Thursday, 21 January 2010

PhD studenship in non-photorealistic rendering research at Bournemouth University

There is a fully funded 3-year PhD studentship at Bournemouth University to start in Oct 2010 under my supervision (with Dr Tian Feng as the second supervisor). The deadline for submissions of application forms and supporting documents is the 30th of April.

The PhD subject for this studentship is "Evaluating expressive computer graphics rendering using brain-computer user interfaces". It is today a traditional exercise to view the end purpose of computer graphics techniques as photorealism, which can be defined as the generation of synthetic images that cannot be distinguished from reality. After decades of research striving for this, and given appropriate resources in hardware, modern renderers can now produce results very close to photographic images. Improved efficiency for this, as well as further advances, is still possible but at the same time there is an increasing amount of research focusing not on approximation of the real world but on the eventual purpose of the depiction and also all of the communicative aspects this can convey, thus influencing a variety of important factors. These can vary from low-level perceptual processes and emotional responses to cognitive workloads and information interpretation.

This relatively new research field is called non-photorealistic rendering (or NPR in short) and, while most traditional computer graphics research still focuses on the production and assessment of photorealism, NPR concentrates on viewer engagement by the use of stylization, abstraction and expressiveness. These characteristics can be found on all different varieties of non-photorealistic rendering in computer graphics, as well as an assortment of different influences from 2D human artwork, which itself dates back centuries and carries inherent insights in the psychology of depiction and related observation. While non-photorealistic graphics should not be seen as competition for the challenge towards ultimate realism, it does remain an unexplored alternative that has the potential of improving several aspects of many application areas where communication of certain types of visual information using 3D photorealism can be problematic, detrimental and inefficient.

This project plans to explore this potential of NPR by using new modalities that have recently been available to researchers and public combined; those of Brain Computer Interfaces (BCIs). There will be a series of experiments conducted using this hardware and a variety of contrasting NPR/photorealistic stimuli. This will provide data which for the first time are not based on subjective (self-reports, preferences etc.) or even objective data (for example task completion times etc.) but on actual brainwaves (EEGs in this particular case) that will then be interpreted and analysed in order to assess the effect of expressive rendering on human subjects in a variety of situations/application areas.

Please email me at for more details. Also note this position is open worldwide to applicants with a good first degree (1st or 2:1) and/or a Masters.

Thursday, 14 January 2010

Precise motion control prototype for PC gaming

At the recent CES 2010 high-end PC gaming accessory manufacturer Razer, in conjunction with Sixense, have teamed up to present a precise motion control prototype for the PC. The companies have also enlisted the help of videogame developer Valve.

The prorotype operates by using an electromagnetic field sent out from a single transmitter. Thus the two-controller setup is able to create an exact one-to-one duplication of movements onscreen. The technology can support gesture-based commands and more impressively can also detect location in space along six axes.

The Razer Sixense Ultra Precise Motion Controller is to be available later this year and is a great example of the research going on into novel gaming interaction techniques. The vid above shows a recent demonstration of the prototype and its potential.

Navteq moves into 3D laser mapping technology of urban areas

Navteq has begun collecting data to construct detailed 3D models and maps of the United States, the digital-mapping specialist recently announced. This is facilitated by fitting on data collection vehicles a system called Navteq True, consisting of a LIDAR contraption that uses lasers to construct 3D maps of the world out of a sea of data points.

Additionally to the lasers are high-resolution panoramic cameras and devices called Inertial Measurement Units (IMUs) that can precisely gauge road curvature and slope, which are the other part of the equation of the Navteq True solution. With the process under completion, Navteq has begun selling what it calls Enhanced 3D City Models which can be used in navigation devices to give people in cars or pedestrians a better graphical idea of their surroundings.

The Enhanced 3D City Models are at the moment available for the United States, with other continents to arrive later this year. It sounds like a great project (and let's not forget that the company is owned by Nokia) which could have a great impact on 3D urban pedestrian navigation. I will post updates when I get the chance to experience some of the city models created.

Epic Games develops a mobile device focus

Engine and software giant Epic Games has just joined industry consortium Khronos, a consortium with a collective interest in the creation of API standards such as OpenGL and OpenGL ES. As a member of Khronos’ board, Epic now has a say in determining the evolution of graphics standards on key platforms including mobiles (OpenGL ES). This comes after another piece of news which I've blogged about where Epic recently announced that it would be releasing a mobile version of its Unreal Engine 3 for the iPhone 3GS.

In joining Khronos, the Gears of War creators are in the company of the likes of Apple, id Software, Sony, AMD and Nvidia. This is a move that could see increasingly great quality for real-time graphics (and games) for mobile devices while at the same time signifying the importance of the mobile market in the games industry.

Broken Sword heading to the iPhone

Revolution Software has just announced that their best known game, Broken Sword is now heading to the iPhone. Broken Sword: The Director's Cut is an update on the adventure classic, similar to theremake of Beneath a Steel Sky, which has been very successfull and has prompted the company to pursue the remastering of old classic titles further.

The game follows the adventure of Nico Collard as she races against time to uncover a sinister conspiracy linked to an ancient secret and includes some all new cut-scenes and animation. Apparently the game will be on iTunes store before March, can't wait personally as it's always been one of my favourite adventure games and it would be great to have a mobile version of it.

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Nokia's location-based driving movile game with real-world maps

At the recent CES at Las Vegas, Nokia announced details of its new location-based racing game. Ovi Maps Racing uses Ovi Maps to form the tracks you'll be racing your cars around. The racing itself is in a top-down view resembling the classic Micro Machines. The phone's GPS function can track down where the player lives and allow him/her to use 2D maps of the local area for the game. Additionally, the game will also let you do the same for anywhere else in the world.

A very cool concept, sadly only in 2D at the moment. Could however see this working in 3D at some point in the near future (interface with Google Earth?) which would give it even more value. Check it out at the video above.

Thursday, 7 January 2010

Layar, augmented reality application for the iPhone

There's a number of location-based augmented reality applications available for the iPhone (which I'll leave for a future post) but the cream of the crop has got to be Layar.

Layar combines GPS, camera and compass to identify your surroundings and overlay information on screen, in real time (in the familiar way that augmented reality applications do). This involves a range of information that can be found in a typical urban environment from demographics to cultural heritage descriptions and service-oriented data. It is also available for Android apart from the iPhone platform (3GS only).

Other features include options in the menu such as ‘Featured’, which has extra layers that were selected by the startup and ‘Popular’, obviously based on usage. There is also integration with Google Local Search which lets you launch searches for places you find using the ‘Reality Browser’ and a host other possibilities such as interface with Twitter (and a number of other applications).

Check the example video out, it has a great example of another application area for Layar (or indeed any mobile AR app) which is mobile location-based property search. The application can be downloaded for free from the iTunes store and is expected to take off in the next few months so it is well worth checking out.

ArtRage painting/sketchpad application

For the aspiring artists with tablets and strong painting skills, one of the applications that has been getting a lot of praise from word of mouth on a variety of forums is ArtRage.

ArtRage allows you to paint with oils and watercolors, sketch with pencils, spray stickers over your canvas and much more. It also makes use of stencils and rulers, letting you create shapes or smooth curves freehand. The artist can also trace and reference images by loading photos to recreate either by eye or by letting ArtRage select colors whilst painting. Other features include Layers and Layer Groups, Layer Blend Modes compatible with the PSD file format, plug-in Filter suport and more.

Well worth checking out, whilst the almighty Photoshop still offers a lot of these features, many people are exploring the benefits of applications like ArtRage (particularly considering the huge difference in pricing too between this and the Adope app).

DL3D XToon shader

The DL3D XToon shader is a cartoon shader (XTOON stands for extended toon shader) based on the articles of French researchers (Pascal Barla, Joƫlle Thollot and Adrien Bousseau amongst others). DL3D XToon is working as a mental ray 3.5+ shader for mental ray standalone, compatible with 3ds Max, Maya and Softimage XSI (amongst others). More info and dowloads here.

The shader is well worth checking out (you need version of 3DS Max 8 upwards for the Maxers amongst you), as are the individual publications from the three researchers mentioned above (I've listed their personal websites below).

Mirror's Edge on the iPhone, urban modelling exploration for the Apple device

I've blogged before about the impressive urban modelling of Electronic Arts' Mirror's Edge. It turns out the game will in 2010 see an iPhone version which while scaled down to fit the hardware of the Apple device will retain the complex 3D virtual city back drops.

Really looking forward to this one, the original game got some flak but everybody recognised the potential of exploration in urban locations the title offered and I can't wait to see how that translates to a mobile device. Check out a demo of the game in the video above.

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Google unleashes its first phone

Google has finally officially unveiled its new Nexus One Android handset. The handset runs the latest version of the Android OS and has been made by HTC. It has a 3.7-inch touchscreen and runs off Qualcomm's 1GHz Snapdragon chipset.

Predictably the Nexus One features all Google's apps, including Gmail, Google Voice and Google Maps Navigation. Also a new version of Google Earth was also unveiled at the event, with some quality 3D fly-throughs demonstrated. There's also a trackball for navigation below the touchscreen.

The new device seems promising although it will be interesting to see how it fares against competitors with an established foothold like the iPhone (the 3GS has many more applications plus better controls -Nexus doesn't do multitouch- and battery life) .

Beneath A Steel Sky iPhone nominated for Best Retro Game 2009

Revolution Software's Beneath A Steel Sky for the iPhone, one of the finest adventure games ever and a must buy for all iPhone users is nominated in the 2009 Best App Ever Awards. The updated adventure gaming classic is shortlisted in the Best Retro Game Reborn category.

The game can be bought for £1.79 from the iTunes store. More importantly, Revolution software seems to be delighted from its sales so far and is now talking up the need for more games with a sophisticated narrative in the near future. This is great news since the company is days away from announcing its first release of 2010, let's hope it will be another mobile adventure game with the quality of Beneath A Steel Sky.

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

iPhone urban art?

Something I just came across, artist Jorge Colombo makes pictures of New York street life using the Brushes application (bought for £2.99 from the iTunes store) on his iPhone. The results are very impressive and visually appealing, depicting urban life on a mobile phone in an artistic way.

You can check out some of Jorge's pictures here, makes me very curious about using the Brushes application myself I have to say! Digital/non-photorealistic urban art is always of interest to me because of my research and I really like the potential of small applications like these.

Monday, 4 January 2010

XBox Live on Windows Mobile

The newest mobile gaming rumour for 2010 is that Microsoft is planning to tie Windows Mobile into its Xbox Live community. This news comes via a job advert for a Principal Program Manager -LIVE Engagement Job. Microsoft is also recruiting a Software Test Engineer in this area leading to increasing speculation on this...

Hopefully (seeing this is rumours at best at this point!) this is a Microsoft move to push Windows Mobile, a now ailing platform which competes with the iPhone, Android, BlackBerry and other smartphone platforms. 2009 wasn't the best of years for Windows Mobile, hopefully this move will better its fortunes in 2010.

Borderlands reaches 2 million copies

One of the finest cel-shaded, non-photorealistically rendered games to have emerged has recently reached 2 million copy sales. Borderlands, according to a December 2009 Take Two's financial report (the company that published the title) is now officially one of the best-selling games with an alternative type of shading.

Released in October last year and classed as a role-playing first person science fiction shooter Borderlands is available on the PC, XBox 360 and PS3 platforms. Always interesting to see cel-shaded games performing well in the market myself, you can check a promo video of the game out above.

Space Ace now on the iPhone

Whilst trying to complete Dragon's Lair on my iPhone (see post below), I've also realised that the other famous Don Bluth game is also available on a brand new version for Apple's device. Originally released in 1984, 4 months after Dragon's Lair, Space Ace is based on the same premise of using hand-drawn cartoon artwork and minimun directional interaction to tell an animated story.

Well worth checking out if you're into cel-shaded animation, Dragon's Lair and Don Bluth's artwork, the game can be bought from the iTunes store. Although I hear it is rather short, it should still be a worthwhile gaming investment for iPhone users.