Stunning Matrix Unreal 5 Engine demo

There is a lot of hype of the new Matrix movie but today a demo/experience rendered in Unreal 5 live on Xbox series x and PS5 went live. The intro movie is fantastic, sometimes you can’t tell real from virtual, other times you can, but that often feels deliberate, toying with the uncanny valley.

If you don’t have an next gen console then there is a video, and it is well worth watching, remembering this is live rendered in Unreal 5 not precanned cut scene.

Many of us in tech have an affinity to the Matrix. I remember the first one, sat in the offices in Hursley building early web sites and shops, engaged in the start of digital transformation. The free character drip screen savers everywhere and even the old clunky web we had clips to watch “I Know Kung Fu” etc. Many of us were gamers too so this blaring of physical and digital was really appealing. I even bought the soundtrack, not on old fashioned CD but on Mini disc 🙂 Its always pushing the envelope and as this video shows, they are still at it! Metaverse FTW 🙂

Matrix Unreal 5

Forza Horizon 5 – Mexico here we come

What a bumper time for games it is, and on 9th November the latest of my all time favourite racing games Forza Horizon arrived on the Xbox, The games have always had a large free roaming area to collect, drive, race and photograph some fantastic cars. Each generation gets more jaw dropping as it pushes the limits of what can be done with the graphics, sounds physics. Number 4 in the series was set in the UK, building on a huge map that merged many of key locations and and cities into a manageable terrain. Number 5 has moved to Mexico and even more stunning scenes await there. The game is bundled into Microsoft Xbox Game Pass, but being a fan I bought the full version and all the expansions, knowing full well that I will be playing this on and off for years.

The beauty of Forza Horizon is that “where we are going we don’t need roads”. There are roads and tracks and you can just stick to those but you can also tear across the landscape in even the most unsuitable car possible. This may seem at odds with the precision feel of the driving simulation but it always manages to walk that line between arcade lunacy and pure driving simulator. Why would you go tearing around the scenery, well its for the views like this.

terrain
Mexico desert and volcano

The scenery alters across many different biomes, the time of day and weather also make for great variations and the game itself switches between spring, summer, autumn and winter every week.

Also of note is the radio stations, prerecorded play lists of rock, dance, classical music that have wonderful DJ voice overs that often refer back to things that are happening such as event s just raced or about to come up. It is enjoyable to just pick a car, and casually (or otherwise) drive around the place seeing the sites and smoking up the tunes.

A feature of Forza that I always share and enthuse about is the custom paint and decals for the cars. The game has managed to preserve artwork with each generation of the game so effort in creating these is not wasted. I use the decals as a demonstration of in game advertising and support with both my martial art and my Reconfigure books represented, along with a stylised predator face based on the Wii Mii version. These designs appear with my car in other peoples games and can also be downloaded, though there are some much better painters doing some great work to check out.

Forza horizon 5
Scooby, Choi, Reconfigure
Forza horizon 5
Doughnuts

There are cars from 3 wheelers to high end supercars, over 500 different models and all hyper detailed in and out. There are drag races, giant leaps and even houses to buy.

Forza horizon 5
Drag race
Forza horizon 5
Leap
Forza horizon 5
House

There are lots of online multiplayer angles to join in on, but I really enjoy driving against the Drivatars of friends and family. Here, a single player race is populated by names and cars of people you know driving to some degree in the way they would drive if they were there. This degree of personalisation is always great fun.

If you are looking at these shots and saying, oh it all looks too shiny to be real though, I saw this vehicle parked outside a London train station in a recent (and long time since I have been out) trip.

London nov 21
Shiny

I have already blasted through many of the races and levels, the last game was one of the few I have level capped and “prestiged” on. That really just comes with lots of time more than any particular skill, though doing well in races, performing superb stunts, drifting, speeding and crashing the scenery all ramp up the levels more quickly.

It is also great that I can play this on PC and on Xbox Series X but also now its available as a cloud game. Its juts a pity that our communication infrastructure on the train lines is not up to using that, but its still good if other members of the family are playing something else at home.

See you at the vocano

Forza horizon 5
Mountain lake

Meta, Metaverse, Me

Well what an interesting day yesterday was as Facebook went all out on being a Metaverse company and renamed itself to Meta. It also marked a point that crosses my straight unbiased industry analyst day job with my constancy of being a metaverse evangelist, a title I had in 2006 and maintain. These comments are mine alone and not that of the company I work for. I have lots more to share and discuss on all things Metaverse, but that’s something that people have to pay for nowadays.

However, I will say that I was really pleased to see a slick presentation on all things Metaverse from a multi billion dollar company like Facebook. Last year the same happened to some degree with Microsoft and Mesh at Ignite. The conversations have moved by many people from, “nah we don’t want to interact like that ever” to “no one company should own all this”. The Metaverse the industry and society needs does, as was said in the Meta keynote, need to be able to let people connect with both the physical and multiple virtual realities for a multitude of reasons and with many available ways to be who we are. I have, for many years, talked about how we have had to adjust to the limitations of technology to allow our communication at distance. We still type on qwerty keyboards designed as a layout in part to stop physical typewriter hammers jamming by spacing out the commonly used letters in words to avoid that issue. Not that we need to get rid of this form of typing, but to hold it up as the only way to interact with technology and data seems a little bit odd doesn’t it?

Back a decade or so ago I created a slide for a presentation on virtual worlds and the metaverse that was aimed at showing how far we might be able to go and why. It was in part a presentation about the fact it is not all avatars and islands. Those work, but there are many more things that come together. There are many forms of input, including neural interfaces (see below at the left), there are combinations of virtual to virtual, virtual to real (AR) and as I said at the end virtual to real to real, which is virtual objects becoming physical again (3d printing etc). It is about the connecting of people, a wetware grid, but threaded by narrative and context. The Meta presentation often showed these as quick interactions, thrown a basket ball, looking at a design etc, but the there is of course a longer thread, a digital thread if you like. It’s all very fractal in its nature, the patterns repeat at any scale.

One thing to note though is that everything feeds back into the entire loop, the arrows are multi directional. You might 3d print a “device” or prop you found in a virtual world interaction, but that itself might be an input device for another experience. Imagine if you 3D printed a modelling clay tool you bought in a virtual world then made a clay sculpture that you took a photo of for Flickr, or even scanned the sculpture in and made it a virtual object as a one off that you sold on an NFT market place which then saw it used as a prop in a virtual world movie, and so on. I used to talk about printing off a penny whistle and joining in a virtual band at an irish pub in Second Life. I hope you get the gist.

One key thing though, and it is slightly annoying Facebook have nicked the word but as you see below the entire loop is the meta loop (c 2009).

meta loop
Describing the Meta loop in 2009 – Its not all avatars and worlds/islands

I know many of us old guard or original gangster, however OG you want to be, might be annoyed at the mega corp going Meta on us and riding high on our hard work persuading the world this is a good idea and the way we are all going. However, it is the way we are going, so we get to say “I told you so”, rather than multi billionaires. Money clearly isn’t everything 🙂 We, and I include all my fellow Eightbar people and surrounding community from back in 2006, we were already riding on top of some Double OG work. It’s the nature of waves of societal acceptance and tech development. The hope is that business and experiences that are born of the Metaverse with thrive and bring entertainment, education, excitement and benefit to the world. By metaverse business I mean not the ones building the underlying tech platforms, but the ones thriving on top of them, but then going on to influence the wave after this just as Facebook and co are today. It’s certainly not going away, so my sons birth certificate from 14 years ago saying father’s occupation “Metaverse Evangelist” might turn out to be of use to him someday.

I mentioned above that the physical world is an important part of the metaverse and in the Facebook/Meta pitch there was an instrumented house where the mugs and teapot that were carried in real life updated their position in the digital model. Well, that around the other way is the premise of my Reconfigure and Cont3ct novels. They are very metaverse, IoT, Quantum AR and VR related, but our hero Roisin gets to manipulate the physical world by altering the digital world. It works for an adventure, but it also keeps the “scifi set this afternoon” concept alive and it is not yet all done and dusted 🙂 Go take a look it’s very reasonably priced and might spark a few ideas on the back of the future that Meta are pushing. More here or see the ads not the right.

What’s all this animated dancing in games (revisited) – BCS presentation

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.

Metaverse Mozart t-shirts for invisible people

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 !

Virtual worlds in 2011

Meanwhile I am off to google something up on the inter webs.

Martial arts in the metaverse

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.

Digital humans evolve

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.

Metahumans

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.

Roisin ?
Roisin from Reconfigure and Cont3xt in Unreal engine

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.

Lets see where this takes us all 🙂

Guest Appearance – Games At Work dot Biz Ep 311

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.

A look at the games of 2020

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.

See what you think 🙂

Back to the future Nintendo, Lego and Atari 2020/2021 style

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.

Lego Nintendo build
NES Lego

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!)

Mario Lego (Digitally enhanced)

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.

Atari VCS reboot
Atari VCS

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.

Atari VCS reboot
Retro stick

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.

Atari VCS reboot
lunar lander

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.

Atari VCS reboot
Asteroids

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

Atari VCS reboot

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.

Atari VCS reboot
VCS asteriods

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.

VCS reboot

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 🙂