Tuesday, 17 June 2008

Sony Ericsson develops F305 motion gaming phone

Sony Ericsson has revealed a new games-focused mobile handset that boasts a built-in motion sensor. The F305 handset is "targeted firmly at a youth audience" and Sony Ericsson says that the device lets users 'control games with the flick of a wrist or the swing of an arm'.

The device comes with a number of pre-loaded motion games (Bowling, Bass Fishing and Jockey) to show off these functions. Moreover, the firm said that Gameloft has agreed to develop new motion games for the device. Finally, like many other recent Sony Ericsson and Nokia handsets, the device also allows for horizontal gameplay and features additional dedicated gaming buttons (see pic below).

While it is not yet clear when exactly the device will be released Sony Ericsson's announcement says the device will be "available in selected markets from Q3 2008". "Gaming is no longer something you do on your own. It’s about having fun with your friends and interacting with the game," commented Sven Totté, head of product marketing at Sony Ericsson. "We have used motion sensor technology before in our phones and integrating it into gameplay is a natural progression".

Personally, I find this technological addition a great trend which will open up many gaming but also non-gaming possibilities for mobile graphics research... Hopefully it will catch on not only with handset developers like Sony Ericcson but also with application developers too.

Monday, 16 June 2008

Highest-ever accuracy virtual world model of central London?

Q, the plug-in based game engine developed by London-based Qube Software, has scored its first virtual world client. Near London is a new world developed by fellow Londoners Near, which accurately models central London and allows real-world retailers to expand their online presence.

The firm is using Q because traditional virtual worlds don't allow the sort of visual fidelity that a game engine can provide, leading them to claim that Near London's representation of central London has the 'highest degree of accuracy to date'.

In addition, the extensible nature of the Q engine means that it can interface with any server back-end, effectively functioning as a universal client and allowing users to access different virtual worlds with just a single download. “I am excited about Near because it gives game developers new outlets and business models for their skills without limiting them technologically,” said Qube CEO Servan Keondjian.

"Q opens up the possibility of users changing channel to other online games built with Q or even playing them within the virtual world environment itself".

Near founder Alex Wrottesley added: “The way Q works is crucial to Near. Near presents cities as virtual gateways – just as a real city street is a gateway to shops and restaurants and other experiences. So if a retailer wants a visitor to Near London to be able to click on their shop door and be transported effortlessly to their own virtual world or custom game environment, with Q that becomes simple. Near’s cities will be able to host the most extensible content ever seen in a virtual world.”

Sunday, 15 June 2008

3D Studio Max 2009, the Design version

Unless I am mistaken, the new version of 3D Studio Max (dubbed 2009 or for the ones with good memory amongst us, simply version 11!) is the first one that is separated into two different releases 3D Studio Max 2009 (for media and entertainment purposes) and 3D Studio Max Design 2009 (for design or architectural visualization). They are exactly the same software, one program, two boxes. What’s going on here?

Well for those interested to know, particularly regarding the Design version unique characteristics, you can check a great article by Mark Gerhard at the CGSociety site which takes the aforementioned version through its paces. The new UI, rendering and Mental Ray improvements, illustration, interoperability, lighting, animation and finally material features are covered in detail, giving the reader a good impression of exactly where the Design 2009 version differs both from previous Max versions but also from the standard 2009 one.

The verdict is very positive (although I have to say that the reason that we have an architectural version of Max for the first time is probably because Autodesk wanted Max to conform with the rest of its vast CAD product line!). The article can be found here and is well worth a read for all the Max users amongst you!

Southampton launches City Vision model for urban planning

Southampton is the first city outside London to launch a City Vision Centre. Based at the Southampton’s City Art Gallery, the City Vision Centre was launched on May 21 by City Vision Networks. The exhibition includes the largest machined model in the UK (5.5 x 4m) and a virtual model of Southampton. Both models are easy to change and update. They will be used as a design and planning tool, allowing the public to see development proposals and help shape the future of the city.

The two models together provide:
- A new resource enabling people to view architect and developer proposals for visionary new master plans and buildings
- A tool and venue for consultation on how the city can develop

Tiles of the scaled physical city model can be continually updated to present building proposals for Southampton. City Vision Southampton is the first permanent exhibition space for architecture outside London to include a computer-generated machined model that can be continuously updated to physically present proposed new developments in the city. The large scale model of Southampton is built using a modular system that makes it relatively easy and cheap to update.

The City Vision Centre can incorporate all future large scale developments proposed for the city. The model opens debate about the Southampton’s future from day one by allowing the public to see, in context, 11 new developments proposed by some of the country’s leading architects. The stunning 5.5m x 4m model is supported by a suite of 14 exhibition panels giving details of the proposed new developments. A sophisticated 3D virtual model of Southampton has been built with the pioneering use of photogrammatical technology to give a geographically accurate, detailed interactive CAD (Computer Aided Design) model.

It can be updated with any new proposed building or development. Data from the 3D virtual model was used to produce the large physical model of Southampton. The model is built from a total of 88 large tiles each measuring 0.5msq. The tiles are machine-carved from a high-density polyurethane and resin material using a CNC flatbed milling machine. As new building proposals are put forward, developers will be able to commission a new tile to be made and inserted into the model of Southampton, to show the size and form of the proposed building in its context. The scale model provides a stunning, changing centrepiece to the new City Vision Southampton exhibition.

The virtual model is on show as an animated flythrough in the gallery and also via http://www.cityvisionsouthampton.org.uk/.

Saturday, 14 June 2008

Gamebryo version 2.5 released

Emergent has upgraded its Gamebryo game engine, one of the most commonly used computer games middleware applications, to version 2.5 adding new geometry and terrain systems. Included in this release is the first phase of the Emergent Terrain System, integrating with the Gamebryo Scene Designer to offer WYSIWYG sculpting of landscapes and in-built support for IDV's SpeedTree. Both are very efficient ways to providing procedural landscaping and foliage in a 3D environment.

The core engine has also been sped up due to the integration of Emergent's Floodgate multi-processor management system throughout the Gamebryo codebase, giving better performance on multi-processor architectures. Floodgate itself has also been optimised to minimise DMA transfers on PS3 and maximise data-prefetching on Xbox 360. Finally, the geometry system has also been redesigned, enabling more geometry sharing, GPU instancing, multiple geometry streams and reduced runtime data conversions.

Gamebryo is also available for academic licensing, more details can be found here http://www.emergent.net/

Tuesday, 10 June 2008

Google Cities in 3D

Google Cities in 3D is an initiative which invites local governments to share their 3D data with the public by adding a model of their city to Google Earth. This is a very interesting programme initially launched in March. Now the initiative is being launched in Europe, closer to home. Google has launched localised websites to encourage governments in the Germany, France, Italy, Spain and the Netherlands to share their data with the search giant.

Some potential benefits of this scheme can be seen on the vid above. Curiously, all have local sites so far except for the UK, which has been beaten to the punch by Westport, Ireland, where they produced a 3D city model to promote their town as a tourist and business destination.

Monday, 9 June 2008

Using augmented reality for urban design

Something interesting to augmented reality people that also conduct research in the urban modelling/design field, the movie below provides an interesting example of using augmented reality for landscaping. Developed at The Human Interface Technology Laboratory, New Zealand it enables you to create and design an urban area with roads, buildings, trees etc.

The Human Interface Technology Lab (HITLab) is a multi-disciplinary research and development lab whose work centers around human interface technology.

Lab researchers represent a wide range of departments from across the University of Washington campus, including engineering, medicine, education, social sciences, architecture and the design arts.

Check their site here for more of their AR work, extending into other principles.

Second Life on a mobile device

If you are a Second Life fan then you will be pleased to hear that you can now live out your second life on your mobile device. Vollee have now provided a free, open beta version of Second Life for 40 Wi-Fi-enabled and 3G devices (including the HTC TyTn 2 or AT&T Tilt). Second Life is quite a rich application so the Vollee client effectively provides a thin client to access the full game hosted on Vollee's servers.

You can see a demo vid above, for more information and the free download check the Vollee website here.

Friday, 6 June 2008

City University UK Summer 2008 Masterclass Series

Seeing that I attended the first one of these on Wednesday (and very informative it was too, with unique insights in Google Earth and similar tools) I thought I'd post a reminder on City University giCentre announcing their programme of summer Masterclasses delivered by their internationally known group of academics, programmers, writers and entrepreneurs. City Masterclasses are delivered from an informed and neutral third-perspective by those with deep knowledge of their subjects and proven teaching skills. Attending City Masterclasses can be a valuable 'heads up' on the explosive development of these various fields or a piece of continuing professional development.

All the Masterclasses have high instructor/ participant ratios and include hands on sessions with the technology and are held in a variety of locations (see details) including City University's accessible and brand new accommodation between Angel and Farringdon in central London. They will also provide an opportunity to meet other professionals in the same area and a chance to see the innovative research being conducted in these areas at the University.

The schedule for these events is as follows: Wednesday June 4th Geospatial mashups [City University], Thursday June 26th Mobile navigation [City University], Wednesday July 9th State of the Art in Location Based Services 2008 [National Physical Lab, Teddington] and Tuesday July 22nd Mobile search [City University] (http://www.soi.city.ac.uk/~dmm/masterclasses/).

Rollercoaster Tycoon 3, embedded automatic city generation tools in games

Sandbox games such as RollerCoaster Tycoon 3 provide a powerful set of tools to create 3D environments, in the case of RollerCoaster Tycoon normally a theme park, although as it is obvious from the vid below 3D virtual cities can also be developed.

An enthusiast known simply as 'Steven' (uploading to YouTube as alloria) has used the game engine tools to create a city with the end product easily rivalling visualisation companies output and demonstrating how powerful in-game editors have become when it comes to urban modelling.

Steven states tha this started out as a sandbox game, to experiment with different building types. "I created one building, then another, then another, then another, and before I knew it, I had nearly filled the entire map with buildings! I did of course leave a small area in the middle to build a small theme park, which contains two roller coasters, a mini-golf and an Enterprise ride. The main coaster is a "Giga-Coaster" and is known as "Thrasher". This is the only ride that I have filmed, as the other ride "Swift" can be viewed in my "Off-Shore Theme Park" video."

The city contains several buildings, including some tower blocks, a multi-storey car-park, several ground-level car parks, a church with graveyard, several houses with gardens, several small blocks of flats, some shops, a large warehouse-type shop, a bus depot, a rest home, a small park with a fountain, some office buildings and others...

Mirror's Edge game, realistic 3D urban navigation in a game environment

I was intrigued to see the first few pics of a new game called Mirror's Edge (developed by DICE), a stylistic first-person game reminiscent of the Bourne movies, where information is heavily monitored and agile couriers called Runners transport sensitive data away from prying eyes. In this seemingly utopian paradise, a crime has been committed and now you are being hunted. You are a Runner called Faith and this innovative first-person action-adventure is your story. In the game, DICE went for a more realistic perspective by slightly tilting the camera back and forth depending on how fast you move.

The level seen so far has the character jumping over fences, sliding under pipes and traversing through and over buildings like a crack-addicted monkey looking for its next fix. Items and platforms turn red while you run to provide context clues for what you can use to keep your momentum going and move forward (e.g. a swinging rope you can grab jumping off of the side of a building).

As for combat, it seems the point of the game is rather non-violent. When the hero did steal a gun from an opponent, she quickly disassembled it and kept running. The game looks very interesting for everyone involved in 3D landscape production and immersive navigation, as you can see from the two vids above (the second being a developer interview) the innovative and extremely realistic urban navigation looks very very impressive...

Sunday, 1 June 2008

New Prince Of Persia game, non-photorealistic rendering in a next-gen games title

While computer games with non-photorealistic rendering have been evident in the past (I am still trying to finish XIII on my old XBox!) I was very intrigued to hear that the new Prince Of Persia title will feature cel-shaded graphics, making it thus the first next-generation XBox 360 and PS3 title with exclusively NPR-rendered displays.

The game will be coming to PC, PS3 and 360 this year and is being developed by the original Prince of Persia: Sands of Time team at Ubisoft Montreal. As I mention above it features cel-shaded graphics and scraps the Sands of Time rewind powers. The gameplay centres on healing a corrupted world in the style of Okami, Shadow of the Colossus or The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess.

Creative director Jean-Christophe Guyot told Joypad that the aim was to create a more fantastical game and "more poetic vision" than the Sands of Time trilogy, with which it shares no connection. "The previous trilogy mixed the Arabian Nights in with historical Persia," he said. "We decided we'd prefer to return to the tales of the Thousand and One Nights for something more colourful."

The switch to cel-shading caused some consternation with Ubisoft management, he explained, although they never opposed it. "They knew we weren't going to make a second Assassin's Creed," he said. "However, they did raise their eyebrows a bit at the new, stylised artistic direction. They were worried the Americans wouldn't like it. There were many discussions, but they never said no to us."

For all its worth I find this an extremely interesting move and another tentative attempt in moving away from photorealism in entertainment with many potential benefits.

More news on this as it develops, meanwhile check the pics above, I will try and post a demo vid of the game too as soon as that becomes available, till then check out Joystiq for more up-to-date Prince Of Persia news.

IADIS Gaming 2008, article accepted

I've just received confirmation that I will be presenting a full paper I authored at the IADIS Gaming 2008 conference. This will be taking place in July between the 25th and the 27th at Renaissance Hotel, Amsterdam, Holland.

The title of the publication I am presenting is "A Review Of First-Person Shooter Game Engines And Their Use In Researching Scientific Disciplines" and is quite fitting with the overall theme of the conference, which focuses mostly design for engaging experience and social interaction via the use of computer games.

As gaming becomes more pervasive we are challenged in our job, learning and personal life by the growing access to virtual spaces and communities that offer opportunities for everyday needs and aesthetic experiences. ‘Creative Industries’ have a need for design measures that reveal new interaction methods, scenario metaphors and in-depth co-creation. This conference bring together research and best practices in creative media design for this new challenging field.

For more information check the link below, I will of course post a full report on the conference when I return from it, so check this space for an upcoming post on this!

Check the conference at http://www.gaming-conf.org/