Random Thoughts

Tech, words and musings from an Englishman in Seattle

A Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game Of…

...Golf?

Oh yes. I think this might be the MMORPG to finally suck me in. Check out Shot Online.

Shot-Online is not just an online sports game either, but it is a highly accurate simulation and a deep role-playing experience. It is the RPG quality that makes Shot-Online the unique game it is, especially with the community interaction and the enhancement and leveling of your character.

Via Wonderland via Boing Boing.

Flight Simulator Praise

A very nice article from a passionate Flight Simulator fan : Microsoft Flight Simulator; Me, The Program, And Where To Go From Here.

"MS did such a beautiful job with their simulator program, that I could literally sit there in the den after retiring from aviation after fifty years as a professional pilot and digitally relive almost any flight I ever made in real life in a photo quality reproduction of the exact aircraft I flew on any given day or night and in the exact weather the flight was flown. I could pull almost any cross-country flight out of my logs and re-fly it exactly as it was the time it was done."

Via SimFlight.

A Bad Day For Sony

Wow. Sony has been ordered to pay $90.7 million in damages and halt sales of consoles in a patent infringement lawsuit.

Read about it at Business Week.

More Eggs Please

More eggs please

Uploaded to flickr by Steve Lacey at 27 Mar '05, 4.20pm PST.

This afternoon we all went over to Sam's for Easter festivities (i.e. Ham, beer and nattering). The highlight is always the Easter Egg hunt which Julian loved - he was the egg collecting king!

March Madness Part Deux

So the NCAA didn't deliver me any birthday presents yesterday - quite the opposite in fact. I went one for four last night with only Illinois winning. I had Texas Tech, Washington and even Oklahoma State going through the win the whole thing.

I am screwed.

My Podcasting Setup

My Podcasting Setup

Uploaded to flickr by Steve Lacey at 23 Mar '05, 11.40pm PST.

Here's my podcasting setup: Windows XP SP2 (P4 3.2GHz, 1GB RAM, PCI Express mobo, SATA drives) running Cubase SX3. A Shure SM58 Beta into an E-MU 1820 audio breakout box. Monitored via Behringer headphone distribution amp.

All printed effects done in Cubase. Audio direct monitoring and headphone mix/effects done in the 1820 box. Zero latency. Yum.

A Brit Abroad - March 23, 2005

It's been a while, a whole month in fact which means that it's time for a new edition of A Brit Abroad!

At just over 25 and a half minutes and weighing in at 11.8MB, today's show is a recap of the month, more details on Katana (my podcatcher and RSS aggregator), and some music curtesy of The Trash Monquis.

Links To Some Of The Things Talked About

Enjoy!

The Band

An evening band meeting today due to disagreements/misconceptions. It started off with everything open and on the table and now the crisis is overted. The evening actually turned out quite pleasant ;-)

I truely did not know whether we would still be a band when I turned up. It was a shocker to me when the issue of communication problems was raised that were actually any issues - I took it as an afront. We worked through all that - laid it out in the open as it were - things are good.

News at 11: Communicating fixes communication problems.

p.s. I feel like I'm in a real band now.

Scratch The Podcast, It's Time For A Movie

I really wanted to get a podcast done today as it's almost been a month since the last one. Maybe tommorow - I've got a new mike setup that I'm dying to try.

Instead, Nabila and I watched "Sky Captain and the World Of Tomorrow" - a cool film with an incredible visual style.

I'd been wanting to see it since it came out as the trailers felt very like "Crimson Skies", which I worked on for a while.

Wow. And was it ever.

Crimson and Sky Captain must have been seperated at birth! If Crimson was made into a movie, this would be it (and vise versa I should think). If you love Crimson, you'll love this film. It gets two geek thumbs up.

Move Completed

Now running on the new server. Please let me know if you see any issues.

Server Move

I'm moving this site (steve-lacey.com) to my new dedicated server. While this is happening there won't be any updates my blog.

I'm moving the content right now and will probably perform the dns switch at some point tomorrow.

Hopefully everything will go smoothly and you won't notice a thing...

March Madness

Being a Brit, I know nothing at all about Basketball. Hence every March I join the rest of the country in entering the March Madness Fantasy College Basketball competition. I have just one goal: Beat as many of my American friends as possible.

This is the fourth year I've entered and I've normally come middle of the pack, and once I came fourth. This year I started up at the bottom, reached sixth at one point today and settled at eighth after this afternoon's games.

I love it! It's such a cool distraction, and as far as I can tell everyone enters a pool or two with friends and co-workers.

Previously my strategy to picking the picks has been: If I haven't heard of either team, or I've heard of both of them, go with the best seed, otherwise pick the team I've heard of.

This works quite well and gets me a few underdog winners which gets good points (we score on seed x 2^(round-1)). Unfortunately, I've now been around long enough that I've heard of most the teams, so my strategy this year is: If the seed differential is three or less, go with the underdog, otherwise pick the best team.

Seems to be working OK so far!

Too Much Stuff Going On

Got the new server up and running, so my domains memeflow.com, spank-band.com are there. steve-lacey.com will be moving there shortly.

I'm also hosting the blog and domain of my compadre cj there at www.bushrodchronicles.com. Go check him out.

Work is busy with much graphics goodness occuring and home time is fun with the ever happy Julian and lurvely Nabila. This evening was also a double joy. I met up with a bunch of friends to see Sam whose (now) financee is serving in Iraq. Sarah also turned up on-spec to join in the festivities - it turns out she's moved to Marysfield on the quiet.

Game Developers Conference Day Three

My first session today was "The Future of Content" with Will Wright. Or at least I attempted it to be.

The room was completely overfull. I have no idea why this session that was obviously going to be well attended was not put in the ballroom (well, other than the fact that it would have cost money. The session spilled out into the corridor (about a hundred or so people including me). It took them about 40 minutes to get the a/v outside working so I missed most of it - take these comments with a pinch of salt.

Will's talk revolved around a project that he's working on - Spore. It was incredible - basically a universe-wide ala simulation/populous/sim city/civ. You can interact from the microbe level to the planet level. It has to be seen to be believed - very whimsical or cartoony in style.

It is very multiplayer and server based - you can go and see other peoples' planets - The player is the creator - he is Lucas rather than Skywalker. The creation tools/editors are the gameplay mechanics - terraforming, alien abduction, first contact, etc...

Story is a side-effect of interesting experiences rather than a pre-requisite; the game starts of with goal-orientied play which is effectively a massive tutorial for how to play in the sandbox.

This looked to be the best session at the conference. It is a shame this was hamstrung by ineffectual organization by the conference staff.


Next up was "Coding and SIMS2: Coding the Psychology of Little People" with Jake Simpson.

All objects in The Sims are self-contained (except for processes to reduce duplication of content such as textures and sound.) The editor, Edith, is completely in-game. Scripts can be changed in game with edit and continue - debugging is in real-time. This is the main reason why Maxis can pump out so many expansion packs because iteration time is so fast. All variables that are to be used for tuning are explicitly marked as such so the tuning tool can drill down to the key variables easily and make the tuning process more effective.

Scripts (in the Simantic language) are exposed in a graphical tree form. The language itself is real-time parsed/interpreted, not compiled. It is stored as binary format to try and avoid reverse engineering (though people have recently done this). All positioning is relative to other objects to avoid heavy math functions. It is heavilly multithreaded - each object has it's own thread. Yielding primitives that wait until their functionality is complete. Each thread has own stack with function calling like any other language. Internal error checking to recover object to last known good state in case of errors.

Because it's scripting, it's easy to limit CPU usage.

Cons: Non-transferable skill-set. Because it's parsed rather than compiled, bugs in code are hard to find.

Having a debugger is critical for rapid development. Using lua/python/etc... you have no direct access to gamedata - lua is seperate, not designed to share data. Has much more overhead than homegrown, but it is transferable and great for mods.


After lunch, we had "Burning Down the House: Game Developers Rant" with a number of pannelists including Warren Spector and Chris Hecker. Very, very lively and really interesting content. I didn't take notes as it was very content rich and the content was being sprayed with a fire-hose. I couldn't keep up with a pen and paper, as my laptop battery was dead. I hope GDC is going to post the audio/video.


I also had a meeting today with Genemation. They are doing some very interesting things with automatically generating heads in a parametric manner. Because it's all synthetic there are no royalty issues. The faces generated are incredibly life-like, even when the software is asked to generate very low polygon count models. It also generates the textures.

The parametric control was also very interesting. With continuous control of ethnicity, sex, age, etc...


I left for the airport at around 3.30pm hoping for an early flight back to Seattle (I was booked on the 8.20pm flight). The flights were all oversold, so I couldn't get on any early flights. Then my flight was delayed until 10.40pm. Sigh. I got home at around 1am. Thankfully some other people were around to chat to and Bob Day gave me a ride home.

Game Developers Conference Day Two - Keynotes and Expo

First up today was the keynote "Heart of a Gamer" by Satoru Iwata, president of Nintendo. This keynote was interesting in that he spent a fair amount of time "connecting" with the audience - "on my business card it says president, in my mind I am a developer and in my heart I am a gamer. He talked a lot about his background and then talked about the standard stuff - being innovative and intuitive is key; games are getting bigger and more expensive to make (though he didn't provide any solutions here). Then it was basically a DS demofest with Mario Kart Wireless, Ectoplasm (a music toy sorta thing - pretty cool) and Nintendogs (tamagotchi style simulator with very nice graphics and AI). We also got to see new footage from the upcoming Zelda.

He also announced that Revolution (the next Nintendo console) is on track with chips from ATI and IBM, and that it will be backward compatible with the GameCube. Overall though, a nice keynote.

Apart from another Peter Molyneux session that was part a post-mortem on Fable and part a working with Microsoft talk (I'm a bit of a Molyneux fan in case it's not obvious ;-), I spent most of the rest of the day in the Expo.

The expo felt a little smaller than usual, with all the usual suspects (NVidia, ATI, Dolby, RAD, Alias, Renderware, etc...) and some other unexpected ones (like Sun - pushing server platforms).

Like last year, the mobile focus in the expo has expanded with lots of mobile chips from ATI and NVidia running and looking very impressive.

Lots of game companies where also there on "hiring row" with booths trying to pull in new talent.

In a welcome change from previous years, the booth babe "feature" was pretty much non-existant, the only company with them was, suprisingly, Nintendo. I'm not going to repeat the big slogan above their booth, but it was a tad risque given the aforementioned staff members.

My favourites though are the smaller companies with the little, single desk stands. There's always new and innovative niche stuff going on there. Lots of AI, physics and rendering middleware.

Also, in another first, there were two companies doing UI middleware. One, Anark, had some very impressive 3D UI, all xml based with good looking demos and tools. Another, Sonic Fusion, had a great looking MFC style UI product that is fully skinnable and customizable. Both of these technologies sit ontop of Direct3D, are hosted by your application and have great looking tools. Definitely worth checking out if you're in the "I need new UI" frame of mind.

As far as the conference as a whole is concerned, it seems a bit more crowded than before. And I don't think the new convention center works. There's no focal point outside (like the Westin lobby area in Santa Clara, or the Fairmont in San Jose), and the escalators are a hideous chokepoint. Minor niggles, but they are problems.

Final day tomorrow.

Game Developers Conference Day One

Note: These are my raw scribbled notes. I need somewhere to keep them, so I might as well share...


The day for me started with J Allard's keynote "Vision The Future of Games: Unlocking the Opportunity". I won't go into any detail here has you can catch the whole thing on Major Nelson's site - he podcast the whole thing. Also, the text is now up on xbox.com.

One thing to note, when talking about the "remix generation", J explicitly called out podcasting and blogging. It was also cool to hear him talk about the launch of DirectX back in 1995 as I was there as part of that launch.

At the end of J's keynote, XBox and Samsung gave away 1000 (yes, one thousand) HiDef TV's. Basically each member of the audience was given either a yellow, black or red badge when they entered the ballroom. At the end of the keynote they ran a race in Forza Motorsport and when the yellow car one, all the people with yellow badge's got a shiny new HiDef TV. Cool! Except Microsoft employees weren't given a badge. Damn.


Next up was a panel session: "Game Design Challenge: The Emily Dickinson License". This was very cool with panellists Clint Hocking (Ubisoft: Splinter Cell), Peter Molyneux (Lionhead: just about the best game designer out there) and Will Wright (Maxis: The Sims, etc...) They had ten minutes each to outline a game design based on the life and works of poet Emily Dickinson.

Very impressive stuff, Will Wright won (based on audience cheers) with his design "USB Emily", where Emily would be a Tamagotchi/Clippy/Seaman style product delivered as a loss-leader on USB thumb drives.

Peter Molyneux had built a prototype called "The Room" - a very stunning visual demonstration based on the idea that poems are are compression technique for emotions and that it can then be protrayed visually.

Clint Hocking gave a great design based around constraints (marketing, platform, etc...) and then went into great detail about using the Nintendo DS's features (stylus, wireless) to explore design features.


After lunch I saw Peter Molyneux again with his lecture "Gameply Moves Forward Into the 21st Century". Here are notes, sorry if they're a tad unintelligable:


His premise is that games are maturing, and people can feel straightjacketed by current games and game genres. Quote: "Best way to predict the future is to invent it."

What is needed:

  • Clear concepts The industry slowly becoming mass-market - the player does not want to learn how to play, he just wants to play. A sentence should convey the concept. Fable - "Be a hero", "Movies" - "Run a studio", GTA - "Be a gangster".
  • More accessibility You have ten seconds to grab someone. At E3 Lionhead will get the press to demo the game instead of demoing to them.
  • Simpler to understand
  • Deeper interaction The things I can do must give me more things. Allow player to experiement and define character.
  • Play and experiment
  • Player's agenda
  • Morphable gameplay Games should be made for multiple audiences, not just one.

And do new cool stuff. (censored - was another four letter word). Breaks previous rules ;-)


The Movies Demo - No UI or icons. AI guesses what the user wants to do next. Information is in the world.

Black & White 2 - God of War or God of Peace. A God game and a War game. Much easier to control, Black & White 1 was overly complex to control.


Last up for the day was "The Age Of Empires 3 Graphics Engine." It's fully 3D with shader paths from 3.0 all the way down to fixed function - the strategy is to go balls-out for the high-end and the low-end will sort itself out. For me, the biggest thing was that they're going fully HDR, supporting 64bit floating point render targets with alpha blending with all the cool goodness of bloom, EXR (from ILM) tonemapping. The bloom paths take advantage of FP bilinear to downsample.

All models store a precomputed ambient occlusion term per-vertex and use hemispherical sky/ground lighting.

The water simulation is precomputed to avoid overwhelming the CPU.


And that wraps it up for the day. Now I'm off to the IGDA awards ceremony. Tomorrow I'll post notes from more lectures and some overall thoughts about the event and expo.

Well Written

Is it just me, or is the quality of the writing in blogs in general very high. Maybe it's just a self-selecting thing, but when I pick up entries like this in my aggregator I stop wondering why traditional media is way down on my reading list.

Amateur blogging - huh?

Game Developer's Conference

I'm off down to San Francisco tomorrow for the Game Developer's Conference. Should be an interesting one, nontheless for the fact that for the first time it's not in San Jose.

I'm expecting some interesting announcements, the first of which appeared today detailing that XNA Studio will be based on VS2005 Team Studio.

Anyhow, I'll be about (staying at Hotel Milano), so if you wanna hook up for lunch or a beer in the evening at one of the many parties^h^h^h^h^h^h^h, ahem, events - drop me a line. Hmmm, maybe I should pack a USB mike and do a pod/beercast ;-)

A New Machine - Trials And Tribulations

Warning - geek heavy content.

Somehow, my last post about my dead home dev box seems to have disappeared. Odd. Anyhow, the posts have been light of late as I've been pretty busy at work, my sister Sue and friend Wendy are in town from the UK, and I'm getting ready for the trip down to San Francisco for the Game Developer's Conference. It's weird the conference being in SF after so many years in San Jose.

But I digress...

As my sister is here and sleeping in the office, I've been shutting down my machine at night (previously it's just always been on) and then on Wednesday we had a power cut after which it wouldn't start up. Nothing. The leds on the motherboard would light up, when power was applied, but it wouldn't actually start. Plus there was an unpleasant capacitor-burned-out kinda smell. Time for an upgrade!

So off I go to the local PC Club, and end up picking up a new case, power supply, PCI express motherboard, a gig of memory and a 3.2 GHz processor. Cool! I love putting machines together, so yesterday afternoon, after a fun trip with sis to the Museum Of Flight (got to go inside Concorde and an Airforce One) I don the latex gloves and build the machine. After a quick test with no drives installed, everything worked fine. As an aside, I knew the case was transparent on one side, but I didn't realize that the motherboard has a very bright neon blue led on it. So now my machine is a lowrider of a machine!

Then it was time for the drives. It was my plan to just use my two, ATA-133 drives from the old machine instead of getting new SATA drives as they're new and work just fine. I thought I'd just pop them in and I'd be done.

First problem. There's just one IDE connector on the mobo and I have four IDE devices (the drives, plus two optical drives). Handily, the mobo came with a connector that converts a SATA port to an IDE one. I thought I'd use that for the DVD burner and just ditch the other one, using the real IDE connector for the two IDE drives.

No joy. It seems that if anything is connected to a SATA port, then it must boot from SATA, so I disconnect that and my old Windows install boots from the primary IDE drive.

Except it doesn't. It seems that if the chipset has changed, Windows needs a reinstall.

OK, so I'll just reinstall Windows, no great shakes. Disconnect secondary IDE drive, use that for the DVD drive, boot Windows from CD and install, boot from IDE drive. Ackk, stupid me. Now, of course, I'm denied access to all my protected content as the machine and users have changed. Fiddle, fiddle, calcs, fiddle...

Long story short, I decided to just get a shiny new 250GB SATA drive to go along with the shiny new machine. I'll use the 130GB ATA-133 drive as a target for backups and ditch the old 80GB one.

I must say, this new machine is damn fast. Those SATA drives rock.

The CD Saga Ends

The CDs Have Arrived

Yesterday the CDs of the bands first recording session finally arrived - all 500 of them. Yey!

© 2001 to present, Steve Lacey.