Tuesday, 28 December 2010

New Blender book Blender 2.5 Lighting And Rendering

For all the Blender enthusiasts amongst you there is now a new book focusing on the package's abilities towards rendering scenes with realistic lighting (using both interior and exterior lighting techniques) as well as providing guidelines to reconstructing impressive results by applying light rigs and shadow effects.

The book, called Blender 2.5 Lighting And Rendering written by Aaron W. Powell and published by Packt Publishing, also offers instructions on applying color effects and step-by-step guides with practical examples that help add dimensionality to your scenes. Well recommended for the numerous Blender users and also a stark reminder of just how far a, let's not forget, free application like Blender has come in rendering quality which approximates photorealism and matches output of other more commercial packages.


Monday, 27 December 2010

Publication accepted at VS Games 2011 conference

I have received confirmation that a publication I have co-authored has been accepted for publication at the upcoming VS-Games 11 conference (3rd IEEE International Conference in Games and Virtual Worlds for Serious Applications), which will be organized with full support of National Technical University of Athens (NTUA) Athens, Greece, May 4-6 2011. The conference, which will take place on the NTUA campus, aims to meet the significant challenges of the cross-disciplinary community that work around these serious application areas by bringing the community together to share case studies of practice, to present virtual world infrastructure developments, as well as new frameworks, methodologies and theories, and to begin the process of developing shared cross-disciplinary outputs.

The publication has been accepted as a full paper and is titled "Elemental: An insight into the development and evaluation of a secondary education chemistry game using XNA". This article discusses the creation of an educational game intended for UK GCSE-level content, called Elemental. Elemental, developed using Microsoft’s XNA studio and deployed both on the PC and Xbox 360 platforms, addresses the periodic table of elements, a subject with extensions in chemistry, physics and engineering. Through the development process of the game but also the eventual pilot user study with 15 subjects (using a pre and post test method to measure learning using the medium and self-report questions), examples are given on how an educator can, without expert knowledge, utilize modern programming tools to create and test custom-made content for delivering part of a secondary education curriculum.


Friday, 24 December 2010

Unreal Development Kit mobile iOS tutorial

Now that the Unreal Development Kit is out for the iPhone operating system (please see recent post here) we have the first (at least to my knowledge) tutorial illustrating its usage. This is suitably from Epic Games themselves. The tutorial uses an isometric Jazz Jackrabbit setting, for those unfamiliar with the name of the game it is based on an original 1994 2D platformer which launched the Epic Games brand back in the day (and which I vaguely remember playing on my 386 PC!).

Remember, the iPhone Unreal Development Kit is free for hobbyist use and from the video above the potential looks incredible! No doubt there will be many more of these tutorials to come (from Epic Games but also individual users) but this is a great taster of what can be achieved on the iPhone platform with the UDK tool.

You can view the tutorial and download all assorted files needed here.

Thursday, 16 December 2010

New city-building game RamaCity

The Hamburg-based developer Bigpoint is now adding a new social game to their string of titles (Farmerama, ZooMumba and Ponyrama) called RamaCity. This game will be free and browser-based and launched in Spring 2011. During the game, the ambitious urban planner will be called upon to turn small towns and cities into expansive metropolises, tackling more than the typical challenges as he/she can also interact with the cities of other players in a variety of imaginative ways.

Always interested to see virtual cities represented in games in such a manner and moreso in RamaCity's case, as it tackles the visualization aspect of the urban models in a (slight, yet noticeable) cartoon-shaded representation.

More about the upcoming game here, looking forward to its release date.

International Journal Of Virtual Reality article

The latest issue of the open access, online journal International Journal Of Virtual Reality (IJVR) has published an article I co-authored with colleagues at Bournemouth University, titled Automating Terrain Texturing in Real-Time Using a Rule-Based Approach.

This publication proposes a novel approach to automatically colour and texture a given terrain mesh in real time. Through the use of weighting rules, a simple syntax allows for the generation of texture and colour values based on the elevation and angle of a given vertex. It is through this combination of elevation and angle that complex features such as ridges, hills and mountains can be described, with the mesh coloured and textured accordingly. The implementation of the approach is done entirely on the GPU using 2D lookup textures, delivering a great performance increase over typical approaches that pass colour and weighting information in the fragment shader. In fact, the rule set is abstracted enough to be used in conjunction with any colouring/texturing approach that uses weighting values to dictate which surfaces are depicted on the mesh.

You can check the article out here, published on Vol 9, Issue 4 (pp. 21-28) of the journal.

The Unreal Development Kit heading to the iPhone and iPad

While the jury's still out on the selling-like-hotcakes Infinity Blade (I have had it on my iPhone 3GS since the weekend and while the graphics are indeed sensational I am not too impressed by the game itself or indeed the lack of freedom/exploration on it, I thought the Epic Citadel demo promised far more than what this eventual title delivers...) rumours are emerging that the Unreal Development Kit will very soon make its appearance for the iPhone/iPad formats. This is reportedly a matter of days now!

The Wall Street Journal reports that the application, like the UDK (http://www.udk.com/), will be completely free to download and use for hobbyist purposes and offer a licensing/royalties model where developers using the engine commercially will have to pay a $99 licensing fee and 25% royalties to Epic Games after the first $5,000 in sales etc.

Eagerly awaiting this, if this is an app matching the quality of the UDK and at the same time easily accessible, it could definitely revolutionise iPhone/iPad game development and perhaps mobile gaming as a whole. As an educator as well, and someone teaching Unreal on several different units in Higher Education, this again is very exciting news.

Saturday, 11 December 2010

Call for papers, IBIMA International Journal of Interactive Worlds (IJIW), "Non-Photorealistic Graphics in Games and Animation"

This is another reminder that along with a colleague from Bournemouth University, I will be the guest editor for an upcoming special issue of the IBIMA International Journal of Interactive Worlds (IJIW), titled Non-Photorealistic Graphics in Games and Animation.

After many years of computer graphics research striving for results which cannot be distinguished from reality, there is now, in parallel, an increasing amount of work focusing not on the approximation of the real world, but on the simulated depiction of more traditional human artwork styles. These styles come with a variety of implications such communicative, emotive and perceptual processing aspects that these approaches can convey, via the inherent abstractive forms and stylization they are associated with.

The research field itself is called non-photorealistic rendering (or NPR in short) and can today be observed in a number of application areas, including real-time computer and video games plus also animated feature films. Contemporary hardware has made possible recent mainstream gaming titles such as Sega’s MadWorld (for Nintendo’s Wii) and Ubisoft’s Prince Of Persia (for a variety of platforms), employing comic-book/sketched and cel-shaded rendering styles respectively. Equally, Disney’s upcoming feature length film Tangled simulates oil-painting techniques. Titles such as these demonstrate that there is considerable interest from developers, film-makers and public alike to explore the possibilities for alternative graphical representations that modern NPR techniques, because of their flexibility in different stylizations, can offer in the area of computer entertainment.

Only original research papers will be considered. Authors should limit initial submissions to no more than 30 double-spaced pages in 12-point font with appropriate margins, inclusive of all materials. A double-blind review will be conducted and papers will be returned to the authors, with explanatory notes for further action. Submissions will be screened to ensure coherence with the theme of the special volume and will be accepted for this theme throughout year 2010.

More information about the journal and the special issue itself can be found at http://www.ibimapublishing.com/journals/CFP/ijiw2.html.

Bournemouth University Research Proposal Review Service

I am now one of the reviewers for the internal Bournemouth University Research Proposal Review Service. This is a responsive, fast-turnaround (approximately four weeks) internal feedback service for research grants that attempts to ensure the provision of more specialised, expert feedback on any given funding proposal.

Alongside other BU academics with successfull research projects, who are also on this reviewing panel, the role of the internal reviewer is to supply timely suggestions for improvement which can greatly enhance the chances of success for a project bid.

More information on this Bournemouth University initiative at http://www.bournemouth.ac.uk/rprs (please note that this link and indeed the service itself is and will only be available to other BU academics).

Thursday, 9 December 2010

The Centre For Digital Entertainment

As I'm involved (and have been since this October) on the supervisory of a doctoral student under this particular scheme (along with academics from the University of Bath) I thought it would now be a good idea to highlight the Centre For Digital Entertainment in this blog.

The CDE’s purpose is to train the next generation of leaders in the Film Visual Effects, Computer Games, Virtual Worlds and Animation industries and is (mostly) funded by EPSRC to effectively support 50 Doctorate in Engineering studentships. These will be partly based at Bournemouth University where I am located and also the aforementioned University of Bath. The EngD differs from a usual PhD as under this unique doctoral program researchers are placed directly in companies to work on real projects with academic supervision support.

For more information about the scheme (and all the companies involved) please check out the very comprehensive website here.

Sunday, 5 December 2010

Using a game engine to create scenes from a known movie

3D game engines have been lending themselves to serious applications for a number of years now, be it architectural, training or even surgical ones. It's not very often however that they're linked to other forms of non-gaming entertainment. A shining example of this, which I came across recently while researching one of my lectures here at Bournemouth University, is a Terminator-themed mod created using the current version of the Unreal engine.

The alpha version of this (aptly called FPS Terminator) is now available here and it looks very impressive indeed, placing the player in a futuristic Skynet-controlled nightmarish setting inspired by the eponymous movie. It garnered praise from an unlikely source too, i.e. from Epic Games main man Cliff Blezsinski who tweeted his approval for the work the three-man team has put together.

Saturday, 4 December 2010

Jane Jensen's Gray Matter released (in Germany)

One of my favourite game designers of all time, Jane Jensen, the writer behing the much missed Gabriel Knight and Phantasmagoria series has now at long last released a new adventure game called Gray Matter. Weirdly the game has only been released in Germany with a Europe release scheduled for February (not a great move, but let's disregard that for a minute!).

You can check out the trailer above, with fond memories of the Gabriel Knight titles (particularly the first two, I still vividly remember the story of the sequel with its Wagnerian opera finale) this is one of the few adventure games I am eagerly waiting for in 2011 (all that remains is whether I should get in on thew 360 or my PC!).

Update on the Playstation Phone

There have been developments on the persistent news that Sony is in preparation of a Playstation phone. Now, a video has appeared of the Sony Ericsson ZEUS-Z1 "PlayStation Phone" prototype on YouTube demonstrating just that.

You can check the vid above but the phone is demonstrated for a couple of minutes in a suspiciously clear video, including the game controls and the presence of a PlayStation controller icon amongst all the other applications on its screen. Sadly no actual game is shown on the display but this is still interesting news, possibly bringing us one step closer to a rival for the iPhone.

Friday, 3 December 2010

Ed Catmull interview

For those interested in the opinions of one of the figureheads of computer graphics research, I've just come across a fascinating interview of Ed Catmull at ACM Queue, current president of Walt Disney Animation Studios and Pixar Animation Studios but also, according to many, the originator of key graphics techniques and algorithms such as anti-aliasing, subdivided surfaces ones and Z-buffering.

In this interview, conducted by Stanford computer graphics professor Pat Hanrahan, Catmull discusses many aspects of CG from his seminal PhD thesis to his journey through the years leading up to his Pixar appointment. Well worth a read, you can find the full interview here.