Saturday, 26 February 2011

Sony claims CryEngine for PSP2

The CryEngine (the cutting-edge game engine behind the Crysis titles) is now touted for an external Sony PSP2 developer release. Crytek, the company behind it has not (yet) announced it though the info can be found on the SCE Japan website. This is the latest of ringing endorsements the new Sony mobile console is getting from figureheads of the gaming dev area, including Epic Games' Tim Sweeney and id Software's John Carmack.

The PSP2 is to currently feature an ARM Cortex-A9 processor and judging by these news and support behind it it will be interesting to see how or whether it will dethrone Apple from its current mobile gaming lead.

Minecraft to go mobile

The incredibly successful indie PC hit Minecraft is to be released on iPhone and iPad, according to a recent announcement by the game's creator Markus Persson. While these versions are not expected to have the full features of the PC version this still is an important piece of news for mobile gaming.

It should be noted that the PC version itself is still a beta one, despite having sold, in downloads, over 1.3 million copies. As long as the touch screen interface usability issues are respected and integrated well enough in this it could well make a fascinating addition to Apple's gaming cannon.

Friday, 25 February 2011

PhD thesis now available on EThOS

My PhD thesis (for which I graduated in October 2010 from City University London), is now available on both the City University library but also the British Library too, under the EThOS system, a hub that automatically collects e-theses from UK HE institutional repositories and/or digitises paper theses from them. These theses are then available for download.

The research presented in this thesis (titled Evaluating Non-Photorealistic Rendering for 3D Urban Models in the Context of Mobile Navigation) examines the legibility of using different rendering styles in the context of 3D navigation on contemporary mobile devices. The styles examined deviate from the usual representation of 3D urban models on current applications, which at the moment strive for an approximation of realism. Other than the technical resource limitations posed by this, the use of this photorealistic approach, in the context area given, eliminates the possibilities of abstraction plus thematic highlighting and connectivity, obstructs inference to traditional cartography and flexibility in visualization. Finally, visual attention overload can be observed, which can be very detrimental to navigational decision-making. The alternative approach explored is the use of non-photorealistically rendered stylizations, of differing styles, suggested to possess benefits such as communicative aspects, which can influence low-level perceptual processes and emotional responses to cognitive workloads, interactivity motivation, the succinct presentation of context-assistive information and decreasing user effort. These styles are influenced by 2D human artwork, as simulated by computer algorithms.

The investigation consists of four empirical studies, conducted in a range of conditions, across a combined total of 211 participants. The first and second studies are based on the use of self-reported rankings for crucial spatial attributes of the, respectively, 2D and 3D scene stimuli. For the third experiment, following the Nielsen usability taxonomy and based on a route retracing task, objective measures are collected. Similarly, for the final experiment a route retracing task is repeated, which on this occasion contrasts the learning the rendering styles provide for a realworld urban location, rather than a virtual one. Across all experiments standardized additional tests such as the Santa Barbara Sense of Direction scale, the NASA TLX workload assessment tool and the IBM Computer Usability questionnaire provide additional information on both the user experience and the population sample itself. A three-tier architecture-based prototype pedestrian navigation application with GPS and digital compass sensor integration has been used in the studies, capable of the display and interaction of egocentric, real-time, georeferenced 3D urban location models.

Findings suggest a consistent common thread across all four experiments of strong support, based on extensive statistical analysis, in both user preference and user performance to non-photorealism over the verisimilar representation. This elicits the emergence of certain non-photorealistic styles, such as cel-shading and sketched shading, as effective new user interface paradigms for mobile navigation. Key outcomes from the experiments include, amongst others, the ranking of the sketched style ahead of photorealism in finer detail distinction and interaction engagement (first and second studies respectively). Additionally, another important observation is the superior performance of cel-shading in task time completion, error rate, disorientation and context-switching in the final experiment, signifying how easier it is for users to learn and remember a mobile virtual route rendered in this manner. All results are discussed and explained in terms of applicable existing perception work. The research concludes with a discussion on the suggested technical benefits of the non-photorealistic approaches, such as level-of-detailing and mip-mapping, progressive network transmission and generalisation as well as the potential use of biometrics-related modalities to collect additional information in future experiments.

It can be found here on the EThos system and here on the City Uni library.

Sunday, 20 February 2011

Bringing historic maps to 3D

A team from the University of East Anglia has come up with a new way to digitise, in 3D, the outlines of buildings on historic maps which can lead to a more efficient reconstruction of virtual heritage areas. Published in Elsevier's Computers And Graphics journal the methodology is based on the colouring of maps.

On the occasion where buildings are displayed in characteristic colours, the process is automatic. This operates by detecting blocks of colour on a scan of the map, and then subsequently highlighting the edge of each block. This then generates a clear outline of the building(s). The extracted outlines can be imported into a commercial software package (such as the often mentioned in this blog CityEngine) and then further manipulated.

This is the link to the journal describing the work., browser-based, multiplayer, iPad friendly classic adventure gaming

I've wanted to blog this for a long time but I held back as this initiative, fantastic though it is, never had any official backing or authorization. This situation has now changed (Activision, the legal owner of the content) has now sanctioned this officially so, a website which features ported browser-based versions of several classic Sierra Online adventure games (King's Quest 1, Police Quest 1, Space Quest 1 and others) can now be plugged from this blog.

The browser-based concept is not the only innovation here, there is a multiplayer option as well which allows more than one player to populate the same game at the same time (although quite how that would be useful is another discussion!) but also iPad friendly versions (which from the description offered I have to say sounds incredible and hopefully will open up the way for Activision to create tablet/mobile HD versions of these games when seeing the potential here).

As I've grown up on these games and they still have a very strong nostalgic appeal on me I can but recommend this, the website can be found here.

Hard Corps Uprising, another non-photorealistic game

I've just spotted yet another new game with leanings towards non-photorealism; it is Konami's Hard Corps Uprising. This is available only on the XBox Live Arcase and is essentially a Metal Slug run-and-gun type shooter. The intro and ending are anime-based while the actual gameplay features 3D cell-shaded models (despite the game being 2D).

I've just finished having a go at the trial of this on my XBox and while it is no match for the evergreen Metal Slug, the graphics are marvellous and a great example of just how good cell-shading is in real-time when used in the right medium and way.

Saturday, 19 February 2011

Playstation tablet?

On a month where Sony has gone all out on announcing new mobile devices (see previous posts on this blog on the Xperia and the NGP) here comes a new rumour about Sony engineers building a 9.4-inch display tablet, albeit one that will be PlayStation-certified.

This will run on the Sony PlayStation Suite framework, a new scheme devised by the company which allows developers to port games to the Android OS (new and old ones). While Sony has offered no official confirmation, further rumours include the device codenamed S1, the device taking on the form of "open paperback stuffed into the back pocket, or a magazine folded backward upon itself such that only a single page is visible to read" (according to the Engadget site), the device to come with a pre-installed PS1 game and a Tegra 2 processor, 1280x800 resolution and cameras.

Even prices such as $599 have already been suggested (for a Wifi-only version), so it remains to be seen whether any of this is true. The density of information does however appear to suggest an official press release is close.

Friday, 18 February 2011

Invited talk at Context Based Services in Tourism workshop

I have been asked to give an invited talk at a workshop that will take place in Bournemouth on the 7th, 8th and 9th of July 2011. Titled Context Based Services in Tourism, it focuses firmly on this emerging key research area.

The aim of this workshop is to bring together industry leaders with scholars and researchers with an interest in the interaction between Context Based Services, technology and Tourism. The workshop is designed to facilitate the sharing of ideas on all aspects of the topic and to encourage/facilitate innovative and in-depth analysis with a view to downstream practical applications and outcomes. Participants may engage with the workshop in a variety of ways with or without presentation.

Options include the production of a discussion paper or short abstract which will form the basis of collaborative discussion after a short oral presentation. Additionally, there is the opportunity to submit a full paper for peer review and formal presentation towards the development of a special issues in JITT.

More information about the event including a preliminary programme can be found here

Thursday, 17 February 2011

Sony Ericsson Xperia Play phone

After months/years of speculation (and a number of posts on this blog too) Sony has now unveiled its first Playstation phone, called Xperia Play, created by Sony Ericsson and running on Android 2.3 (see picture below for the device).

There are plenty of things to get excited about with this such as analogue stick style touch pads, promised console-quality games, a 50-title launch lineup (quite impressive for any console, mobile or otherwise) but personally I can't help but feel that Sony is somewhat competing with itself having just launched the NGP/PSP 2 device, as well as the huge competitor in this area that is Apple.

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Integrating Kinect and Windows Phone 7

Already there have been efforts demonstrating the potential for integration between Microsoft's Kinect and Windows Phone 7, none better than one of the mini games Kinect has called Rally Ball where a second player is now added (with Windows Phone 7's input). The second player's purpose is to generate balls and trace their path they will take (with the first player trying of course to avoid them). There is also the possibility of a third player joining in (see below).

This at the moment is a demo and not a commercial release but it does demonstrate great potential of integrating touchscreen and camera-based modalities in gaming (as shown in the video above).

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

First issue of International Journal In Game-Based Learning now out

A new journal for which I am currently sitting on the International Review Board has now published its first issue. This is the International Journal In Game-Based Learning by IGI Global. Articles featured in the first issue include:

- Digital Games: Changing Education, One Raid at a Time
By Paul Pivec and Maja Pivec
- The Magic Bullet: A Tool for Assessing and Evaluating Learning Potential in Games
By Katrin Becker
- Honing Emotional Intelligence with Game-Based Crucible Experiences
By Elaine Raybourn
- A Psycho-Pedagogical Framework for Multi-Adaptive Educational Games
By Michael Kickmeier-Rust, Elke Mattheiss, Christina Steiner and Dietrich Albert
- Video Game Genre Affordances for Physics Education
By Kostas Anagnostou and Anastasia Pappa
- Encouraging Engagement in Game-Based Learning
By Nicola Whitton

For more information about the journal and its first issue please visit here.

Committee member for IADIS CGVCVIP 2011 conference

I have now been invited to join the International Program Committee for the IADIS Computer Graphics, Visualization, Computer Vision and Image Processing (CGVCVIP) 2011. The conference aims to address the research issues in the closely related areas of Computer Graphics, Visualization, Computer Vision and Image Processing. The conference also encourages the interdisciplinary research and applications of these areas.

This year the conference takes place in Rome, Italy between the 24th and 26th of July, for more information about deadline dates please visit the official website of the event here.

Open Virtual Reality journal article published

An article I have co-authored with colleagues from a number of other Universities has now been published at the open access journal Open Virtual Reality, published by Bentham. The Open Virtual Reality Journal is an Open Access online journal which publishes research articles, reviews and letters/short communications in all areas of virtual reality.

Titled Prototyping Expressive 3D Virtual Worlds, the article has the following abstract; "3D virtual worlds are increasingly popular arenas for social interaction. There are new opportunities and possibilities for the style of communication but important aspects present in face-to-face meetings are absent in the artificial environment, including the visual cues of emotion that are provided by facial expressions, and a realistic representation of one’s geographical location. Our research attempts to enhance social interaction within virtual worlds by proposing a framework that would enable fully expressive Internet communication with the use of 3D expressive models. The framework contains three separate systems that support different aspects of social interaction within virtual worlds. Firstly, the Virtual City Maker creates a believable environment by automatically creating realistic identifiable geo-referenced 3D environments from a variety of aerial and GIS image data. Secondly, an automated 3D head modelling system provides a mechanism for generating and displaying expressions. Thirdly, the Emotion Analyser provides a mechanism for triggering the display of appropriate expressions by automatically identifying emotional words contained in text messages, the person to whom the emotional words refer to and the intensity. Each system in the framework is discussed with reference to their contribution to enhancing social interaction within 3D social worlds."

The article can be read here.

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

ENTER 2011 PhD best proposal

One of the PhD students I am co-supervising with a colleague here at Bournemouth University (as part of the John Kent Institute In Tourism initiative) has won the best paper award during the PhD workshop track of ENTER2011, an international conference which offers a worldwide and unique forum for attendees from academia, industry, government, and other organizations to actively exchange, share, and challenge state-of-the-art research and industrial case studies on the application of information and communication technologies to travel and tourism.

ENTER 2011 took place in Innsbruck, Austria this year between the 26th and the 28th of 2011. The PhD proposal itself was titled "3D Mobile, Context-Aware City Tourism Applications" and it is great to see recognition for the great work carried out so far on this project. For more information about the conference, including proceedings information, please visit here.

Livingstone-Hope review suggests education rethink to accommodate games development

Today a review called Next Gen by Ian Livingstone and Alex Hope was released which is focused on a bid to the UK Education Department. This 88-page bid makes specific suggestions for important changes across secondary, further and higher education in this country in order to facilate a better production of graduates with relevant skillsets for the UK games industry. This is best summarised in 20 succinct steps (which can be found and read here).

The report has already generated discussion and controversy (including comments from the government, TIGA and many others). On a personal level, while I agree with a number (if not most) of the suggestions, such as for example the increase of support of research-oriented university-industry collaborations in video games and visual effects and the strong focus on core computing skills and STEM, I feel that it is important not to treat higher education exclusively as a training school, as is unfortunately the norm in a modern market-driven economy.