Saturday, 25 October 2008

Bournemouth University Open days

I spent this morning and afternoon at Bournemouth University (where I work as a lecturer) as part of one of their Open Days, answering questions from prospective questions and, perhaps more importantly, demoing 3D modelling and animation work for the upcoming Computer Games Technology BSc degree that the University is recruiting for (to start in Sep 2009).

The next Open Day that we have is on November the 15th, if you're interested in the Computer Games Technology course, or indeed any other course the University runs you're more than welcome to attend. You'll be able to attend talks by academic staff on the subjects of your choice and have an opportunity to ask questions plus also be shown around the campus and ask our student ambassadors questions. Finally you can also enjoy a bus tour around the Bournemouth area including a view of our accommodation, Student Union locations, beaches and the town centre.

Friday, 24 October 2008

Autodesk (owner of 3DS Max and Maya) acquires Softimage XSI

Maya, 3ds Max and MotionBuilder owner Autodesk is to acquire its rival Softimage for $35m. The surprise deal, announced last night, puts all the leading 3D graphics applications used by the games industry (Softimage is responsible for the XSI and FaceRobot apps, amongst others) under one owner following three years of active acquisitions on Autodesk's part.

Autodesk bought Maya creator Alias in 2006, and has kept development of the application going ever since. Last year it bought high-end renderer Mudbox creator Skymatter, and in early 2008 acquired AI specialist Kynogon. Founded in 1986 by Daniel Langlois, Softimage's technology is already in use a number of entertainment graphics and special effects firms, including Digital Domain, Ubisoft, Sega, Capcom, and The Mill. The company itself has had a chequered ownership history, at one point being owned by Microsoft before being bought by Avid and integrated into its large family of digital editing and media tools. Avid will be paid around $35m for the acquisition.

Although the two businesses will now be combined, Autodesk said that it will "continue developing and selling Softimage’s core product line, while integrating certain Softimage technology into future versions of Autodesk solutions and products".

Thursday, 23 October 2008

Tiga calls for UK to improve game development-related education

In the latest issue of its policy magazine Download, UK independent developer association Tiga has called on UK authorities to improve the standards of higher education in order to increase the number of talented students ideal for a job in games development. Tiga outlined a number of recommendations it was putting to the Government;

• introduce a pilot programme whereby the tuition fees for students studying mathematics and computer science are reduced to give students a greater incentive to study these subjects;
• reverse the cuts that have taken place in computer science course funding; and
• aim over time to increase higher education funding from the current 1.1% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in order to enhance the quality of UK universities (the USA and China spend 2.9% and 1.3% respectively of GDP on higher education).

Tiga also called for the establishment of a Tiga managed Games Education Fund which could, for example:
• promote industrial secondments by funding the placement of lecturers in games businesses;
• fund research fellowships by enabling lecturers to concentrate on research activities rather than administrative and teaching responsibilities for between a term and an academic year;
• enable more games businesses to engage in education outreach and knowledge transfer with universities; and
• award individual lecturers and their universities for excellence in teaching, judged by their commitment to teaching, building industry-university links and other actions which ensure the output of first class quality graduates for the games industry.

"If the UK video games industry is to maintain its competitive edge then we must address the skills shortages hampering the industry. We need to improve standards in mathematics and the sciences in schools in order to increase the potential pool of graduates in these disciplines. Stronger financial incentives to attract the best graduates to teach in schools are part of the solution," said Richard Wilson, CEO of Tiga.

"In higher education, tuition fees for mathematics and computer science students should be reduced in order to increase the supply of graduates in these areas. Additionally, our universities must be adequately funded. Cuts in computer science courses should be reversed. Students need up to date equipment and software".

"Employers have a vital part to play in improving skills in the games industry. The Government should aim to reduce corporation tax on businesses to leave them with more money available for investment, including on training. We need to strengthen industry-university links in the games industry. The establishment of a Tiga managed Games-Education Fund would achieve this objective. Deploying the Fund to promote industrial secondments, research fellowships, education outreach and knowledge transfer programmes, and excellence in teaching would not only strengthen links between developers and academia. Ultimately it would help to enhance the competitiveness of the UK games development sector."

Saturday, 18 October 2008

XNA 3.0 to be released, support for mobile device and Visual Studio 2008

Microsoft has revealed that XNA Game Studio 3.0 will be released on October 30th. The latest version chiefly adds Microsoft's Zune music player as a development target, as well as supporting the new Xbox Live Community Games initiative - itself planned to launch as part of the New Xbox Experience hitting Xbox 360s worldwide on November 19th.

More importantly for most, it's the first release of XNA to properly support Visual Studio 2008. In preparation for the Community Games launch, the XNA team has also penned the first draft of what it calls the Community Games Best Practices - a set of guidelines geared towards providing the best experience for players and converting them into buyers.

Skillset's London Games Festival

The deadline is nearing for interested attendees to register for this month's Skillsweek. The London Games Festival event is a week-long Skillset-backed set of workshops and seminars to look at talent and training. The event runs from October 27th to 31st, and hopes are high that over 250 will attend, repeating Skillsweek's success after its debut last year.

Kate O’Connor, executive director at Skillset, commented: "Game development has one of, if not the, most diverse skills requirements of all modern media. From mathematicians and physicists at one end of the spectrum to, actors and architects at the other, the UK gaming industry must be able to tap into these skills to maintain its position as one of the world leaders. Successful and popular forums like Skillsweek are exactly what the industry needs to help confront the skills challenge. It provides the perfect platform from which experts can debate the issues and exchange views on best practice."

According to Skillset, this year’s programme includes:
- The return of last year’s Mod Workshop. Everyone will be taught the basics of level design with Unreal Engine 3, from basic geometry to lighting and implementing AI.
- Scarce Talent Seminars: looking at how to cross the gap from mod-maker or bedroom programmer to professional developer, how to get into audio for games, research and development jobs in the games industry. Tuesday will delve into topics often neglected by games industry events
- A Game Design Workshop: the best way to focus on game design is with a paper prototype. In this workshop, you'll learn how to produce a prototype board game from scratch
- The Coding Dojo Workshop: learn Agile Development Skills and the basics of flash as well as pair programming and other agile techniques
- The C Word: a whole day of high level panels and talks on the skills shared between VFX, animation and game development

Sunday, 12 October 2008

Softimage XSI case study on Tecmo's Ninja Gaiden

Following from last month's post of me praising the making-of article on the official Softimage XSI website where Metal Gear Solid 4 was shown throughout its various stages of creation, the nice people at Softimage have done another one of those excellent features, this time on the Ninja Gaiden 2 game title.

Behind the development of this game is Team Ninja, a game production group at TECMO, LTD. The team said that their objective for the new Ninja Gaiden 2 was to develop a game that was as enjoyable to look at as it was to play. In particular, their mission was to fully utilize the processing capabilities of the next-generation Xbox 360 to take real-time image display to the next level.

To create expressive animated characters the creative team started working with real-time shaders to add details that would improve the game resolution required for a next-generation console. But the main issue they faced was how to raise the quality of the facial animation that would accompany this added detail. It was at this time that one of the directors of Ninja Gaiden 2, Hiroaki Matsui, took a look at SOFTIMAGEFACE ROBOT. The team felt that Face Robot provided the level of accuracy required for facial capture operations. The fact that it was designed with an export function for game run-time was another major reason why they decided to adopt Face Robot...

Read more about this here, while this article is not as thorough as the previously mentioned Metal Gear one it is still well worth anyone with a research or practical interest in 3D games modelling and animation.

Wednesday, 8 October 2008

UnrealScript Studio now available for commercial license

Pixel Mine's tool brings Visual Studio look and functionality to UnrealScript coding by recently making their UnrealScript Studio product available for licensing for commercial game development.

UnrealScript Studio, which recently won the second place in the Tools category of Epic's Make Something Unreal competition, applies many of the features available in Microsoft's Visual Studio to UnrealScript editing, including a comprehensive source-level debugger with breakpoints, stepping and user watches, IntelliSense code completion, Class and other views and code snippets.

The tool builds on Pixel Mine's experience with UE3 - it developed the PC versions of BlackSite: Area 51 and Turok - to provide advanced UnrealScript-specific features, such as mixed-mode simultaneous debugging of C and UnrealScript sources.

While the company will be selling the tool for commercial development, it has also pledged to provide a free version for mod makers and educational institutions built on Microsoft's free Visual Studio 2008 Shell. "We built UnrealScript Studio as a language service for Microsoft Visual Studio 2005 and 2008," said Sam Harwell, project lead on UnrealScript Studio. "This provides a familiar interface that effectively eliminates the time it takes to become proficient with the editor's abilities. It includes both an advanced text editor with IntelliSense and a source-level debugger for UnrealScript 3 that are fully integrated into Visual Studio."

As a big advocate of both UnrealEd and UnrealScript for serious research purposes this is a major development IMO. Check out the company's site at

Sunday, 5 October 2008

Unity game engine

While game engines like id Tech 5 and Unreal Engine 3 are undoubtedly cutting edge these days and used both for unofficial mods and also for big-money licensing, there's a number of smaller ones that have been making waves recently, particularly noted for their incredible drag-and-drop simplicity and none more so than Unity.

Originally launched as a Mac-based integrated creation tool and game engine for games that worked with a browser-based plug-in, it sat firmly in the same space as technologies such as Director and other Flash-based tools. Coming from a tiny upstart company (Danish outfit Unity Technologies), it was vital Unity worked as simply as possible, at least for gamers. The 3MB plug-in worked with all browsers and, crucially, didn’t require you to reload your webpage, much less restart your browser or enter any registration details.

Additional streaming functionality allowed for the further reduction of load times; something given away by the overall high quality of the graphics. The final key was the pricing: a $200 indie licence per seat for companies with turnover of less than $100,000; a $1,600 pro licence; or the most expensive $2,000 licence, which also includes an integrated version control server.

All told, then, it’s no surprise that year on year Unity has been growing from a secret success story into an ever more public one. Unity is currently being used to create three game portals, five virtual worlds and two MMOGs (Cartoon Network’s FusionFall and an as yet unannounced casual game from Age Of Conan publisher Funcom), while there are also several venture capital-funded projects making use of the technology, not to mention the thousands of licences sold to everyone from bedroom coders to established game studios.

There are other business implications from the model too. The 20-strong company, which splits development duties between studios in Denmark and Lithuania, plus a sales office in San Francisco, has only one full-time support person. It’s something that’s forced it to focus on ensuring the stability of releases, as well as nurturing a strong community.

What makes Unity particularly emblematic of today’s gaming culture, however, is the way it has moved from its web-player roots. First up was the ability for developers to create standalone PC and Mac games. Nothing too difficult there, although neat crossplatform features such as optimized graphics pipelines for DirectX 9 and OpenGL helped. Meanwhile, June saw the announcement of the company’s official status as a middleware provider for Wii, while there’s a current internal push to complete support for iPhone.

Of course, iPhone provides the clearest path for casual web developers to get their games on another relatively open platform, but studios are also using Unity to develop Wii titles. Finally, the company expects to add support for other consoles. Currently a Mac-only platform the platform is set to embrace PCs and Windows within the next year or two (at least according to its creators, who, while non-commital on the subject, have gone on record to say how beneficial for the firm a move like that would be).

Check out this very promising engine at

Saturday, 4 October 2008

New Grand Theft Auto game embraces non-photorealism

Some details have been released about the forthcoming Grand Theft Auto game on the kid-friendly DS console. It's going to be isometric, not 3D or top-down, like other GTA games, and more importantly, it's going to be cel-shaded.

New gameplay features seen in GTA IV remain, like the mobile phone, and the GPS directions system which saves you bringing up the map every ten seconds while driving. There's also a different system for your "wanted" rating. Instead of it dissipating if you hide, you're going to have to "disable police cars in any way possible". Aiming will involve the D-pad, but there's also a autotarget. Weapons include the everpresent flamethrower and a chaingun. Finally, there'll be "tasteful" minigames and the ability to upload stats via WiFi to the internet.

I'm looking forward to seeing this as someone with a strong research interest in cel-shaded graphics. It's always encouraging to see AAA titles such as the new Prince Of Persia (featured in an older post) and now this one embracing expressive, non-photorealistic rendering as it shows the commercial potential / dynamic the technology has.

Friday, 3 October 2008

UK Video Game Archive coming to National Media Museum

Academics at Nottingham Trent University are partnering with the Bradford, UK National Media Museum to launch the country's first National Videogame Archive, to preserve the history of the medium and recognize the significant contributions made by videogames to the diversity of popular culture across the globe.

The Archive will not only collect consoles and cartridges, but a broad range of items from across the industry, documenting games as a cultural phenomenon with ad campaigns, magazine reviews, and artwork. It will be housed and cared for at the museum and built and researched in collaboration with the University's Centre for Contemporary Play.

"We don’t just want to create a virtual museum full of code or screenshots that you could see online," says the Centre's Dr. James Newman. "The archive will really get to grips with what is a very creative, social and productive culture." The film industry was late to start building such a trove, says the University, meaning that "countless pieces of historically significant material have been lost forever."

The aim here is to start creating a historical preservation resource early. Paul Goodman, Head of Collections & Knowledge at the National Media Museum, says there will be challenges in exactly how to present the archive. "We must balance the necessary conservation requirements of these materials, with the need to allow the public to understand and interact with them both now and in the future, which is really the cornerstone of what we are trying to do," he says.

The National Videogame Archive will launch at this year’s GameCity 3 festival in Nottingham, for which Nottingham Trent University is the lead partner. Says Newman, "The National Videogame Archive is an important resource for preserving elements of our national cultural heritage.It will not only be a vital academic resource to support growing disciplines in videogame studies but will also be something that the general public can fully engage with."