Forza Horizon 2 and Crackdown- E3

Anyone who has been to one of my talks will know I always mention Forza on the Xbox as an example of some interesting ways that games technology is used and can be used to share information. It means I can show some really nice pictures and cover any subject. I am also a big car racing fan. So I was made up when this trailer and the extra information appeared yesterday about Forza Horizon 2.

I also know from experience that it is going to be a brilliant game. Forza 5 is a track based racing game. The original Horizon let you drive around a free roam area, racing and discovering things with the same dynamics and setup at Forza5. Horizon is one of Predlet 1.0’s favourite games too.
It looks as is the Drivatars will be free roaming too, which will be interesting. How that data is collected and the illusion of the real players driving style in such a free environment is quite tricky to pull off.
From the video there is also the statement that you can drive anywhere. In Horizon there were a lot of very strong fences, unlike in Just Cause 2 or Test Drive unlimited where you could drive across any field and over a cliff. So that looks like its been rectified. Free roaming games are the best sort for a gameplay magpie like myself as I dip in and out of various games. The ones that hold my attention let me go off and make my own experiences work. Driving fits that pretty well though as the constant flow and balance of cars are a microcosm of free roaming in their own right.
As part of the E3 bonanza Turn 10 also released the “free” patch to Forza 5 to give us (back) the Nรผrburgring in its entirety

I dived straight in and did an 8 minute lap in a Ferrari 458 and lo and behold I ended up 41st in the world ๐Ÿ™‚

That will not last, but it was a pretty good time. Whilst it is a very unforgiving track it can be learned and the previous Forza on the Xbox 360 had the track. They definitely have upped the detail on it, the video mentions laser scanning the most accurate model yet. No mean feat. It does suggest its a free update, and I applaud them for delivering it, however as there were not very many tracks in Forza 5 compared to Forza 4 the next gen upgrade felt a little short on content. Now releasing the ring at E3 to help promote Horizons 2… well its almost as if it that free content was held back as part of a marketing plan? Of course it was. Still, I am pleased it is here and look forward to September’s release.
Another game I was very very pleased to see was Crackdown making a return. The original game was one of my all time favourites. (back in 2007 I said I thought it might be good ๐Ÿ™‚ )
Crackdown 2 was ok but this reboot and the original creator running it will hopefully get back to its roots but jazzed up to current tech.
The trailer is CGI bit anyone who has played Crackdown will get a little tingle in the back of the neck watching this. “We like Dominoes!”

Can that be the same game? Max and sparky

I was looking at the new updates on Xbox One including the wonderful ability to add new hard drives now, increasing the puny 500mb storage. At the same time Microsoft added games for gold, free games to subscribers. One of them was Max and the Curse of the Brotherhood.It was interesting that is is all powered by Unity3d, but that is an aside from this tale.
In the inter a boy wishes his little brother away, a magic portal open up and he is dragged into it. Max didn’t mean it so he dives in after him and ends up in a nice looking platformer where the main tool is a magic marker that lets you create things ate certain points.
I couldn’t get out of my head that the story was very similar and I had an inkling that the name was also very similar from something back in 1997.
Back then I was just joining the slightly rogue organisation called the Interactive Media Centre that was doing some interesting work with early web and at the time interactive CD-ROMs. The sort of fancy stuff that came with magazines before we all had internet access.
The team were busy working on a very early web presence for a washing powder. A game was being built which involved a boy and getting dragged into a parallel universe.
In this case the portal was related to washing. I remember the odd CGI that had been created for the narrative where the boy climbed into the washing machine. We all realised this was not a very sensible thing to be seeing. The render got redone and the story changed a little to involve getting sucked into the pattern of the shirt that was being washed. I am not sure who was doing what where as I was very new to the group. (I even turned up wearing a suit on day one, as we wore in the rest of IBM, that was a mistake of course. Not worn a work suit since ๐Ÿ™‚ ). This moment had an impact on me as I realised the bizarre set of things we now were going to have top start worrying about and getting right and checking in this fledgling industry. There was no manual to follow we just had to work it out. So in many ways this was a catalyst for all the things I have been willing to get involved with since. Once you know there will be something weird, you may not know what, but you know you can deal with it you develop a different attitude.
Anyway it turns out this game, which I managed to track down some images of was called “Max and Sparky”. It is pretty amazing that a game from so long ago that aaas just part of a project that the team was working on is documented at all on the web. Now we take it for granted that things will be able to be found and looked up.
machine
So I was play a Max game on the new Xbox One, thinking about an old game with Max and history of the web etc. Just to complete the coincidental combination, the name of the excellent game graphic designer I am working with on this current Unity3d project is …. yes you guessed it.

Watchdogs – Benny Hill and Next Gen hide and seek

Yesterday saw the much delayed release of WatchDogs by Ubisoft. It was originally one of the flagship release games for last November when we had the console refresh of Xbox One and PS4.
Firstly, after a good few initial hours of play and investigation I will say that I do really like it. However, most of what I really like are things from other games in the city sandbox genre. They have built a new version of Grand Theft Auto/Saints Row et al. That is not a bad thing, but it would seem the newer features and ideas are extra icing on the cake. It’s not a bad thing. Genres develop and succeed because we enjoy them. We need the patterns of the familiar with some extra tweaks to keep out interest.
So in Watchdogs you are a vigilante with some tech smarts and some hacker friends. Using your trust smartphone you get to do things to people and the city of Chicago in addition to the usual running, driving, shooting, climbing, exploring and collecting of the other great games this builds upon.
Before I go any further though. What is going on with the price of the game? I pre-ordered the disc on Amazon and it arrived on release day for ยฃ42. I had nearly cancelled in favour of getting a digital download. Which on Xbox One means that you don’t need to pop the redundant (once installed) disc in the drive on order to play. I am glad I did not. The digital download, you know the easier to distribute, lower overheads, no additional production costs easy money for the distributor version, was ยฃ59.99. Nearly half as much again as the physical version direct from Microsoft. Way to go to encourage the digital age.
Anyway, back to Chicago. I found that being a fan of the free roam game I tend to only do a few of the initial missions before getting into wandering around doing side missions. I may have dived into that a bit early as some things I already had unlocked and did made less sense than if I had discovered them in the plot. That is not a criticism. To get this much free roaming variety and link in a story is very hard. I prefer to discover, and would probably be less happy if everything was locked until I had done the first level tutorial grind.
Some skills in the typical RPG progression were locked until a certain level of mission was achieved, so I think all the pointers were there to get on with the campaign and stop gaffing around ๐Ÿ™‚
Like all Ubisoft games there is the almost default unlocking of territory by climbing up something and pressing a button. In Far Cry 3 and Assassins Creed maps are unlocked by finding the a hub and dealing with it. Here it’s a cell phone tower. The climbing tends not to be quite so vertical as Far Cry 3. It is generally a puzzle of lifting platforms, razor wire and camera jumps that is needed.
I say camera jump as this is the main new dynamic to reach places that are hard to get to. Being a hacker, if you can see a device like a camera you an take it over. You then get the camera view of the world, in digital snow covered CCTV. Once you have the camera, it is as good as being there. Which means if you can see another camera you can jump view to that. Each camera can then take you round corners up building and into server rooms for the final puzzle hack of a level without having to traverse the level. It’s a twist on the stealth sneaking and it works really well. There are also nice twists such as guards on patrol wearing cameras that you can dive into, but have to wait until the get to the right place on patrol to do whatever deed it is you need to do.
Police chases are as per Grand Theft Auto. If things are going badly, they scan and then chase you. Running and hiding to avoid them ups the tempo of the sneeking around. This is where hacking the city comes into play. You gain the ability to switch traffic lights as you approach them. Initially this seems odd as in a car chase a red light is hardly off putting. When you do switch though all the cars at the intersection get confused and tend to cause a roadblock collision. It’s a bit like Benny Hill’s role in the original Italian Job as you cause gridlock with the lights. Other things such as lifting bridges and massive pipe explosions under manhole covers also feature. You find that this sort of messing around with the environment at a distance also works in the on foot sections. Blowing a pipe or exploding a bad guys phone as a distraction gives a lot of freedom to finish a mission.
One of the parts I like in these games is jumping in a vehicle and seeing the sights. Sort of a pedestrian thing to do by not being a pedestrian. In this mode you generally get to listen to some tunes. The music so far has been good but it is not the multiple radio radio channel experience of GTA.

So you can just grab a boat and sit in the harbour and admire the sky line.
As usual there are some great weather and time of day effects. You have a hideout (or several if you do the tower climbing unlocking ) where you can go a sleep, replenish and set a time to get up. It has only forced that once by way to letting me know that was an option. Sleeping currently seems underrated ๐Ÿ™‚
With this game being all modern day hacker the phone plays a major part. It is the scanner that pops up to tell you things about the people around you, the device that lets you blow things up and take over cameras. It does have a few apps on it too though, of course!
There is a shazam style whats this tune app and some media players for the various things you collect. There are also some games. They are referenced as a sort of digital drug experience to allow them to be a bit trippy. Again very Saints Row and like the drug missions in GTA. As a game device it allows some every weird things to happen. I have played 2 of the 4 so far. One is a 3d bouncy jump game around the city, where the platforms are colourful giant flowers that you rag doll onto and bounce around a track, with lots of psychedelic reference points. The other was a full on action game as a giant spider robot in a small part of the city. It is a destruction derby but with the ability to climb up the side of builds and even walk upside down on the elevated railway track whilst firing a massive chain gun. It is a mini game, but not that mini. I am sure the others games and the extra content on its way will be equally satisfying.
Ah yes the other content. Of course a season pass is on offer. i.e. pay in advance for the updates and unlock some content. It’s something to factor into the price of a game now too. Given digital download is the only way to do this properly, and given the price difference of downloading the full thing digitally, I wonder how much more rinsing can go on of early adopters with apparent disposable income?
The smartphone relationship is not just in the game. There is a companion app, separate from Smartglass. This provides a hacking from the map approach of flying a helicopter around and deploying squad cars. It is like Battlefield commander mode.
Then there is the hide and seek game. Whilst playing your single player game you can be invited or just invaded it would seem by a multiplayer task. I only did a few of these but the ones I did were high end hide and seek. I was given a target, I had to find that target and scan them with my phone. They get made aware of the hack and they then have to try and find you in the area amongst the crowds before a time limit expires and then “deal” with you.
The first few didn’t go to well, as I was spending more time thinking about the game dynamic than playing it. The third time was very tense and exciting. I arrived in a flash sports car but parked properly. This meant I looked like an NPC car. I scanned the other player almost by accident as I parked. I think hit the hide in the car button. Light are off engine off. You can be seen in the car. I then watched, panning the camera around as my foe frantically dashed around the block cross crossing, circling, switching direction trying to find me. There I was sat hunched down in the car. I knew if the car moved it would like like a player, if I got out the same thing. So I sat. I watched the timer go 25%, 50%, 75% and as it does so the area the player has to search decreases. It was at 98% and I was about to drive off when they clocked me. Needless to say the car was not bulletproof. It was a very memorable moment for me. It was very different to hiding as a sniper in an FPS (something I prefer not to do). It felt more like an action thriller as the hero watches as the bad guy gets closer. Of course in this case it was not a happy ending. I should imagine though my opponent felt quite a rush too in dealing with me with so little time on the clock. Its a connection to another human through gameplay. We both know how one another felt, but that was it. An anonymous game of hide and seek ๐Ÿ™‚
It generally seems to be these moments that define games for me now. It may be the relationship you form with a games puzzle, trying to solve it, realising how much thought and evil intent to catch you out went into it (like in Limbo the game).
Watchdogs may not be the ultimate next gen game, might have more pixels on a PS4 to and Xbox One, but it has got me thinking about the genre again and about these gaming moments in a metaverse.

An interesting game tech workshop in Wales

Last week I took a day out from some rather intense Unity3d development to head off to North Wales to Bangor. My fellow BCS Animation and Games Dev colleague Dr Robert Gittins invited me to keynote at a New Computer Technologies Wales event on Animation and Games ๐Ÿ™‚
It is becoming an annual trip to similar events and it was good to catch up with David Burden of Daden Ltd again as we always both seem to be there.
As I figured that many of the people there were going to be into lots of games tech already I did not do my usual type of presentation, well not all the way through anyway. I decided to help people understand the difference between development in a hosted virtual world like Second Life and developing from scratch with Unity3d. This made sense as we had Unity3d on the agenda and there were also projects from Wales that were SL related so I though it a good overall intro.
I have written about the difference before back here in 2010 but I thought I could add a bit extra in explaining it in person and drawing on the current project(s) without sharing too much of things that are customer confidential.

Why SL development is not Unity3d development from Ian Hughes

I did of course start with a bit about Cool Stuff Collective and how we got Unity3d on kids TV back on the haloween 2010 edition. This was the show that moved us from CITV to ITV prime saturday morning.
I added a big slide of things to consider in development that many non game developers and IT architects will recognise. Game tech development differs in content to a standard application, the infrastructure is very similar. The complication is in the “do something here” boxes of game play and the specifics of real time network interaction between clients. Which is different to many client server type applications (like the web)

After that I flipped back from tech to things like Forza 5 and in game creation of content, Kinect and Choi Kwang Do, Project Spark and of course the Oculus Rift. I was glad I popped that in as it became a theme throughout the pitches and most people mentioned it in some way shape of form ๐Ÿ™‚

It was great to see all the other presentations too. They covered a lot of diverse ground.

Panagiotis Ritsos from Bangor University gave some more updates on the challenges of teaching and rehearsing language interpretation in virtual environments with EVIVA/IVY, the Second Life projects and now the investigations into Unity3d.

Llyr ap Cenydd from Bangor University shared his research on procedural animation and definitely won the prize for the best visuals as he showed his original procedural spider and then his amazing Oculus Rift deep sea experience with procedural generated animations of Dolphins.
Just to help in case this seems like gobbledegook. very often animations have been “recorded” either by someone or something being filmed in a special way that takes their movements and makes them available digitally as a whole. Procedural generation uses a sense and respond to the environment and the construction of the thing being animated. Things are not recorded but happen in real time because they have to. An object can be given an push or an impulse to do something, the rest is discovered but he collection of bits that make up the animated object. It is very cool stuff!

Just before the lunch break we had Joe Robins from Unity3d, the community evangelist and long term member of the Unity team show us some of the new things in Unity 5 and have a general chat about Unity. He also did a session later that afternoon as a Q&A session. It was very useful as there is always more to learn or figure out.
We all did a bit of a panel, quite a lot of talk about education of kids in tech and how to just let them get on with it with the teachers, not wait for teachers to have to become experienced programmers.
After lunch it was Pikachu time, or Pecha Kucha whatever it is called ๐Ÿ™‚ http://www.pechakucha.org 20 slides each of 20 seconds in a fast fire format. It is really good, covers lots of grounds raises lots of questions.

David Burden of Daden Ltd went first. VR the Second Coming of Virtual Worlds exploring the sudden rise of VR and where it fits in the social adoption and tech adoption curves. A big subject, and of course VR is getting a lot of press as virtual worlds did. It is all the same, but different affordances of how to interact. They co-exist.

Andy Fawkes of Bohemia Interactive talked about the Virtual Battlespace – From Computer Game to Simulation. His company has the Arma engine that was originally used for Operation Flashpoint, and now has a spin of with the cult classic Day Z. He talked about the sort of simulations in the military space that are already heavily used and how that is only going to increase. An interesting question was realised about the impact of increasingly real simulations, his opinion was that no matter what we do currently we all still do know the difference and that the real effects of war are drastically different. The training is about the procedures to get you through that effectively. There has been concern that drone pilots, who are in effect doing real things via a simulation are to detached from the impact they have. Head to the office, fly a drone, go home to dinner. A serious but interesting point.

Gaz Thomas of The Game HomePage than gave a sparky talk on How to entrain 100 million people from your home office. Gaz is a budding new game developer. He has made lots of quick fire games, not trained as a programmer he wanted to do something on the web, set up a website but then started building games as ways to bring people to his site. This led to some very popular games, but he found he was cloned very quickly and now tries to get the mobile and web versions released at the same time. It was very inspirational and great to see such enthusiasm and get up and go.

Ralph Ferneyhough of newly formed Quantum Soup Studios talked about The New AAA of Development – Agile, Artistic, Autonomous. This was a talk about how being small and willing to try newer things is much more possible and needed that the constant churn in the games industry of the sequel to the sequel of the sequel. The sums of money involved and sizes of projects leads to stagnation. It was great to hear from someone who has been in the industry for a while branching out from corporate life. A fellow escapee, though from a different industry vertical.

Chris Payne of Games Dev North Wales gave the final talk on Hollywood vs VR:The Challenge Ahead. Chris works in the games industry and for several years has been a virtual camera expert. If you have tried to make cameras work in games, or played one where it was not quite right you will appreciate this is a very intricate skill. He also makes films and pop videos. It was interesting to hear about the challenges that attempting to do 360 VR films is going to have for what is a framed 2d medium. Chris showed a multi camera picture of a sphere with lenses poking out all around it, rather like the star wars training drone on the Millennium Falcon that Luke tries his light sabre with. This new camera shoots in all directions. Chris explain though that it was not possible to build one that was stereoscopic. The type of parallax and offsets that are needed can only really be done post filming. So a lot has to be done to make this giant 360 thing able to be interacted with in a headset like the rift. However that is just the start of the problems. As he pointed out, the language of cinema, the tricks of the trade just don’t work when you can look anywhere and see anything. Sets can’t have crew behind the camera as there is no behind the camera. Story tellers have to consider if you are in the scene and hence acknowledged or a floating observer, focus pulls to gain attention don’t work. Instead game techniques to attract you to the key story elements are needed. Chris proposed that as rendering gets better it is more likely that the VR movies are going to be all realtime CGI in order to be able to get around the physical problems of filming. It is a fascinating subject!

So it was well worth the 4am start to drive the 600 miles round trip and back by 10pm ๐Ÿ™‚

Game mechanics are not …

I often get involved in conversations and projects about how to engage people with technology. This is, of course, often using game technology to connect people, to collect and show information or just to hang out and chat or meet. It covers nearly every project I do. It is as applicable to a TV show like the Cool Stuff Collective as it was to corporate life’s use of virtual worlds. There is always a line of confusion though. It is around what enables the technology and what you actually do with it.

“A pack of cards is not a game”

Building with any technology, whether it is pieces of paper with pictures on or with virtual environments across a network does not mean something is a game yet.
The best reference for all this is of course Raph Koster’s Theory of Game Design which I suggest everyone read ๐Ÿ™‚

This book sets out a lot of the principles of what makes something interesting to do, to play. How and when repetition and skill gets trumped by boredom and familiarity.
I don’t want to get embroiled in the discussion of what “Gamification”is (too late) but very often it focuses on producing the equivalent of pack of cards. The mechanics of a potential game. This needs to happen but at it’s heart the question should be what are people going to do with the pack of cards.
Cards are a good example as most people have seen or played cards at some point. They are an easy form of technology to understand. There is a mathematical order to them, there is a visual design component. A real pack of cards also has a tactile element. Yet that pack of cards can be used for thousands of different types of game. It is the game mechanic that defines the game and the cards are just a small (but essential) component in the mix. I am sure many people have sat down with their family on holiday with a pack of cards and said “right what do we play then?”. The cards don’t tell you, they are just a medium in which to operate. So you can’t always expect a freeform environment to get people to play in. Some will of course, some people find enjoyment or mischief in any environment which leads to types of gameplay.
Card games very often feature chance. Luck places a big part however so can skill and experience. If you think of high stakes Poker games millions of pounds/dollars change hands on the turn of a card. However it is the ability to read people, to bluff and double bluff as much as the ability to calculate odds that apply. Yet the same cards can be used to play a simple game of snap. A reaction game, visual matches, fast reactions maybe a little sleight of hand as the cards are turned over.
Cards also have emergent game play. I know as a kid I used cards to layout race tracks for matchbox cars. People attempt balancing games making houses of cards and of course there are magic tricks.
So approaching a game of any sort we need to not just ask how the technology will work but find a few seeds of an idea of who is interacting with what and why. Is there jeopardy? is there luck? is there teamwork? However we should also not restrict ourselves to tightly defining rules. Allowing gameplay to be discovered.
Discovery though only really comes with familiarity or the need to break the rules. So any game needs some rules, some structure and an idea or most people (not all) are going to drop out or be less bothered. Something has to matter. There are lots of triggers to make things matter, but they don’t just happen. Someone has to make something, relate it to something.
Having been a gamer for many years I still find I play games both as a player and as a developer, I also realise I look at them as a game designer too. Why did that make me feel I needed to continues, what was so cool about that.
We all played games as kids, made up games, set rules and parameters, then found ways around them in a spirit of fun. Tapping into that as adults is much harder. People are less willing to think about why. So like many skills we all have it, its a question of unwrapping the gift of play and exploring it ๐Ÿ™‚

Is Statue?

I had a all to rare go on Call Of Duty on the Xbox One yesterday. I downloaded the latest map pack and I was intrigued as I ran around an Aztec ruin against bots that I heard one of them shout “enemy over by the statue”. I had not really noticed specific voice prompts of that nature before. However after a bit of exploring, and obviously getting fragged a lot I found the statue and I was pleasantly surprised to see this.

I haven’t explored the other levels too much yet but I am as always intrigued by the level design and the spirit and atmosphere these design elements create.
Checking the other add-ons it I also noticed that COD has gone all Sat-Nav on us. There are additional voice packs for the game commentary and in particular you can have the dulcet tones of Snoop Dog keeping you up to date on the game. (‘big fan am I’ of the Yoda voice on my Iphone TomTom Sat-Nav app).
Whilst on the subject of persona, Kinect Sports Rivals arrived a few weeks ago. It has a number of sports to try some of which differ from the usual motion sports. There is go course tennis and ten pin bowling, but without the controller so no risk of launching one into the TV. There is Jet Bike riding across waves, football(soccer), shooting, and the intriguing rock climbing too. What I found even more interesting was the kinect being used to scan me and make an avatar. Often the web cam style face camera pastes textures on a standard rig. This however creates a cartoon character of you. So clearly there are a set of noses, eyes etc and it picks ones close to the parameters. It starts by scanning your body shape then asks you to get close in to look at your face. I ran this a couple of times as I was intrigued when it asked me to remove my glasses (which I thought was a generic message) but then put glasses on my avatar. When I took the glasses off before I started it did not ask me to remove them and I had a specs free avatar. You can of course customise the avatar once this scan has been done but it seemed to work very well.

As I mentioned its caricature ๐Ÿ™‚

It’s got the lot – metaverse development

My current project has kept me pretty busy with good old fashioned hands on development. However, sometimes it is good to step back and see just how many things a project covers. I can’t go into too much detail about what it is for but can share the sort of development coverage.

(*update 11/6/14 Just adding this picture from a later post that describes this environment)
It is a unity3d multi-user environment with point and click. It works on the web so it needs a socket server to broker the network communications. So it has a Photon Server. That Photon Server is not on their cloud but on a separately hosted box with a major provider. So that needs my attention sys-admin wise configuring and keeping it up to date.
The unity3d system needs to be logged into and to record things that have happened in the environment. So I had to build a separate set of web pages and php to act as the login and the API for the unity3d web plugin to talk to. This has to live on the server of course. As soon as you have login and data, users etc you need a set of admin screens and code to support that to.
The unity3d system also needs voice communication as well as text chat. So that’s through Photon too.
The actual unity3d environment has both regular users and an admin user in charge. So there are lots of things flowing back and forth to keep in sync across the session and to pass to the database. All my code is in c# though sometimes a bit of js will slip in. WE have things like animations using the animation controller and other unity goodies like Navmesh in place too.
I am working with a 3d designer so this is a multi person project. So I have had to set up mercurial repositories and hosting the repo on bitbucket. We sync code and builds using Atlassian SourceTree which is really great. I also have an error tracking system with Atlassian so we have a JIRA. It means when I check code in and push the repository I can specify the JIRA reference number for the issue and it appears logged on the issue log. That combined with all the handy notifications to all concerned.
As I have a separate server component running I had to set up another repository to enable me to protect and synchronise any server changes, the server has its own repository ID so it can pull the unity3d builds to the server too.
There are complications in doing a database communication as Unity will only talk to the server that is is served from using the www classes. So it makes local testing of multiuser a little tricky. The unity dev environment is able to emulate the server name but the built versions can’t so there is a lot of testing bypass code needed.
Oh I forgot to mention, this is all in Arabic too. There is nothing wrong with that except I don’t know the language. Also Arabic is a right to left language so things have to be put in place to ensure that text, chat etc all flows correctly.
A few little problems arose with this. Unity has an excellent Arabic component that allows you to apply right to left to any output text, however it does not work on input fields. That is a bit tricky when you need text chat, typing in questions and responses etc. So I have ended up writing a sort of new input field, I use a text label but capture the keys pass it to the Arabic fixer component which then returns the right to left version that is displayed in the label. I do of course loose things like cursor and focus as the label is an output device but needs must.
In order to support Arabic in html and in the database I had to ensure that the text encoding of everything is UTF-8, there is also a directive tag dir=rtl that helps browsers know what to do with things. However I have found that this works with HTML input fields but seems to not work with password fields. My password field will not let me type Arabic into it. The keyboard language chooser on the mac reverts to uk and Arabic is greyed out. This cause me a lot of confusion on logging in.
There is also the confusion of what to type, it is relatively easy to cut and paste translated Arabic labels into strings, but when testing a chat system or user names I needed to know what english keystrokes generated what Arabic phrase (that’s not a translation thats a how do I type something meaningful in Arabic and see it come up on the screen).
Luckily my good friend Rob Smart came to my aid with “wfhp hgodn” which equates to ุตุจุงุญ ุงู„ุฎูŠุฑ which is a variant of good morning. It helped me see where and when I was getting the correct orientation. Again this is not obvious when you start this sort of thing ๐Ÿ™‚
Anyway its back to layering and continuos improvement. Fixing bugs, adding function. It is pretty simply on paper but the number of components and systems, languages and platforms that this crosses is quite full on.
The project is a 3 person one, Project manager/producer, graphic designer and me. We all provide input to the project.
So if you need any help or work doing with unity3d, c#, photon,html, php, MySQL, rtl languages, cloud servers, bitbucket, mercurial, sourcetree, JIRA then I am more than slightly levelled up though there is always more to learn.
Phew!

Real life avatar

Over the years I have got very used to digital representations of physical things and have often paid attention and talked and written about the impact those avatars have on our interactions with one another. A few days ago my new Choi Kwang Do training partner arrived, a Century BOB XL.

I already have large punch bag but there is something very interesting that seems to happen when faced with a face, an avatar representing a human form. I had noticed this before training on BOB at the West End Dojang and various other places.
Bags and shields provide a good target to practice technique. We also practice target punching and kicking and defence drills with our fellow students. However in Choi we do not spar it is not a martial art to try and get hurt doing.
BOB on the other hand presents you with an interesting mental challenge. Whilst it is a monochrome coloured lump of rubber it does have human features. It makes you think whether or not you really could defend yourself against a real person and use the sort of strength of attacks we learn and practice. It also allows you to desensitise yourself to the human in front of you, to practice tuning them out. I don’t ever want to be in a situation where I need to use Choi techniques to defend me or someone. However I do want to be as mentally prepared as possible.

Like all things though this can be over analysed, and it is just good fun to use the various techniques to target the right pieces of the body, the irregular shape of a human form versus the symmetry of bag provides another level of practice.
So now my Choi self, an avatar in its own right as I switch modes can interact and have a conversation with the BOB avatar. Of course this is also for the rest of the family as we are all practitioners in the art. I know the predlets really like BOB and as the mini Dojang gets a little better organised (new garage door to maximise the room there) then we shall all get to play a bit more.

I hope I can put some tech instrumentation in too to add to the fun. A proper place to put the power meter/arduino contraption and who knows the Xbox Kinect too (though still need that dev kit form Microsoft!)
For more on Choi Kwang Do check out basingstokeckd.co.uk

Flush 12 – Secret Agent! on whose side?

It’s time to share another article in the excellent Flush magazine. As usual my collection of words and ideas have been massively enhanced by great layout and bing in the company of other fantastic articles and features, thankyou @tweetthefashion. This issue I decided to explore the world of hacking, surveillance and counter measures, encryption and t-shirts. The title “Secret Agent, on whose side?” will be familiar to many people but particularly a few old collegues where it became a bit of a mantra at work. It applied to most situations where things went wrong, usually when some sales or management over commitment made us wonder whose side they were on as we cleaned up the mess ๐Ÿ™‚
The recent revelations about the mass government data collection may seem a shock to many but the battle for information and the counter measures around it in recent modern technology show us the trajectory this was on. This includes fictional spies like James Bond of course ๐Ÿ™‚
I was trying to strike a balance of information, historical information that may be of interest and moderate outrage at the escalation.
The article is on page 108 thru 115.
The direct link is here which should take you right to the page.
The embedded issue on issuu is below.


Check out the entire magazine though including the fantastic front cover. I will let you discover that ๐Ÿ™‚

Got back home to some amazing news. Oculus to Facebook :)

I am just about coming around from a superb trip to the US with my Choi Kwang Do family. We took a flight to Orlando, then drove 500 miles in 2 cars up to Atlanta, Georgia. The HQ of CKD. Whilst there several of the group graded for belts, a black belt and 2 coloured belts. Also the founders of the Hampshire group of schools Mr Derek Bicknell and his son Mr Liam Bicknell graded (for 2 days ) with Grand Master Choi and achieved their 4th Degree blackbelt in CKD. A very fine achievement.
Most of the time I spent at HQ, training and helping out. It is a great time to just concentrate on the art not worry about the outside world.

I did take a trip with some of our group to the aquarium and I also spent some time with an old friend from Atlanta who very kindly took me skeet and target shooting out on the wilds near Alabama for the full redneck experience. Including firing a very loud M1 rifle.

Once the training was done we then drove 500 miles back to Tampa where we attended the 27th anniversary of Choi Kwang Do at a seminar.

So I was almost completely immersed in CKD and less in tech. However… I did speak to some people about the kinect and how that could help training and I also explored making videos on the fly. I had made some using the iMovie trailer wizard before but I attempted a couple of live ones. The first was when I took a break from driving and made this.

The second was attempting to document the aquarium experience. Atlanta aquarium provides very fast wifi which make a lot of sense so we can all share things as we are doing them. This was the result.

The wifi at the seminar let me capture and publish straight to youtube too, such as Miss Cullen’s shield attack which she gained a great 3rd place and a handshake from Grand Master Choi.

I had videos all the demo teams too, I was about to upload them when I realised that they are all performed to music that probably would get flagged by the google bot and get takedown orders on them. So that requires a bit more editing not on the iPhone ๐Ÿ™‚
On getting back and feeling enthused by jet lagged I was pleasantly surprised to find that Facebook was buying Oculus Rift the VR headset. Now I understand the notion that a big company has just bought out something slightly cool because it was not mainstream but as a metaverse evangelist and as part of this industry I think it is very good news. That combined with Sony’s Morpheus headset and the potential combination of Google Glass and Google Tango means we have a resurgence in the very thing that people keep asking if its dead. Virtual worlds. Headsets provide another way to interact with 3d content. It may not be to everyone’s taste, there is a barrier to entry. However big tech firms showing an interest again will push things forward back up the good side of the hype curve.
Issues of identity, of immersive design, integration with existing data. New ways to explore how we communicate as humans all get brought to the fore. It will give another generation a chance to push things forward. I am of course happy to help anyone get to grips with the changes this will bring. I have been in this virtual space quite a while now, though there are other pioneers that were there before too.
So bring it on ๐Ÿ™‚ It would be amazing to be up close and personal with digital renditions of all the wonderful Choi Kwang Do experts in an immersive 3d environment too. There are of course slight practical issues of wiring getting in the way, but it would be possible to get a complete perspective of the art from the view of a grandmaster captured digitally. Not to replace the real physical thing, but it would be great to feel that peace and excitement of the Atlanta HQ from here ๐Ÿ™‚