Saturday, 24 November 2007

Gamr7's Automatic City Builder

While leafing through the latest issue of EDGE magazine (183), I spotted an excellent 2-page article on automatic city building for games. Focusing on a newly formed French company called Gamr7, it details their middleware approach aimed at enabling artists to quickly design and create detailed urban environments. The innovation in their piece of software is the fact that the cities are grown based on the meaning of buildings according to activity. Virtual cities are of course very complex and this procedural approach is indeed very interesting.

More details on the article but it is important to note that this revolutionary concept to 3D urban creation, while at the moment used as only as a service, will be released as a commercial product in early 2008! Check Gamr7's website at and also make surew you view the embedded movie there with the various test city models they've created with this approach...

Thursday, 22 November 2007

Visual Studio 2008 released

A piece of news that will interest all developers, Microsoft has finally released Visual Studio 2008 as of yesterday (21/11/07).The latest version of the integrated development environment boasts over 250 new features and improvements. These include integrated support for unit testing, integrated performance profiling and analysis, Windows Vista UI support, enhanced database support and better interoperability between native and managed code.The software is available in a variety of versions, including Express Editions. New learning resources are available as well.

A few statistics (provided by Microsoft themselves mind you!),

- over one million professional developers used Visual Studio 2005
- 17 million downloads of Visual Studio Express
- 25 per cent of Visual Studio developers are using Visual Studio Team System

I have been eagerly awaiting for this release since the 2005 version has created many problems for PCs with Vista on them and the new 2008 version of Visual Studio is expected to solve all incompatibilities...

I will try and do future posts on this one with my own as well as other developer opinions on the new version of this popular development platform.

A round-up of 3D software, trial editions

For this post I thought I'd do a quick round up of some of the most popular 3D software out there that currently offer FREE trial versions for checking out.

1) Softimage’s free 30-day trial version of XSI 6.5 Essentials allows students and professionals to try all the core tools of its 3D modelling, character creation, animation and rendering package.
Try the 30-day trial of SoftimageXSI 6.5 here

2) The free 30-day trial version of Zbrush 3.1 is a full-featured version offering the sculpting and painting tool for students, teachers, artists and others just beginning their journey into Zbrush. Just submit some basic personal information and Pixologic will email you a link to the software.
Try the 30-day trial of Zbrush 3.1 here

3) A 30-day version of modo 301 is also available in a trial format for $25.00. Luxology has prepared an evaluation kit that is ideal for anyone who wants to take modo for a test drive. The ready-for-download package includes the modo in Focus series of eight introductory videos and a 100% feature complete version of modo 301.
Try the 30-day trial of modo 301 here

4) The Maya Personal Learning Edition is a free version of Autodesk’s software for non-commercial use. It gives 3D graphics and animation students, industry professionals, and those interested in breaking into the world of computer graphics an opportunity to explore almost every feature of Autodesk Maya Complete 8.5.
Try the 30-day trial of Maya here

5) Houdini Apprentice is a free, non-commercial edition of the Side Effects 3D software family. Just generate a key online to gain access to the full-featured shipping versions of Houdini Master, Houdini Select and Houdini Halo.The only minor differences are an output resolution of 640 X 480, a small watermark in the lower right hand corner of each render, and rendering limited to Houdini Mantra.A Starving Artist edition is available for $99.00 without a watermark that runs at HD resolution.
Try the trial version of Houdini here

6) The Autodesk 3ds Max trial version provides free access to the software for non-commercial use. To receive a free 30-day trial download, fill out and submit the online form.
Try the 30-day trial of 3ds Max here

7) Download a trial version of Electronic Rain’s Swift 3D package and you’ll be treated to all the features of this stand alone application, except its file export functionality, which is disabled. Rendered animations can, however, be previewed within the program.
Try the trial version of Swift 3D here

8) Download the Cinema 4D demo version online and explore Maxon’s powerful raytracing and animation tool. Scenes, movies, textures, preset libraries and browser catalogs can’t be saved in the demo version. Neither can references and layouts. Sketch and Toon won’t render images with a resolution greater than 640×480 pixels, and the NET Render module is not included either. BodyPaint 3D 3.5 is also available in demo form.
Try the trial version of Cinema 4D here

Developing 3D virtual cities direct from video

At the moment in the research world there is a lot of activity around ground based LiDAR data capture with a number of companies mounting rigs onto vans and driving around cities. While LiDAR per se does have a lot of potential, it also can't be denied that the data output is overwhelming and it is limited to high end hardware. Working from that angle, the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill and University of Kentucky have been working on techniques to develop 3D Models direct from video, thus negating the need for a LiDAR rig. Although it is early days yet, the results are encouraging. The video below showcases a model created of the Capel Campus using the technique.

According to Jan-Micael Fraham, Research Assistant Professor on the project, the research aims at developing a system for automatic, geo-registered, real-time 3D reconstruction from video of urban scenes. From 2005-2007 the team developed a system that collects video streams, as well as GPS and inertia measurements in order to place the reconstructed models in geo-registered coordinates. It is designed using current state of the art real-time modules for all processing steps employing commodity graphics hardware and standard CPU's to achieve real-time performance.The second video embedded below provides an overview of the process and is extremely interesting.

The system extends existing algorithms to meet the robustness and variability necessary to operate out of the lab. To account for the large dynamic range of outdoor videos the processing pipeline estimates global camera gain changes in the feature tracking stage and efficiently compensates for these in stereo estimation without impacting the real-time performance. The required accuracy for many applications is achieved with a two-step stereo reconstruction process exploiting the redundancy across frames.

Check the UrbanScape website for more details, it is well worth a visit as this is one of the most interesting and genuinely innovative urban modelling projects coming from academia I have seen in months!

Sony PSP phone rumours

The development of a PSP phone has been doing the rounds as a rumour for a while now, but the idea of such a device has been given new life thanks to Sony Computer Entertainment co-chief operating officer Jim Ryan. Apparently, Mr. Ryan recently told the India Times that the "PlayStation is a proven success and so is Sony Ericsson," and that "convergence with the two arms working together is definitely plausible."

Of course, he did note that it could be quite some time before such a device would see the market, and that if indeed it did, it would likely resemble a handheld gaming system with a phone blended in and not vice-versa. That still is a an extremely interesting concept of a device that has been launched a few times in the past by other companies with no commercial luck, can Sony make it a success and give us a new mobile handset with great research capabilities? Time will tell.

CyberCity in liquidation

On an older post a few months ago on this very blog the CyberCity urban modelling solution was presented. CyberCity AG is the software company which is tied to this solution and, as of recently, this company appears to have (sadly) gone into liquidation. The news comes courtesy of MoneyHouse, which reports not only on the company's status but also on the fact that its website seems to have now gone offine and be inaccessible.

Undoubtedly it is a shame for a number of reasons to see such a popular and efficient solution (possibly) not being around anymore and hopefully not a trend in 3D urban modelling which will continue further.

Monday, 12 November 2007

Upcoming computer graphics-related conferences in 2008

Here's a few links of some interesting computer graphics conferences taking place in the first half of the next year. Note that most of them have their upcoming deadlines in the next few weeks/months!

8th International Symposium on SMART GRAPHICS (Rennes, France)

6th Symposium on Non-Photorealistic Animation and Rendering (NPAR) 2008 (Annecy, France)

EuroVis 2008 Joint Eurographics/IEEE-VGTC Symposium on Visualization (Eindhoven, The Netherlands)

CGI 2008 Computer Graphics International 2008 (Istanbul, Turkey)

35th International Conference and Exhibition on Computer Graphics and Interactive Techniques (LA, USA)

12th International Conference Information Visualisation (London, UK)

5th International Conference Computer Graphics, Imaging and Visualization (Penang, Malaysia)

Seventh International Workshop on
Computer Graphics and Geometric Modeling CGGM'2008
(Krakow, Poland)

34th Graphics Interface 2008 (Ontario, Canada)

Laval Virtual 2008 International Virtual Reality Conference (Laval, France)

Friday, 2 November 2007

GPS in skiing

For all the avid skiers out there, just in case your iPod-equipped helmet, head-mounted camera and Bluetooth-enabled parka (and yes all these products exist out there, not making them up!) weren't enough to distract you from actually paying attention down the mile-long slope ahead, how's about fiddling with the Satski rather than focusing on that pizza wedge? This handheld GPS-equipped unit can give skiers, snowboarders and everyone else out there trying to make it down in one piece the ability to record position, altitude, speed and distance while on the mountain.

Moreover, you'll find options that enable you to avoid black runs, plot a course, listen to MP3s and play a few games while riding the lift. There's even links to emergency contacts in case that halfpipe trip goes terribly wrong and the built-in software lets users export data to Google Earth for future bragging purposes. This intriguing (and somewhat superfluous one might say!) device will be priced at an almost unfathomable £1,500 ($3,087) but those strapped for cash can supposedly rent it for around £28 ($58) per day at participating resorts. One issue not mentioned is of course gloves (I can't imagine it'd be very easy trying to negotiate with the device wearing a pair of those!) but still, interesting to see GPS-equipped units extend to sports activities like this one!

Console quality game graphics on mobiles?

Vollee, a new mobile gaming service provider startup, has just announced Vollee 1.0, a new service that offers high-end games streamed over 3G networks. It’s confirmed Activision, Codemasters and Encore Software as initial partners. Vollee’s patent-pending VolleeX engine underpins the concept. It enables moving, re-sizing or replacing any object within the original video game without access to source code, ensuring that the game play is maximised for mobile. The service is in trials now internationally with major carriers and will be launched in North America next year. “We will use always-connected 3G networks to take mobile games to the next level, much in the same way the pervasiveness of broadband has taken PC games to new heights and success,” said Martin Dunsby, president and CEO.

Essentially, the company has tools that can take games and convert them so they can run on Vollee-enhanced phones without messing around with the game’s source code. A thin software client resides on a phone for that to happen. For instance, the company claims they can make a racing game run faster by taking out the clouds in the sky in the game’s background. In other words, it can substitute simpler graphics that don’t take as much processing power without sacrificing quality too much.

It certainly is a very interesting concept on providing quality graphics on mobiles and definitely an extremely innovative one. If it means seeing XBox 360 or PS3 like graphics for mobiles then I am all for it! We should be somewhat reserved about it however since all we have to go with at the moment is a press release (not even a live demo), Vollee is being very cagey about specific technical details so only time can show how this might pan out.

For more information check

Thursday, 1 November 2007

Virtual worlds a threat to values?

Oscar-winning film-maker Lord Puttnam gave the opening keynote speech at the Virtual Worlds Forum held in London from 23-26 October. In his speech Lord Puttnam voiced fears about the many game worlds that have sprung up which tie access to the virtual world to the purchase of a toy. Webkinz, Funkeys, BarbieGirls, TyGirlz and many others are all virtual worlds created and run by toy makers. "Are we absolutely sure that this is the very best we can offer young people?" he asked. "Do we really want them to think of themselves as not much more than consumers?". He said: "Might we not prefer to build worlds that encourage those same values and skills we wish them to exercise in the real world?". "The challenge ahead is this - to ensure that virtual worlds are increasingly places that offer real meaning to their lives and in the real world to learn from the sense of community and collaboration that's been experienced in virtual worlds," he said.

My personal opinion on this demonizing of virtual worlds as a researcher involved in the creation and evaluation of these worlds? While there are always potential pitfalls when corporate financial interest gets involved in new technologies, particularly immersive ones, it can't be denied that sometimes it helps to keep perspective on things. It is extremely debatable that virtual gaming and socialising is to blame for anything and this is really at heart an incredibly dated argument taking us back to the 60s when people feared that the television (which let's not forget was considered an immersive technology back then, very much like virtual worlds are now) would demoralise and ruin values in young people.

For more information on the Virtual Worlds Forum check