Thursday, 30 July 2009

Teaching Game Design: Problems in Educating the Next Generation article

A must-read article to everybody who, like myself, is in games development higher education can be found at the excellent Gamasutra website, penned by Michael Prinke. The digital gaming business has grown to a multi-billion dollar industry that refuses to back down even in the face of broad economic problems (not to mention all-too often political criticisms). As such a mesmerizing and popular form of entertainment (and such a lucrative one) it's no wonder that students across the world flock towards it as a career interest.

Digital games, though, are still a very young entertainment medium and still a black box even to veterans who have been making games since the conception of the industry. It should come as no surprise, then, that techniques in teaching to this industry's needs are only in their infancy. What's more in so many peoples' minds games and education are polar opposites. As such, a gap exists between teaching to the professional goals of aspiring students and the academic goals of instructors, to an almost paradoxical degree.

The article tackles this gap by discussing, amongst other things, the common approaches to this educational sector (and also their strengths and weaknesses) such as the skills-oriented approach and the contrasting academically oriented approach. Well worth a read and some reflective thinking afterwards, it can be found here.

DS Improve, non-photorealistic real-time 3D models for decision-support

Just run into the work of a 3D architectural company called DS Improve, with the goal of bringing to the urban planning and construction industry an efficient and flexible tool which constitutes an alternative to traditional scale models. DS Improve recreates virtually the area of interest and takes care of the real estate project’s integration into the existing area. DS Improve also provides the internally developed custom technology as well as the high-end visualization hardware & display setup to present the real estate project in the best conditions, enabling free movement and observation of the elements of interest from different points of view.

What I mostly found interesting about their work however is how they are using (almost exclusively it seems) non-photorealistic rendering for their website showcases... Some nice bird's eye view cartoon-rendered can be found on their site (posted a couple of pics above). Check them (and their very cool NPR urban visualizations) out here.

Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Google Earth launches Google ... Moon game

You can now drive an Apollo Luna Rover just like the astronauts, on the moon, right in your browser. After the launch of the Moon in Google Earth and built on the Monster Milktruck Google Earth game (which I've posted about in the past) we now have the ability to explore an accurate moon landscape... It's a simple idea, take the code from Monster Milktruck, replace the truck with an Apollo lander and create a little GE API application web page. This what it looks like:

You can run the Apollo Lunar Rover game here.

One of the best things (and keeping in mind with the recent anniversary of the moon landing) is that you can see the tracks of each Apollo mission and re-drive the same paths. Well worth exploring and yet another great showcase of the Google Earth (or should that be Google Moon?!) capabilities.

Monday, 27 July 2009

CityEngine to Unity pipeline demo

I've blogged many times about the very impressive CityEngine, a unique professional tool for creating, visualisating and exporting cityscapes. As such it is of notable use to the games industry with a quick and easy route into either 3D Max or, as can be seen in the vid below, the Unity Engine.

Unity (blogged about this app/engine before, it's also one I plan to use for my teaching next year) supports a number of input formats, allowing for direct integration with CityEngine; with the following features:

- Direct model export to Unity via Autodesk FBX including textures, thus, generate'n'play your environment with a few clicks only
- Arbitrary mesh granularities such as per-material groups or editable scene nodes are possible thanks to CityEngine's various export options such as "merge by material" or "single node objects"
- Collider meshes: The CityEngine's CGA shape grammar is a perfect tool to generate and control low-res collider meshes in Unity (and they always adapt to model iterations)

See for full details.

Monday, 20 July 2009

Member of the International Program Committee for VAST 2009

I am now a member of the International Program Committee for the 10th VAST International Symposium on Virtual Reality, Archaeology and Cultural Heritage and the 7th Eurographics Workshop on Graphics and Cultural Heritage taking place in Malta in September 2009.

The main goal of this VAST is to bring together professionals from all fields to start a true dialogue on CH (Cultural Heritage) needs and ICT solutions and achieve a true integration of disciplines. This VAST aims at disseminating the idea of a more systematic integration of digital practices in research and education programs for CH, exploring good practices, guidelines and skills development possibilities to structure long-term initiatives and move towards a "digital agenda" for Archaeology, Libraries and CH.

Saturday, 18 July 2009

A guide for aspiring level designers article

Teaching level design for games at Bournemouth University last year revealed to me the many pitfalles undegrads can be prone to, particularly when using powerful tools like UnrealEd or UnrealScript. It's often very easy to get very sidetracked and go down the technical or (on the other extreme!) artistic route and forget what it is really about; designing an engaging and playable level which could belong to an actual commercial game title.

To that end, I've just come across a great article at the Gamasutra website by Josh Bridge which is intended for undergrads preparing levels for for their portfolio. There is some great advice and pointers on avoiding the popular mistakes usually made by students and is well worth a read.

Friday, 17 July 2009

The 10 best game engines of this (next) generation article

Webster's Dictionary defines a 'game engine' as 'the word you've entered isn't in the dictionary,' but if it were to define it, it would probably explain that a game engine is used as the overall architecture to develop and run a game, it gives developers tools to create the disparate elements of a videogame and then pull them together to create a functioning whole. From the renderer to the physics system, sound architecture, scripting, AI and networking, game engines either natively power every aspect of a game, or they allow other specialised middleware to slot into the game's framework. In any case, game engines are the workhorses of modern videogame development.

As you'd expect, there are plenty of engines out there, from very well-known names like Quake and Unreal, that developers and publishers can license at considerable expense, through to in-house proprietary engines created by studios specifically for their own titles. I've just across a very interesting article at the IGN website covering the very best engines in next-gen gaming. These are the big guns, proudly championed by their creators and delivering to you the finest gaming experiences on the planet. These are what turn good creative ideas into great gameplay.

The following engines are discussed in detail (with some very good accompanying videos showcasing contrasting differences or their individual evolutions):
- Rage engine
- CryEngine
- Naughty Dog engine
- The Dead engine
- Unreal engine (which I've used for teaching this year at Bournemouth University and I also intend to use next year)
- Avalanche engine
- IW engine
- Anvil engine
- EGO engine (showcased in the vid above for the DIRT 2 game)
- Geo-Mod engine

You can find the article here, it is a great read for anybody into this subject area, student or academic alike.

Tuesday, 14 July 2009

PhotoSketch, an image modelling plug-in for SketchUp

An interesting plugin I've discovered recently is courtesy of Brainstorm Technology LLC, the developer of PhotoSketch, a Google SketchUp plugin that enables the user to build 3D urban structures directly from photographs. The emphasis of the plug-in is on a new approach to create lightweight (i.e. relative low polygon) 3D models of existing buildings.

These models, which typically consist of a few hundred phototextured polygons, are well-suited for use in online gaming , mobile gaming and web-based applications such as Google Earth. The PhotoSketch plugin runs with the free or Pro versions of SketchUp 7 on Windows. Support for Mac platforms will be coming soon. for a 30-day trial download

Sony introduces academic PS3 dev kit

Speaking at the Games/Edu strand of the Develop Conference 2009, SCEE R&D's Sarah Lemarie has confirmed that a PS3 dev kit designed for academia is now in closed beta. "I have exciting news. We have started a PS3 Academic Development Programme, and we're refering to the dev kits as mini-dev kits, which I can best described as being in a closed beta stage at present. We'll be opening this beta up slowly," confirmed Lemarie, who works as as SCEE R&Ds education contact and support infrastructure development team manager.

The dev kit includes a consumer sized PS3 with a low power function, two USB ports, and a full SDK. "We're making PhyreEngine available as part of this program," added Lemarie. Interesting news, will wait to see what the price is however. Maybe Sony has not left it too late and has not missed the development boat after all (XNA has been around for quite awhile now!).

Thursday, 9 July 2009

Bournemouth University students come third in international game dev competition

I've blogged about this before but it is worth putting a conclusion to the story, especially seeing it's been a very successfull one. 4 students from Bournemouth University have come third in what is said to be the “world’s biggest student technology competition”, scooping $5000 in the process.

The Microsoft-endorsed Imagine Cup saw some 100,000 teams apply from around the world, according to event organisers. That number was whittled down to 140 teams (around 450 students) selected for the worldwide finals held in Cairo, Egypt. The design brief for the competition was to create “an inspirational and educational” video game to address and reflect the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (eight international objectives for reducing extreme poverty, child mortality rates and disease epidemics).

With that design brief in place, a team of four students at Bournemouth University formed dev group Sanguine Labs and designed a game called Defile of Eden, based on the basic theme that there are two types of people in the world; those who care for the earth and those who damage it.

I taught all four of the guys in their second year module (called Games) and I am very pleased to see them recognised on an international scale! Looking forward to having them back after their placement year, perhaps they can have another crack at this and win the first place then!

Saturday, 4 July 2009

Sony files patent for everyday-object motion technology

Between Nintendo's efforts, Microsoft's Project Natal and Sony's recent (and without a name as of yet) motion controller efforts, it seems that a lot of work has been done in replacing the standard game controller. However, according to a recent patent filed by Sony, the average game controller have one more thing to fear; everyday objects.

The patent shows off a Playstation Eye-based system that can recognize 3D objects and use them in-game based on various actions taken by the player, something Microsoft claims its Natal is also capable of doing. Various household items will be affected in different ways, the example given being a U-shaped object that, when turned upwards, becomes a sword, versus a U-shaped block when facing downwards (think Covenant Energy Sword from Halo). Apparently the system is able to scan a whole range of objects and store them in a database for future use.

More news on this when Sony makes a formal announcement, it does look very interesting however (if and when it comes to fruition).

Tips for texturing for games

On both units I taught this year at Bournemouth University, the single most complex area to grasp for students was texturing. Whereas it was straightforward to teach modellinng, animation and level design principles to undegrads, games texturing is an area where most of them struggled. I've recently come across a very interesting online article at 3D World magazine's website which consists of five top leading artists revealing tricks of the to create quality textures for modern games.

These include understanding channels, quick variant texturing, using Render To Texture efficiently, use of emissive maps, using ambient occlusion maps, Photoshop filters, parallax mapping and indexed colours (amongs others).

This excellent article is well worth checking out and can be found at