The Animal Farm

March 31st, 2008

Death of Kings

The Video Game Development Blog Carnival is dead. I just wasn’t getting the submissions necessary to make it worthwhile. It was a nice experiment, I thought, and maybe if the site gains more traffic I’ll try again.

McGraw and I submitted a paper on a new way to do ambient occlusion map generation entirely in the GPU. I’d like to say that I contributed a lot, but to be fair, McGraw did most of the heavy lifting. I ran a few experiments and gathered some pictures and implemented a bit and bounced some ideas back and forth, but the bulk of the implementation and writing was his. It’s a really cool method; hopefully it’ll get some use. I’m considering asking McGraw for his code so I can put out a free tool.

First draft of the thesis is finished. Did I mention this? I want to go through it the next few days and flesh it out a bit, fix up some formatting and grammar mistakes. My defense is the 10th (come!), so I’m setting a hard deadline of the 3rd to have everything finalized. At which point I can prepare for my defense.

I discovered the deadline for the film festival this time around is the 16th. We really want to get a movie out there - our last chance at film greatness - but we’re also pretty busy and don’t have a lot of ideas fleshed out.

You test the waters.

March 26th, 2008

WoW is people

This video is a video from the.. Tyra Banks show I guess. Anyway, it is a video taken from a talk show with Tyra Banks as the host. First and foremost, the guy is wrong entirely. He is completely wrong. I’ve been known to get addicted to video games and other hobbies to the point where I almost don’t do things that I should. I’ve not eaten for a day or not slept for two over video games, but I’ve never ignored someone or something that was absolutely important.

Essentially, the clip is about a guy who ignores his newborn baby and wife so he can play WoW. They have a clip of his baby crying behind him and he doesn’t even flinch, let alone turn around to see if she is okay. The guy is an idiot.

However, about 1 minute and 20ish seconds in, Tyra says

“I’ve been in relationships where a guy was ignoring me to hang out with his friends or spending time with other people, but this is different, he is ignoring you and your newborn for a video game, a computer.”

From the times they showed the computer screen, it was clear he was raiding/in a party. He is playing with other people, people like you and me. These people don’t have to be in the same room to be socializing. Is talking to your friend on the phone a half a country away and ignoring your *important stuff* considered ignoring said stuff for some plastic and some wires? No, it isn’t. It is perfectly acceptable. Ms. Banks, do some research before you say things. Yes, the guy was wrong and is immature about his situation. No, he is not ignoring his wife and child for some inanimate object, there are real, live, people on the other side of that computer he is interacting with. It is no different than ignoring your wife and child for a group of friends. In fact, it is THE SAME as ignoring your wife and child for a group of friends. Get it straight.

~Zach

March 26th, 2008

Airports

Anyone who has been in recent contact with me knows I have been going to and from airports quite a lot lately.  Whether it is to take Brian to PIT or to go to BWI to fly to PIT, I am at airports a lot.  The most annoying thing about them?  The fact that I have to leave way to early for them.  Brian and Morgan have both had me driving from Morgantown to PIT at 4am before to pick them up/drop them off.  The big problem is that if they have a reasonable 8 or 9am flight, I have to leave( if I am dropping them off ) 3.5 hours early to get them there 2 hours before their flight, retarded.  BWI is just as bad, since Morgan lives an hour away.  What’s worse is if we schedule a before-work flight, we need to leave early enough for her to get home and go to work on time.  I feel bad about it,  since we usually leave at 4:30 or 5am and she has to work till 3ish.  That’s a long day.  Today I took a Blue Van or something here, basically a multi-person taxi that is a bit cheaper.  She was worried about her car and I didn’t really want to risk it, plus it let her sleep in till her normal time.

PIT has free wi-fi, albeit very slow, free wi-fi.  I tend to not use it because it is so slow, but at least it is free.  I am currently sitting at BWI airport paying 7.95 per 24 hours to use their wi-fi.  While it is just as fast as the wireless back at the apartment, the fact that every 10 or 15 mintutes I need to disable and enable the internet to get an IP again is really annoying.  I seriously hate networking with a passion.  It is nice they have little laptop bars set up in the gates though.  Complete with USB ports to charge stuff and everything.  Neato.

The thesis is finally shaping up to be something.  I got around to writing a few gawk scripts to convert the ASCII results I have into pretty tex tables and stuff.  I can now run two scripts and get my aggregate ASCII MannWhitney and Quartile charts into seperate tex files to easily add to my thesis.  I could just save each tex snippet to its own file and import them with \input, but I think that would get really messy.  Of course no more messy than the current giant experiments chapter I have, about 50% of which is markup stuff.  I have until April 7th to submit my thesis to my committee, but the goal is to be done by this Sunday.

I recently convinced Brian, Ricky,  and Szarko to purchase Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: Ring of Fates for the DS so we could rock out the multiplayer.  So far I am very happy with the multiplayer.  It plays a lot like any other dungeon crawler, which isn’t really a bad thing for a group game.  You travel through the dungeons of the main game with 4 characters and generally slaughter bad guys and take their loots.  The game doesn’t have a trading system, but you can drop items to allow others to pick up,which works well.  I am hoping the boys didn’t get to far ahead of me in my haitus from the 99A.

In other news, Morgan and I signed an April lease yesterday!  After 3 years of being long distance, we finally get to move in with each other.  We got April free and $100 off each month for 13 months if we signed for April, so we did. We needed a midMay lease anyway, so paying the extra bit for the whole of May is worth it since the price was really right.  I also got my one demand from Morgan, which was that  I had access to the metro and never had to drive to work.  I do, so that’s awesome.  I do have to take a shuttle to the metro.  But all in all it should never be more than 25 to 30 minutes in transit, which I am fine with.  I take about 30 now to get to class, so I am used to that.

~Zach

Who do?

March 24th, 2008

137

My animalfarmcreations e-mail account has been literally swamped with spam lately, largely because the research site has been swamped. I had 137 new e-mails in my inbox today. There’s no way I can keep up with this. Does anyone know of a good way to protect WordPress accounts from fake Trackbacks?

Finished Ergo Proxy, which is kind of a weird anime. There are a few episodes in there that get pretty crazy. It’s not Evangelion stuff, but still hairy. Doesn’t really matter though, because Battlestar Galactica Season 3 came out on DVD a few days ago, and that takes priority over pretty much everything.

Otherwise, life is dull. Crazy dull.

Why even have a phone?

March 19th, 2008

2:30 in the Morn’…

…with a bit of Tears for Fears stuck in my head. The song Cold is currently my only company while I hack around with my split grammar program. Trying to work out something interesting for my presentation in April, and also fixing a few bugs that might get in the way of me collecting accurate data tomorrow (which is going to be a rather long day). Getting worried about some of the content in this paper, but I’ll pull through, maybe, kind of.

Competition over at Dr. Dobbs where you modify one of their games to be, well, better and then send back the modifications. I’ve looked at the game, and it leaves ample room for improvement. I can think of about seven off the top of my head. Have to learn my way around their code base and get some free time together (after my defense), and I’ll be hacking something together.

Wow, that adds quite a lot to my list of things to do. Find an apartment, write a thesis, prepare a presentation, defend a thesis, study up before going to NC, fill out a bunch of paperwork, work on computer graphics project, and so on. Time to put my time management abilities to work.

And that includes sleeping. Good night.

She was wrong.

March 15th, 2008

When Disagreements Attack

I downloaded Blender to do some ambient occlusion work. Blender can’t seem to open the file I’m working with, which I find to be simply stunning considering both faogen and Milkshape have no problems with it, but that’s an attack for another time. I looked at Blender for about twenty seconds and decided the interface was a criminal assault on my eyes, and I quickly searched the internet for some way to change this. There’s not much in that respect, but there are plenty of arguments on the topic.

There seems to be a demand for the possibility of skinning the interface, which Blender enthusiasts do not support. They’re under the assumption that this interface is perfect; it just requires people to not be lazy to learn it. I’d like to take a moment to respond to some of the arguments.

Argument: Blender is open source. If you don’t like the interface, change it yourself.
Response: This is a common open sourcer statement, and it’s hopelessly misguided. First, it assumes that your user is a programmer, which has got to be the stupidest f-ing assumption to make when talking about a 3D modeling package. Second, it implies that the user can just waltz in and start changing things and see results. Which, if you are a programmer, you know is the stupidest f-ing assumption to make. Real software is complex. Nobody steps into the Linux kernel and has anything significant to show for it without a significant amount of work. Completely changing the mechanics of a user interface is not a small task, and if you’ve never even seen the Blender source code before, you’ve got a lot of learning to do before you can even hope to not break things.

Argument: If you want Maya or MAX, why don’t you just go to Maya or MAX?
Response: Because I don’t have $1000. Because I heard there was a nice open source alternative. Because I really like the color gray. Believe me, if I could go to Maya or MAX, I wouldn’t be in these stupid forums.

Argument: The Blender interface isn’t broken. You’re just too lazy to sit down and actually learn it.
Response: If there is a significant demand for a change in the user interface - and there is - it’s time to consider that there might be a problem. The fact that you sat down and learned the interface does not make it a good interface. It does not mean that things are being done as efficiently as they could be done. It does not mean that the time to learn was not disproportionate. I’ve never once heard a Maya user say he wishes the interface was more like Blender. I bet I never will.

Argument: The programmers shouldn’t have to waste their time adding in this functionality when the interface isn’t broken.
Response: Assuming you believe that second bit, that first bit is way off. If there is a significant demand for a feature, the programmer isn’t wasting his time. He’s making the software better. Making the interface extensible is not a small, throw-away feature that nobody will notice. It may actually make Blender usable.

I don’t see why we’re arguing about this. Blender’s interface is a known issue. Every real artist I’ve known who’s looked at Blender chuckled a little bit before putting it away. Maya, MAX, and XSI dominate the market; I’ve never heard of a single company using Blender (their site mentions a few I’ve never heard of, though, so someone’s using it I guess). If it’s not the capabilities of the modeler, what’s left?

This is thirsty work.

March 14th, 2008

A Problem of Words

Describing GPGPU programming for my thesis is hard. I waltzed right through the L-System and Split Grammar descriptions, but now I’m stuck. The problem is that a lot of cluster computing concepts are being used, but they’re being used indirectly within the terminology of graphics programming. Trying to explain kernels, input distribution, and all that in terms of textures, shaders, and using drawing as output is the exact opposite of straightforward. Bent? Circular? I can’t even find the word to describe why this is hard!

My goal is to knock out this Related Works section this weekend, regardless of how much I have to mangle the English language to get my points across. This section is one of the trickier; I still have to talk more about procedural building generation, but that’s more of an organizational problem. Then I have to make one last push through decision trees, and I can finally move on to my work. I’m fairly confident I can fly through all my stuff related to computer graphics, but the data mining section might be trying.

Lord, I’m running out of time fast. Guess where my Spring Break is going.

Shaders = Kernels

March 13th, 2008

/agree

I am writing this in response to Brian’s post titled Form and Function, you know, the one below this one.

I completely agree that it is absurd for my character who is “wearing more purple than Barney” having to look more ridiculous than him.  I would really like it so games, MMOs in particular, would have a pure vanity aspect to them.  Essentially have the really cool looking items be just as rare as the really powerful items, but have it so you would simply find “enchants” of sorts.  Essentially, instead of having my Steel Hawk Crossbow be this retardedly ugly silver-fish-bird thing, make the boss drop a “Enchant Crossbow: Steel Hawk” item that I could apply to any crossbow I wanted.  I could then farm for some suitable looking crossbow and apply it, changing its stats entirely to match the current bow.  I feel this is completely reasonable and would give players even more stuff to farm for and spend time getting, which is what MMO developers want anyway.  So good on ya, Brian.

As a side note, does anyone know of any RPG, Tactical War, or action/adventure games for the DS that recently came out or is really good?  I am in the mood for a new DS game and I’ve been doing a little research( essentially looking at gamespot’s browse-by genre feature and sorting by rating ), but nothing is really pulling me in.  I need a game that is going to be able to keep me occupied for a while because I don’t want to have to buy a new game in a week or two( mostly because I can’t afford it ).  I was looking at Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: Ring of Fates last night and I think that is what I am going for.  It seems the single player is really good and the multiplayer is passable.  That seems okay considering I don’t have anyone to play with anyway *pouts*.  I would just hate to spend $40 on a DS game to find out I don’t really like it, again.  Also, why oh why can’t a company make a game with good online play for the DS?  Is it really THAT bad an infrastructure or is the DS hardware?  I mean, Ring of Fates is a dungeon crawler, one that boasts 4-player action.  This game seems like it would be perfect for online play, think Diable II here, folks.  That to me would make this game an instant buy, having a portable dungeon crawler with online play would be heaven to me, heaven.

Also, why hasn’t Square-Enix released Secret of Mana, Chronotrigger, and Super Mario RPG for the DS, or even the virtual console?  You can’t so much as sneeze without finding an FF 1 or 2 remake, so why not make the other greats as well?  I mean they are sitting on a gold mine that would probably require minimal effort, so why not just freaking do it?

I am really waiting for the next Castlevania on DS, but I don’t know when or if that thing is coming out, I think DoS was two years before PoR, so if one is coming out and it follows the same time, it will be near December ‘08, which is too far away.  I am also waiting for FFT:A2 to come out in the states, but I think that is slated for July right now, which is again to far away.  I believe they are making a few other games for the DS that are too fary away as well.  Basically I want to buy a game either tomorrow or Saturday, depending on my mood.

A thesis is a tricky devil to write.

~Zach

“There’s a cello in your house now.”

March 13th, 2008

Form and Function

In games, it’s common for new, shiny armor to have new, shiny stats that make your character, well, shinier. It’s even more common for those new, shiny stats to be bound to some ridiculous looking armor that makes your character look like a crazed lemming. The same goes for weapons. For instance, Zach has a character in WoW with two weapons which, though they are powerful, look like a twelve year old designed them. His bow may be a fish with a string attached, I’m not sure.

This is stupid. I propose a separation of appearance and power.

Esentially, I see something like Final Fantasy 7’s materia system working out better. Your armor/weapons themselves have no stats attached to them. They’re just for show. You attach “materia” - enchantments, artifacts, relics, designs, whatever - to the item, which gives it its actual power. In this way, you can still upgrade your character and search dungeons for phat l00ts, but you’re not forced to look like a GWAR reject for half the game. It can even add an interesting dynamic where you search for better looking stuff at the same time as searching for more powerful enhancements. There are a lot of micropayment games which do something similar, and people actually pay money to look cooler.

While we’re on the topic, console RPGs need to start providing customization for character appearance. Kaim looks like a damn idiot; he and Vaan and the main character from Tales of the Abyss should invest in real shirts. If I’m going to stare at a character for 20+ hours, I’d like to not have the desire to tear my eyes out the whole time.

Buy a real shirt!

March 13th, 2008

Streams of Consciousness

People who update their websites instead of writing their theses and thus securing their graduation are people you should respect, even admire. I’m just saying. You should not respect the annoying pack of children who sit near them and serve as a distraction.

I’m sitting in the coffee shop - you know the one - tossing ideas around in my head. Final project for graphics class. What should it be? I’m leaning toward a simple game with some wicked graphic effects; Zach’s leaning in another direction. Ambient occlusion map generation. Why isn’t my GPU histogramming working? It’s not a hard concept, but my implementation is clearly erroneous. Game design. Why do so many books/articles/people say “it depends” about everything in place of providing hard, proven ideas. Writing. When am I finally going to finish one of my short stories? There are a handful lying on my computer, and I really like some of the ideas, but they never follow through to completion. Procedural content generation. With the knowledge I have now, I could probably make a really cool tool for textures, foliage, terrain, buildings, cities, entire planets. It sounds like a fantastic ongoing side-project. Magic tricks. When am I going to find a good way to do the Miser’s Dream? At what point do I branch outside of card and coin tricks? I really need to find a good book on this stuff. I’ll go searching this or next week, or order something from Amazon. A good coin trick book is cheap. Raytracing. How cool. Movies. Rocket Science is really, really good, better the second time around. History Boys was weird but charming. I’ve got Mission Impossible 3 waiting at home, which gives me something relaxing to do tonight. Video games. I don’t play them the way I used to. Only a handful grab me. I can barely play RPG’s, where they used to be my favorite genre. Rock Band and Smash Brothers are the current obsessions. Reading. Neil Gaiman is still at the top of the list, I need to move on to another author soon. But I haven’t been reading a lot lately; I’ve been using that time to work on the thesis instead. Thesis. Is anyone going to read it? I doubt it. It’s such an academic problem. I don’t see procedural buildings taking off in games; procedural textures are barely used as it is. Hopefully I’m wrong. I do want to make something cool with the system I’ve built, though. Geometry shaders. How useful are they? Mesh simplification and complication are obvious uses, but pregenerated LOD still seems more useful. They’re nice in theory, but I think their true use still needs to be discovered. Will be good for GPGPU once they mature, I think. Image-based lighting. We need a better solution than cube maps. Rendering the scene six times per highly reflective object is a killer. Would love to see real-time raytracing take over so we don’t have to worry about this so much, but that’s still a way off. Branching/dynamic looping on the GPU still sucks. Coffee. I drink way too much and don’t like it enough. Chai is better but more expensive. Hot chocolate at the Pittsburgh airport is heaven. Worth a trip down for that alone. Freshens has an Orange Sunrise smoothie that’s also heaven; luckily, it’s closer. Music. No More Kings has a song called “Sweep the Leg,” a clear tribute to Karate Kid. Music is mediocre at best, but how do you not enjoy a reference to Karate Kid? I’m giving a presentation at Colson Hall on my research and how it relates to literature, or more specifically creative writing. I have a feeling I’m going to be doing an awful lot of reaching to make that connection. I don’t believe my presentation is open to the public, unfortunately. Meanwhile, my presentation takes place the day after the inventor of hypertext speaks, so it’s going to be a tough act to follow. Moving. I’m going to NC. Pretty awesome, and a little worrisome. Trying to get Ricky to move there too, but I don’t think it’ll work. Still, the job should be awesome. Computational complexity. Theory courses and I don’t really get along. I perform well in them, but the material doesn’t especially speak to me. I should read Ricky’s math for game developer’s book; I could use the refresher.

There’s a big block of text for you. Have fun.

No, that’s not how it’s done.