to 4 centimetres in x, y and z. By comparison 3D structures in Google Earth are accurate to about 15 metres...

A must-read for anyone into 3D urban modelling, the article can be found at; http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg20427366.400-3d-mashup-maps-let-you-edit-the-world.html

Image-based modelling web portal

For anyone interested in image-based modelling (a process allowing for the creation of 3D models from photographs of real scenes) a new portal has been set up to give support to researchers and to build documents for general public.


Dealing with either theoretical aspects, methodology or practical applications, the portal aims to gather contributions from researchers, teachers, students, about 2D and 3D buildings representations processing from simple images. Well worth investigating if you want to learn more about this approach which is becoming noticeably important in 3D urban modelling today.

Sunday, 13 December 2009

Vue 8 Personal Learning Edition available

A piece of news interesting to those into terrain modelling and editing, e-on Software has recently announced a free edition of its flagship terrain editor. Vue 8 PLE (Personal Learning Edition) is to offer the same toolset with the commercial version (which includes support for 3ds Max, Maya, Cinema 4D, LightWave 3D and Softimage).

The PLE is free download with no expiry date although all renders will have a logo watermark (and any scene files you create aren't compatible with the paid versions of Vue). Well worth checking out if you are interested in the creation of 3D natural environments.

http://vue8.com/ple

Friday, 11 December 2009

Siteseer 3D Gold for Real Estate and Tourism

A relatively unexplored application area for 3D urban modelling is real estate. GeoData Technologies (GDT) recently launched SiteSeer3D Gold, an application that allows real estate and tourism professionals to create custom 3D maps of their listings, business and amenities that can be then added to their website(s).


This includes the addition of branding, website links and drawings on the aerial imagery and label amenities to customize the 3D maps. There are many other features including Google Street view integration.

For more information visit http://www.siteseer3d.com/.

Infoterra's 3D London model

Courtesy of Digital Urban, here's one of the best, if not the best, 3D London urban model seen so far. Certainly the most detailed one, created by Infoterra and launched under their Skape initiative, the model will be available sometime in early 2010.



The level of geometrical complexity is certainly very high and it would be interesting to see a model like this on a navigational application one day for usability testing purposes. Take a look at http://www.skapeworld.com/ for more info.

Thursday, 26 November 2009

Paris 3D Beta, a virtual center of the French capital

On a more urban modelling note, the companies Mappy and Visioglobe have recently created and launched a virtual center of Paris. This user experience of real-time 3D navigation relies on the complimentary expertise of both partners which is cartographic and LBS expertise for the former, which led to the developement of a specific software solution for modeling in 3D the maps of Paris and fa├žade pictures and visualization proficiency for the latter, whose real-time 3D engine enables the user to move freely in this virtual world.

The Paris 3D Beta navigation system is of considerable interest (particularly for researchers like me) as it opts out of a perspective, bird's eye view for a pedestrian one. In the future Mappy and Visioglobe plan to add more functionalities using real-time proximity information like, for example, traffic or weather information and landmarks history.

You'll have to install a plugin to see this but it is well worth checking out at http://paris3d.mappy.com/

Atari original games available for free

A great piece of news tying in with some 'history of computer games' lectures I have been doing at Bournemouth University recently, Atari have just released some classic old games they created on their website. The notable thing about these is that they are not clones (there's quite a few of those already around) but 'loving interpretations', i.e. the originals remade by Atari themselves. This comes as part of a re-launch for the Atari website which includes an online store.

The list of games includes Asteroids and Lunar Lander, Yars' Revenge, Adventure, Crystal Castles and Battlezone all classic titles that defined era (and isn't Battlezone the first 3D game ever?). More titles are probably to follow. This is well worth checking out for anybody with interest in retro-gaming since the detail in which these old games have been recreated is beautiful, from the wood veneer to the font used in the games . The player can even plug his/her Atari Joystick into the computer via a USB adaption.

http://www.atari.com/arcade

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

OnLive will introduce cloud gaming for mobile devices

The experimental cloud game streaming service OnLive will eventually be available on smartphones such as Apple’s iPhone. It is now suggested (by official sources within the company) that the iPhone edition of OnLive would get “the full OnLive Game Service”, where users can play games, watch other playthroughs and communicate through game profiles. However, these insider sources reveal the cellphone versions of OnLive are still very much in the early production phase. They will need extensive development and have no release date.


It remains unknown how well OnLive performs on wireless cellphones, in fact the jury is still out on the performance of the ‘native’ edition of OnLive for TVs, PCs and Macs. OnLive is set for release in the US before the end of the year.

Sunday, 15 November 2009

Rasterization using Larrabee

I've blogged before about the discussed shift of graphics rendering from dedicated GPUs, which has taken place from the mid to late 90s, to the main processor. An article at the excellent Gamasutra website discusses, for the first time, exactly how that process will be implemented, written by veteran graphics programmer Mike Abrash and based on the architecture of the new Intel Larrabee processor.

This article takes a close look at the Larrabee New Instructions to one of the major problem areas - rasterization - with the view of taking advantage of the strengths of Larrabee's CPU-based architecture. According to Mike, it is important to state that performance with the Larrabee New Instructions will vary greatly from one application to the next - there's not much to be done with purely scalar code - but diving into Larrabee rasterization in detail gives you a good sense of what it's like to apply the Larrabee New Instructions to at least one sort of non-obvious application.

The article goes in great depth for this and is an excellent read (and perhaps one the first few detailed prefaces of the extinction of graphics cards). Read it here.

Saturday, 14 November 2009

3D modelling using a webcam

The construction of virtual 3D models usually requires heavy and expensive equipment, or takes lengthy amounts of time. A group of researchers at Cambridge University have created a program able to build 3D models of textured objects in real-time, using only a standard computer and webcam. This allows 3D modeling to become accessible to everybody.


The method proposed needs only a simple webcam. The object is moved about in front of the webcam and the software can reconstruct the object "on-line" while collecting live video. The system uses points detected on the object to estimate object structure from the motion of the camera or the object, and then computes the tetrahedralisation of the points. The points are recorded in a mesh of tetrahedra, within which is embedded the surface mesh of the object.

The software can then tidy up the final reconstruction by taking out the invalid tetrahedra to obtain the surface mesh based on a probabilistic carving algorithm and the object texture is applied to the 3D mesh in order to obtain a realistic effect See the vid above, the work has been presented at several conferences (including ISMAR 2009 where it won an award) and is cutting edge in this particular field.

Friday, 13 November 2009

First instructional Unity book, free chapter

Just a quick update to mention that the excellent Unity book (and first on the up-and-coming game engine) I mentioned at a previous post recently also comes with a free downloadable chapter which serves as a great sampler. Well worth checking out as it gives a great taste of the rest of the publication.

I will soon be receiving a copy of the whole book and I will post a longer review. Till then you can dowload the free chapter from the publisher here or purchase the full book (in paper or pdf format) here.

Thursday, 12 November 2009

Update on Tyson Ibele's Building Generator script

This is the third post I am making on this in less than a couple of months but it truly is a fantastic little tool and, above all, completely free. Tyson Ibele has released yet another update of his 3D Studio Max script called Building Generator which this time focuses creation of textured details and windows on buildings.

See some examples above, I love the fact how updates are released every couple of weeks! Other great (and extremely useful!) additions include a new floor layer management system, the ability to do interiors and also use of custom materials. Check the little script out here, it is easily the best freely available urban modelling application I have stumbled across in the area in years!

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Gamr7's Urban Pad version 2.0

French middleware developer Gamr7 has released version 2.0 of its procedural city creation software, Urban PAD (I've blogged on this before although it was quite awhile ago now). The new version features a revamped interface and wider format support for mesh conversion. Other new features in Urban PAD 2.0 include 20-fold time gains for some features, according to the company, and improved context generation control capacities.



Urban PAD includes four content editors and a city generation engine. The tool is aimed at offering editable procedural city creation through automatic content placement, real-time manual editing, and contextual adaptation. The video above is a great showcase for the application. I was lucky enough to have some people from Gamr7 demonstrate the application to me a few days ago and I was very impressed.

You can check out the trial version (or purchase the full product) at the official site of the company which can be found at http://www.gamr7.com.

Monday, 9 November 2009

First instructional Unity book out

The first book about Unity, the recent success story of the game engine world has been published, called Unity Game Development Essentials written by Will Goldstone and published by Packt Publishing. It’s a book geared towards the beginner end of the spectrum and an excellent start to the world of Unity.

The publication is designed to cover a set of easy to follow examples, which culminate in the production of a First Person 3D game, complete with an interactive island environment. By introducing common concepts of game and 3D production, you'll explore Unity to make a character interact with the game world and build puzzles for the player to solve, in order to complete the game.

At the end of the book, you will have a fully working 3D game and all the skills required to extend the game further, giving your end-user, the player, the best experience possible. Well worth investigating!

The book can be purchased from here.

Sunday, 8 November 2009

3D urban visualization used for Oxford Circus planning

The redesigned Oxford Circus, which opened this morning after a two-year, £5m makeover, contains two big innovations. As well as crossing the intersection laterally, pedestrians now have a 30-second window when all traffic stops and they can go at a diagonal along a giant X marked into the junction with metal studs. Known to road engineers, slightly alarmingly, as a "pedestrian scramble", it is modelled on the famously frantic junction adjoining Shibuya station in central Tokyo.

The redesign also removes roadside barriers and much of the pavement clutter. This boosts available space for pedestrians by around two-thirds, as well as – the designers hope – encouraging all road users towards a more thoughtful, responsible attitude. A team from Atkins, the engineering and design group which managed the project, used software of the type which created vast battle scenes in the Lord of the Rings films to create 3D animations showing how the throngs might interact. This appeared to prove that an X-shaped junction allowed the crowds, which can peak at around 40,000 people an hour, to cross far more efficiently.

This is a great example of how urban modelling can be used for city planning. See the vid and also read the full Guardian story here.

Saturday, 7 November 2009

Unreal 3 SDK becomes available for free

Epic Games has announced a free PC edition of the Unreal Development Kit, also allowing non-commercial Unreal Engine 3 games to be released for free and detailing new royalty-based engine licensing. The free tools, which Epic call the Unreal Development Kit, is available to anyone with interest in exploring 3D game technology, from professionals to students and hobbyists. Those users will also have access to documentation and resources and also information on how to license UE3 commercially.

Developers can now release UE3-powered games for free, which will be particularly popular with non-commercial mod projects. However, creators will still need to obtain an official licensing agreement to develop a commercial project using UE3; according to the terms, Epic receives twenty-five percent of revenue after the first $5,000 is made, with a per-seat yearly fee also potentially applying if the project is solely used internally.

According to the company, Unreal development technology is already in use at over 100 schools where game development-related courses are taught, and other universities, like the Art Institutes, DeVry University and the University of Pennsylvania, among others, plan to incorporate the tech into their curricula.

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Unity engine now available for free

The Unity engine is becoming even more affordable to independent and hobbyist developers, as Unity Technologies has retired the $200 "Unity Indie" offering and replaced it with a free license, simply called Unity.

Developer Unity Technologies is keeping the full-fledged Unity Pro license priced at $1500. Alongside the new pricing shift, Unity is moving from version 2.5 to version 2.6, adding new graphics and pipeline capabilities. Unity CEO David Helgason stipulates that the company has Xbox 360 support in the works as well.

Features new to Unity 2.6 include full integration with Visual Studio and support for external revision control solutions like Subversion and Perforce. Both these inclusions Unity says are aimed at allowing the engine to better slot into existing large-scale developers' production pipelines. Also new to 2.6 are graphics and performance capabilities like post-processing-compatible anti-aliasing, screen space ambient occlusion, and background fully-threaded asset streaming.

Check all of this out at http://www.unity.com/

Monday, 19 October 2009

Google online Building Maker

Google seems to spend a lot of time thinking about one thing: how do they create a three-dimensional model of every built structure on Earth? How do they make sure it's accurate, that it stays current and that it's useful to everyone who might want to use it?

Attempts of capturing that have been plagued with deficincies and currently policy seems to now be to completely open this process up to the world and the end users. To facilitate that Google has recently announced the launch of Google Building Maker, a fun and simple tool for creating buildings for Google Earth.


Building Maker is cross between Google Maps and a gigantic bin of building blocks. Basically, you pick a building and construct a model of it using aerial photos and simple 3D shapes – both of which Google provides. When you're done the model is examined. If it looks right, and if a better model doesn't already exist, it is added it to the 3D Buildings layer in Google Earth. You can make a whole building in a few minutes.

For now, you can choose to make buildings in any of about 50 cities. Building Maker is an online tool, and it runs entirely in your web browser (Google Chrome, Firefox, Safari, Internet Explorer etc.). Models you create with Building Maker "live" in the Google 3D Warehouse (a giant, online repository of 3D models). You can use Google Sketchup to edit or otherwise modify anything you make with Building Maker.

A cool initiative by Google and based on admirable business model. Check out the vid above to see how Building Maker works.

Educational fantasy, serious games development and their intersection with fiction

In an article found on the excellent Gamasura website Lindsay Grace discusses the challenges facing educational game design. This is based on the observation that while not every game needs to involve some mystical orb or sacred sword, games still do appeal to us more when they release us from the ordinary experiences of everyday life.

This is probably one of the greatest single challenges facing educational game design, how can the practical matters of education intersect the enveloping fantasy we expect from games?

You can read the rest of this excellent article which offers a lot of insight into current and future serious games development at http://gamecareerguide.com/features/791/educational_.php

Friday, 16 October 2009

Merging video with maps for navigation

A new novel navigation system under development at Microsoft aims to tweak users' visual memory with carefully chosen video clips of a route. Developed with researchers from the University of Konstanz in Germany, the software creates video using 360-degree panoramic images of the street that are strung together. Such images have already been gathered by several different mapping companies for many roads around the world. The navigation system, tentatively called VideoMap, adjusts the speed of the video and the picture to highlight key areas along the route.

"What we wanted to do is build a system where we could give [drivers] those visual cues before they got into the car," says Billy Chen, a researcher in the MSN Advanced Engineering group. Ideally, he says, the driver would feel as if they've driven the route before, even if they've never been on those streets.

Videomap still provides written directions and a map with a highlighted route. But unlike existing software, such as Google Maps or MapQuest, the system also allows users to watch a video of their drive. The video slows down to highlight turns or speeds up to minimize the total length of the clip. Memorable landmarks are also highlighted, though at present the researchers have to select them from the video manually. "As we pass a landmark, the field of view will expand to encompass that landmark and create a landmark thumbnail [image]," Chen says. The video freezes on this image for a few seconds to imprint it in the driver's memory, so that they will recognize it during the drive.

An incredibly interesting idea that would be great to see on a pedestrian navigation system as well as vehicular one although I am not convinced on whether the scale of capturing the locations can be easily achieved nor that video can be the way to stimulate memory. It would still would be great to see this implemented however!

Virtual reality training for rugby

Rugby players worldwide could benefit from a new virtual reality training programme created at Queen’s Belfast University. Team members from Ulster Rugby have been working with researchers in the School of Psychology at Queen’s on a range of virtual training scenarios that test expert players’ perceptual skills.

Lead researcher in the project is Dr Cathy Craig said: “Immersing players in an interactive virtual reality provides an exciting new way of exploring and understanding human behaviour. “The advantages of this technology are that unlike playing a video game on a normal desktop computer, the rugby player or athlete is totally immersed in a realistic simulated environment. By presenting stereoscopic images in a head mounted display and tracking head movements, the user’s viewpoint is automatically updated giving a 360 degree virtual experience. This means that the user becomes totally absorbed in their virtual environment encouraging them to interact as they would in the real world.”


The players are fitted with a ‘backpack’ of sensors and don a helmet-like visor known as a head mounted display through which a series of 360 degree virtual scenarios are displayed. For the researchers this type of research provides valuable insight into expertise and how visual information is used in the decision making process.

Anyone wishing to view players using the equipment can log onto http://www.qub.ac.uk/virtualreality/projects/ulsterrugbyvideo.aspx

Saturday, 10 October 2009

BBC 4 Micro Men film drama

A few days ago I watched the excellent BBC 4 Micro Men film drama detailing the ascendance to fame of the Spectrum and Acorn home computers. It's the story of wild ambition, technological revolution, global success, jealousy, revenge, crushing failure and ultimate reconciliation that shaped the British games industry in the 1980s, and its main protagonists, Clive Sinclair and Chris Curry, have both raided the data banks to guide BBC Four's retelling in a one-off comedy drama.

You can watch this now on the BBC iPlayer, a captivating watch for anyone interested in historical computing and worth alone for the scene where Clive Sinclair, frustrated by the strong focus of the public on games for the Spectrum starts railing against the classic Jet Set Willy title!

Modeling Look-a-like Cities using OpenStreetMap and the CityEngine

Often in productions a 3D model that only looks or feels like a real city is needed. These so-called 'atmospherically-correct' city models only mimic the architectural style of the building shapes and facades - but a building does not correspond exactly to a real-world opponent. A problem frequently encountered in such productions is the following: An 'atmospherically-correct' city is needed, but you do not have access to the corresponding building shapes/geometries nor do you want to buy the (expensive) building footprints.

This example showcases a solution for this problem using the great CityEngine application (and will work with both the free trial and full version). Here, a low-polygon version of Venice was created in the following steps:

  1. Take street data from OpenStreetMap.org and a satellite picture.
  2. Generate blocks from the street data and use the "subdivide lots tool" to automatically subdivide the blocks into lots which have roughly the same size as on the satellite picture.
  3. Write simple rules which generate the shapes and texture the facades with (rectified and cropped) photos of a few buildings common in such a city. Furthermore, the roofs and streets can be brushed up with the satellite picture (by using the second texture layer).
  4. Control the generation process (either manually or with attribute layers) to fine-tune e.g. landuse (open spaces or green spaces) to insert trees or landmarks at the right places.

It is worth mentioning that in this example, it was possible to exploit the data from OpenStreetMap very well, e.g. it was possible to automatically create the waterways .The picture below shows the satellite picture on the left, the OpenStreetMap data in the center and the generated city on the right.

For more information on the CityEngine application, which I have featured many times in this blog and is truly a great piece of software visit http://www.procedural.com.

Batman Arkham Asylum production focus

I find production focus articles on modern games incredibly interesting, particularly when they're aimed at the art side of these and also when the title in question, Batman Arkham Asylum, is one of the best games that has come out recently.

Game Director Sefton Hill made the directive right at the beginning of the 'Batman: Arkham Asylum' project that every aspect of the project - from the game design through to the art had to be true to the Batman Universe and to Batman's own personality characteristics. "We based all our decisions around this simple principle," says Hill. "This made life a lot easier for us as it gave us a touchstone that would let us know if we were ever going off track, all we had to ask was, 'What would Batman do?' This resulted in the final product being true to the Batman brand, and produced a rich authentic experience for both the Batman disciple and those new to the caped crusader."

The article takes us through both the Batman and also main villain character model creation with some very interesting insights and illustrations and is well worth reading for any aspiring character modeller/texture artist/animator.

http://features.cgsociety.org/story_custom.php?story_id=5283

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Beneath A Steel Sky iPhone version better than the original

One of my favourite adventure games of all time was recently released on the iPhone platform and according to one of its creators it is a better version than the coveted original. Speaking at a BAFTA panel on the remake of classic adventure game Beneath a Steel Sky for iPhone, Revolution Software’s renowned game designer Charles Cecil has revealed that he believes the iPhone version betters the original.

“It's down to the touch screen. It’s better than what a mouse offered, which was less immediate. The barriers have disappeared. Now it is all about feeling the screen, and really, it’s even about feeling the gameplay itself," he added. The game is a great blend of futuristic landscapes and a bleak Blade-Runner-ish plot and is well worth checking out. Great to see mobile devices used to resurrect classic franchises like that and improve on them.

Saturday, 3 October 2009

Suicidator City Engine Blender script

Hot on the heels of the previous post, but this time for different 3D modelling package, the Suicidator City Engine (SCE) is an urban modelling Python script for Blender. In other words it is a program written in the Python programming language that runs inside the Blender environment.

With it, you can automatically create entire, three-dimensional modern cities in a matter of seconds by adjusting various parameters, such as city size and complexity, rather than creating each building, each street, and each texture manually. The master concepts in SCE are randomness and therefore uniqueness: each generated city, each building, and each street is random and unique, making your city look real. Besides, you can greatly alter the look of a city simply by changing the input parameters.

SCE is lean (only 263kb), fast, and generates very complex-looking cities with minimal memory footprint, so even modest computers can run it. More robust configurations can generate cities that spread to the horizon. Since it is run from within Blender, making cities with SCE doesn't have to end at the generator's limits. You can always tune a generated city while enjoying the editing power and comfort of Blender.

Finally, SCE is completely free of charge, and its source code is in the public domain, download it from http://arnaud.ile.nc/sce/index.php

Tyson Ibele's Max script receives textured update

I've only posted about this a few days ago but already there's been a very useful and cool update for Tyson Ibele's Building Generator script. Again entirely free, the new script comes with texturing capabilities for the buildings produced semi-automatically, along with a free library that can be used for these purposes!

A fantastic addition to an already great script, check it out at http://www.tysonibele.com/

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

Monkey Island 2 on the CryEngine?

I remember reading years ago that first-person shooters and 3D killed off the traditional point-and-click adventure games. That may well be true but I've just come across an amazing effort of recreating a number of well-remembered environments from LucasArts' 1991 iconic Monkey Island 2 title (one of the best adventure games ever IMO) using the CryTek's CryEngine in 3D.

While I usually (and I suspect most people too) find efforts of turning classic 2D game environments in 3D incredibly twee, this one is surprisingly good, to the extent of utilizing the artistic strengths of the original environments but in a modern, state-of-the-art real-time graphics setting. Check it out in the video above. Before you get too excited however this is not the beginning of a remake of MI2 with the CryEngine, just a showcase of the latter's potential combined with the great art ideas of the LucasArts game...

Free 3D Studio Max script for urban modelling

Something I've just come across on the Digital Urban blog, for anybody into urban modelling using 3D Studio Max (and unable to afford the admittedly large licence for a dedicated application like CityEngine), Tyson Ibele has made available (for free!) on his website a procedural script for the creation of 3D virtual cities.



I've tried it and it works a treat, you can control a great number of parameters on the buildings themselves (amongst other things, windows, ledged, floors, railings, pillars, roof objects etc.) and also create paths for building positioning. The video above demonstrates a 3D city created by the script, which is well worth downloading (for using it you will need a version of 3D Studio Max 9 or newer).

http://tysonibele.com/

Saturday, 19 September 2009

Remotely-rendered smartphone/mobile device gaming?

Could we ever get something like Crysis, one of the most resource-hogging games ever to run on the diminutive iPhone? Well, sort of... Companies such as OnLive have already woken up interest in cloud-gaming (covered in a previous post), using a system of remote server processing and rendering that means local computers can be little more than viewing devices, but now that system has been shrunk down to cellphone size.



A new company called OTOY uses the same sort of server-side rendering system as OnLive, but through a web browser on a cellphone. To demonstrate this, they’ve released a video showing an Xbox 360 controller being used to control a first person shooter game on a Samsung Omnia. It certainly looks impressive on the vid above although I'd like to see it first hand too in order to establish how good the quality is. Still, the idea is certainly sound (remote rendering can be the only way to get quality graphics on a mobile device with modern technology) and very innovative.

http://www.otoy.com/

IBM's Innov8 serious game

I recently visited, along with some Bournemouth University colleagues, IBM Hursley. Amongst other work that was presented to us there was also some excursion into the world of the educational/serious games. This comes in the form of the Academic Edition of INNOV8 2.0, the IBM Business Process Management (BPM) simulation game, giving both IT and business players an excellent introduction to BPM, from learning the anatomy of a model, to how one might optimize the model and make a company more profitable.

The game features a fictional call center agency, After Inc, who has a process model that is functioning sub-optimally. As the protagonist Logan, you must discover the current model, find out why it is under-performing and then optimize it to meet the demands of the market.

The game is available for free to all academics as part of the IBM Academic Initiative and can be downloaded from http://www-01.ibm.com/software/solutions/soa/innov8/full.html.

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Zune HD, a rival game console to the iPhone?

Microsoft has confirmed that its new Zune HD handheld will feature gaming functionality. The company said in a press release that the new iPhone-styled touch-screen media player, will support “fun 3D games” such as Project Gotham Racing: Ferrari Edition, Vans Sk8: Pool Service and Audiosurf Tilt.

Games can be added to Zune HD via Zune Marketplace over the Wi-Fi connection or when connected to Zune PC software. At the moment available in the US only, the 16GB Zune HD retails for $219.99 and the 32GB version for $289.99. The device features a built-in HD radio receiver, HD video output capabilities, an OLED touch screen and an internet browser. Microsoft also said that it will support applications like a calculator, an MSN Weather app, Twitter and Facebook.

It was only matter of time till Microsoft wanted a bite at the cherry in the mobile market but also in the mobile game market where they could potentially have a considerable advantage over even Apple. It remains to be seen how the Zune will fare as both a mobile device but also a portable games console.

3D model of Birmingham in Google Earth

The Google Earth blog reported last week that more UK 3D cities had been added such as Cardiff and Dublin. It seems now Birmingham also joins them, seen on the movie below.

The results are very impressive with some very good texturing work and it is fascinating to see more and more 3D urban models of major UK cities added to the list. It of course remains to be seen exactly how these models will be used and whether any additional functionality can/will be added to them in order to make them more interactive and not just a navigational fly-through environment.

Friday, 11 September 2009

Prague Old Town in 3D

The Old Town Square is one of the most picturesque places of Prague, its historical centre, the very heart of the Old Town. Historic records indicate it served as a big marketplace since the XII century (medieval Prague used to be in the path of a major trade route).

The grand Gothic cathedral - the Church of Our Lady in front of Tyn – dominates the square ensemble. Construction of the cathedral began in the XIV century, and was completed as late as the XVI century. A monument to Jan Hus, who was the leader of Czech Reformation, also stands on the square.

Another sight of the Old Town Square is the complex Prague Astronomic Clock located on the wall of the City Hall. It shows not only hours and minutes but also the times of Sun and Moon’s appearances, star sign positions, months and years. The bells chime every hour and those walking on the square can watch a colorful parade of moving figurines.

By downloading the Vizerra application at the link below it is possible to explore a very good 3D model of Old Town Square in Prague.

http://vizerra.com/en/download

Saturday, 5 September 2009

Education using 3D

The Kentucky Community & Technical College System (KCTCS) presents a way of fusing interactive 3-D models with hands-on simulations to provide multiple opportunities to experiment without risk and enhance learning for the future workforce.

Traditionally, academic institutions have relied on tools such as blackboard outlines, physical demonstrations and videos to facilitate learning. However, through computers and projectors, 3-D technology allows users to see a person, place or thing as it would appear in real life. This opens the door to a virtual world of possibilities in the classroom, where students can learn about science anatomy, geography, architecture and astronomy by interacting with the content rather than reading about it in a textbook.

KCTCS, which includes 16 colleges across 65 campuses, created the KCTCS Interactive Digital Center which currently has completed the creation of five interactive digital learning modules in the areas of energy, health care and manufacturing. The IDC has also delivered training across the country to other colleges and businesses on how to use the 3-D software in addition to creating customized solutions for industry clients.

Although KCTCS leadership had been looking to integrate the 3-D technologies into the classroom for the past seven years, the push really came in the wake of the coal mining tragedies in 2006. That's when KCTCS launched its first virtual project for the Kentucky Coal Academy to show advantages of simulation-based training.

Such innovative units of instruction can be viewed on a laptop, while others use 3-D stereographic projection technology, which allows learning objects to pop out in the middle of the room. For some projects, students enter a space called a "CAVE," which has screens on the walls that project a real environment of the respective field such as a hospital room, for instance.

Sunday, 30 August 2009

The pixel revolution, the future of game graphics according to Edge article

More than a decade ago, old-school game coders urged their peers to reject the one true way of a fixed graphics pipeline, as embodied by the combination of Microsoft’s emerging DirectX API and the first wave of PC GPUs. The old school lost. The semi-standardisation of the graphics pipeline underwrote a leap forward in the visual quality of PC games and consoles, from Xbox to PlayStation 3.

From the start, however, the sameness that a fixed pipeline imposed on game engines and their output was apparent. In the early days you could usually tell what GPU a PC game was running on simply by the graphical effects, irrespective of the title or developer.

Change began five years ago with the move from fixed-function GPUs to a new generation that enabled semi-programmability through shaders. Game developers embraced the relative freedom and now they want more.

A fantastic article on the future of real-time graphics techniques, with a number of mini interviews with experts of the field, can be found on the online version of the excellent Edge magazine and is well worth a read for anybody wanting to investigate the upcoming trends in real-time game visuals.

http://www.edge-online.com/features/the-pixel-revolution

Saturday, 29 August 2009

Student learning using a virtual 3D lab

Students at a Baltimore County High School this fall will explore the area surrounding Mount St. Helens in a vehicle that can morph from an aircraft to a car to a boat to learn about how the environment has changed since the volcano’s 1980 eruption.

This will all be done without ever leaving their Chesapeake High School classroom as they will be using a three-dimensional Virtual Learning Environment developed by the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) with the University’s Center for Technology Education.

A coalition that also included Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, and the University of Baltimore is deploying the environment, which was modeled after a state-of-the-art, 3D visualization facility at APL that was used for projects by the Department of Defense and NASA.

The Virtual Learning Environment includes 10 high-definition, 72-inch TV monitors, arranged in two five-screen semicircles that allow students to interact with what they see on screen using a custom-designed digital switch and touch-panel controller. In an adjoining lab, 30 workstations, each outfitted with three interconnected monitors, will display the same environments, allowing lessons to be translated and understood on a team or a student basis.

Thursday, 27 August 2009

Unity launches much-improved iPhone edition

Denmark's game engine group Unity has launched an iPhone edition of its development platform, packaged with many updates and improvements. Unity offers a range of development platforms for mobile devices, as well as browsers and the Wii.

The company calls its newest engine “Unity iPhone 1.5”, and promises that the platform will run up to three times faster than the prior model. The new 1.5 version provides full support for native Objective C and C++ code, with Unity claiming this will open “full access” to the newest series of iPhones.

Unity iPhone 1.5 will support 8-texture shading on the very latest edition of the iPhone but also provide developers with the chance to implement many of the features found on all iPhones, from video-playback to on-screen keyboard support but also, perhaps most interesting of all, access to the smartphone’s GPS and navigational tools. (Location-based games anyone?)

Finally, the engine allows for a faster combining of multiple animations, while animation skinning can be as much as 400 per cent faster. The platform introduces automatic batching for small dynamic objects and static geometry, which could reduce the draw call counts and thus boost performance levels in complex scenes. No wonder the Unity hype keeps gathering momentum, some of these updates are liberating in many ways and should keep indie developers and students very busy.

Podcast discussion on architecture and video games

During the Brighton-based Develop 2009 conference earlier this week, Edge Online magazine editor Alex Wiltshire chaired a panel discussion on the close relationship between architecture and videogames, and here is a recording of the full session for to download (which is also extremely interesting IMO).

The panel included Viktor Antonov, the art director behind Half-Life 2 and Arkane's The Crossing, as well as a creative director and writer for animated feature films, Lionhead's Rob Watkins, who has worked with architect Foster And Partners and was artist on Fable and Fable II and Rory Olcayto, now features editor at The Architects Journal and once lead artist at developer Inner Workings in the late 90s.

http://dl.uksites.futureus.com/cvg/static/Edge%20Panel%20-%20Architecture%20and%20Videogames.mp3

Monday, 24 August 2009

Publication accepted for ACE 2009 conference

I've just got confirmation that a publication I co-authored with one of my final year students here at Bournemouth University has been accepted for publication at October's ACE 2009 (Advances In Computer Entertainment) conference in Athens, Greece. This will be in the poster track of the conference and will also appear at ACM's Digital Portal as part of the proceedings.

The publication is titled A Rule-Based Approach To 3D Terrain Generation via Texture Splatting and proposes a new novel way to create 3D landscapes for real-time applications.

Saturday, 22 August 2009

Photorealistic vs Non-photorealistic timelapse

Taken from Digital Urban, a great comparison test of two different skyline timelapses in different rendering styles. The first one is in photorealistic style and the second one in cartoon-rendered form (processed using the After Effects 'Cartoon' option). The interesting bit, as pointed out in Digital Urban, is that the skyline is much clearer in the latter.


While frame coherence is (expectedly for such a rapidly paced animation) not as good on the NPR timelapse, this is a good example of how alternative rendering can achieve better urban visualizations in terms of detail distinction and depth perception. The timelapse is of London, captured from a Camden building roof.

Research bid success

Yesterday I got confirmation that the European EU Leonardo funding research bid that I (and subsequently Bournemouth University) am a partner for, led by CV2 in Denmark and with other partners in various European countries, has been successfull. This bid was under the Transfer of Innovation call.

The project is called Game-iT, I will be posting more information about it at a later stage but essentially, proposes new methods based on Kolb's learning circle, ICT and new Web 2.0 tools in order to enable game-based learning. The project begins in October and runs for two years. Quite excited about this one, I will be posting many more updates about this once it is underway!

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

The future of gaming graphics according to Crytek co-founder

Some very useful insights in the way we'll be seeing real-time entertainment graphics were presented in the keynote at GDC Europe of Crytek co-founder Cevat Yerli who discussed the "future of gaming graphics" from the perspective of the German developer and CryEngine maker. Talking trends, Yerli observed that GPUs and CPUs are "on a collision course", as CPUs get more parallel and GPUs are moving towards more general-purpose computing. He recommended OpenCL as a good base for addressing the issue.

Yerli suggested that Crytek is estimating 2012 to 2013 for the next generation of home console hardware. But thanks to the success of the relatively horsepower-light Wii, "there's a big debate about whether there will be a next generation at all", he admitted. H also e suggested most games use artistic styles, physics and AI to differentiate themselves, at least up to 2012 when the next generations may arrive.


He then focused on the actual technical innovations that he feels will make a difference in graphics. For example, tech like point-based rendering is potentially faster than triangle-based rendering at certain higher qualities, and works well with levels of detail. On the other hand point-based rendering might define a certain super-high polygon look for game, Yerli said. However: "There's a lot of games today in the Top 10 which don't need that", he conceded, and content creation tools are almost exclusively based around triangles right now.

He also noted ray-tracing as a possible rendering method to move towards, and particularly recommended rasterization and sparse voxel octrees for rendering. Such principles will form "the core" of future technology for Crytek's next engine, Yerli said, and the goal is to "render the entire world" with the voxel data structure.

Concluding, Yerli suggested that, after 2013, there are opportunities with new APIs and hardware platforms to "mix and match" between multiple rendering models, with "a Renaissance of graphics programming", and visual fidelity on a par with movies such as Shrek and Ice Age rendered in real time.

Sunday, 16 August 2009

Top 10 comic book urban/city spaces

A very interesting article for anybody into alternative visualization of urban spaces and virtual cities, from Gotham City to Mega City One, the online Architects’ Journal presents a selection of the best depicted comic book urban locations, which is very well illustrated throughout and makes for great reading.

These include Radiant City (from comic Mr X), Metropolis (from Superman), Gotham City (from Batman), New York (from Daredevil) and others. It is extremely thought-provoking to see how cartoon illustrators have decided to depict urban spaces (and more importantly why) in all of these specific cases.

The article can be found at http://www.architectsjournal.co.uk/the-critics/top-10-comic-book-cities/5204772.article

Monday, 10 August 2009

Paris on the iPhone!

Following on from the first iPhone virtual city post below, the excellent Digital Urban blog brought to my attention the Mobile 3D City website...

After almost twenty man-years of R&D over a four year period, here it is, the first embodiment in a collection that will rapidly expand as each new opus is added, all according to the company themselves. What is Mobile 3D City? It is a collection of tourism guides developed specifically for mobile terminals (currently iPhone), in truly photo-realist 3D format, which is interactive and includes numerous points of interest. Paris is the first example of their work, showcased in the video below.


Mobile 3D City is also an international trademark deposed by the Newscape Technology company. This is a consortium that brings together in addition to that of Newscape Technology, the expertise of Computamaps, international market leaders in 3D high-definition photo-realist mapping, Cityzeum, a dedicated tourism company and finally Navidis, specializing in the implementation of geo-localized content.

http://www.mobile3dcity.com/

Friday, 7 August 2009

Urban tagging using augmented reality

A new application from a company called Metaio is using augmented reality (AR) in order to allow users to leave tweets, messages, web pages and 3D models in a real space for other users to view or pick up when there are in the vicinity.

This cool little application opens up a whole number of new development routes from augmented graffiti to leaving a virtual message outside someones apartment if they are out through to tagging locations, restaurants and services with virtual comments for users to view by simply pointing the mobile device at the location. I am personally particularly interested in the 3D model route. Imagine being able to see the interior of selected buildings (and navigate on around it as well) by staying on the pavement!

The application is currently under development for iPhone, Google Android, Windows Mobile and Symbian S60 platforms. Check the website out at http://www.metaio.com/

Manhattan 3D map on the iPhone, first iPhone 3D virtual city for navigation?

Working on my PhD writeup and I've just come across this, which reinforces the overall point on using 3D virtual cities for mobile navigation...

UpNext NYC is the first interactive 3D map on the iPhone that gives you the ability to explore Manhattan (or any city really). With UpNext you can fly and zoom through the city fluidly, in its full 3D glory, without network hiccups or download times.

Along the way you'll be shown restaurants, nightlife, shops, and all the places that are local favorites or highly rated. Tap a building to see all the businesses inside, or tap a subway station to see all the trains passing through. Search for bars, hair salons, sushi, or any of our other 50+ categories and you'll get all the results in your area.

Now if only the map was in an non-photorealistic style. :)

iTunes Link: http://www.itunes.com/app/upnextnyc

UpNext 3D NYC: http://www.upnext.com/iphone

Thursday, 6 August 2009

Using the power of a GPU for signal processing commands

Researchers in the Georgia Tech Research Institute (GTRI) and the Georgia Tech School of Electrical and Computer Engineering are developing programming tools to enable engineers in the defense industry to utilize the processing power of GPUs without having to learn the complicated programming language required to use them directly.

Mark Richards, a principal research engineer and adjunct professor in the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering, is collaborating with Campbell and graduate student Andrew Kerr to rewrite common signal processing commands to run on a GPU. This work is supported by the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory.

The researchers are currently writing the functions in Nvidia's CUDATM language, but the underlying principles can be applied to GPUs developed by other companies, according to Campbell. With GPU VSIPL, engineers can use high-level functions in their C programs to perform linear algebra and signal processing operations, and recompile with GPU VSIPL to take advantage of the speed of the GPU. Studies have shown that VSIPL functions operate between 20 and 350 times faster on a GPU than a central processing unit, depending on the function and size of the data set.

The research team is also assessing the advantages of GPUs by running a library of benchmarks for quantitatively comparing high-performance, embedded computing systems. The benchmarks address important operations across a broad range of U.S. Department of Defense signal and image processing applications.

For the future, the researchers plan to continue expanding the GPU VSIPL, develop additional defense-related GPU function libraries and design programming tools to utilize other efficient processors, such as the cell broadband engine processor at the heart of the PlayStation 3 video game console.

Wednesday, 5 August 2009

Building Rome In A Day urban modelling research project

A great research project for anybody into novel methods to do urban modelling; the Graphics and Imaging Laboratory of the University of Washington's Department of Computer Science and Engineering have considered the problem of reconstructing entire cities from images harvested from the web. The aim is to build a parallel distributed system that downloads all the images associated with a city from Flickr.com.

After downloading, it matches these images to find common points and uses this information to compute the three dimensional structure of the city and the pose of the cameras that captured these images. The movie above details their sample work using 58,000 images of Dubrovnik sourced from Flickr.

The results are stunning (and I love the slight NPR tinge!). Check the project out (called Building Rome In A Day) at http://grail.cs.washington.edu/rome/