The recording of my BCS Animation and games pitch is now live on the site and on youtube. Unfortunately only the live audience will get to see the larger avatar I was using to deliver this pitch, as the zoom presentation feed is only of the shared screen with a tiny top left insert of the avatar and my dulcet and somewhat stuttering tones tones. It took a few minutes to get revved up and to many I might be stating the obvious but it is surprising how many people don’t get the importance of user generated content and/or expression in virtual worlds and games.
Official site is here but added the youtube below to save a click or two.
As you may have noticed I have been in and around the virtual world and metaverse for a long while. I have spent decades helping people understand the basics of virtual worlds and benefits they bring to us all. The pandemic has highlighted the need to do some things differently so it is not a suprise that Metaverse is trending in all sorts of places once again. You don’t have to look far to find replays of the ebullient money money from US TV Jim Cramer “describing” the Metaverse is such odd mixed up sets of keywords and company names that it had me crying with laughter and with sadness.
Just to follow his stream of blurb he went through. I only need 10 minuted to explain it all to him, as do any of us, or even better just logon to a virtual world, anyone of them and talk to someone, experience something. I was reminded of the conversation about the internet, the web, ecommerce, social media and so many other emerging technologies. We always get to this stage of apparently influential people getting it so wrong yet bringing so much attention to something.
To be fair, we all have to learn things, but maybe we don’t all then talk about them to a large TV audience in the context of financial investments until we do understand the words. I would be one of many to be happy to explain what the vision of the metaverse is, what the practical implementation of that is today and why it is some of the words used but not in the same order or context. Also… its not all about NFTs either !
He said (slightly paraphrased):
“It’s Unity with an oculus looking at a t-shirt its Nvidia?”
“It’s a hologram”
“You go into a room to listen to Mozart but listen to Beethoven and these people don’t exist”
I hope my virtual world descriptions on TV (of which there are a few) and possibly the relationship between virtual worlds that form a proper metaverse are not quite on this level. As on my TV showreel page with the opensim conversation, added here from 2011 for completeness. Yes a decade ago on saturday morning kids TV, a live virtual world. Cmon people lets do this thing !
Meanwhile I am off to google something up on the inter webs.
A good few years ago I started to experiment with body tracking and how it could be used to add another element to my martial art training in Choi Kwang Do. The aim being that if you capture 3D data points of a movement you can recreate that move digitally from any angle and at any speed. Video may be simpler and more immediate but you need multiple cameras, matrix bullet time style, to see moves from every angle. Using the old Microsoft Kinect controller then the newer version 2 (2012 and 2014 even longer ago than I thought 🙂 ). A digital capture with human biomechanical context applied to it could also be scaled up or down to compare different body types and sizes too. A digital mirror could help overlay the optimum moves over the live performed moves and so on. The possibilities are quite vast. What was not quite working though was dealing with the speed of movement using camera technology at the time. Also the kinect rig for people lacked some points such as shoulders, and could get confused by body rotation too. It was a good bit of kit but was more for front facing. Two kinexts would solve some of that but it started to get complex.
The interesting news that just appeared from another martial art is in this video from World Taekwando using body sensors attached to students to control virtual characters for distanced sparring.
Using sensors from startup Refract they federation has officially created this technology showing a great deal of technical know how. It looks as if the sensors are measuring the knee and elbow joints for position and relative position to power the avatar. I am not sure how precise it is as a teaching aid but I would love to try it out and see how it works with my martial art.
Way back in the dim and distant era of 2009 I was exploring a lot of tools to help me build virtual environments with avatars and characters that could be animated, typically in Unity. 3D modelling is an art in its right and then rigging those models for animation and applying animations to those is another set of skills too. At the time I was exploring Evolver, which in the end was bought by Autodesk in 2011. A decade on and there is a new kid on the block from Epic/Unreal called Metahuman. This cloud based application (where the user interface is also a cloud streamed one) runs in a browser and produces incredibly detailed digital humans. The animation rigging of the body is joined by very detailed facial feature rigging allow these to be controlled with full motion capture live in the development environment of Unreal. Having mainly used Unity there is a lot of similarity in the high level workflow experience of the two, as they are the leading approaches to assembling all sorts of game, film and XR content. However there was a bit of a leaning curve.
I decided to generate a couple of characters and ended up making what to me feels like Roisin and the Commander from my Reconfigure novels. Creating them in the tool plays instant animations and expressions on the faces and is really quite surreal an experience. I installed Unreal on my gaming rig with its RTX gfx card and all teh trimmings and set about seeing what I needed to do to get my characters working.
First there is an essential application called Quixel Bridge that would have been really handy a decade ago as it brokers the transfer of file formats between systems, despite standards being in place there are some quirks when you move complex 3D rigged assets around. Quixel can log directly into the metahuman repository and there is a specific plugin for the editor to import the assets to Unreal. Things in Unreal have a data and control structure called a blueprint that is a kind of configuration and flow model that can be used in a no-code (but still complex) way to get things working. You can still write c++ is needed of course.
My first few attempts to get Roisin to download failed as the beta was clearly very popular. I only took a photo of the screen not a screen cap, a bit low quality but there is more to come.
However, eventually I got a download and the asset was there and ready to go. Unreal has a demo application with two MetaHumans in it showing animation and lip synching and some nice camera work. Running this on my machine was a sudden rush to the future from my previous efforts with a decade old tech for things such as my virtual hospitals and the stuff on the TV slot I had back then.
The original demo video went like this
Dropping into the edits and after a lot of shader compilation I swapped Rosin with the first metahuman by matching the location coordinates and moving the original away. Then in the Sequence controller, the film events list I swapped the target actor from the original to mine and away we go.
This was recorded without the sound as I was just getting to grips with how to render a movie rather than play or compile an application to then screen cap instead. Short and sweet but proves it works. A very cool bit of tech.
I also ran the still image through the amusing AI face animation app Wombo.AI this animates stills rather than the above which is animating the actual 3d model. I am not posting that as they are short audio clips of songs and teh old DMCA takedown bots end to get annoyed at such things.
Now I have plan/pipe dream to see if I can animate some scenes from the books, if not make the whole damn movie/tv series 🙂 There are lots of assets to try and combine in this generation of power tooling. I also had a go at this tutorial, one of many that shows the use of a Live facial animation capture via an iPhone streamed to the metahuman model. I will spare Roisin public humiliation of sounded like me and instead leave it to the tutorial video for anyone wishing to try such a thing.
Hot on the heels of my BCS animation and games webinar on the games of 2020 I was delighted to be invited to pop along to my favourite podcast, Games At Work, as a guest to talk about my personal views of some of the thing going on in the tech and games worlds including AR and VR.
To hear us riff on a range of subjects head over to here to website and the show links or look for Games at work dot biz on your favourite podcast repository.
I have had the honour to be on before, the last time was in June 2020, a mentally trying time that the podcast recording really helped with. Its always a blast to record, they kindly had me on years ago too when I first published my Sci-fi Novels Reconfigure and Cont3xt. Given it is now on episode 311 you can tell this podcast is certainly not a fad or a flash in the pan but a wonderfully produced and entertaining experience, despite my ramblings and book pitching. Enjoy.
Yesterday I presented a webinar for the BCS animation and games specialist group that I chair, but open to all, sharing some thoughts on what games made sense and for what reasons on 2020. I am not sure which BCS channel that will appear on but whilst waiting if you want to have a look and listen its all here.
As I say throughout this is all my own thoughts as a gamer and all personally experienced, bought and paid, no promotional activity by anyone other than me mentioning my books in this.
With all the lockdowns and change of pace of life it is nice to be able to reflect back on simpler times as a kid in the 1970’s and 80’s. Yes we had to worry about nuclear war, power cuts and strikes but, we had some fun things to play with. What follows contains Lego, Nintendo, Atari and a change of pace in the World.
I like many fellow geeks are a bit of a Lego fan. It was a magic moment in my TV career when I got to talk all things Lego Online, as well as all the other ting in 2010/11 like AR, Cloud, Brain sensing computing, haptics (all on now related on this tag). It was also the episode across the 3 series I had to do the most takes as compliance (shudder) meant I could only say Lego once in the 3 minute ad lib piece. Anyway I digress. For this lockdown xmas Predlet 1.0 had seen Andy Piper friend and fellow geek, tweet about the Nintendo Lego set and suggested to elemming that should be my present. It was a fantastic surprise to see this incredible bit of history represented in Lego. This recreates the iconic NES games console and also has an old school CRT TV, but this one has a scrolling canvas that shows supermario as a games you crank to watch Mario bounce around it. As with all this Lego kits there is detail inside that you just can’t see, but as a builder you feel more engaged with the end result as below. The entire build is here if you want to see some of the internals.
It took a couple of days to build this, and all the time I was being equally retro in having the complete boxed set of Blakes 7 running on Britbox. This added to a degree of time travel going on here.
I noticed that the “TV” supported another Lego/Nintendo collaboration and spent an Amazon voucher from my in-laws on getting that right away. This was the Super Mario figure and collection of lego to make scenery and bad guys from the game. This Mario though is a digitally enabled bit of Lego. I was surprised just how much he actually does. As a bluetooth enabled device he is able to talk to an iPad app that also has some awareness of what the physical Mario is doing. You build a course of obstacles and then walk and jump Mario around just as we all do as kids with toys, a sort of clip clop effect as they are rocked and moved. I know you have done this ! The Lego Mario responds to movement, and noises play accordingly, walking jumping, falling over all register. Small barcodes on some of the Lego pieces indicate actions, such as the start and end of a level. You stand Mario on the start, the app starts the timer and off you go. It is pretty magical! I mean just look at this video (its quite tricky to play and film BTW!)
The integration with the Lego TV puts mario on top of the TV (removing a panel to fit him on) A barcode indicates its that piece of kit and then he reponds to coloured blocks on the top of some of the scrolling screen and joins in with sounds and scores. Again, brilliant! Again difficult to film 🙂
Moving into 2021 and the retro mood continues. A very very long while ago I backed the crowdsourced return of the Atari console with its new VCS reboot. Now for me the Atari 2600 was my second console, the first being a basic version of Pong. The Atari had cartridges and a massive upgrade in terms of graphics and colour. It was following behind a revolution in arcade video games and some absolute classics. When customs and UPS had finally got their act together to release these machines that were sent from the US I took delivery of this.
The new look box is an online device with local storage. The setup was very quick. It came with two controllers, one similar to an xbox controller and the other the retro reboot of the traditional one from back in the day.
There are a few subtle and cool upgrades, most notable the stick is also a dial so you have have the usual set of directions but you can twist it for analogue style controls like a paddle.
Whilst there is a store and services to subscribe to for cloud gaming it is the loaded set of games that is impressive. Its has all the original Atari arcade games and all the home Atari 2600 VCS cartridges. I know there is a lot of emulation and ways to run these on all sorts of devices but there is a polished accuracy to these ports. My two favourites I used to play were asteroids and if I could find it the Lunar Lander cabinet. The latter had a massive great level to pull for thrust on the lander a very tactile and dramatic experience, it is also the one that inspired my first ever paid coding and the theme of my last Lego build of the 50 years of landing on the moon. I fired this one up first.
It was a great surprise to have the twisting paddle of the stick as the analogue thrust vector. It really took me back in more ways than one.
Then it was onto Asteroids, just as I remember it, though playing that on the home version of the stick is odd as the cabinet was a spread out stick and buttons.
For those of you who were not there during this golden age, we all wanted to have the same experience at home as in the arcade, which was really possible. The Atari 2600 asteroids looked like this as a cartridge
However it looked like this as a game. It was not the vector graphics of the arcade but more sprite variant of home machine that made life easier to program. Yes it was in colour, but not quite as good as the “real” thing. Still played it to death though at the time though.
I tried to capture a video of all the cabinets and all the VCS games in the machine. It will certainly take a while to even have a quick go on each. I am sure my generation recognises a good few there.
I always really enjoyed the Combat tanks and planes on the original Atari home machine to it will be interesting if I can get the family to come and have a game. There are also a stack of 2600 games that we probably never had in the UK, so I seem to have completed some sort of collection.
What was also weird was that I was having a quick look at these whilst the US Inauguration was happening on another screen. The feeling to relief that it went ahead without incident and the removal of that awful gangster and his cronies from the past 4 years swirled around with my feelings of being a kid and starting my gaming and techie journey that has led to this point. All in all quite an amazing journey so far 🙂
PS: I mentioned that some months ago my daughter saw Andy Piper tweet about the Nintendo NES/TV Lego, probably related to the excellent Games at Work podcast, which I listen to by my friends Michael Rowe,Michael Martine and Andy talk all things gaming, tech and biz during my garden orbiting lockdown walks. This connection which prompted the Lego NES to be my suprise xmas gift. Well I tweeted the video of the my Lego Mario, that I bought specifically because I now had the TV set. Andy then very kindly sent me an expansion to the Mario set with Yoshi as it turned out he had an extra one. yay for serendipity, great family, great friends and fun tech 🙂
Just over two weeks ago I was sitting waiting for my Xbox Series X to arrive on launch day. It got held up for some reason and for a tense moment or seven I thought I might have fell into the over booking of orders trap. The good news though it arrived the following day and here it is.
Installation and setup was super simple and I left the One X attached too. However I had already moved lots of the key large games that were due a X/S upgrade onto a removable USB drive to save needing to do quite so much downloading, network transfer was an option too but I thought things would be at least playable more quickly. On logging onto the new box the profile and all its favourites and colours etc re-appear making it completely like the older box. Next gen gaming is now very like phone upgrades with the excitement of taking the thing out of the box, logging on and seeing …. oh its exactly the same. The best way to see and feel the different is to dive into an X/S enhanced game, get some ray tracing going as in my last post.
Microsoft has a smart delivery label on some games indicating they know to patch to the fancier version on the Series X. However, for a Series X version to work it has to be on the internal 1Tb internal drive or the 1Tb extension cart (which I also felt obliged to get). So I set about asking all of the 60-100gb games on the USB drive to make their way over to the fast internal drive. That is not an overly speedy process and for obvious reasons is kind of a one at a time gig. I had booked off the rest of the week to use up 2020 holiday and immerse myself in the new console but some of that the was going to be sat sipping in a progress bar.
Whilst I waited it was great timing the Harmonix (of Rockband fame) had released their DJ music mixing game/experience the day before. I had already played it on the One X but now could spark it up (from the USB as it is not “enhanced”) and just get on with enjoying the console. This game is disc flipping brilliant! An array of tunes, from 60’s country to modern EDM are available to put into your set. 4 platters let you drop parts of those tunes onto the decks, e.g drums from one, vocals from another. As you progress you get to mix and match all sorts of elements, fading in new parts, hitting beat markers for scores, muting, looping and adding custom instrument sections. The whole thing keeps everything in time and tune and synch in a really impressive and entertaining way. Most DJ stuff is usually dance music but as with my little mashup below there are some old 80’s tunes too. It won’t win any prizes but, rather like rockbound it makes you feel a musical god when you are doing it. You can play it as a game to progress, hit marks and styles or just tootle around. I have played with a lot of music games and to be able to just put stuff together and it sound right is such a buzz. We don’t all have the musical ability to do these things but it does make you want to do more. This filled all the time I was waiting for things to transfer and I had a blast, and am still. playing it of course 🙂
Once on of the One X versions of a mega game had moved across I launched them. It was Dirt 5 the new mad Codemasters racing game. Duly it announced with a new message that a better version was available did I want to upgrade. Hell yes ! The original was something like 60Gb so I was expecting some smart delivery of a few GB more of textures, instead I got a 70Gb full download. It seems smart delivery is not a delta, but the full thing re downloaded in a new package. This meant the transferring of over a terabyte of games to the USB drive from the One X and then transferring from that to the Series X SSD, hours worth or transfer, was in fact… pointless as far as I could see. I killed all the other transfers and just went to the network to get it to download new version. In this case I started with the launch of Call of Duty Black ops whatever number it is and carried on playing Fuser! I even entered something into a monthly task competition.
Once it had downloaded I launched into Call of Duty Black Ops in the single player story mode. I was constantly amazed by how fast and slick it was, how many great scenes there were visually. I also enjoyed the story and the temporal jumps. I mean I should as Reconfigure starting chapter is form the middle of the book :). It was also set in my era. A very different time for American presidents, though Reagan was previously a hollywood actor, and wanted to create space based defence systems. Interesting to be working for him though.
I played the entire campaign through that day. To be able to a) finish a game and b) do it in one sitting is not to say it is too short or anything. The ability to block time off, enjoy and dive in made this like a fantastic boxed set on Netflix. There is of course the multiplayer, but I have to be in teh frame of mind to get a constant beating in that by all the kids.
Another really nice touch was this easter egg (which took a bit of figuring out to get to, ut not too much 🙂 ) As well as some 80’s games to play, really old eight bit glories there was this terminal.
Typing on the diplayed keyboard it was clearly a proper version text based operating system from back in the good old days. I listed and changed directories (not sure many modern players will have a clue about that, but they can always look it up on the fancy inter webs). It turns out it has full versions of Zork I, II, Leather Goddesses of Phobos and a few others. I couldn’t;t use the keyboard on the Xbox app, only the slow and annoying onscreen key board, but that was actually part of the fun. I tried one of the games and saved a game, left the console and went back to see if it loaded it, it did! In the middle of the kick ass, next gen first person shooter there was a good old fashioned text based adventure from my youth, utterly brilliant and not the only flashback this month.
There were a stack of other games I have then dived into. In teh house we were already playing Watchdogs:Legion on the previous Xbox, but it was a really nice upgrade to be able to see London in all its next gen (and own futuristic dystopia).
However, The real stand out game has been Assassins Creed : Valhalla. The free-roaming of a beautiful looking saxon Britain it truly eye meltingly lovely. Unlike Call of Duty its an almost never ending set of things to do or complete, constantly attracted way from one task to do another or just to go sight seeing. I particularly liked that over in East Anglia, where I am from, a full version of Burgh Castle exists. The roman walls still stand there today and was a childhood haunt out on the edge of the broads.
Admist all the lovely views there were a few unusual things too. I went to sort out a real work delivery of food and my controller timed out I was met with this amusing error message.
Also I unlocked fishing, of course it has fishing. As I tweeted recently.
I also played this for a while too, one I specifically bought after getting the console.
It is as mad and weird as its predecessors, will not be to everyone’s taste but it has made me laugh a lot. The new fighting system is more turn based, but you get used to it.
I have updated a stack of other games, Mortal Kombat:Ultimate was the biggest mess as I tried the moving from the USB drive again as it has lots of standalone pieces, I ended up deleting it all and starting again. Fifa got me confused too as it kept not installing much of an update, only to realise it was not actually available in the new shiny version yet, it just never told me and the X/S icon would relaunch the original One X version every time.
The only other fly in the ointment is that our 3 years old super snazzy high end Samsung TV does not cope with the new 120 hz ability of the Xbox. I also had to double check how to enable full HDR on the HDMI ports as it was not automatically doing that either. All done now though and it all works.
What no PS5? Well, once it all quietens down I will investigate getting one of those, but the Xbox, with its Game Pass Ultimate that covers the PC’s too is just too much ecosystem to ignore as a primary gaming system.
I mentioned I was relieving my childhood, well I also finally signed up to yet another video service – Britbox, as it was bundled for 6 months free on out BT broadband. I had pondered if I wanted old box sets of BBC and other channels shows, the lure of Spitting Image reborn too was tempting. However what finally did it was Blake’s 7, this was such a formative show for me, for career, interests and the sort of Sci-fi that I really like, and also write. Yes its all a bit set wobbly, occasionally long winded and cheesy, but I love it. Avon in the foreground below, played by the late Paul Darrow, as I have written often, is probably one of the reasons I became a techie/programmer. That’s turned out OK it would seem 🙂
October 2020, whilst being part of the most awful of years has produced some really interesting gaming developments. The in turn are an escape and get for mental health and well being, or as we used to just call them, fun!
The first one to mention is the brilliant AR physical/virtual crossover of Mario Kart Live Home Circuit. Here Nintendo bring us radio controlled Mario and Luigi Karts.
These are designed to be controlled using the Switch games console and driven around kitchen floors or where ever works as a suitable space for a race. The Kart itself hosts a camera that shows a grown level eye view of the what you would see if you were hovering above the Kart. So it is not the drivers eye view but a view that lets you see the driver and the kart.
This camera view allows the switch to replace some of the physical view with digital content, such as being able to see the animated Mario looking over his shoulder as he reverses the Kart, or wrestles with the steering wheel. The AR also is able to detect large cardboard gates and which number they are in the 1-4 step, allowing it to superimpose a track shape that you initially set up by driving a Kart around to demonstrate.
You can also ice other physical Karts on the same track with up to 3 other switch and Kart owners. Physical effects occur when you hit digital objects such as banana skins. Playing also allows the unlocking of faster Kart formulas that seem really quick when sat at near ground level. It is a really wonderful piece of work.
The following week the new Facebook Oculus Quest 2 VR headset was released. This is an incremental improvement on the free moving non tethered Quest and now also replaced the tethered Rift/S with the use of a USB cable for suitably powerful PCs.
There was/is some controversy as it is the first time Facebook has mandated a full Facebook login and only that in order to use the device, which means if you get kicked off Facebook or delete the account you lose all your purchases, which is a bit odd. It also led to a mistake from Oculus to suggest that as you only have one login on Quest 2 you might be in breach of TOS if you have more than one headset active at the same time. This was quickly refuted, but as a long term Oculus owner (i.e. since before Facebook) this seems a ridiculous way to treat customers willing to upgrade. Anyway, lets see how that plays out.
In the world of PC’s a second generation of ray tracing graphics cards from Nvidia were announced and then in short supply the 3* series RTX. My older gaming laptop with its GTX 1070 was starting to struggle a bit with things like full VR Star Wars Squadrons so I decided to get a previous model RTX desktop a 2080 Super and WOW! these things fly.
Star Wars Squadrons in VR is one of the best ever VR action titles. Here is IGN’s gameplay coverage. It is difficult to get right but when you do it feels better than the movies 🙂
Seeing Minecraft with its Ray tracing version is stunning on screen too. The photo will not mean much if you don’t use Minecraft, but the bottom layer is live realtime reflection, tracing every ray of light as it bounces around the view at full resolutions and frame rate. There are a stack of ray tracing and graphical features appearing in games, even Fortnite has it too now. Next month brings next gen consoles too with the very same jaw dropping visuals
I also decided, because of Star Wars Squadrons and Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020 that it was worth getting a decent new control stick a Hotas (Hands on throttle and stick). These things make so much difference to flying, especially in space and in VR. Twisting and rolling get really intuitive.
This is the first desktop PC I have had for years, and now I have a glass side to it to show the me glowing and pulsating LED lighting on the gfx card that can be set to all sorts of patters and atmospheres too.
My Microsoft Flight Sim 2020 adventures continue, now with added gfx horsepower and I have take to having a little commute at the end of each working day before leaving my office. Randomly pick somewhere in the World and head out for 10-15 minutes. It is very relaxing.
Such as below, Athens, Northwest Canada, a 747 heading into the sunset and the souther tip of South America in the clouds.
I also gave a on VR head tacking a bit of a go with open track being driven from an iPhone app to allow the camera movement in Flight Sim to be driving by small head movements. VR is better, but this still gives something to add to the realism.
Tomorrow sees the launch of Watch Dogs Legion the first of the AAA xmas block busters, bring it on, lets play 🙂
In a break from the all day video calls and events I just quickly downloaded Qlone to my Iphone. I also printed out the black and white scanning reference map. This technique of a reference mat and moving the camera has been around for decades to varying degrees of success, so I was not sure how it would fair.
In about 1 minute of waving the phone around to fill the visual indicators on a virtual dome over this character I had a scan of him. A full colour 3D model in the app. I was so impressed with the initial quality I paid for the upgrade to it which did this remarkable thing.
Bear in mind the figure is just a bit of plastic, I did not highlight any joints or add any context to the model, but magically it just was able to walk around and animate itself instantly.
It can export to a multitude of 3D formats so I think I will have to get Unity back up and running again. Very impressed, well done Qlone