We Have Moved

Pixel-Love is now at: pixellove.wordpress.com

A copy of the content remains here so links don't break, but everything is ported, so if you want to look through the archives we suggest you head over to the new site.

Thursday, March 08, 2007


I'm seeing the uncanney valley everywhere right now. It's something I wrote about in the context of visual aesthetics 18 months ago, but since then I've realised it has a much wider scope. Watch the beginning of this:

A self-righting Indy with gripping hands impresses me... but it doesn't fool me.

Similarly, Image Metrics have been showing some astounding work recently. Looking at the CGI head on the latest Develop cover, I am once more impressed, but once again not fooled. There are all sorts of subtle mismatches in texture and light that add up to it not quite being human.

Likewise, when set against speech bubbles, the body language of these avatars in PSHome is reminiscent of stereotypical cult members.

Everything that might be wrong with a digital representation of a human is also potentially wrong with a digital representation of anything else. The difference is in us: a significant amount of the human brain is specialised for evaluating human appearance and behaviour.

As Scott McCloud pointed out in Understanding Comics, we can infer a face from a circle, two dots and a line. Put a circle with a big dot in it inside any random shape, and it will suddenly tend to resolve into a face. We can reconise faces made of less than 100 pixels.

We intrinsically have higher standards in evaluating humans as real compared to, say, rocks and trees. If we weren't human, the level NaturalMotion and Image Metrics are at might fool us. We are though, and it doesn't, even as it makes us go "oooh".

It will all get better of course. Simulating one component of the unconscious at a time, we're building more realistic AI. At some point though, they will stop looking like good AI and begin to look like bad actors.

(Hello, I am TK422, otherwise known as David Hayward. I'm going to be posting here alongside Toby. There may be some crossover between this and my own blog, Functional Autonomy, but overall I'll be putting different content up on each).


GDC07:2007 Game Developers Choice Awards Topped By Gears of War

2007 Game Developers Choice Awards Topped By Gears of War Epic Games and Microsoft Game Studios' Xbox 360 shooter Gears of War won Best Game at the Game Developers Choice Awards, hosted by the Game Developers Conference (GDC) at the Moscone Convention Center in San Francisco. The title also picked up awards for Visual Arts and Technology.

The Game Developers Awards are the only peer-based, open nomination awards program in the industry. GDC Executive Director Jamil Moledina commented of the awards ceremony that it is “like no other”, adding that “by celebrating our visionaries by name, we give the audience and the public at large a chance to give credit where credit is due”. Nominations are open to all members of the International Game Developers Association, with the finalists chosen by the Choice Awards Advisory Board, before winners are finally voted on by IDGA members.

Clover Studios and Capcom Entertainment's Okami and Nintendo's Wii Sports fared well too, picking up two awards each, for Character Design and Game Design respectively, as well as one each for Innovation. The Innovation award was also shared by Bostjan Cadez, developer of Flash title Line Rider.

Other major award winners included Harmonix Music Systems and RedOctane’s Guitar Hero II for Audio, Nintendo’s The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, which walked away with the Writing award and Titan Quest developer Iron Lore Entertainment, which picked up the award for New Studio.

Shigeru Miyamoto, creator of the Mario, Zelda and Donkey Kong franchises, amongst many others, was awarded the Lifetime Achievement award, and Manifesto Games co-founder Greg Costikyan received the Maverick award. Composer George “The Fat Man” Sanger was given the Community Contribution award for his work to encourage interactive audio innovation, while this year’s First Penguin award, presented to industry pioneers, was awarded to Alexey Pajitnov, creator and developer of Tetris, and pioneer of the casual games industry.

"Once again, the Game Developers Choice Awards have shown that gaming greatness can be found within every type of game,” noted Jason Della Rocca, Executive Director of the IGDA, “from the most hardcore of experiences, to those that have brought all new audiences into our industry's fan base. Each year, I am humbled by what our members can do with this great art form.”


GDC07: Sony outlines new online vision

Phil Harrison's GDC keynote explains plans for new PS3 Home online community network.
In his GDC keynote Sony Worldwide Studios president Phil Harrison has told the development community that software driven by user-communities, such as as its new virtual world Home, will "empower the next decade of growth in our industry all around the world".

Sony will actively back this strategy with a number of its own applications. The primary one is Home, a free avatar-based 3D world that lets users congregate, meet friends, 'own' a private apartment and visit virtual shop-fronts.

Developed by London Studio, Home is a best of breed take on avatar-based environments like Second Life, but uses the PS3's capabilities to deliver a world that fills the gap between the interface on the PlayStation XMB dashboard and games themselves.

Users can customise their avatar's appearance, clothes and accessories - in time players will be able to pay for, or unlock via game achievements, the latter. The same goes for each user's own virtual private apartment, which players can invite friends to, fill with furniture and even stream music and video from their Hard Drive to.

A 'Hall of Fame' also takes pride of place in the Home world - this lets users display new 3D trophies that are unlocked through in-game milestones in PS3 games.

Harrison demonstrated all these features to a huge audience as part of the opening keynote for the first main day of GDC. He likened this new always-connected world to the Web 2.0 movement that has seen sites like Blogger, YouTube and MySpace succeed purely on the fact that they allow players to offer detailed customisation of their profiles and upload content. The same user-content driven strategy is what drives Home, he said.

"Our vision of the future, Game 3.0, will continue our track record of industry advancement by leaveraging the convergence of technologies, from broadband and video chat to supercomputer-speed processors, to make gaming more interactive and dynamic than ever before."

In an associated press announcement, corporate executive and CTO Izumi Kawanishi added: "While the 3D graphics demonstrate the power of PS3 and the PlayStation Network, the most impressive feature in Home is the variety of ways in which multiple consumers, as well as our third-party partners, can experience the next generation of communication by interacting and sharing among each other. I feel strongly that this blend of community, user-generated content, collaboration and commerce will expand the future of computer entertainment."

Home is currently in a closed Beta test - in April Sony will launch a free public beta to the world, and the final version of the client itself will be available in the autumn. In time, Harrison said that the client will be continually upgraded and updated, like any other MMO world.


GDC07:Industry responsabiliites

In what may be remembered as the best speech of this conference, Vivendi’s global director of strategic growth Nichole Bradford today called on the industry to act on its responsibility towards the education and aspirations of young people.

Image She told an audience of developers to show leadership to young people, and excite them about their own potential. Bradford said that the United States had only produced 70,000 graduates in engineering in the last year, adding that children are failing to se the potential of learning math, science and literature. Thius, she argued, was a failure of leadership by the game industry.

Bradford spoke on this subject at a diversity round-table last year, but in 07, the message was heard by a much larger audience. She told them, “We have a leadership responsibility to excite young people about math and science and literature. We make games and so we have the best hook to address the real challenge of poor learning in schools.”

A 2003 survey of young people found that more children aspired to be athletes and entertainers than those who wanted to work in computing or gaming. By 2006, computing had risen above those professions and ranked at number 3. “More people want to be Mike Morhaime than Kobe,” she said.

“This is hugely important and it is exploitable,” she said. “Not every child is going to make a career in gaming, but if we can inspire them, we can give them options. We can show them and their parents that underneath the action [in games] there is math, and literature and science. It’s not enough to tell children to do well in math because it is good form them. We have a responsibility as an industry to show them what it really means.”

She concluded, “As an industry, we bitch about our reputation and the ESA lobbies against legislation on our behalf. But here’s a question. How many schools have you spoken at lately?

“Don’t be abstract. Tell the kids and the parents what we do and watch the support grow. More that that, we have the power to effect real change. We should all grasp the scope of our influence and show children their own possibilities. We need to be leaders in our society.”


GDC07:June debut for London Studio's PS3 SingStar

The PS3 version of SingStar will hit Europe in June and the US in the autumn.
The PS3 version of the game relies heavily on the PlayStation Network. The previous versions of the franchise, which were all purely disc-based, have already sold seven million worldwide with 30 songs on each disc, delivering a total of 200 million songs to players.

For PS3, SingStar is "all about extending the experience online - downloading content and uploading content," explained Sony Worldwide Studios president Phil Harrison.

Via the SingStore players can download tracks and preview music videos, purchasing tracks to build their own tracklist for a sing along session. Using a USB camera players can upload videos or pictures of themselves singing which can be rated and scored by other players. Users can also access wallpapers and other content to customise their version of SingStar.

"Where we are going with the integration of community and commerce blended together is a very compelling experience on PlayStation 3," added Harrison.

"We're are working very closely with the music industry to get a very wide variety of songs up on the network."


GDC07: 2007 Independent Games Festival Awards Topped By Aquaria

2007 Independent Games Festival Awards Topped By Aquaria Bit Blot's dreamlike 2D underwater adventure game Aquaria won top honors, collecting the $20,000 Seumas McNally Grand Prize for Best Independent Game, at the 2007 Independent Games Festival (IGF) Awards.

The winners were announced tonight at the 9th Annual IGF Awards ceremony, hosted by the Game Developers Conference (GDC) at the Moscone Convention Center in San Francisco.

The IGF awards have been described as the Sundance Festival of the videogame industry, and offer both global exposure and over $50,000 in cash prizes to the lucky winners. Other major award recipients included Queasy Games' abstract shoot-em-up, Everyday Shooter, which grabbed the awards for Design Innovation and Excellence In Audio, upcoming Xbox 360 Live Arcade title Castle Crashers, which won for Excellence In Visual Art, Three Rings' online title Bang! Howdy, which came out on top in the Technical Excellence category, and stylish Flash-based point-and-click puzzle adventure Samorost 2, which triumphed in the Best Web Game category.

There were two other notable Main Competition awards given out on the night -- the Audience Award, adjudicated from public voting at major consumer game website GameSpot, was won by The Behemoth's Castle Crashers, and IGF Platinum Sponsor GameTap gave out $20,000 in advances for indie games to appear on its PC subscription download service, as part of its special GameTap Indie Award - with Everyday Shooter getting a $10,000 advance and $5,000 advances going to Cryptic Sea's Blast Miner and Naked Sky Entertainment's RoboBlitz.

In addition, the IGF Student Showcase recognized ten student-designed games and, for the first time ever, awarded a $2,500 Best Student Game prize. The award went to DigiPen Institute of Technology's fast-paced capture the flag game, Toblo.

The IGF Mod Competition, now in its second year, celebrated the best amateur mods of existing videogames with a new $5,000 award for Best Mod Game. Cut Corner Company Productions took home the Best Mod award for Weekday Warrior, their corporate office adventure mod for Half-Life 2, also the Best Singleplayer FPS Mod.


GDC07: Media Molecule Premier LittleBigPlanet for Sony

At GDC today, Mark Healy and Alex Evans, part of the core team behind Sony’s new LittleBigPlanet, talked about how their company, Media Molecule, became such a prominent Sony partner. They also said why the company chose to go with the PS3...

ImageEvans and Healy likened the founding of Media Molecule to “falling into an abyss.”

But it’s been a pretty impressive fall so far. The small studio today revealed its first project, the unique-looking LittleBigPlanet, during Phil Harrison’s keynote at GDC this week. That’s pretty good placement on Sony’s upcoming game lineup.

Media Molecule started in January 2006 with the idea to make the “most ambitious, fun, off-its-head game that we could [think of]--and most importantly, to get someone else to pay for it,” Healy laughed.

“The skill that you need as a lead designer isn’t coming up with ideas… it’s communicating those ideas to people."
The chance to bring that game to reality came when the company found out that it had the opportunity to meet with Sony—with a week’s time to prepare. Dave Smith, the other core team member of Media Molecule, put together a relatively crude (yet still very impressive) prototype that would eventually become LittleBigPlanet. Sony was “amazing” in its reception of the game, said Evans.

That relationship with Sony seems pretty tight-knit, so don’t expect the small team to bring its debut game to any other platforms any time soon. Evans said that Media Molecule went single platform “very consciously” because “it’s hard doing games anyway, and going cross-platform was more than I wanted to think about,” he explained.

They picked the PS3 because of the Cell’s complexity and the challenge that it presented. “Sticking those constraints on ourselves allowed us to focus,” he claimed.

The trials of starting a business

Healy is the brains behind Rag Doll Kung Fu, the indie hit that he designed in his spare time when he worked at Lionhead. Wanting to move onto something new, he left the security of a larger company and the leadership of Lionhead founder Peter Molyneux. He found that life at the head of a business was much different than putting on headphones and focusing on being an artist. Now he had to deal with team conflicts and fire alarms, for example.

Evans and Healy said that there are four things that got them through the first year of Media Molecule:

Have a great production staff. “Peter [Molyneux] was like a guru to us,” but there wasn’t anyone to lead them but themselves this time around. A competent production staff was key to success.

Total honesty and openness with the publisher. “We’re going to treat this [deal with Sony] like a partnership… We just told them absolutely everything… and we still do,” Evans said.

“We didn’t want this attitude of 'them and us'... so when anything goes wrong, we can blame them, basically,” Healy joked.

Concepting. “This is the biggest thing for us,” Evans said. Visuals are important. Put stuff on the screen, Evans insisted.

Communication. “It wasn’t all rosy in the land of Media Molecule. We were really bad communicators initially,” Evans said.

“The skill that you need as a lead designer isn’t coming up with ideas… it’s communicating those ideas to people,” said Healy.

All of these things culminate into milestones that should be clearly and openly communicated with your publisher, said Evans.

If a team works well together, the hardships are worth it, said Healy. “The joy that comes from a plan coming together and having a team love the thing that they’re working on is very rewarding. That far outweighs the nightmares” of game development.


Wednesday, March 07, 2007

GDC07: Nvidia introduces new dev platform

Nvidia has unveiled a new toolkit it says will help developers save money while making their projects DirectX 10 compliant - and the tools already have backing from Crytek and Rockstar San Diego.
The new Developer Toolkit offers instructive code samples, advanced shaders, and performance tuning. Key components include SDK 10, Texture Tools,PerfKit 5, ShaderPerf 2, FX Composer 2, and Shader Library

Cevat Yerli, president of Crytek - whose Crysis is made specifically for Windows Vista - said: “We use the developer tools frequently for performance analysis, optimisation, shaders, and testing. The tools have saved us a significant amount of time and money in the course of our work on Crysis.”

Added Mark Robinson, technical director at Rockstar San Diego: “Nvidia's developer tools are some of the best in the industry. I use FX Composer regularly to quickly prototype shaders, the SDK for inspiring new techniques, and PerfKit for detailed performance analysis and debugging.”


GDC07: Codemasters signs up Havok Behaviour

Havok's new Behavior tool has debuted at GDC today, and the tech already has a licensee: Codemasters.
Behavior is a new element in Havok 4.5, the modular suite of artist tools and run-time tech that includes Havok Physics and Havok Animation and aims to offer complete control of character actions to developers via its hierarchical finite-state machines and procedural modifiers. Animation assets direct from Maya, Max and Softimage XSI can be aggregated straight into it.

Codemasters plans to use Behavior in a number of upcoming next-gen titles.

"For the next generation of games platforms we really wanted to push the boundaries in terms of realism and characterisation, but we needed to do it without compromising our timescales," explained Codemasters Studios vice president, Gavin Cheshire explained.

"Havok Behavior allows us to create a huge range of behaviors for our next generation characters and do it in a way that makes the most of both our creative and programming resources."


GDC07: EA licences Autodesk's HumanIK

Just weeks after it confirmed a partnership with Softimage, Electronic Arts has announced it has licensed Autodesk’s HumanIK middleware.
HumanIK is a customised development library that enables animated game characters to interact more realistically with digital environments – it has already been used in EA’s DEF JAM: ICON, FIFA Soccer 07 and NBA STREET Homecourt titles.

“Through our partnership with Autodesk, we were able to achieve a new level of character animation in DEF JAM: ICON, FIFA Soccer 07 and NBA STREET Homecourt,” commented Glenn Entis, EA’s chief visual and technical officer.

“Part of the reason EA consistently delivers innovative hit game titles like these is because we rely on extensive internal and external R&D. Autodesk HumanIK middleware allowed efficient porting of game data to the various platforms on which we shipped our games. Autodesk R&D team was highly responsive, quickly providing us with customised builds of the HumanIK solution.”

Entis continued: “With HumanIK, the character behaviors we created remained intact when exported to the video game engine. That was a huge benefit; it eliminated the usual time-consuming and costly tweaking and toggling between the development software and the game engine. Autodesk HumanIK is the ideal solution for our next-generation game development.”