games


Nintendo Switch – fancy but fun

Friday my dark grey Nintendo Switch arrived. I had not bothered with the Wii U, in fact it marked the first console I had not bought for a long while. The Switch however, well it looked too good to pass up. Especially the gadgetabulous transforming nature of it. Of course there was also the new Zelda, getting rave previews for being such an engaging open world evolution too. I figured with all the work travels I do now it would be good to have some quality gaming in my backpack.
Nintendo Switch

The Switch is an iPad sized screen with a few buttons on it, but it comes with a docking station that HDMI’s it into the TV. Two small controllers slide and click and slide onto the sides of the screen making it very good for gaming, unlike an iPad where no tactile response, or simply your hands being in the way destroy the experience in anything other than turn based combat. The controllers are also not just buttons, but gyro and vibration sensing with very intricate rumble packs for feedback too. One of the appeals of the controllers is that whilst you can use them together, either on the unit or slid into a joypad frame, they can also be used by two different people. So you have an instant 2 (or more with the various combinations available) player setup on a small screen that can prop itself up on a table with a little kick stand.The clicking and unlocking, changing and switching around is a key part, it feels like a Klingon battle ritual making weapons from their armour

We spent Sunday afternoon playing the party game 1 2 switch in which mini games are presented such as quick draw, or gorilla dancing, the motion elements of the controller being exploited. The games are places facing your opponent, with all the action prompted by audio or vibration cues. Multiplayer face to face with imaginary scenes is a new twist. The Switch screen is just there to show the score afterwards. One very nice example is having to guess how many marbles are in a box, the box is your joycon, as you move it the vibrations feel like a number of marbles bumping into one another. Its very subtle and very clever.

Afternoon of family fun with 1-2 Switch and snipperclips

All these are good fun party games, very Nintendo and I look forward to lots more. However there is serious gaming too. The Legend of Zelda – Breath of the Wild is just a stunning achievement.

Zelda - Switch
(One of the first views of the sprawling landscape, which is much bigger than this too!)

The environment is huge and varied, the crafting and puzzle solving needed gives a real feeling of adventure. The heart stopping moments when you stamina disc is decreasing but you are climbing higher up a tower and only just make it by the last little blip, it goes on. It has taken from many other games, but kept is Zelda with Link running around saving Hyrule. There are towers to climb to unlock maps (like most Ubisoft free roamers), there are find the area by a photo, there are horses to not just catch but gradually tame, plants to collect and meals to cook with special properties, clothes to buy and dye, paragliding, bow and arrow and I assure a boomerang will turn up soon for me too. Dotted around the land are shrines, more in keeping with the Zelda themes these puzzle rooms let you use your fancy powers (one gained) to move and manipulate the World. Rather like Portal 2 did it makes you think you are stuck, then you try something odd, it works and you feel clever. One puzzle (no spoilers) use the motion controller, and my solution was just smirk inducing, a truly memorable gaming moment.

I had assumed it was all cartridges and no downloads, but its not. All the games are digitally downloadable. I had order Bomberman, Switch 1 2 and Zelda on carts, but Amazon were not able to deliver Zelda on release day so I cancelled it. When the parcel arrived I downloaded Zelda, and I wish the other 2 games had been digital now as the cartridges are so tiny they are annoying. I bought a 200gb memory card as the 32gb in the machine is half full already with Zelda, but that is much better than having to cart carts around. Also the battery is only 3 hours or so playing Zelda, not ideal for long plane journeys, but I will have to test that out later. Either way its a great addition to the console family and has exclusive titles. So thats all fine by me.

Life in IoT, Pokemon, AR, Micro:bit, reports and scifi

I has been a few months since I wrote anything here. My new role at 451 Research has kept me doing a lot of writing about a lot of interesting subjects related to IoT. It is an interesting change to be on the receiving end of briefings where people tell me why their implementation or product direction is of interest, yes that’s bit poacher turned game keeper, but it is good to be able to share and build upon all my previous experience. The Internet of Things is huge and diverse, because like the internet it underpins everything. The great thing is it also include how we as people understand what is going on in a system, which lends itself to being able to discuss virtual and augmented reality. I had started to cover some VR and just posted a longer report spotlight on AR when Pokemon Go hit. It was only a matter of time before a mass market awareness thing happened, but few of us knew the form it would actually take. Most of what I write is behind the paywall for our customers, but somethings make their way outside. Firstly our AR report (as this was with @xianrenaud 451 Research IoT research director) made the home page and some free access to all. I was not in a position to write a whole report on Pokemon Go or its lack of real AR, but I did write an analyst note (our briefest piece of content). Which now is also on the homepage and free (linking back to the AR report). The VR report is still locked away but you can sign up for a trial account.
AR and VR also featured in at the end of a recent IoT Webinar on Brightalk that Christian and Brian did. I provided a couple of pictures for that. I take the position that VR is great but it is an extension of current screen technology at its heart. A screen for each eye. AR is a new departure, sensing the world and projection/translucent displays is a whole different ball game and one that had many more industrial and enterprise uses.
VR and AR diverge
Interestingly lots of AR tech is being retro fitted to VR. Nothing is ever clear cut, but its good to spot a trend or find a theory to explore.
Of course my IoT VR and AR experiences blend into the books Reconfigure and even more so the follow up Cont3xt and the adventures are still selling and being downloaded at $0.99 around the World. A few more reviews would be great. In some of my briefings some of the elements I have used start to get a little closer to reality, but it was always supposed to be near real sci-fi.
I have not thrown away my tech hands on approach to things though. Yes there is a lot of writing but the predlets still need to get the opportunity to learn their craft and this morning my/their BBC Micro:bit arrived. A fascinating Arduino like controller but loaded with LED’s, compass, bluetooth and gyroscopes. It will be great to see what they get up to with it. It is a full IoT endpoint when it comes to it.
At last BBC micro:bit #iot
Its not all work, though a lot of my play is work related too. However, we invested in a Wheel for the Xbox One, having had one on the 360. It was part present for predlet 2.0 getting a great school report and a pen licence. This time I also got a proper stand for it the Wheel Stand Pro V2. It makes a huge difference to all the driving games, particularly the rock hard Dirt 2 and Forza 6. Of course there is a prime example of where VR works, and I believe the PC version of Dirt now has headset support. If they sort it out for the Xbox, well I am in 🙂
Just keeps getting better #forza6 #thrustmaster #wheelstandpro
Another addition and a rather fantastic one was my Father’s day present of next generation slot(less) racing with Anki Overdrive. These fascinating cars read the track as they race on it, making any layout they will autonomously drive around mapping the reach first they you get to race using you phone/tablet. Switching lanes and controlling speed and virtual weapons and defences. They are fast and frenetic, and when they go off track they razz around trying to find it again. Watching the robot cars drive is pretty magical too. I know how they work, I know what they are doing, but…. wow. Once again another IoT style twist in the tail. Alluding to where the World is going, first liberating the ideas from play, just like Pokemon Go has.
If you want to see the diverse list of 451 Research reports I have been doing look here, thats not including all the press articles and conferences presenting I have been up to in just a few short months.
If you have anything industrial, enterprise or just plain quirky you would like to talk about please get in touch I am @epredator and do take a look at the books for some summer reading 🙂

Jersey Hackathon – Phone Breakathon

I had a trip to Jersey this weekend, sponsored by Jersey BCS so that I could be an out of town judge at the #hackjsy game development event. The focus here was for teams to build something in 36 hours, game related. With my BCS Animation and Games specialist group hat/badge on it made a lot of sense to to and see what was going on.
I also treated the trip as a re-aquanting myself with travelling on business, the family getting a chance to see I am now there all the time, but just for a short first stint. I also thought I would test out the new clothes for travel comfort. That test worked, but in a way I was not expecting. I usually have been wearing combat trousers and my phone sits nicely in the leg pocket. Instead it was inside my new jacket/ waistcoat arrangement. As i parked the car at the airport and hoofed my overcoat on with a hunch of the shoulders, my iPhone 6s plus felt the urge to slide upwards out of the shiny new pocket and propel itself face down onto the floor. I knew it was not going to be too well but I was surprised at just how smashed it made itself.
So much for not having a screen protector
It was completely unhappy with any sort of interaction. I couldn’t power it off with a slide either. I tried the power and home button together for a few seconds and it shutdown. The Jersey flight is inly 40 minutes in a turbo prop but they don’t like phones being on. It is not so bad these days to be without a phone as if you have a laptop/pad etc wi-fi is readily available, so I let home know I was not going to be texting and Jersey know I was not going to be ignoring them if they called.
The hackathon was great though. 9 teams building stuff in all sorts of ways. javascript, node.js, python, unity3d, ruby, stencyl and a raspberry pi all featured across the projects and we had a hard time judging down to 1, 2, 3 and the special WTF award.
Whilst there I got to talk to a lot of people from all over the island in different industries. It was great to catch up with the guys from vizuality as they are making huge strides in the areas of installation experiences using VR. Tracking users in a 10x10m space and providing headset visuals as they wander around.
I spent the Saturday hacking too. I looked a little in IBM Bluemix and its Unity api for text to speech, using my own book quotes to see if it could cope. They all still have trouble pronouncing Roisin though 🙂 I also then spent a bit more time on my Vuforia AR covers for the books. I decided that Reconfigure should have the variant of the block world view that Roisin sees and builds in her own Unity application.
Joining in with the spirit of #hackjsy
Then on Cont3xt I explored writing a scene changer, so at certain intervals the models and view would swap. Initially I did that by toggling the image targets, but that did not trigger the re-viewing of them, as it expected the same target to have the same stuff on it. However, swapping the game objects attached in the tree, turning them on and off worked, just as the animation works. So I now have a little bit of authoring infrastructure that makes it easier to add multiple scenes and play through them.
I was going to do something with the leap motion sensor too, but that fitted more with having an AR headset to interact with the book covers, with a broken phone and other judging work to do I parked that one.
I also had a lot of conversations around IoT in various forms, and a bit of a chat about blockchain too. Jersey may only have 100,000 people on it, but there is a vibrant tech community there. It was a great trip, and the phone is now repaired (the Jersey shop wasn’t able to do 6s plus so Apple Basingstoke did it in 1 hour) It also now has a proper case. I had avoided that for ages, not having broken the phone before. Rather than take a picture of the phone in a mirror to show the case, I sparked up the AR unity, put the Reconfigure picture on the phone and then the mac did its thing and rendered Roisin, holding her phone with a view of the world that she sees.
AR reaching out of the fixed phone + cover
Just to re-interate the loops within loops here. I am rendering an AR representation using Unity3d and an Iphone onto a digital version of the cover of the e-book that contains a story about Roisin discovering a way to see the World in terms of position and labels that she expands on by writing an application in Unity that tuns on her iPhone. I will share this post on Twitter. The same Twitter (happy 10th birthday) that she uses to accidentally discover her new found abilities when she accidentally types into the wrong window. Meta enough ? 🙂
Anyway, well done everyone at #hackjsy, great organization, great participation, great fellow judges and a great island. See you all again soon I hope.

Need For Speed – My stuff in their video

We like cars in this house. Car games are also a big favourite, naturally. I really enjoy the analogue nature of continuous adjustments as you hurtle around a track. Need for Speed has undergone a transformation over the years, it, and its genre, clearly influenced films like Fast and Furious and now it seems to have come full circle in the latest game. It feels like a side plot of the Vin Diesel epic action movies.
The racing and missions, the customisation and the heavy use of NoS are all pretty standard in this version of Need for Speed. I was surprised, though, to see live action cut scenes. These sort of acted out mini parts of the story, with real people, used to be something that was tried years ago, and generally failed. They did not feel part of the game. To go from a live action real world then blend back to a not quite so real digital view jarred. Also many times the acting was not all that. The alternative was only FMV, with a few digital overlays. That gave a lack of freedom, flicking to new video links at decision points.
This Need For Speed has a full on racing crew with all their baseball caps in reverse and dungarees in place. It feels interesting to hear them talk. Though it is still a little odd IMHO. What blew me away though was the car customisation. The principle is the same as in Forza. Using decals and colours, shapes and some basic tools to morph those, you are able to wrap your car and make it your own (or download someone’s hard work). This makes sense in the game engine it is just generated graphics, so why not? When a cut scene started in the garage and my custom car was in the full motion video though I gave a little cheer. The video show some of how it appears. The car has Reconfigure and Cont3xt written on either side, or course.

Digital compositing into live video is something that is hitting our TV screens in ways we may not ever actually notice. This is the first time I can recall it being so done in a game FMV in quite this way. They also don’t do it all the time, it is not a major feature they shout about. I had to do some tricky missions to try and find one that I could record that included this. It does work though. The car is really your avatar in the game, even though there is a first person camera view for your character in the FMV. I found it added to the experience, seeing my stuff in their video. Makes me want to make a film even more 🙂
Read the book Cont3xt available for download here

Lucky 7 years – Feeding Edge birthday

Wow. It is seven years since I started Feeding Edge Ltd. That is quite a long while isn’t it? The past year has been a more difficult one with less work in the pipeline for most of it. It has meant I have had to take stock and look to do other things, whilst the World catches up. It does seem strange given the dawn of the new wave of Virtual Reality, and Augmented Reality that I have not managed to find the right people to engage my expertise and background in both regular technology and virtual worlds. In part that was because I was focussing on one major contract, when that dried up suddenly there was no where to go. It is starting from zero again to build up and sell who I am and what I do.
My other startup work has always been ticking along under the covers, as we try and work the system to find the right person with the right vision to fund what we have in mind. It is a big a glorious project, but it all takes time. Lots of no, yes but and even a few lets do it, followed by oh hang can’t now other stuff has come up.
On the summer holiday, I had a good long think about whether to give this all up and try and find a regular position back in corporate life, I was hit with a flash of inspiration for the science fiction concept. It was so obvious that I just had to give it a go. That is not to say I would not accept a well paid job with slightly more structure to help pay my way. However, the books flowed out of me. It was an incredibly exciting end to the year. Learning how to write and structure Reconfigure, how to package and build the ebook and the print version. How to release and then try and promote it. I have learned so much doing it that helps me personally, helps my business and also will help in any consulting work I do in the future. I realised too that the products of both Reconfigure and Cont3xt are like a CV for me. They represent a state of the virtual world, virtual reality, augmented reality and Internet of Things industry, combined with the coding and use of game tech that comes directly from my experiences, extrapolated for the purpose of story telling.
Write what you know, and that appears to be the future, in this case the near future.
This year I have also been continuing my journey in Choi Kwang Do. This time with a black suit on as a head instructor. It has led me to give talks to schools on science and why it is important, with a backdrop of Choi Kwang Do as a hook for them. I am constantly trying to evolve as a teacher and a student. Once again the reflective nature of the art was woven into the second book Cont3xt. I did not brand any of the martial arts action in the book as Choi Kwang Do as that may mis-represent the art and I don’t want to do that, but it did influence the start of the story with its more reflective elements, later on a degree of poetic licence kicked in, but the feelings of performing the moves is very real.
I have continued my pursuit of the unusual throughout the year. The books as a product provide, rather like the Feeding Edge logo has in the past, a vehicle to explore ideas.
I still really like my Forza 6 book branded Lambo, demonstrating the concept of digital in world product placement.

If you have read the books, and if not why not? they are only 99p, you will know that Roisin like Marmite. Why not ? I like Marmite, again write what you know. It became a vehicle and an ongoing thread in the stories, and even a bit of a calling card. It is a real world brand, so that can be tricky, but I think I use it in a positive way, as well as showing that not everyone is a fan. So the it is just another real world hook to make the science fiction elements believable. So I was really pleased when i saw that Marmite had a print your own label customisation. It is print on demand Marmite, just as my books are print on demand. It uses the web and the internet to accept the order and the then there is physical delivery. I know its a bit meta but thats the same pattern Roisin uses, just the physical movement of things is a little more quirky 🙂
Http://www.cont3xtbook.co.uk meets #marmite
I have another two jars on the way. One for Reconfigure and one for Roisin herself.
I am sure she will change her own twitter icon from the regular jar to one of these later as @axelweight Yes she does have a Twitter account, she had to otherwise she would not have been able to accidentally Tweet “ls -l” and get introduced to the World changing device @RayKonfigure would she?
All this interweaving of tech and experience, in this case related to the books, is what I do and have always done. I hope my ideas are inspirational to some, and one day obvious to others. I will keep trying to do the right thing, be positive and share as much as possible.
I am available to talk through any opportunities you have, anytime. epredator at feedingedge.co.uk or @epredator
Finally, last but not least, I have to say a huge thank you to my wife Jan @elemming She has the pressure of the corporate role, one that she enjoys but still it is the pressure. She is the major breadwinner. You can imagine how many 99p books you have to sell make any money to pay anything. She puts up with the downs whilst we at for the ups. Those ups will re-emerge, this year has shown that too me. No matter how bleak it looks, something happens to offer hope. I have some new projects in the pipeline, mostly speculative, but with all these crazy ideas buzzing around something will pop one day.
As we say in Choi Kwang Do – Pil Seung! which means certain victory. Happy lucky 7th birthday Feeding Edge 🙂

Using the Real World – IoT, WebGL, MQTT, Marmite, Unity3d and CKD

All the technology and projects I have worked on in my career take what we currently have at the moment and create or push something further. Development projects of any kind will enhance or replace existing systems or create brand new ones. A regular systems update will tweak and fix older code and operations and make them fresher and new. This happens even in legacy systems. In both studying and living some of the history of our current wave of technology, powered by the presence of the Internet, I find it interesting to reflect of certain technology trajectories. Not least to try and find a way to help and grow this industries, and with a bit of luck actually get paid to do that. I find that things finding out about other things is fascinating. With Predlet 2.0 birthday party we took them all Karting. There was a spare seat going so I joined in. The Karts are all instrumented enough that the lap times are automatically grabbed as you pass the line. Just that one piece of data for each Kart is then formulated and aggregated. Not just with your group, but with the “ProSkill” ongoing tracking of your performance. The track knows who I am now I have registered. So if I turn up and rice again it will show me more metrics and information about my performance, just from that single tag crossing the end of lap sensor. Yes that IoT in action, and we have had that for a while.
Great fun karting. Yay for being faster than 9 year olds :)
The area of Web services is an interesting one to look at. Back in 1997, whilst working on very early website for a car manufacturer, we had a process to get to some data about skiing conditions. It required a regular CRON job to be scheduled and perform a secure FTP to grab the current text file containing all the ski resorts snowfall, so that we could parse it and push it into a form that could be viewed on the Web. i.e. it had a nice set of graphics around it. That is nearly 20 years ago, and it was a pioneering application. It was not really a service or an API to talk to. It used the available automation we had, but it started as a manual process. Pulling the file and running a few scripts to try and parse the comma delimited data. The data, of course, came from both human observation and sensors. It was collated into one place for us to use. It was a real World set of measurements, pulled together and then adjusted and presented in a different form over the Internet via the Web. I think we can legitimately call that an Internet of Things (IoT) application?
We had a lot of fancy and interesting projects then, well before their time, but that are templates for what we do today. Hence I am heavily influenced by those, and having absorbed what may seem new today, a few years ago, I like to look to the next steps.
Another element of technology that features in my work is the ways we write code and deploy it. In particular the richer, dynamic game style environments that I build for training people in. I use Unity3d mostly. It has stood the test of time and moved on with the underlying technology. In the development environment I can place 3D objects and interact with them, sometimes stand alone, sometimes as networked objects. I tend to write in C# rather than Javascript, but it can cope with both. Any object can have code associated with it. It understands the virtual environment, where something is, what it is made of etc. A common piece of code I use picks one of the objects in the view and then using the mouse, the virtual camera view can orbit that object. It is an interesting feeling still to be able to spin around something that initial looks flat and 2D. It is like a drones eye view. Hovering or passing over objects.
Increasingly I have had to get the Unity applications to talk to the rest of the Web. They need to integrate with existing services, or with databases and API’s that I create. User logons, question data sets, training logs etc. In many ways it is the same as back in 1997. The pattern is the same, yet we have a lot more technology to help us as programmers. We have self defining data sets now. XML used to be the one everyone raved about. Basically web like take around data to start and stop a particular data element. It was always a little to heavy on payload though. When I interacted with the XML dat from the tennis ball locations for Wimbledon the XML was too big for Second Life to cope with at the time. The data had to be mashed down a little, removing the long descriptions of each field. Now we have JSON a much tighter description of data. It is all pretty much the same of course. An implied comma delimited file, such as the ski resort weather worked really well, if the export didn’t corrupt it. XML version would be able to be tightly controlled and parsed in a more formal language style way, JSON is between the two. In JSON the data is just name:value, as opposed to XML value. It is the sort of data format that I used to end up creating anyway, before we had the formality off this as a standard.
Unity3d copes well with JSON natively now. It used to need a few extra bits of code, but as I found out recently it is very easy to parse a web based API using code and extra those pieces of information and adjust the contents of the 3d Environment accordingly. By easy, I mean easy if you are a techie. I am sure I could help most people get to the point of understanding how to do this. I appreciate too that having done this sort of thing for years there is a different definition of easy.
It is this grounding in real World pulling info data and manipulating it, from the Internet and serving it to the Web that seems to be a constant pattern. It is the pattern of IoT and of Big Data.
As part of the ongoing promotion of the science fiction books I have written I created a version of the view Roisin has of the World in the first novel Reconfigure. In that she discovers and API that can transcribed and described the World around her.
This video shows a simulation of the FMM v1.0 (Roisin’s application) working as it would for her. A live WebGL version that just lets you move the camera around to get a feel for it is here.

WebGL is a new target that Unity3d can publish too. Unity used to be really good because it had a web plugin that let us deploy applications, rich 3d ones, to any web browser not just build for PC, mac and tablets. Every application I have done over the past 7 years has generally had the web plugin version at its core to make life easier for the users. Plugins are dying and no longer supported on many browsers. Instead the browser has functions to draw things, move things about on screen etc. So Unity3d now generates the same thing as the plugin, which was common code, but creates a mini version for each application that is published. It is still very early days for WebGl, but it is interesting to be using it for this purpose as a test and for some other API interactions with sensors across the Web.
In the story, the interaction Roisin starts as a basic command line ( but over Twitter DM), almost like the skiing FTP of 1997. She interrogates the API and figures out the syntax, which she then builds a user interface for. Using Unity3d of course. The API only provides names and positions of objects, hence the cube view of the World. Roisin is able to move virtual objects and the API then, using some Quantum theory, is able to move the real World objects. In the follow up, this basic interface gets massively enhanced, with more IoT style ways of interacting with the data, such as with MQTT for messaging instead of Twitter DM’s as in the first book. All real World stuff, except the moving things around. All evolved through long experience in the industry to explain it in relatively simple terms and then let the adventure fly.
I hope you can see the lineage of the technology in the books. I think the story and the twists and turns are the key though. The base tech makes it real enough to start to accept the storyline on top. When I wrote the tech parts, and built the storyboard they were the easy bits. How to weave some intrigue danger and peril in was something else. From what I have been told, and what I feel, this has worked. I would love to know what more people think about it though. It may work as a teaching aid for how the internet works, what IoT is etc for any age group, from schools to boardroom? The history and the feelings of awe and anger at the technology are something we all feel at some point with some element of out lives too.
Whilst I am on real World though. One of the biggest constants in Roisin’s life is the like it or love it taste of Marmite. It has become, through the course of the stories, almost a muse like character. When writing you have to be careful with real life brands. I believe I have used the ones I have in these books as proper grounding with the real World. I try to be positive about everyone else products, brands and efforts.
In Cont3xt I also added in some martial arts, from my own personal experience again, but adjusted a little her and there. The initial use of it in Cont3xt is not what you might think when you hear martial art. I am a practitioner of Choi Kwang Do, though I do not specially call any of the arts used in the book by that name as there are times it is used aggressively, not purely for defence. The element of self improvement is in there, but with a twist.
Without the background in technology over the years and the seeing it evolve and without my own personal gradual journey in Choi Kwang Do, I would not have had the base material to draw upon, to evolve the story on top of.
I hope you get a chance to read them, it’s just a quick download. Please let me know what you think, if you have not already. Thank you 🙂

Time for WebGL? Quicker virtual worlds in Unity3d

This weekend I helped a friend get a network connected Unity3D environment up and running. I have, of course, done this a lot. In fact it has generally been the focus of most of the dev projects the past 7 years. I guess that means I am past the ‘expert’, know it all, part and into mastery, when everything reminds you of how much you have yet to learn, in the vastness of a subject.
This time though I was faced with the deprecation of the Unity3D web plugin. I had seen the draggle facing out of the incredibly useful and powerful plugin due to the web browser developers taking away support gradually. I have used Unity3D for many years because of its flexibility in allowing me as a developer and creator to have the potential to target lots of running platforms from a single base project. The WebGl option has sat there for a while and I have experimented with the basics of what Unity3D creates. The problem is, when all the core routines are in the plugin, you provide your layer of code to make it do something. The Plugin is a collection of API’s and routines. When you switch to WebGL Unity3D, or any platform, has to provide a lot of the underlying function to support your application as part of the package. Also the plugin would typically have some permissions given to it by the user, that a WebGL page with a stack of javascript tucked away in a compressed file does not have.
Consequently I was not really expecting, without a lot of hacking, for my basic set of tools to work to allow me to create a standard multi user environment, and have it still run without the user having to do very much, other than access a web page. i.e. no install.
Surprisingly is did work though. I use Photon, and its default Worker demo as the basis to test things. When I pushed to WebGL instead of the web player it actually worked. There may be some backing off on which protocol it is using, as it negotiates the best way to talk to the other clients, but it worked without any hassle.
PUN demo altered and working
Interestingly it also worked, well nearly, on the iPhone. The Web plugin was never designed to work on any smartphones or tablets, instead you build specific apps for those devices. However, the basic demo actually started and connected on Safari on the Iphone. The problem was that the demo uses the old GUI code and not the fancy new Unity 5.0 user interface. So it has no idea about responding to touch inputs unless you put extra code into it. I may well give that a go to see where this deployment option is going. If it does actually work (despite not being supported) it further eradicates the need to package and build apps. People get the up to date version on serving.
Despite working straight away locally, I had a few more problems when i just placed the WebGL on my 1and1 server. The packaged up versions of all the code, with mine and Unity is stored in a several files a .jsgz, .memgz and .datagz which the unity loader.js wants to pull in. It decompresses them in memory at runtime. However the files were listed a .js, .mem and .data in the index.html. I think the generator looks for uncompressed versions first and then looks of the zipped versions. Somewhere in that I was get an error, but when I changed the generated index.html to look for the compressed files directly it actually worked.
I suffered from some caching problems with the .html file though, that made it seem it was not working. Having changed the internal URL’s and reloaded the page it still failed. Looking at the source I saw it had not changed. A shift/reload used to force a non cache version of the page, but that did not work, neither did closing safari. Renaming index to index2 did the trick. Some of this may be edge of network caching or 1and1, or the browser juts being too much in control. It is an old problem many developer have had over the years as the web has matured.
The good news, then, is that the Photon Unity Network – Free samples, with the Worker scene seem to connect across web browsers in a peer to peer way, just as the old one used to with the plugin, but now in WebGL. I have not tried Unity’s new networking but I assume it will work also. If the packets flow then that means there is some hope for voice, though it is a packet hog and the packages are few and far between to do voice chat.
It actually took longer to get a shared project up and synching than it did to get a custom little virtual world working.
There will be a lot of details that don’t work, how graphics are rendered, lighting etc. The entire, mature Unity3D plugin has to be rebuilt in bits of javascript, which sounds crazy, for each application. However, there are some clever optimisation routines that only provide the bits of the code that are needed, it seems. So everything old is new again and I can get back to making online environments quickly for customers and projects.

Happy 2016 – The Future is here – Just Cause 3

We have arrived at 2016, it seems only yesterday that it was the turn of the millennium. 2000AD used to seem like the far flung future when I was about 10 years old. 1977 sat in a cinema watching the Star Wars universe explode on screen. As someone who lives and works on future and emerging technologies and trends the new year is always a time to take stock and see where the World is going. In 2015, after a few contracts and good paying work disappeared I was faced with a rather bleak future and no pipeline. It seems that every project, however clever, interesting or potentially lucrative that I have worked on in the past few years have all reached some sort of impasse. Rather than dwell on that our Family holiday in August gave me a flash of inspiration to try something a little different. Many of you who read this blog, or follow me on Twitter and Facebook will have been deluged with the results of that inspiration. That was of course writing and publishing Reconfigure. This near future science fiction is of course an adventure in ideas and concepts, but it is based on a lot of real tech and the real trajectory that it can take. It is also based in how it feels, the short comings of the tech experience, the human errors we make and the fragility of human experience. A struggle to stay on the right path. Roisin also uses a lot of game brain to solve things with a bit of flare and style. I have been reminded of her spirit this holiday by playing my xmas gift Just Cause 3. This is a prime example of free roam fun. You can explore so many ways to deal with situations, or you can just float around enjoying the amazing terrain.
The main character Rico, is dealing with a tyrant and having to pick away at the various bases, gaining them back under his control. Jets, helicopters, parachutes, wing suits, boats, guns, grenades, and the all important tether that he can fire to pull things around, all feature.
Just Cause 3
As I play it, it has can be frantic and tense at key moments, but it can also be relaxing and just virtual tourism really. Ascending a mountain monastery just to wing suit down the mountain, because you can is as much a part of it as the scripted missions. There is a world, but you can do anything, within certain limits. It is my enjoyment of this style of game that has led to even trying to write a book. There are no rules, apart from the rules that need to be set to make it make sense. Those rules are there to be subverted by some interesting twists and actions.

The book has yet to solve my problem of not having any serious pieces of work bringing in any money yet, and it may never do that, but it is there, very real and something I am very proud of. It has generated a spark of inspiration for me, a rejuvenation and belief in what can be achieved. That spark ignited into the writing of the follow up Cont3xt which is due very shortly out there. I have pushed even deeper in the the real technology of virtual and augmented reality but taken it further, but in a way that makes sense. So these books, and another one after that will act as my prediction for the future. Whether they provide anything else for my personal future I will just have to leave to luck, advertising and good friends sharing their existence.

So personally I have gone from a pretty depressing state of affairs, not seeing a future, to trying to create one for everyone else to immerse and enjoy. It has been a whirlwind and I will keep on riding this one. I will of course stay on the look out for some more ‘normal’ ways to make a living. It all adds to the richness of the experience though.

I wish everyone a happy, productive, fun and futuristic 2016. If in doubt just wing it, with style 🙂

Every advert counts – Fast cars work too

Whilst waiting for Halo5 to drop last night at midnight I spent a little time on Forza 6 creating another custom paint job. This time for, yes, you guessed it Reconfigure It is part of my immersion in my own product to use it in places that I already have done similar things and provide a little twist on the traditional.
I have done Eightbar (in 2007), Epredator, Feeding Edge, Choi Kwang Do and Cool Stuff Collective decals in the past. It is a complicated process involving layering stickers and resizing them not just paining and uploading. It makes for an interesting challenge to get the spirit of an image if not the exact replica.
Here is a lambo done up with Reconfigure.
Reconfigure book paintwork on a lambo
Reconfigure book paintwork on a lambo
Reconfigure book paintwork on a lambo
Reconfigure book paintwork on a lambo
Reconfigure book paintwork on a lambo
I also recorded a lap of Brands Hatch just for a bit of fun too.

Whilst this car will appear, and show Reconfigure when I race, and also appear on a drivatar racing in someones living room I doubt anyone will buy the book on the basis of this, but it is what I do, so I did 🙂
I was attempting to promote the book and get up the sales rank a little by natural sharing.Many thanks to those people who have supported me with a purchase. It means a great deal.
Having always tried to help and support other people in their projects and sharing all sorts of things that may be interesting to colleagues and followers out there I found I succumbed to having to advertise. The book numbers could reach a tipping point with just the people who I have worked with or shared time with popped £1.99/$2.99 in the help epredatar out project. People don’t just buy books, or ebooks for no reason. They are not impulse buys. You have no idea what is in it, unless there are reviews, or people are saying good things about it. Me just wibbling on and enthusing probably sounds more like a noise of “here he goes again”. However, this is a book based on metaverse concepts, on software and game design as well as adventure. When I help people out I don’t expect anything in return so I feel guilty for even asking. Anyway, Facebook ads have been my first forays into the weird world of online targeted ads.
I created 3 ads each with a very low maximum spend. One is a page like for the Facebook page. The other two are direct links to the Amazon book. One targeted at US and Canada the other to the UK. It will be interesting to see what happens there. My numbers are such, at the moment, I can see a one to one relationship between and add and a potential sale.
I had targeted people into tech, my old company, Unity development and Second Life and virtual worlds. It obviously worked as I got sent the ad myself, as did elemming.
Got advertised at by my own advert. So I meet the demographic
I didn’t click on my own ad as its the click to go to Amazon that calls off against the ad budget. It is a pity it does not relate to the sale of a copy, but Facebook is just pushing a URL and the shop is Amazon.
It’s early days, and I am non established author. I like to think I have a bit of reputation as a forward thinker who might make something interesting. I welcome all feedback, good and bad. I will try some other advertising options as the months go on. This is all an experiment after all 🙂

Star Wars Battlefront Beta

Last night I took a few hours off re-reading and tweaking my Reconfigure Book reminding myself that there is still world out here. I downloaded the public beta of Star Wars battlefront.
It is very impressive! All the Battlefront games have been good, the mix of mass open warfare, vehicles and a sense of scale all work really well with the iconic Star Wars settings. There is a lot of dying and a lot of respawning, but that is how it works. It is an infantry battle and you can treat yourself as expendable.
The beta has two planet surfaces, the second bing the ice planet Hoth. Imperial AT-AT stomp towards the base. Sentry guns and tunnels, trenches and rock faces make up the scene. Tie fighters and A-wings battle overhead. I didn’t get to fly anything, which is my preference, but that will come in time.
As a rebel fighter in the first game, seeing the imposing AT-AT slowly stomping forwards and blasters just bouncing off, backed up by stormtroopers was impressive, but suddenly Darth Vader turned up, light sabre deflecting shots as he carved through us. It was incredibly exciting. This is not my video but it does show the scene very well and an amusing moment with another hero.

The single player survival game has waves of Stormtroopers coming at you in close and personal on a very rocky and brilliantly lit Tattoine. I seemed to see the troopers up a lot closer and saw the impressive animation system at work on the NPC characters in this mode.
The game will of course be huge, but it is good to see it is as good as this already. I don’t think any of us who grew up with Star Wars in the late 70’s will ever get tired of the buzz of being in these environments. With this and Elite Dangerous on the Xbox One we have some tween memories to relive and now colour in.