games


Amiga kickstarter book, breaking mirror worlds & VR

A few days ago my copy of the book “Commodore Amiga: a visual Commpendium book” that I backed in Kickstarter arrived. The book is by Sam Dyer through BitmapBooks. It came with a load of extra goodies from my backing and my name along with my fellow backers vanity printed in the appendix. The only slight problem was that unlike all the other Kickstarter campaigns I wasn’t “allowed” to have a credit as epredator as it made the list look untidy unless we had normal names. That is the authors choice of course 🙂
Fond Amiga memories all in 1 book
My computer owning history went ZX81, Commodore 64 then Amiga 500 (and later 1200). The Amiga was 1987 and became my main machine for most of my polytechnic/university time. It caused me to get an overdraft for the first time to buy an external hard drive for a piece of work I was doing (that and to play the later cinemaware games that needed two floppy disk drives to work).
It was the machine I coded my final year project, which was a mix of hardware and software but also had to work on the much larger and more expensive Apollo computers we had.
It is the machine I spent ours with sellotaped together graph paper planning my SimCity builds and mapping Bards Tale Dungeons.
It is also the machine I first experience proper network gaming on with a null modem cable and F/A-18 flight simulator. Not only was that the first proper LAN party gaming but it forged the idea that machines do not have to have a consistent shared view of the world just because they are connected. The F/A-18 simulator let my good friend Wal and I fly around shooting at one another in a shared digital space. It was the early days of having a printer and being able to do “desktop publishing” aka DTP. I even produced a poster for our little event.
When we played we had different terrain packs running on each Amiga as we had different versions of the game. There was no server this was really peer to peer. The terrain was local to each Amiga, but the relative location of one another in that space was shared. Each machine was doing its own collision detection. It meant if I saw mountains I needed to avoid them, yet on the other machine that same local space might be flat desert. We all perceive reality differently anyway, but here we were forced to perceive and act according to whatever the digital model threw at us. In reality we kept to the sky and forcing your opponent into their own scenery was considered unsporting (though occasionally funny and much needed).
This set the precedent for me that whilst mirror worlds, virtual worlds that attempt to be 100% like a real place, have a reason to exist we do not have to play by the same physical rules of time and space in virtual environments.
Other things of note about the Amiga. Well I coded as predator on the Commodore 64 and that moved across to the Amiga too. The e was a later addition on the front by the principles are the same.
My wife also discovered gaming on my Amiga. Getting completely wrapped up and in the zone on Sim City and realising it was 4am. Later it would be Lemmings that caught her attention. Hence she is now elemming on twitter.
The book is full of classic images nearly all of which I have some sort of memory of that is more than yes I recognise that picture.
Games like Alien Breed (a gauntlet like top down shooter) and The Secret Of Monkey Island (a classic point and click humorous adventure) on their own rack up considerable hours of entertainment for very different reasons
Fond Amiga memories all in 1 book
Whilst fondly reminiscing and remembering things that impact how I think and work today I was also at the same time in current and future mode. Right next door on the table was my copy of Games(TM)
My life history in 1 picture #nearly #amiga #vr #metaverse
As I tweeted at the time My life history in 1 picture #nearly #amiga #vr #metaverse.
When we put on a headset, a total immersion one, we get a view of a world that is instantly believable. Something fed directly to our eyes and linked to the direct we are looking becomes a convincing reality. In a shared virtual world we will assume that we are all seeing the same thing. That does not have to be the case, as with the F/A-18 example. We can have different experiences yet share the same world. To help think about that consider the game Battleships. Each player has the same map, the same relative grid references on a piece of paper or on plastic peg board. yet on that map you can only see your own boats and any pieces of information you have gained through playing. When considering a mirror world or a virtual world build it can be harder to consider this. Yet many games and environments already have a little dollop of this behaviour with personal displays of health, ammo, speed etc in a Heads up Display. Those HUDs are an augmented reality display in a virtual world.
When we now consider the blended view headsets like the HoloLens and the MergeVR we are taking the real world as the server in effect. It is a fixed environment. We are then placing and enhancing what we see in that world with 3D overlays. Convincing the viewer the digital stuff is real.
Unlike the F/A-18 terrain the real world is there for each person. If there is a table in the middle of the room, even if you make it look like it is not for a headset wearer with object removal and clever visuals they will still trip over it. However the other way around can make for an interesting dynamic. headset wearers made to think there are obstacles and things in their way that they have to move around, but its different for each headset wearer. Just a little though experiment in perception. I didn’t even throw in anything about 3D printers actually making the new obstacles in the real world. That’s a bit much for a monday morning.
Anyway, the Amiga book is great. It was a fantastic period in games and in home technology, but we have many more exciting times coming.

What’s the point of Goat Simulator?

Firstly, this is not me asking the question. It was something that just happened and serendipity took over to explain. For this of you who have not experienced goat simulator on any platform it is… well… a… Goat Simulator. In fact it is a large physics sandbox were you happen to gallop around as a rather difficult to control goat, jumping, bashing, licking and rolling around.
It makes no bones about its perfection, or lack of it. The physics is good but the collision detection is wonky at times, but thats its charm. It has many elements you would find in skating game. Points systems, achievements and just a little tricky on the controls.
I bough GS a while back on the Mac when we were on holiday and we had a joke about the menacing look from the goats. Now it is there on Xbox One for only £7.99 so well worth it as its hilarious.
Now many hardcore gamers may be busy on the PS4 trying to deal with Bloodborne. Which is, IMHO, just too damn hard despite being fantastic.
GS is just fun, its a sandbox game, you make of it what you want, find your own paths and challenges.
Now @elemming was sitting playing some resource farming game on the ipad and happened to say “what’s the point of goat simulator?”. Just at that point this happened. I butted a pedastrian who ran off and… well watch the video. It made elemming bust into laughter about 30 seconds after looking up and saying “Whats the point….”

Well thats the point 🙂 it’s just fun, with some challenges.
Games can be that, or games can be very serious and intensely stressful. They all work, they are all worth exploring and they all fit various situations. The fact this is a virtual world of course fits with what I do for a living. However it’s all good

Over 15 years experience in Virtual Worlds, 30+ in tech – What now?

A few days ago I realised it has been over 9 years since I first publicly blogged about how important I thought the principles of the metaverse and virtual worlds were going to be for both social and business uses. This post, pictured below for completeness was a tipping point for some radical changes in many of our lives as part of Eightbar.
Second Life first post
I had been working to that sort of point of understanding though since some very early work with virtual environments and how people get to interact with one another in them around 1999/2000 with SmartVR trying to keep the social bond in our internal web and multi media design group together when we were cast asunder to different locations by business pressures (or bad decisions who knows!). I knew we had to have a sense of one another existence aside from text in emails and instant messages. So we tried to build a merged version of both offices as if they were in one place. The aim to then instrument those with presence and the ability to walk over to someone’s desk and talk. Mirror world, blended reality and even internet of things, Yes I know, a bit before its time! Cue music, “Story of my life” by 1D 🙂

We definitely had a technology and expectation bubble later 2006-2009. However, that, as with all emerging technology is all part of the evolution. The garnet curve et al. What surprises me the most still is that people think when a bubble like that bursts that its all over. That somehow everything that was learned in that time was pointless. “Are virtual worlds still a thing?” etc. I feel for the even earlier pioneers like Bruce Damer, who patiently put up with our ramblings as we all rushed to discover and feel for ourselves those things he already knew.
Increasingly I am talking to new startup ands seeing new activity in the virtual space. The same use cases, the same sparks of creativity that we had in the previous wave(s), the same infectious passion to do something interesting and worthwhile. Sometimes this is somehow differentiated from the last wave of virtual worlds under the heading of virtual reality. The current wave is focussed on the devices, the removal of keyboard and of a fixed screen. The Oculus Rift, HoloLens etc. However, thats a layer of new things to learn and experience on what we have already been through. After all its a virtual world you end up looking at or blending with in a VR headset!

I spend so much time looking forward and extrapolating concepts and ideas it is now very scary to look back and consider the experience I have gathered. The war stories and success stories, the concepts and ideas that I have tried. The emotional impact of virtual worlds. The evolution of the technology and of people’s expectation of that technology. The sheer number of people that have moved around in a 3d environment from an early age with things like Minecraft, who are now about to enter higher education and the workforce.

So I am left in a slightly bemused state as to what to do with this knowledge. With this all going so much more mainstream again I am no longer working in a niche. Do I ply my trade of independent consulting chipping away in odd places and helping and mentoring some of the new entrants in the market or do I try and find a bigger place to spread the word?

At the same time though, knowing lots of things makes you realise how much you don’t know. The imposter’s syndrome kicks in. Surely everyone must know all this stuff by now? It’s obvious and stands up to logical reasoning to try and connect with other people in as rich a way as possible. The network is there, the tech is there, the lineage is there. Though clearly not everyone gets it yet. I often wonder if the biggest naysayers I had to deal with on my journey so far have figured it out yet? It will probably turn out they will be getting rich quick right now whilst I sit and ponder such things.

On the other side of the virtual coin, I know from my martial arts that constant practice and investigation leads to a black belt. In the case of Choi Kwang Do that’s just over 3 years worth. So how many Dan worth of tech equivalent experience does that put me at. 25 years in the industry professionally but 30+ as techie.

I still want to do the right thing, to help others level themselves up. I don’t think I am craving fame and fortune but the ability to share and build is what drives me. If fame and fortune as a spokesperson, evangelist for some amazing idea or TV show reaches that end, then thats fine by me.

I am at a crossroads, my VR headset letting me look in all directions. I see half built roads in many directions. What now? A well funded company that I can help build a great road with, or forge off down one for the other paths seeing what happens on the way.
Of course that makes it seem like there is a clear choice on the plate. I suspect most of the the well funded companies and corporations don’t think they need any help, which is rather where I came in on this!

Needless to say I am always open to conversations, offers, partnerships, patronage, retainers and technology evangelist roles. There must be a slew of investors out there wondering what to put their money into, who need some sagely advice ;). Or that book… there is always that book… (600 images x 1000 words each 600,000 words just on these Second Life experiences. That’s just the ones with online. The offline ones double that!. Not to mention the other places, games, and self built experiences!

I took this photo in April 2006 as part of sharing of our journey
The wilderness

I have always liked a nice greenfield to start building on. Equally that did not build itself, it was a massive shared team experience. No one has all the answers. Some of us are good at helping people find them though.

Right! Can we get on with this now?

Kids,video games, parents and ratings

There has been a lot of press and discussion about schools in the UK writing to parents to warn them about young children playing video games. Also indicating that allowing kids to play games rated 18 when they are underage is a sign of neglect and will lead to the parents being reported to police. The BBC covered it here
As a parent, as a school governor, an instructor and long term gamer it seems that this raises a few much more complex issues.
Moody dark shot in Battlefield Hardline
An 18 certificate on anything helps flag up content of a nature regarded as adult. However it does not indicate which of the adult themes it contains. You may notice on films on TV it will say its 18 but whether it contains violence, drug use, nudity, etc. That informs the viewer if they are sensitive or prefer not to watch such things to avoid it.
A parent should know what is in a product that they let their kids loose on. The 18 should be a big flag warning that there may be something in there that is not appropriate. However not all parts of all games are really 18 worthy. It is a marketing ploy to get more adult gamers to slip a few things in sometimes to warrant an 18. It also is down to individual parents bothering about how notice if their kids are affected or going to be affected by certain things.
Make no mistake though, there are some things in games that are really properly challenging and grown up experiences. Sometimes they can sneak up on you and often come as part of a wider narrative. As an example in Red Dead Redemption, an 18, the vast majority of the game is spent riding around the Wild West on a horse. Yes there are gun fights and shooting. However it is no more or less than watching a John Wayne movie.

John Wayne - 1961.JPG
John Wayne – 1961” by 20th Century Fox – eBay. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Cowboy movies sometimes have to deal with complex issues but they come in many flavours. There is always lots of shooting and death but it is the core and the intent of the film, either being light and comical or the more gritty true to life versions that form the spectrum. RDR seemed in the most part to be the former. I grew up watching westerns and we all had six shooters for toys.However about 2/3 through as the character arrives in Mexico a story telling cut scene featured graphic rape scene. Usually you get a sense and feel for the spirit of a game as you play it. You spot that it might be a cert 18 because of the “violence”, this though seemed a shift.
Red dead redemption good deed
Now lets take Call of Duty (Bear in mind you can get Call of Duty Lego). The single player campaign game in all these games is a full on war film equivalent. However it is more Saving Private Ryan than Where Eagles Dare.


Both great films, but the former is realistic and disturbing, the latter is a playful romp. So single player you will experience some degree of story, probably torture, murder et al. Also some very strong language. It changes a great deal in multiplayer. Here teams of people online shoot at one another and work as teams to capture objectives. The violence is more Where Eagles Dare. It is frenetic and fast paced. The risk here comes from the other people, with headsets and voice turned on then all sorts of bullying and offensive language can take place, equally friendly banter and trash talk. Or, when done right excellent teamwork. The soundtrack itself features very little produced content. The narrative is what you make it.
In many ways the multiplayer COD is less worrying than what can happen on a Minecraft server. Minecraft as a game feature the ability for people to treat one another nicely or nastily. Whilst there is not usually voice you can spend ages building something for someone to come and mess it up accidentally or maliciously. It can also be a great place to learn online etiquette. Minecraft is not an 18. You kill things, but its regarded as cartoon and left alone. It has no story to warrant someone put in some nasty scenes to provide an emotion.
My point is that 18 is a flag, a warning sign. It takes a bit of effort to drill down if you are going to let kids experience the good parts of these.
I am happy for kids to shoot at one another in these games, it is just a twitch reaction game. I am not happy for them to play the single player experiences, those things crafted to shock and engage adults on adult themes. So I wonder if that makes me negligent? Being happy that kids can see some content that is put under an 18 certificate?
This of course is not what is going to happen. These warnings are to remind parents to be parents, to think about what they are doing, to help guide their kids.
Both the predlets are martial artists. They train in punching and kicking in ways that if used properly are very dangerous. They see punches and kicks all the time yet it is all done in a positive way, one that is not about the aggression of the will to dominate others. They are taught to not misuse what they learn in class. Does that mean that playing a fighting game with an rating over their age is not appropriate, often these at 16 like the UFC game or even WWE?

So all this comes down to context. To understanding when game does not mean light hearted play but intense narrative. It means understanding when competition is or isn’t healthy. It requires us as parents to understand a what is going on in these experiences and how we can find the appropriate path for our kids.
The age rating on these things is a relic of a past approach to media. It is very easy to classify 2 hours of celluloid, The 18 certificate is then a barrier to entry to a cinema when a person is selling a ticket, or even buying a DVD.
Games and their associated places are far more complex. They are playing fields where at different times with different groups very different things happen.
I am not totally sure how we can help all the parents out there. Many of course will just not bother to apply any thought at all and just let their kids on anything, on the basis it is easier.

A great week for science and tech, games, 3d printing and AR

There is always something going on in science and emerging technology. However some weeks just bring a bumper bundle of interesting things all at once. Here in the UK the biggest event had to been the near total eclipse of the Sun. We had some great coverage on the the TV with Stargazing live sending a plane up over the Faroe islands to capture the total eclipse. I was all armed and ready with a homemade pinhole camera.
Shredded wheat pinhole camera
This turned out great but unfortunately we were quite overcast here so it was of little use as a camera. I also spent the eclipse at Predlet 2.0 celebration assembly. They had the eclipse on the big screen for all the primary school kids to see. Whilst we had the lights off in the hall it did not get totally dark, but it did get a bit chilly. It was great that the school keyed into this major event that demonstrates the motion of the planets. So rather like the last one in 1999 I can certainly say I will remember where I was and what we were doing.(a conversation I had with @asanyfuleno on Twitter and Facebook)
This brings me on to our technological change and the trajectory we are on. In 1999 I was in IBM Hursley with my fellow Interactive Media Centre crew. A mix of designers, producers and techies and no suits. It was still the early days of the web and we were building all sorts of things for all sorts of clients. In particular during that eclipse it was some more work for Vauxhall cars. We downed tools briefly to look out across Hursley park to see the dusk settle in and flocks of birds head to roost thinking it was night.
It does not seem that long ago but… it is 16 years. When we were building those quite advanced websites Amazon was just starting, Flickr was 6 years away, Twitter about 7 years away, Facebook a mere 5 (but with a long lead time) and we were only on Grand Theft Auto II, still a top down pac man clone. We were connected to lots of our colleague son instant messaging but general communications were phone and SMS and of course email. So we were not tweeting and sharing pictures, or now as people do live feeds on Meerkat. Many people were not internet banking, trust in communications and computers was not high. We were pre dot.com boom/bust too. Not to mention no one really had much internet access out and about or at home. Certainly no wi-fi routers! We were all enthralled by the still excellent Matrix movie. The phone in that, the slide down communicator style Nokia being one of the iconic images of the decade.
NB. As I posted this I saw this wonderful lego remake of the lobby scene so just had to add it in this post 🙂

It was a wild time of innovation and one many of us remember fondly I think. People tended to leave us alone as we brought in money doing things no managers or career vultures knew to jump on. So that eclipse reminds me of a time I set on a path of trying to be in that zone all the time. I was back then getting my first samples from a company that made 3d printers as I was amazed at the principle, and I was pondering what we could do with designers that knew 3d and this emerging tech. We were also busy playing Quake and Unreal in shared virtual worlds across the LAN in our downtime so I was already forming my thoughts on our connection to one another through these environments. Having experiences that I still share today in a newer hi tech world where patterns are repeating themselves, but better and faster.
That leads me to another movie reference and in the spirit of staying in this zone. This footage of a new type of Terminator T-1000 style 3d manufacturing. 3D printers may not be mainstream as such but many more people get the concept of additive manufacture. Laying down layer after layer of material such as plastic. It is the same as we made coil clay pots out of snakes of rolled clay when we were at school. A newer form of 3D printing went a little viral on the inter webs this week from carbon3d.com. This exciting development pulls an object out of a resin. It is really the same layering principle but done in a much more sophisticated way. CLIP (Continuous Liquid Interface Production) balances exposing the resin to molecules to oxygen or to UV light. Oxygen keeps it as a liquid (hence left behind) and targeted UV light causes the resin to become solid, polymerization. Similar liquid based processes use lasers to fire into a resin. This one though slowly draws the object out of the resin. Giving it a slightly more ethereal or scifi look to it. It is also very quick in comparison to other methods. Whilst this video is going faster than actual speed it is still a matter of minutes rather than hours to create objects.

Another video doing the round that shows some interesting future developments is one from Google funded Magic Leap. This is a blended reality/augmented reality company. We already have Microsoft moving into the space with Hololens. Much of Magic Leap’s announcements have not been as clearly defined as one might hope. There is some magic coming and it is a leap. Microsoft of course had a great pre-release of Hololens, some impressive video but some equally impressive testimonials and articles from journalist and bloggers who got to experience the alpha kit. The video appeared to be a mock up but fairly believable.
Magic Leap were set to do a TED talk but apparently pulled out at the last minute and this video appeared instead.

It got a lot of people excited, which is the point, but it seems even more of a mock up video than any of the others. It is very ell done as the Lord of the Rings FX company Weta Workshop have a joint credit. The technology is clearly coming. I don’t think we are there yet in understanding and getting the sort of precise registration and overlays. We will, and one day it may look like this video. Of course it’s not just the tech but the design that has to keep up. If you are designing a game that has aliens coming out of the ceiling it will have a lot less impact if you try and play outside or in an atrium with a massive vaulted ceiling. The game has to understand not just where you are and what the physical space is like but how to use that space. Think about an blended reality board game, or an actual board game for that matter. The physical objects to play Risk, Monopoly etc require a large flat surface. Usually a table. You clear the table of obstructions and set up and play. Now a project board game could be done on any surface, Monopoly on the wall. It could even remove or project over things hung on the wall, obscure lights etc. It is relying on a degree of focus in one place. A fast moving shooting game where you walk around or look around will be reading the environment but the game design has to adjust what it throws at you to make it continue to make sense. We already have AR games looking for ghosts and creatures that just float around. They are interesting but not engaging enough. Full VR doesn’t have this problem as it replaces the entire world with a new view. Even in that there are lots of unanswered questions of design, how stories are told, cut scenes, attracting attention, user interfaces, reducing motion sickness etc. Blending with a physical world, where that world could be anywhere or anything is going to take a lot more early adopter suffering and a number of false starts and dead ends. It can of course combine with rapid 3d printing, creating new things in the real world that fit with the game or AR/BR experience. Yes thats more complexity, more things to try and figure out. It is why it is such a rich and vibrant subject.
Just bringing it back a little bit to another development this week. The latest in the Battlefield gaming franchise Battlefield Hardline went live. This, in case you don’t do games, is a 3d first person shooter. Previous games have been military, this one is cops and robbers in a modern Miami Vice tv style. One of the features of Battlefield is the massive online combat. It features large spaces and it makes you feel like a small spec in the map. Other shooters are more close in like Call of Duty. The large expanse means Battlefield can focus on things like vehicles. Flying helicopters and driving cars. Not just you though, you can be a pilot and deliver your colleagues to the drop zone whilst you gunner gives cover.
This new game has a great online multiplayer mode called hotwire that apps into vehicles really well. Usually game modes are capture the flag or holding a specify fixed point to win the game. In hotwire you grab a car/lorry etc and try and keep that safe. It means that you have to do some mad game driving weaving and dodging. It also means that you compatriots get to hand out of the windows of the car trying to shoot back at the bad guys. It is very funny and entertaining.
What also struck me was the 1 player game called “episodes”. This deliberately sticks with a TV cop show format as you play through the levels. After a level has finished the how you did page looks like Netflix with a next episode starts in 20 seconds down in the bottom right. If you quite a level before heading to the main menu it does a “next time in Battlefield Hardline” mini montage of the next episode. As the first cut scenes player I got a Miami Vice vibe which the main character then hit back by referencing it. It was great timing, and in joke, but one for us of a certain age where Miami Vice was the show to watch. Fantastic stuff.
I really like its style. It also has a logo builder on the website so in keeping with what I always do I built a version of the Feeding Edge logo in a Hardline style.
Battlefield Hardline Feeding Edge logo
I may not be great at the game, as I bounce around looking for new experiences in games, but I do like a good bit of customisation to explore.

Unity 4.6 – A new UI

I have always really enjoyed developing in Unity3D as you may have noticed from my various posts and projects. Watching it evolve into such a major platform has been really interesting too. Yesterday Unity moved form version 4.5 to 4.6. Now in most systems a minor point release is not big deal. In fact the whole patch and push versioning with lack of backwards compatibility that bedevils the tech industry is something I find I have to battle with on a regular basis. Do a change in version numbers… no thanks. Except this is the exception to prove the rule.
Unity3d is great at allowing a developer to start placing objects in an environment, attaching behaviours and code to those objects. A lot can be done with point and click, drag and drop but there is also room for real lines of code and proper software engineering. In fact that is essential. I can however, with ease, make a 3d character animated and moving around, colliding with scenery etc. Up to now though if I wanted to use any other form of user input with a Graphical User Interface I had to really go back in time.
The GUI creation in 4.5 and since the earlier releases has been awful. In code in the OnGUI loop you had to try and describe layouts and positions where much of what you put was implied. So you have to describe the user interface and its behaviour with code that merges function with display whilst not being able to see where things are until you actually run it. This is the opposite of most of Unity3d which lets you see where things are in the development environment both when running and when not.
I have lost track of the number of times I have tried a “fancy” layout of buttons, one that starts nicely, with flowing positions based on screen resolution, only to get lost in the code and resort to fixed x,y positions which generally a hit and miss for the first few times. In Unity3d you can expose parameters to allow compound prefab objects to be configured without code changes. I have ended up with UI helper objects that change my spacing and positions at runtime, so I can tweak the numbers to try and shuffle buttons around. Unity3d is great at letting you move alter runtime values, and also great at going back to the originals when you stop running. Unfortunately this works against you on UI’s. You have to tweak the values then remember to write them down on a piece of paper before hit stop so that you can apply them in the code for next time once you get it ‘right’.
That may or may not make sense, but take my word for it, it was a right pain. Let alone what you then had to do to try and alter the look of the buttons, sliders etc with the GUI.Skin which is like CSS but much much worse. So all my research projects have had plain buttons. I am not a graphic designer, and I was not easily able to explain the UI process or how to work with designers to make is nicer.
All that is now gone though. The old way still works in 4.6 (which is a relief from a phased improvement position) but a new shiny UI creation tool and framework is now at last public. It has long been promised, by long I mean literally years! I am sure when I get to the depth of it there will be a few things that cause grief, but that programming folks!.
Now the UI exists as a real type of Unity3d visual object. If you create a layout area you can see it, a button its there all the time. Each of the objects is part of a proper event system but also many of the normal functions are exposed as parameters. If you want a button to do something when pushed you tell it in its setup which function to call.
Previous UI buttons were only ever placed on the view rectangle, like a Heads Up Display (HUD). I have often needed thing to be interactive element in a 3d environment but to act like buttons. Again I have worked around this but now a UI canvas and all its actions, roll overs etc can be detached as a hud and placed into the environment. In my hospital environment this means I can have an better AR style UI at each bed. I have that at the moment but it does not have all the nice feedback and customisation a UI element can have.
UnityScreenSnapz017
The other major change is how the UI elements can be typed and hence changed. Each element can be a regular button, slider etc but they can also be a graphic or even the result of another camera rendering a live texture.
Here is a the game view (though not running) of the demo UI. The continue button is highlighted so on the right are its properties, events etc. The mini menu is showing the choices just for that button on how to transition on normal events such as rollover and click. Here it is set to animation, hence it uses mechanim and potential can go flying around the screen twirling. Simpler transitions such as just a colour tint or a sprite swap can also be defined.

This was possible before but again it was a lot of messing around. The old system of what to do on a roll over etc was buried in the skin code or overridden in the onGUI. Now it makes use of the regular mechanim animation system. This state machine allows definition of all sort of things, and it how we make character jump and dive into rolls, duck etc. It makes sense to have that for more complex UI transitions and states. In multiplayer environments I use a mechanim state change value to send over the network to make sure any mirrored/ghosted network object acts in the same way. So I guess now I will be able to use that for UI’s too to keep players in synch with certain modal activity.
Anyway, this 4.6 and new UI is obviously a precursor to the much bigger Unity 5.0 coming very soon. However it has dropped at the right time for the next phase of a project, so I get to use it in anger and re-engineer something that just about works into something much better.
As I tweeted, this is a great xmas gift, than you Unity 🙂

Digital Snow – Flush Magazine – 15

It’s starting to get towards winter, the clocks has fallen back so this months Flush Magazine, amongst other things, is all about snow, mountains, skiing and boarding. I just had something snow related to consider for my 14th article for the magazine. (That now sounds like a lot!)
I thought I should cover a bit go history, as usual. Some tech reminiscing. This time it was Hungry Horace goes skiing. Anyone else remember that ? 🙂
These sort of flashbacks to things that felt special or unusual then act a seed to zoom forward. This time I covered how snow has felt on screen in games and films through the years. From the simplistic to the “material point method for snow simulation” CGI research papers created by Disney in making films like Frozen.
I didn’t want to stick to pure virtual snow though but some other advances and where it could go in the near future to enhance our skiing experience. I did give a mention to SNOW the game as that looks mighty impressive and has some real potential IMHO.
Thanks to everyone writing for Flush Magazine, it’s great to have so many good articles to nestle in between on a cold winters night. Huge thanks to @tweetthefashion for such awesome production and editing and for still wanting me to write these journeys in history based futurism.
The full issue can be found below


I am zooming around on page 116 and the iOS version is here
All the past articles and links to them are here on the writing portfolio page
Right, where are my snow boots!

Minecraft mirror worlds

Way back in 2006 when many of us started to use the persistent multi user networked virtual world with self created content (Second Life) in all sort so of place like business and education we thought we were on the cusp of a virtual world revolution. As a metaverse evangelist in a large corporation it was often an uphill struggle to persuade people that communicating in what looked like a game environment was valuable and worthwhile. It is of course valuable and worthwhile but not everyone see that straight away. In fact some people went out of their way to stop virtual environments and the people that supported and pioneered their use. Being a tech evangelist means patiently putting up with the same non arguments and helping people get to the right decision. Some people of course just can’t get past their pride, but you can’t win them all.
For me and my fellow renegades it started small in Second Life

I also captured many of the events over the course that first year in a larger set along with loads of blog posts on eightbar including this my first public post that always brings back a lot of memories of the time and place. It was a risky thing to post (if you are worried about career prospects and job security) to publicly post about something that you know is interesting and important but that is not totally supported.

One of the many ways people came to terms with virtual worlds was in the creation of mirror worlds. We all do it. In a world of infinite digital possibilities we ground ourselves by remaking out home, our office our locale. We have meeting rooms with seats and screens for powerpoint. This is not wrong. As I wrote in 2008 when we had a massive virtual worlds conference in London

It seems we are seeing many more mirror world applications appear once more and generally the builds are in Minecraft. It is interesting Minecraft has all the attributes of more detailed virtual worlds like Second Life and Opensim. It is a persistent virtual environment. It has the 8 bit block look and much less detailed and animated avatars, but it does have a very easy approach to building. You stack blocks. You still have to navigate the 3d space get you first person view in the right place and drop a block. (Many of the objects in 2006 were from people who felt they could not navigate 3d space easily something I think that has started to melt away as an objection). The relative resolution of a build in minecraft is low, you are not building with pixels but with large textured blocks. This does have a great levelling effect though. The richer environments require some other 3d and texturing skills to make things that look good. Minecraft is often compared to Lego. In Lego you can make very clever constructions but they still look like Lego. This becomes much less of an visual design challenge for those people less skilled in that art. A reduced pallet and single block type means not having to understand how to twist graphic primitives, upload textures and consider lighting maps etc. It is a very direct and instant medium. Minecraft has blocks that act as switches and wires that allows the creation of devices that react, but it does not have the feature that I used the most in Second Life and Opensim of being able to write code in the objects. There are ways to write code for Minecraft mods but it is not as instant as the sort of code scripts in objects in more advance virtual environments.Those scripts alter the world, respond to it push data to the outside and pull it back to the inside. It allows for a more blended interaction with the rest of the physical and digital world. Preserving state, creating user interfaces etc. It is all stuff that can be done with toolsets like Unity3d and Unreal Engine etc, but those are full dev environments. Scripting is an important element unless you are just creating a static exhibit for people to interact in. Minecraft also lack many of the human to human communication channels. It does not have voice chat by default though it is side loaded in some platforms. It has text chat but it is very console based and not accessible to many people. The social virtual worlds thrive on not just positional communication (as in Minecraft you can stand near something or someone) but on other verbal and non verbal communication.
The popularity of Minecraft has led to some institutions using it to create or wish to create mirror worlds. Already there was the the Ordanance Survey UK creation which “is believed to be the biggest Minecraft map made using real-world geographic data.” (Claiming firsts for things was a big thing back in 2006/7 for virtual worlds). It has just been updated to include houses not just terrain. By houses though this is not a full recreation of your house to walk into but a block showing its position and boundary. This map uses 83 billion blocks each at showing 25m of the UK, according to a story by the BBC
The BBC also reported this week on the British Museum looking at recreating all its exhibits and its buildings in Minecraft. This is an unusual approach to their exhibits. It will be an interesting build and they are asking the public to help. So once again Minecraft’s simplicity and accessibility will allow anyone to create the artefacts. It will, however, create a very low rez low texture experience. So it is a mirror world, in that it will be like the museum but it is more of a model village approach. You admire the talent to make it in the medium. It seems more of an art project than a virtual world project. It is all good though 🙂
The BBC seem to be on a Minecraft vibe just as they were on a Second Life Vibe back in the last wave. Paul Mason and BBC Newsnight came and did a piece with me and the team of fellow Virtual World pioneers in 2007 We were starting to establish a major sub culture in the corporate world of innovators and explorers looking into who we could use virtual worlds and how it felt. Counter culture of this nature in a corporate is not always popular. I have written this before but the day we filmed this for the BBC in the morning I had my yearly appraisal. My management line we not keen on virtual worlds not the success so gave me the lowest rating they could. I went straight for that (which is very annoying and disheartening) into an interview with Paul on camera. Sometimes you just have to put up with misguided people trying to derail you, other times you just get out of the situation and go do it elsewhere.
Anyway, Minecraft offers a great deal, it does allow mirror worlds, though it does allow for an other worldy approach. Most blocks do not obey gravity. You can build up and then a platform out with no supporting structure, you can dig tunnels and underground (the point of the mine in Minecraft and not worry about collapsing. You still have real world up and down left and right though. Most virtual worlds do this. Disney Infinity, Project Spark, Second Life, Opensim and the new Hi-Fidelity etc are all still avatars and islands at their core. People might mess with the scale of things and the size, size as the OS map or the Hard Drive machines and Guitars mentioned in this BBC piece on spectacular builds.
I feel we have another step to take in how we interact at distance or over time with others. Persistent virtual worlds allow us to either be in them, or even better to actually be them. My analogy here is that I could invite you to my mind and my thoughts, represented in a virtual environment. It may not be that those things are actual mirrors of the real world, they might be concepts and ideas represented in all sorts of ways. It may not mean gravity and ground need to exists. We are not going to get to this until we have all been through mirror work and virtual world experiences. That is the foundation of understanding.

Not all avatars and islands? from Ian Hughes

Whilst many people got the virtual worlds of Second Life et al back in 2006 we were only continuing the ground preparation of all the other virtual world pioneers before. Minecraft is the first experience to really lay the foundations (all very serious it is fun to play with too!). These simple 8 bit style virtual bricks are the training ground for the next wave of virtual worlds, user generated content and our experiences of one another ideas. They may be mirror worlds, they have great value. There is no point me building an esoteric hospital experience when we need to have real examples to train on. However there is a point to having a stylised galleon floating in space as a theme for our group counselling experience we created.
The test for the naysayers of “it looks like a game” is really dying off now it seems. It will instead be it does’t look like the right sort of game. This is progress and I still get a rush when I see people understand the potential we have to connect and communicate in business, art, education or just good old entertainment. We could all sit and scoff as say yeah we’ve done that already, yes we know that etc. I am less worried about that, there might be a little voice in me saying I told you so, or wow how wrong were you to try and put a stop to this you muppets, but it is a very quiet voice. I want every one to feel the rush of potential that I felt when it clicked for me, whatever their attitude was before. So bring it on 🙂

Forza Horizon 2 – Demo looking great

The predlets and I are fans of car driving games. Both of them much preferred the original Forza Horizon to regular Forza track driving. Horizon was free roaming, choosing where to go and what to do and giving you the ability to just go for a drive and listen to some tunes. Forza Horizon 2 (the Xbox One version) has just released as a demo and a digital download preorder. It was probably the first game where the predlets and I had sat an watched the inter together and all gone ooooh and ahhhh at the wonderful imagery.
Forza 5 was and is a great car game though felt a little cut down compared to the tracks available on the 360 in Forza 4 but I still really enjoy it. Forza Horizon 2 build not that engine and brings all sorts of changes including weather, a lot of weather. The demo does show a little of that. It also shows true free roam. There are not rock solid wooden fences. If you can break it with a car, you can drive through it. It leaves tracks across the fields and bushes as you hurtle around.
The demo provides a small (thats a relative term as it is a pretty big area) part of Italy to drive around and experience some races and challenges.
I made this little video of some of the fun I had in the demo

The major event is one where you race the italian version of the red arrows in a point to point race. A very impressive, yet subtle element, is as the jets zoom at you or around you you feel it in the rumble pack feedback. With the music and the speed and the awesome visuals it is a brilliant set piece.
You can of course just noon the car around and the Lancer I picked seemed happy to burn doughnuts into the tarmac.
Finally in the video is the hurtling across country. The physics and the rush feel great. The shadow of the airborne car pre barrel roll is again subtle and fantastically done.
It looks as if we will have drivatars in one player free roam, but also we have multiplayer free roam where the entire environment becomes the lobby where you choose to joint races and events or just go for a drive. I found myself and a couple of other people choosing to have an impromptu race and chase. Not an organised event, no automation of the outcome, just going for a blast around the town on the coast.
It’s only two weeks away, its already downloaded and pre-purchased on my Xbox One and I know we are all going to get a blast out of playing it, albeit taking turns not in split screen.

Elite Dangerous Beta – #like

Back in the mid 80’s a game arrived, initially only on the BBC micro computers, that anyone I knew who was a gamer was very much into. That was Elite. It marked a departure from the arcade style side scrolling platform games and gave us the freedom to fly a spaceship in a massive galaxy. Everything was a line drawing, vector graphic style. That did not matter as the feel of the game and the spirit of it captured our collective imagination. It was 10 years on from having seen the epic space dogfighting in Star Wars. Now we had the chance to engage in space battles and roam the galaxy from our own bedrooms.
A key element was trading, that got you cash to kit up your ship. You had to play the supply and demand correctly. Buying goods cheap and selling them for a better price to make a profit (after taking expenses like fuel into consideration).
Before you could trade though you had to dock with the various space stations across the galaxy. These spinning objects with the look of a D&D dice were key. They rotated slowly around the axis that led to their entry port. You had to match you speed and rotation to try and get through the airlock. Many a ship was lost smashing into the station, over compensating or rotating the wrong way. If you made it though and made enough money you could buy a docking computer. This did the job and on my C64 version is played the Blue Danube as we were slowly lined up to dock.
Elite
Key to all this though was the fighting, the cat and mouse of 3d space battles. Leading the target as you pull a tight turn and let loos with the lasers. The more of this that you did the higher your ranking from mostly harmless up to Elite. The iconic scanner telling you the height and position of the other ships relative to you has been much copied since.
We are now in a era where the best copy of all is being made. Elite Dangerous is the full 21st century remake of the game. It was also funded in the new 21st century way of crowd funding. The Kickstarter campaign raised an awful lot of money and enabled David Braben and his company to get building this new epic free roamer. As a backer as a sufficient level you get access to play the alphas and the betas of the game. This early access is of course helping the company out aswell as making the backers feel special and part of something. A brand and fan base for a game like Elite is made up of people my age. It is obviously a game that we all played 30 years ago.
I have of course been playing it, and also giving it a go on Oculus Rift, though I am waiting on my DK2 to play it properly with the headset.
It is most certainly Elite. It feels like it did back then. Though it looks very different. Of course we no longer have simple vector graphics, we have fully rendered ships and stations with intricate detail. Planets and a stars, moons, and space phenomena that add to the atmosphere.

Docking has a whole extra experience. You still have to navigate through the rotating airlocks, but you actually end up in the station and have to find your allocated docking back and perform a gently landing manoeuvre to engage with the star port services.

I had been playing using a 360 style joypad as I generally use those on console games so figured it would be better than the keyboard. It turned out that things got a little tricky. So I bought F.L.Y5 fancy stick and throttle. When I did that the game got way better, felt even more immersive. I had not used a stick like that for many years. I used to play Combat Flight Sim 2 over dialup modems in the late 90’s with a force feedback sidewinder. I should have remembered how awesome that felt sooner!

I am playing on a mid to high range windows laptop (the Mac version will not be for a while yet) but it’s flying pretty well.
With the stick I managed to get docked more accurately and quickly, even won a few more of the training scenarios (which had proved tricky).
What has been great though is just entering the online universe. There are obviously other people there, but you can also just go about your business and travel around the systems that are open for the beta doing you thing.
I did get involved in an NPC space dogfight, it was going on for a 15 mins or so. I felt I was just about to win when I was joined by what I think was another human player. They spotted my cargo and my lack of health after the long battle and set upon me. I had to try and flee. The tension as the hyperdrive powers up and the 5 second countdown, whilst under intense fire trying to shake the attacker was really exciting. I made it out of the system and got repaired. The free form exploring and trading had made the galaxy already feel like a place. I tweeted I felt like I had been somewhere. This is a key element of a virtual world, of a metaverse.
It is great to be speeding along and take a look out of your cockpit window

Of course Elite has competition, Star Citizen a massively funder space drama from the creator of Wing Commander (which was inspired by Elite), and the immensely impressive looking No Man’s Sky.
The latter is, like Elite, procedurally generated, though it has the richness of visit the planets, seeing other life forms evolving. It’s a different game but is going to be a free roaming space epic too.
I think there is room for all of them. This is a genre seeing a real next generation push.
Back to the beta, being a beta it will crash and have the odd problem but it has been very stable for me. The only problem I had was when there was a ship parked in my docking bay. I double checked the numbers and it was my bay and it was not shifting. I couldn’t tell if it was a bug or a simulation of a lack of admin efficient at the base.

I can tell you that in my frustration suggesting a ship move with a small burst of laser fire at the badly parked ship does indeed lead to a rapid response from the authorities, thats another ship lost then!
I flew a few trade missions and made a little bit of cash and noticed I could buys docking computer. I was not overly surprised, but very happy when I engaged that whilst heading to a star port and in kicked the Blue Danube again. Not an 8-bit rendition of course, but a fully realised orchestral recoding.
Elite Dangerous is Elite, fully coloured in and with other people in there with you. It is looking very promising and I am enjoying learning the ropes again.
I should also add that the predlets were fascinated too. Just as when I started playing minecraft they were looking over my shoulder. Predlet 2.0 took to the stars and go into his first dogfight. It is not obvious how to bank, turn and yaw in space, it may be easier to learn planes first. However he did get a few good shots in before getting got. They have also seen it sat in the cockpit wearing the original Oculus Rift and were amazed at that too. So this is not just us old gamers yearning for the past. This is exciting stuff for all of us.
See you in space, look for Commander Epredator 🙂