Monday, 22 February 2010

Windows Phone and Bing Maps (or Virtual Earth) integration

Last week at Mobile World Congress 2010 in Barcelona, Spain Windows Phone 7 Series was announced by Microsoft. In addition to that however Microsoft also revealed they are working on an integration of Windows Phone and Bing Maps (which is essentially the rebrand of Virtual Earth, Microsoft's answer to Google Earth, quite an unfortunate change of name if you ask me incidentally!).

The naming aside, Bing Maps has a lot of potential, particularly if the 3D maps Virtual Earth used are also added to the Windows Phone version. Bing Maps also has, in addition to 3D, a StreetView panorama-like feature too, called StreetSide.

Bing Maps, if ported with its full desktop features to mobile could be a great rival to Android's Google Earth and Nokia's Ovi Maps in quality. It should be mentioned Bing Maps is already available on the iPhone/iPod Touch (minus the 3D maps sadly, for the time being anyway). Another sign there's fight left in the Windows Mobile brand?

Sunday, 21 February 2010

Crysis on the iPhone/iPad via OnLive?

Some more recent news about the eagerly awaited cloud-computing OnLive game technology (for which I have blogged before several times), due to go into the second round of beta testing. CEO Steve Perlman has just confirmed support for iPhone by showing a brief demo of (the very resource heavy) Crysis running very smoothly on the Apple device. This was done at the recent DICE summit in Las Vegas.

Steve also confirmed support for the iPad (although he didn't name the Apple device, referring to tablets in general). It will be incredibly interesting to see OnLive finally launched as it could be a huge step forwards in remote gaming.

Street Fighter 4 coming to the iPhone

The most successfull game with stylised rendering of the last few years, Street Fighter 4, is finally getting an iPhone port. Capcom has recently confirmed this after months of rumours. The first pics (see below) look impressive, especially since it appears that the unique rendering style has been retained with all models scaled down versions of their original counterparts.

It will be interesting to see how playable it is using iPhone controls, I had to buy a joystic in order to properly enjoy the XBox version, but this is great news indeed. I am eagerly awaiting to see this on on the iTunes store.

Saturday, 20 February 2010

Tobii eye-trackers

On Wednesday I attended a one-day seminar at City University in London on eye-tracking delivered from Acuity ETS, resellers of the Tobii eye-trackers. The seminar was very interesting as it demonstrated (through comprehensive live demos) just how accurate, non-invasive and expansive in terms of applications this technology has now become. I was also very impressed with the software that came with it, allowing you to do a substantial part of the statistical analysis of the data collected.

In terms of recording and analysing visual attention eye-tracking has come a long way, and I left the seminar with many ideas on how I could use one for usability research using 3D stimuli. An example of this, sent to me by one of the guys at Acuity ETS, is the vid above which demonstrates in-game advertisement visual attention recordings (in a variety of titles such as PGR3, Fifa 07 etc.).

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Climate Challenge 2010

A new £1 million videogame project, called Climate Challenge 2010, is looking to encapsulate the complex realities of climate change by handing the control of the earth to the player. The title is developed by Oxford studio Red Redemption and is based on a turn-based micro-management concept allowing people to play god for two hundred years.

The most important part however of the game is the fact that the engine incorporates the work Dr Myles Allen's model, from Oxford University to simulate the climate change. The work has been published in the prestigious journal Nature.

The game itself will be published during the summer, released on the PC platform. Quite how timely this is after the Copenhagen summit is anyone's guess. Having said that, seeing scientific models rigorously applied to a game is always an exciting prospect.

XBox Live going Windows Mobile/Phone

An announcement today has revealed that Xbox Live will be apart of the next generation of Microsoft’s smartphone Windows OS. This could be a massive boost for Microsoft's flailing mobile platform which has come under a lot of criticism of late and is also confronted with increasing competition too.

This will include playable XBL titles and popular Live features such as Achievements and access to a user's current gamer profile and avatar. Initially simultaneous multiplayer gaming is not set to be included although there are steps towards that direction with turn-based feature integration.

It should also be pointed out here that Microsoft is dropping the Windows Mobile title for the new version of the OS, calling it Windows Phone 7 (check out more of its features in the vid above). The first handsets are expected out before the end of 2010.

Monday, 15 February 2010

Olympic game facilities in 3D

A few days in these, I should point out that Google has made available all nine venues (54 buildings in total) that are used in the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics, completely modelled in 3D using SketchUp and available for viewing in Google Earth's 3D Buildings layer (or in the Google 3D Warehouse).

These have also been incorporated the models into the official website of the games. An impressive use of the technology, showcasing how far we've come in architectural visualization in the last few years.

nVidia teams up with Audi for 3D vehicular satnav

Vehicular navigation systems are advancing technologically as GPUs for them are getting better. A great example of that is nVidia's move to sign a deal with Audi to supply the GPU for its new in-dash navigation and entertainment system.

The system will feature amongst other more car-related features Google Earth, 3D topography and real-time traffic reporting and navigation. This will start shipping with the Audi A8 in 2011 and will be on all of the manufacturer's cars in the model year 2012.

Nokia's Ovi Maps taking off?

Nokia has recently announced that more than 1.4 million people have downloaded its new version of Ovi Maps in the week since it was made available on 21st January.The application promises free walk & drive navigation and is Nokia's answer to Google's release of its own Google Maps Navigation on Android.

The difference is that the Nokia was initially available for more than just one device (like Google's was). This created the positive side-effect of the huge number of people using it but also that of the creation of potential for add-on location based applications. Nokia plans to preload the new version of Ovi Maps on all its GPS-capable phones, including local country map data starting from March.

It should be noted that at the moment Ovi Maps supports 3D views as well although only models of landmarks are currently used (something which will no doubt be expanded upon in the future).

MyTown iPhone app

US firm Booyah is behind the very cool MyTown iPhone social location app offering all the usual location-based features that applications of the ilk serve up. This one also adds another dimension by letting people buy locations and then get rent from other players.

The applications very successfull as it now has over 450,000 registered users with the players now being able to buy power-ups using in-app payments so that they can manage their virtual property portfolio.

MyTown is still US-only and I am also very impressed with the cel-shaded urban feel of the visualizations (which is the main reason I've singled it out). Will be interesting to see it in this country too.

Sunday, 14 February 2010

Hot Potato, mobile pervasive game

Ioannis Chatzigiannakis and a few colleagues of his at the University of Patras in Greece have created a game called (very aptly!) Hot Potato. The game works by using the "hot potato" concept as a kind of virtual timer that is passed between mobile devices that players hold. During the gameplay, the hot potato counts down to zero before it explodes. The person holding the potato at that time is ejected from the game. All players (and the game can support up to an impressive 14) can "throw" the hot potato to another player by moving close and making a throwing action with their arm, while holding their mobile device. Moving too far from the other players increases the chances that a new hot potato will be generated on your device (thus creating an incentive to keep the players together).

The game has been created using Sun's Spot sensor network device, which has an 180MHz ARM 9 processor with 512KB of RAM and 4MB Flash. The device is also IEEE 802.15.4 compliant and relies on a CC2420 Chipcon transceiver for communication. It has two buttons and sensors such as an accelerometer.

Hot potato would make an incredible iPhone app I think, you can read the publication describing the game and user studies (conducted in a variety of settings, including indoors ones) in more detail here

Thursday, 11 February 2010

Sky broacasts football game in 3D for the first time

Sky recently broadcasted a live Premier League football match in 3D in nine pubs around the UK. The match was between Arsenal and Manchester United, viewable in 3D in pubs in London, Manchester, Cardiff and Edinburgh. First reports seem to indicate this was a very successfull enterprise.

Sky has got more plans like that, such as capturing a couple of games of the Six Nations championship in 3D and then showing at cinemas around the UK. In addition to that the 2010 World Cup is also be filmed in the format. Has Avatar, after many years of false starts, made 2010 the year of 3D?

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

1000: Find 'Em All!!: GPS, location-based game

1000: Find 'Em All for the iPhone is a location-based game using GPS with a fairly original concept; while it looks like a Nintendo classic such as Zelda and Pokemon (viewing the action from the above, you have to drag a sprite around the screen exploring a 2D world), it is a GPS game with two different ways in which you can use connectivity features to bring variety in the gameplay.

First of all, you can use GPS to identify 'gifters' (wi-fi hotspots) in the real world. These appear as characters in the game that hand over presents when you tap on them. Travelling around (in the real world that is) will hook you up with different hotspots and therefore different gifters as well. Also, the game can create presents for the player to collect in the real world. This is facilitated by items appearing on Google Maps. The game is well worth checking out as a novel take in GPS gaming, a medium often talked about but with no real commercial success as of yet.

Myst sequels coming to the iPhone

I have been spending time rediscovering Myst on my iPhone (one of the seminal adventure games), so it was great to read today that the two sequels for it, Riven and Myst Online: Uru Live are also getting iPhone adaptations.

Riven picked up immediately where Myst left off but Myst Online: Uru Live was quite different as it was envisaged as a massively multiplayer online adventure game. This, because of the timing, never happened on the PC platform so it will be quite exciting to see whether the iPhone adaptation takes off in that respect...

Monday, 8 February 2010

NAVTEQ capture of 3D maps in Helsinki

The Nokia-endorsed video below demonstrates what I referred to on a previous post, the NAVTEQ capturing of street maps (in Helsinki) by using specialized hardware. It's probably a bit lengthier than I would have liked but I have to say that this (driving around while capturing 3D maps!) is one great job!

The video explains the process quite well including how the camera capturing hardware operates (explained in a previous post here). Well worth watching, I am eagerly awaiting NAVTEQs 3D urban models to be made available as it looks like they will be of very high quality.

Sunday, 7 February 2010

Emotiv headset review article on Joystiq

I've just read an article on Joystiq which also mirrors my thoughts and first experience on the Emotive BCI headset fairly closely. The potential of this is almost mouth-watering, but the reality is that trying to perform simple actions can result in great frustration after a while.

Quoting from the article: "The EPOC is not a mass market device for people looking for a turnkey telekinesis solution. It's an expensive toy for people to experiment with, or a cheap device for scientists to do research with. It's fun to show off to your friends but probably not something anyone will want to play with for very long. The signs were there from the beginning that the EPOC might not live up to its hype, but with full page ads in places like the pro-transhumanist magazine H+ and promises of sci-fi technology in the here and now, Emotiv clearly sees geeky gadget enthusiasts like me as its target audience. With all that promise, all those allusions to nerd icons like the Jedi, it's hard not to feel a little taken advantage of. Seldom has the early adopter tax (one I've paid often) felt more onerous."

However, unlike the writer of the article I am definitely not prepared to give up on the BCI technology which is in its infancy and will develop further over the next few years. At the moment it feels as too experimental (since it is!).

Would it not be interesting to see this technology being the mainstream interaction route in a couple of decades time? Devices such as Emotiv will then be the equivalent of an Atari 2600 to today's PS3/XBox 360 users...

You can read the full Joystiq article here.

Saturday, 6 February 2010

iPhone game development engines roundup article

I am teaching iPhone game development this term at Bournemouth University and have just come across a great (though sadly all too short) article at Develop Magazine's online site which lists the most popular game development middleware engines for Apple's device.
These include Shiva, Unity, Torque 2D and Borque 3D. A list of features, prices plus pros and cons is covered for all of them and it makes for a very interesting read, particularly when considering that key to minimising risk in game production is spending as little time and money as possible (and middleware is a crucial part of this). For what it's worth, I am using Unity for my teaching at the University but the other three seem well worth checking out!

You can read the article here.

Brain Maze, mobile brainwave game

Mobile-games researcher Dr Paul Coulton and PhD student Will Bamford from Lancaster University UK have recently unveiled their new game ‘Brain Maze’, in which players use ‘tilt’ controls and a brain-wave reading headset (NeuroSky's MindSet) to progress a marble around a course.

At certain key checkpoints around the maze, the phone (Nokia N97) picks up electromagnetic waves from the player’s brain. Brain Maze uses alpha waves, which are associated with a meditative state, and beta waves, which are associated with an attentive state, to control access through the mind gates that form part of the game. If the players want to get through the mind gates then they literally have to think about it.

Of course learning to adjust a mental state during the game can take some practice and people often find one state easier to control than others (this appears to be the biggest question mark over this technology anyway).

I've just had my first go on BCI a few days ago (the Emotiv one rather than the NeuroSky one used for this research) and I intend to feature more posts in this area which is fast becoming a 'hot topic' for gaming and interaction alike.

The Attractive City Generator

A more unorthodox approach at 3D city modelling, called the 'Attractive City Generator' has been developed by Sofia Georgakopoulou, Edyta Augustynowicz and Stefanie Sixt as part of The Masters of Advanced Studies in CAAD course at ETH in Zurich.

This approach explores urban design methodologies with the use of parametric programs based on object oriented-programming. The results, as can be seen from the excellent video which takes you through the process of creating different parts of the city, are very interesting and incredibly original in their methodology.

Creating a 3D urban environment in 3DS Max 2010

I have in the past featured articles on using plug-ins such as Greeble and 3D Studio Max for the creation of digital cities. Just came across a new video tutorial which is creates a similar effect but this time with no plug-ins.

This makes use of the "Make quadrilaterals" option within ProBoolean. The quadrilaterial function helps to cut mesh into blocks to be used for builings. Well worth checking out in the low res video above, or even better here to download the high-res video file.

Putting webcam images onto Google Earth 3D models

Austin Abrams, a PhD candidate at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, US has developed a method to replace the texture of virtual buildings on Google Earth from the Archive of Many Outdoor Scenes (AMOS), a collection of live feeds from nearly 1000 webcams streaming from various sites around the world.

This application called Live3D, maps 2D webcam images onto a 3D model of a location or landmark. For example, at night it clothes the Eiffel Tower in Paris, France, with the samedarkened surface seen by a webcam. This operates by using the system's web interface, where the user outlines a region of the webcam image. Then, another window shows the Google Earth view of the scene, where the user repeats the process (this time in 3D). The program then takes whatever appears in the outlined region of the 2D image and warps it in order to fit the 3D geometry.

An incredibly interesting project, check it out in more detail by viewing the video above.

Ghosts N' Goblins on the iPhone

One of the games I spent an incredible amount of time when I was younger on coin-ops now sees an iPhone release, albeit with the required facelift. The classic Ghouls N' Ghosts is now rebadged as Ghosts N' Goblins: Gold Knights. It is a new addition to the long-running series, which introduces a new hero, Lancelot. Character models seem to have been upgraded to 3D while the game is still 2D platformer, sticking to the original.

It's also on offer at the moment at the iTunes store for £0.59, not sure how long that is going to be for so for any retro gaming fans that fancy another go at the classic Ghouls N' Ghosts, this is more than recommended.

Tuesday, 2 February 2010

IPC member for IASTED HCI 2010

I am now a member of the International Program Committee for the IASTED HCI 2010 conference to take place in Maui, Hawaii in August 2010. Submission deadline is April the 1st.

The Fifth IASTED International Conference on Human-Computer Interaction (IASTED-HCI 2010) will be a major forum for international researchers and professionals to present their latest research, results, and ideas in all areas of human-computer interaction, covering a wide range of topics on the subject from virtual and augmented reality to mobile and ubiquitous computing issues. Its aim is to strengthen relations between industry, research laboratories, and universities.