Friday, 25 June 2010

Game-Based Learning 2010 event, thoughts and videos link

I've been recently revisiting the Game-Based Learning 2010 conference website to go through some of the talks there as most of the key ones are now included there in video format. While I was there for the duration of the conference (March 29th-30th) key points of many of the talks reveal themselves in hindsight and it's always a good idea to try and go over them again, particularly if the talk has been from an influential person.

The conference itself was very good in terms of organisation (plenty of breaks and socialising/networking opportunities). Location; for anyone that's never been to the Barbican in London, where a lot of conferences are hosted (including this one), it is a great central UK capital location too, and one used for a lot of TV/movie filming, check the recent Ashes To Ashes BBC series! My only minor gripe is that at times the mix between research and more general talks was a bit uneasy. This however is probably inevitable in a conference with such a broad scope (or maybe I am personally just too used to academic conferences!).

The talks I've singled out and am listing below are the ones I found most interesting (although to be fair there were no weak talks that I witnessed); Tim Ryland's talk on game-based learning in schools, Jesse Schell's closing views on the medium, Richard Wilson's take on the UK game industry's approach to it, Ed Vaizey's (who was then UK opposition and is now in a ministerial post) supporting presentation for the sector and finally Alice Taylor's Channel 4 (UK TV channel) list of projects that use games for more than entertainment.

All videos are now on iTunes (here), that is all 60 of them. I would urge you to check them all out, including the ones I have missed out and also, if you have an interest in game-based learning, to attend next year's event too.

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

CityEngine used in new Prince Of Persia movie

Disney's new Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time movie features a city named Alamut as a digital set, partly created in the pre-production phase by the procedural urban modelling CityEngine application, for which I have blogged about many times.

Based on the popular computer game of the same title, during the design of the impressive Arabic city during the pre-production of the film, CityEngine was applied for the quick ramp-up of the digital set and in order to test the layout. Following this, in the subsequent post-production phase, the final shots were conducted by MPC using their own tools. A great example of how automatic urban modelling tools are being increasingly used today for high-profile projects.

Old adventure game remakes

If like me you have been weaned on Sierra Online adventure games from the 80s/early 90s then you will rejoice at the news that Infamous Adventures is remaking, as a free download, the second Space Quest game, Vohaul's Revenge with VGA graphics and point-and-click interface (the original had a text parser). This is to be available sometime this year.

Infamous Adventures has already remade King's Quest III in a similar manner (again as a free download) and also intends to work on an original King's Quest title called Kingdom Of Sorrow (taking place between the 2nd and 3rd title of the series).

Another company is also releasing free remakes of classic Sierra titles; called AGD Interactive they have already worked on remakes of King's Quest 1 and 2 and Quest For Glory 2 (one of my favourite games of all time). Again, well worth checking out.

This is a great chance to discover or re-discover these games that shaped adventure games, a genre that sadly today does not enjoy the degree of popularity of other ones but has had enormous influence in contemporary gaming.

3D urban model on the iPad

This is the first example of a 3D urban model on the new Apple device (which I saw up close for the first time last week). The video below looks very impressive indeed and is courtesy of Mobile 3D City using datasets by a company called Blom.

I have blogged about Mobile 3D City and their excellent iPhone Paris virtual city application before (check the post from last summer here) and the video above highlights in great detail the potential of using the iPad over the iPhone for 3D urban environment visualization. It'll be interesting to see Google catch up with this (their new iPad Google Earth app does not support 3D yet) and push the boundaries of this further as the Mobile 3D City app is single-city only at the moment.

Sunday, 20 June 2010

Gamr7 and Allegorithmic join forces

Gamr7 has recently announced the integration of Allegorithmic's Substance Air smart texturing system in Gamr7's procedural city generation middleware, Ürban PAD (both of which I have blogged about previously). This integration is intended to enhance the texturing options available in Ürban PAD in terms of creating even more realistic and believable 3D urban environments.

Substance Air functionalities will be available for general release in Ürban PAD's 3.0 version (currently at version 2.5) which typically includes a 30-day free trial of the application.

Blender 2.49 scripting

For everyone interested in Blender-driven modelling and animation there is now a new book by Michael J. Anders called Blender 2.49 Scripting. The book covers areas such as gaining control of all aspects of Blender using the powerful Python language, creating complex meshes programmatically and applying materials and textures, automating the rendering process and extending Blender's image manipulation capabilities, extending Blender's built-in editor plus also interacting with version control systems and storing render results on a FTP server.

I can recommend this publication to anyone using Blender as it could push their skills forwards considerably in the scripting direction. The book can be bought from here while, in case you want to sample it, there is a free chapter made available by the publisher here.

Yell urban mapping service

Yell offers yet another 3D urban mapping/navigation service which, while in beta at the moment and with not very extensive coverage (Birmingham, Leeds, London and Manchester are covered at the moment), is characterised by the almost seamless mix of 3D bird's-eye models and Street-View like street-level panoramas.

You can switch from 3D City to Street Cam view allowing for this, all within a Flash-based viewer (the only drawback of which is the low resolution). Yell promises to extend their coverage as soon as possible. The hybrid 3D/panorama concept is very impressive and attractive (see the vid above) so it would be very interesting indeed to see this pushed forward and contrasted against Google Maps.

Biometrics in games?

Ubisoft has recently revealed Innergy, a new peripheral that monitors body readings and aims to lower stress. Mentioned in Ubisoft’s E3 press conference, is the Innergy Sensor, a biofeedback tool capable of measuring heart rate variability, blood flow and pulse.

The game associated with the sensor guides players through a sequence of scenarios that help identify sources of stress. It then proceeds to offer a range of breathing exercises designed to relieve this stress, while at the same time providing an illustrated diary so that progress is monitored.

Biometrics in the form of eye-tracking and BCIs have been around in games for a while now but efforts such as this one or Nintendo's Vitality Sensor seem to further up the ante (the latter is pictured above). All in all this creates many new exciting opportunities for conducting usability studies in the field.

Saturday, 12 June 2010

Festival Of Design And Innovation at Bournemouth University

On the 24-28 June 2010 Bournemouth University celebrates the work of our talented final year students at the Festival of Design & Innovation. This extensive showcase will feature work in the areas of Product Design, Industrial Design, Design Engineering, Fashion & Textiles, Interior Design, Computer Aided Product Design, Sustainable Graphics & Packaging and Music and Audio Technology.

The Festival continues to embody the spirit of design and innovation at BU in it’s 18th year. Throughout the Festival, designs with the possibility to make a real impact on our everyday quality of life will be displayed publicly for the first time.

Typically the event attracts over 1500 visitors including talent scouts from the BBC's Dragons' Den and companies such as Dyson. This year more than 170 designs and prototypes from our comprehensive range of design courses will be on display and give a real flavour of what design at BU is all about.

There are also other side-events as part of the Festival such as a School And Colleges day, which is tailored towards exposing the work carried out at BU towards prospective students and their teachers. I, for example, am involved in presenting the BSc Games Technology course content to these audiences on a dedicated event on the 28th of June.

Learn more about the event here.

Mobile version of Second Life?

Linden Lab, the company behind virtual world Second Life is now mentioning, for the first time, a plan to launch mobile applications (third-party companies have already attempted this on smartphones). Amongst other strategic goals such as turning the application into a browser-based experience and integrating with other social apps such as (most notably) Facebook, Linden Lab state in a press release that "investments intended to enhance ease of use and participation in its virtual goods marketplace through browser-based and mobile applications".

The company recently restructured (with 30% of their staff getting their marching papers) plus buzz on Second Life has significantly diminished in the last year or so therefore it remains to be seen whether this is to be implemented or not. It does appear to be a move to put Second Life back on the map (and an iPhone version would definitely be really cool in my opinion).

Layar 3.5 version update

Layar, an augmented reality startup I have mentioned before in this blog, has now updated its Android app to version 3.5. This version of Layar is the first one to get its brand new stream feature (the iPhone version is soon to receive this as well).

This feature makes it easier for Layar users to locate AR content around their current whereabouts. It operates thusly; when the application is launched, the users are presented with a list of nearby content. The current state of affairs was to have to search for specific topics or layers so the reasoning behind the improvement is obvious.

Developers have now apparently created more than 700 layers for its AR browser, while the app itself is serving 2.4 million virtual objects a day to its users. As Layar appears to be at the forefront of mobile AR at the moment it is interesting to observe that the medium is finally taking off, with many exciting possibilities there to be further explored.

Sunday, 6 June 2010

Unity Creative magazine

The first issue of a magazine dedicated to Unity development is now out, called Unity Creative. This digital magazine aimed at game Artist and developers and features articles, tutorials and more. The first issue comes with a number of ready-to-use Unity skyboxes plus articles programming for beginners in C#, optimization, publishing from Unity to Facebook and others.

The bi-monthly magazine looks very interesting and a very well-put together initiative, you can check it out here.

Non-photorealistic technique in Disney's next film, Tangled

Disney's upcoming animated feature film called Tangled, based on the Rapunzel fairytale, will be using non-photorealistic rendering approaches to simulate a feel akin to oil painting. More importantly this stylization is based on the painting "The Swing", by the French Rococo artist Jean-Honoré Fragonard.

The images look very impressive indeed and due to be released on November the 24th this year it remains to be seen whether more animated feature films will follow down the path of this, i.e. using graphics rendering to simulate traditional hand-drawn pencil styles in the future.

Friday, 4 June 2010

Sega Genesis/MegaDrive console revisited

If like me you are interested in retrogaming, a ‘new’ version of Sega’s classic Megadrive console, complete with 15 games built in has been recently released by a company called Blaze. According to Blaze, the console can also play all old MegaDrive cartridges from all regions.

Built-in games include Alex Kid, Alien Storm, Altered Beast, Arrow Flash, Bonanza Bros., Columns, Crack Down, Decap Attack, E Swat, Fatal Labyrinth, Flicky, Gain Ground, Golden Axe, Shadow Dancer and Sonic And Knuckles. Blaze made the news last year by releasing a handheld console that, again, played old MegaDrive games.

Costing less than £40 I should be soon be purchasing one of those and putting it to the test, on paper I have to say it is a fantastic idea and it would be great to see other classic 16-bit/32-bit consoles of the era following (Super NES would be my pick!).

Member of the Program Committee for IASTED Portable Lifestyle Devices 2010 conference

I have been invited to be a member of the International Program Committee for the IASTED Portable Lifestyle Devices conference (PLD 2010). The conference will provide a forum for substantive discussion on the emerging technologies and methodologies being developed to overcome the challenges that exist in all areas of the field concerned. This conference will also showcase developments in industry, successful applications and case studies.

It will take place at the beautiful city of beach houses and boating, Marina del Rey, just minutes from Venice Beach, Playa del Rey and western Los Angeles between the 8th and 10th of November 2010 (paper deadline is 1st of August).