Monthly Archives: February 2013

Here comes the PS4

Last night many of us watched on Ustream as Sony unveiled the PS4. As I tweeted at the time it was great to see Ustream in such a high profile event as we streamed a Second Life and real world interview at Wimbledon back in 2007. Just a few of us with portable cameras and a willingness to try something different.
Sony had a pretty impressive stage set up. There was a very large main screen, but they went for a CAVE type approach and around the screen and the side walls formed part of the experience.It was a bit like Microsoft’s Illumiroom ?
There was a massive influx of tweets when the first person on said “over the next 2 hours we will…..” and shouts of get on with it please!

Anyway, they did get on with it. The PS4 is pretty much a ramped up general purpose computer again. It has significant extra memory and additional processors to do some of the extra tasks. One of the things they mentioned was that it would be able to download patches and updates in the background. i.e. unlike the PS3 which sits and downloads patches not allowing you do anything else. Of course this really should be what they do. As part of this they announced being able to play games whilst they were downloading. So this is down to the design process to give you the bits you need at the start, not just a loading screen game as we used to see in the 8 bit days.
The new controller was unveiled, it is pretty much the old controller with a touch pad. A significant feature was a big light on the front. The said this was to help identify one another’s controller more easily. That was not really true as it was then announced a dual camera sensor would ship with the unit and it would be able to see the controllers. i.e. they stuck the glowing PS Move lights into the controllers 🙂 We will have to see what benefit that gives.
Sharing and connecting featured heavily. Being able to access content anywhere and targeted content. “A dynamic preference driven path through the world of content” apparently! The PS Vita was often mentioned too as the perfect way to enjoy streamed content when the main TV could not be used. Remote play.
Then there was cloud streaming. It had to feature as Sony had bought Gaiki It is a core of the social experience too it would seem. So if something is on the PS Store you can play it straight away, no need to download (or pay) making any game have a free trial period. As network speeds increase this makes a great deal of sense. Of course it then does make you wonder why you need a massively powerful console device if rendering is done remotely. However the best of both worlds can’t hurt can it.
The PS4 controller now gets a share button. A physical share button rather then the web page ones of Facebook and alike. This lets you share whatever you are doing to whoever in all the various permutations. They have put a dedicated video compression processor on board that basically encodes the last n minutes (I think n is 15) of whatever you are doing. You hit share and it throws the video to the world. This is to cut out all editing apparently. I hope it does not remove replay options in games as being able to recreate a moment from data and view it from anywhere is still great fun. Everyone replaying the same in game view of the same thing may get a little… samey.
Other than the PS Vita all the other second screens got a mention. So we will have to see how designers use these.

**Updated I almost forgot (it was a long show) they extended the social aspect and the remote play so that you can hand over the reigns of a game to someone somewhere else in the world. It is a bit like when one of the predlets ask me to do a bit of a level for them and hand me a controller. Whether many gamers want to hand over control is another matter. I am reminded of a patent idea @martinjgale and I did years ago at the old company. It was one that detected your level of inability to complete a level, or frustration and patched in remotely a guide or helper to get you past your moments of despair and enjoy the rest of the game. It was a great idea but somehow it didn’t get through the review process as they regard it as silly. Well….. 🙂

The main UI looked very Xbox 360, with the current trend for huge great video icons laid out in Mondrial style patterns, some animated. Primarily so that our clumsy touch interfaces can target them. Still it looked nice.
Then we were treated to a whole host of games, probably in game footage, but where cut scenes end and game begins is not alway clear. We did though get straight into first person shooting and then first person driving. Great genres, now shinier and smoother. Not a massive leap in game design though.
So I am sure the PS4 will be great, I am sure when they finally release it I will have to add to the console collection. The test will be if it has great content that is worth all this sharing. That of course is down to the games industry. They have a new box ready to do massive triple A titles. As long as they don’t forget the innovation that brings us awesome experiences like Minecraft! which the talking heads video seems to indicate 🙂
Here are the games though

Building an electric superbike – Flush issue 6

The new edition of Flush magazine has just gone live and it features a little departure from my normal format with an interview I did with my friend Mike Edwards (@asanyfuleno) about his fascinating project gathering people together to build a revolutionary new electric racing superbike. It starts at page 105 (this is a direct link to it)

There as loads of other interesting articles in the magazine as usual.
I am really pleased we got this done as we had talked about it for ages. It would be great to be able to get a behind the scenes documentary going about this project too. Mike is also taking a crowdsourcing route as we mention in the article to get the project stages moving. This is all hot of the presses so look out for his and if you happen to be intrigued or can help then I am sure Mike would love to hear from you 🙂
The importance of solving some of the challenges for a race bike will have a direct knock on to commercial everyday use. I have been pondering an electric car replacement for the shorter journeys when we finally move house in the next few weeks. I was suprised at how few options there were and still a heavy early adopter premium to consider. One major manufacturers car looked less expensive with its on the road price much lower than others, it then turned out you have to rent the battery and pay a monthly fee. So there is definitely some need for some innovation in the electric vehicle business to make it work for people.
Hopefully Mike’s project will make for some very exciting racing and I look forward to seeing an awesome independent bike take on the factory machines (petrol and electric)

Four years of Feeding Edge six years of tweets

This month marks the 4th year of Feeding Edge Ltd (est. 2009) and it has been interesting to be able to just get to the Twitter archives for my @epredator account and look back at some of the things that have happened.
I thought in celebration I would generate a Tag Cloud using processing and WordCram it took a bit of massaging of memory levels as there are a lot of words 🙂
This seems very representative of most of the time I have had Feeding Edge up and running. It is after all 2/3 of the tweets time wise and I am probably a more prolific tweeter (and Retweeter as RT is the biggest word 🙂 ) now than ever.
I obviously have talked about the Predlets a lot, and talked to some particular people more than others. It is interesting that in general the words look positive as I try not to be too negative, even back when things were very difficult.
So happy birthday Feeding Edge 🙂 right back to the Unity3d development then 🙂

Sharing Arduino experiences with STEMnet ambassadors

The STEMnet programme here in the UK enables people who are interested in sharing their expertise in STEM subjects with the next generation are given some support to do so. Schools ask their local STEMnet coordinator for help and volunteers step up and go along.
Yesterday at the Intech science centre (our local hub for STEMnet) I helped run an ambassadors intro into Arduino (and also a little bit of Scratch too).
Intech had bought 8 arduino starter kits. These are fantastic combinations of components and projects that have now become more official within the arduino community.
Unboxing arduino
The packaging and collection of it is very professional and whilst still all based on open source it provide way more than I was expecting in the pack. Before seeing the kit I has thought we could start with the basics of the blinking light (a standard piece of code) using the onboard LED, then build the flashing light, then cut and paste and build 2. Basically following the 3 minute piece we did on Cool Stuff Collective
The basic presentation I used was this one, it was not designed to be overly pretty as it was just a catalyst to get things going.
I also did not know what the experience of each of the attendees was likely to be. As it was we had a great and helpful mix of people who knew lots, and were very advanced hardware engineers, some traditional IT professionals and programmers and some very enthusiastic newcomers to the subject (but technically literate)

Arduinointech from Ian Hughes

***update 13:23 14/2 (Just uploading again as it seem the Slideshare conversion repeated some words and removed others!)
The aim of the pitch was to suggest the basics (inspired by the basics in Choi Kwang Do)
I thought most kids would want to be into programming initially because of games. There is an instant disconnect between seeing all the code and the effort for a AAA title that can be quite off putting.
So I settled on the light switch as a real world blended reality example. Layering on that the Arduino is a swicth we can control, but that the basics of input, process, output or sense, decide, respond are the fundamentals of everything. So if you get a basic piece of the experience dealing with getting some user input, deciding what to do and then making a change with an output you cover an awful lot of ground very quickly.
Very often as techies and engineers we all see the intricate detail, we become very aware of everything that we don’t know, how complex details can be. However if we treat the knowledge as a set of repeating patterns, like a fractal image we can talk about a basic building block without worrying about the complexity of the overall picture. After all you have to start somewhere.
Anyway, a huge thankyou to Sarah at Intech for hosting and for getting all the kit and for asking me to help in the first place 🙂 A huge thankyou to the group of Ambassadors that braved the potential snowstorm and dived and all had a go and got everything working in the few hours we had. It helped to debug what we need to tell students and other ambassadors.

Making animation easier with QUMARION

I tweeted about this the other, but after it came up in the Q&A session at yesterdays blended reality pitch I realized I had not put any more here about this interesting device.
The QUMARION is rather like the posable wooden mannequins that artist use to practice drawing figures
Mannequin for drawing
It is instead fully instrumented with sensors to work with a digital description of a human skeleton.

So as you pose the figure that translates to poses in the 3d modelling package.
A purist 3d designer may regard that as undermining their skills with manipulating and understanding the interface on a 2d screen. However this came up as an answer to a question about blended reality as I was talking about how sometime the technology can get in teh way, other times it disappears and lets us use what to know to enhance an experience.
The QMARION is rather like using the real guitar in Rocksmith, it may be an appropriate tool for understanding and communicating with an application.
I know that when I use 3d packages there is a barrier in having to deal with a mental translation of a 2d representation. Being able to just pose a physical device and explain what is needed physically would work for me.
A long while ago I was trying to make some tennis animations for a well known Second Life project. I found myself standing and looking in a mirror, performing the action then sitting down making that action work on a very simple digital rig, but then I had to tune it so that it looked better for the screen. I had no motion capture which would obviously have helped in the first place, but it is the extra artistic interpretation and subtle tweaks that it would have helped a great deal to have had a hands on device to help.
Now this device is only input as far as I know so there is an obvious extension in using it as an output device too. If I mocap a move, but then the device can play that back in physical steps and frames then I could tweak and enhance it. Obviously in games there are some moves that just don’t exist, you cant get certain flips and jumps happening. You can however start with a basis of what you can do.
Again of course this relates to studying the forms in Choi Kwang Do. A physical, but digitally recorded recreation may help someone even more to understand. Also a mannequin can be made to hold a position that may be a transfer on one move to another that a person bound by the law of physics cannot. It becomes a physical pause button.
Another extension to the idea is that this restricts you to one rig. A component model that lets you build any size or shape of joints to create the armature for any creation would be incredible. Combine that with the ability to 3d print the components in the first place, but them together, have that create the rigged model and then animate away. There are some fantastic opportunities for people to create interesting things as this approach evolves.

Blended Reality Learning

Tonight at Southampton Solent University, room HC021 on the ground floor of the Herbert Collins Building, SO14 0RD at 6:30 I will be given a BCS Animation and Games Development presentation that is a further extension/summary to some of the things i have recently written about in how the physical interaction with virtual environments make for a perfect blend to learn new things and take on information.
I just posted the pitch, minus the videos (which I replaced with stills) on slideshare.

Blended Reality Learning from Ian Hughes

The main content is really about how this blended reality is starting to emerge. With things like Skylanders as toys, but also devices interacting with games environments. At the same time the evolution of playing guitar from plastic pick to Rocksmith and finally the journey that I have described in Flush and here about how I got into the martial art Choi Kwang Do inadvertently via using the kinect to try and get fit and how I see the inklings of a future that improves learning and communication for all of us. As usual a lot of chatting with pictures, but the gist is in the slides.

A new twist/swap on Skylanders

I am a big fan of Skylanders and their blending of physical and virtual play and it seems that they just keep coming up with new things. Last year we had Skylander Giants with new larger characters that also lit up (using induction current from the portal that you place them on). This year they have taken the physical side of things a bit further with this.

Swap Force makes the characters have interchangeable components. You pick a set of legs and a top and plug them together. This makes for many more combinations and ways to play. It is of course ramping up the character collectible side of things (as we discussed in Wesley’s podcast) and the “need” to buy more things, but they are toys that kids can play with.
Maybe they are getting one step closer to me be able to print the extra pieces that I win in game?

Born to be wild – how to break a guitar

As I may have mentioned before I like guitar games 🙂 Rocksmith has been a great advance and forms part of many of the talks I give including the one I will be giving a week today at BCS Hampshire as part of the Animation and Games development specialist groups events.
Last week I dived back into Rocksmith as some new DLC arrived in the form of Steppenwolf “Born to be wild”. As I tweeted at the time this felt like a circle was complete. Born to be wild was one of the tunes in the original Quest For Fame guitar game. It featured in an amusing encore where a very gruff knuckle dragging cartoon character shouts at you “PLAY STEPPENWOLF!!!!” and you then launch into a tennis racquet strumming rendition. One of those video game phrases that has become part of some of our vocabulary.

There are 3 new songs in the DLC, Born to be wild is in the middle of this video 🙂
Now of course this is for real guitar not plastic buttons or cricket bats. It would appear though that my poor old Fender Squire (a cheap version of a Stratocaster) had had enough though. It was starting to wander out of tune after every song and felt a bit funny. Then there was a loud shattering noise and it sort of exploded. After 23 years the inner metal parts seemed to have given up the ghost.
Corroded gubbins on 23 year old cheap strat
The whammy bar nut sheared but also many of the parts holding the strings in place were none too happy either. It was a sad moment but these things happen. I pondered buying a more expensive guitar replacement, but thought instead I would pop down to Argos (of all places) and get another cheap(isn) fender. So came back with this
Shiny new fender starcaster for #rocksmith
Now I know a bad workman always blames his tools but my old guitar was actually making life a lot more difficult for me. I had forgotten that about 20 years ago ( in its 23 year life) the string guide at the top of the neck had broken. I went and got a new piece from a proper guitar shop but it was a bit to large. As I was only tinkering I thought it would be ok but it meant all the strings were a lot higher from the fret board then they should have been. (It should have been cut or filed down but I dind’t have anything that would deal with it.) This meant extra pressure and fraction of a second extra time to push strings down.
The new guitar now feels amazing, even for a £99 one. The strings were much lower any chord changes just flowed a little better. As it was a similar style of guitar everything else was pretty much the same. This change was instantly measurable too. As Rocksmith is scoring your work too there was a noticeable uplift. I still can’t play really properly but I am getting closer 🙂
So it does pay to have something decent to use as a tool for the job, but equally working with what you have makes you appreciate improvements more.