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

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

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 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

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.

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

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