My Galaxy S2 has been getting a little long in the tooth. Coming up to three years old now. So I made the decision it was time for a change. We have a new baby on the way so I new to pick something that was more powerful than the S2 but also cheap. I think I’ll be making more phone calls home from work once the baby arrives so I signed onto O2s £16 a month unlimited minutes and texts deal with a gig of data. For the phone, I decided on the Motorola Moto G. It’s twice the speed of the S2 according to benchmarks, has a 720p screen and runs the latest android version.
I’ve had it a few days more and I’ve got to say I’m impressed.

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I’ve uploaded my Flappy Bird clone. I used Basic4Android and the accelerated surfaces library to do it. It runs really well.

 

See my post on my other blog about it here: http://easyandroidcoding.wordpress.com/

 

The sad case of the Sega Saturn

Posted: February 15, 2014 in Uncategorized

There’s a computing  history museum in Cambridge where the first thing you see when you walk in is a Sega Saturn setup for visitors to play on. Sega Rally was the game loaded when I last visited. It brought back all the memories of racing home from school to try to best my last lap time and try to finally come first in the fourth ice track.

Similar to the original xbox , the Saturn looked like a big solid best of a machine. A big black box, with two controller ports on the front, a top loading CD drive in the middle, a cartridge slot behind that and then power and video ports on the back. I always thought it looked better than the smaller grey PlayStation.

It was originally planned to be closer to the power of the 32x megadrive (genesis) console, but on discovering the specs of the PlayStation Sega did some quick last minute changes which included adding in an additional SH2 processor. This was great in some ways as it meant games like virtua fighter 2 and burning rangers could run better and look great. But, it made things much more difficult for developers writing for both the Saturn and PlayStation, which often meant the Saturn got the inferior version of cross platform games, tomb raider is a good example, put them side by side and you can easily tell the PlayStation got the better version.

Later in the consoles life things changed though. If you look at Daytona championship edition and compare it to the launch version of Daytona there’s a huge difference. Also some games were developed separately for the Saturn to the PlayStation, such as Duke nukem 3d. The lighting in the Saturn version of duke nukem is far better and smoother than the ps1 version. This proved that the Saturn did have the guts to compete with the ps1 but by then it was too late. The ps1 had taken a huge lead over the Saturn and the rest as they say is history.

Other notable games that showed off the true potential of the Saturn were:
Nights into dreams
Panzer dragoon zwei
Panzer dragoon saga
Guardian heroes
Virtua cop 2
Die hard arcade

What are your thoughts? Do you agree the Saturn was under rated? Or am I just being a Sega fan boy?

So Flappy bird is dead. He’s been removed from both the iOS appstore and the Google Play store. And what was the reason given? That the developer couldn’t take the pressure of the huge success of the game. Reports say he was making in excess of $50,000 per day in advertising revenue.

You could ask yourself, why publish a game if you don’t want it to succeed. Judging from most of the comments on forums, he’s not got a lot of support for his decision. Most people are saying he’s free to give them the burden and they’ll find a way to cope with the wads of cash being constantly stuffed through their front door, and to be honest, I think I’m of the same opinion.

My first thought on the news, was “Why not just hire someone to handle the game for you? Of licence it to a big games company to handle and you just take a cut of the revenue without dealing with the press or emails from users?” That’s what I’d do in his position, that and quit my job of course! He’d only have to keep up 50k a day for a month to make 3 million dollars! Enough for most people to never have to work again!

 

But the other part of the story, is how this could happen to anyone. Looking at the game, most people could have written it in a few days. So for a few days work you get to quit your job and live in luxury for the rest of your life. Sign me up! But it also shows that you don’t need to be a big games company to make a successful mobile game. I wrote a while ago about the return of the bedroom coder, I do believe bedroom coders still have a chance to succeed and Flappy Bird is another example of that.

So what if the graphics are ripped off from Super Mario World, or that the game is really simple? That’s what makes it a success! Simple graphics, and very simple controls that anyone will understand the very first time they see it. The instructions are the most simple you’ll ever see, just a prompt telling you to tap the screen with a picture showing a bird moving upwards. That’s it, couldn’t be simpler.

This is my goal now, to stop focussing on complex games and write some really simple ones and see what sticks. Even Tetris is complicated compared to Flappy Bird!

If anyone has examples of other games like this I’d love to hear about them.

I wrote a short review of ready player one a while ago. Now I want  to take a look at the technology talked about in the story and see how far we are from it right now.

The book is based about thirty years in the future from now, so the writer was able to be creative with the technology being used, but he still kept it based on current tech. So let’s start with the basics and move on from there.

The VR headset – The book describes it as a light weight headset that you put on like a pair of glasses and the earphones automatically go into your ears. The display is a full field of view high resolution display that projects directly onto your retina. Okay, while there are no retinal displays available for the consumer yet, the military have been using them for years, not for full virtual reality displays but for augmented reality applications. A company called Argent are working on a head mounted display which uses retinal projection technology for consumer release, not presently targeted at VR applications, more home cinema viewing, there’s no reason this couldn’t,t evolve into the headset described in the book.

Oculus Rift: http://www.oculusvr.com/

Avagant Glyph: http://www.avegant.com/homepage/

Earphones – we’ve had high quality surround sound earphones for years now. So nothing to look into here really.

These are the ones I use:

https://www.plantronics.com/uk/product/gamecom-780

They give me full surround sound in games and often I have to remove them to see whether the sounds I hear are coming from the game or real life.

Haptic gloves – cyber touch gloves in development. No consumer products yet.

Cyber touch look promising, but they’ve been around for a long time and haven’t released any big consumer products yet.

http://www.vrealities.com/products/data-gloves/cybertouch

Right now, the most promising are non glove technologies like the Razor Hydra: http://www.razerzone.com/gb-en/gaming-controllers/razer-hydra/

or the STEM system:  http://sixense.com/hardware/wireless

 

Smell – TV manufacturers starting now to look at scent generators

GameSkunk looks interesting: http://www.guru3d.com/news_story/smell_your_video_games_with_gameskunk.html

The oasis – The closest modern equivalent is Second life. It has a virtual currency much like the oasis credits in the book. Users can pay for new virtual items for their avatar such as clothing and weapons. Users move around by teleporting. Virtual nightclubs and shops exist. Companies setup virtual meeting rooms and showrooms. VR headset support is currently being developed for this. Users can buy virtual land, setup shops and have private areas that they only allow certain people access, much like Aech’s basement chatroom in RP1.

Network speed. To achieve the oasis, very high bandwidth would be required. Today up to 100 Mbit is getting more and more common in the western world while Asia is rolling out 1gig connections. To judge how network speed affects your virtual online world, either log into a big Minecraft server, or Second Life and see how the netowrk speed affects your immersion.

Oasis console – The average PC is not powerful enough to handle the network speeds and graphics returned of the oasis described in the book. A high end rig running a top i7 processor and an sli GPU setup might come close but would still struggle. I think we’re looking at a newer version of the SteamBox coming out that will be the goto standard for accessing the online virtual universe, it gets round the problem of average people building their PC’s, it’s operating system is designed to produce high end 3D graphics and interactive experiences without running things like printing services like Windows does. http://store.steampowered.com/livingroom/SteamMachines/

 
The book also mentions the console can detect your body movements, do if you fall on the floor in real life then your online avatar will too. Thus could be done today with a kinect type device, to monitor your while body or just your top half. this video shows it best: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hi5kMNfgDS4

Public vr terminals
At one point in the story. We see a public cyber cafe type business offering access to the oasis network for an hourly charge. This is the same as internet cafes operate today. An issue that gets discussed on virtual reality forums today is the problem of not being able to physically fit the VR hardware into your house. The headset and gloves are obviously fine. But full size body suits and omnidirectional treadmills are much larger and wouldn’t fit in the average person’s home. Having the space to setup a number of full size vr rigs would allow users to access virtual reality in a way they never could at home, either through lack of space or lack of funds. I would guess that the types of businesses that could convert to offer this service would be current cyber cafes, laser tag centres, and arcades. Games arcades have been declining in recent years but I can see them becoming popular again as interest in VR picks up over the next five years.

Fast public WiFi
This is already becoming common place in many cities and even on transport networks such as trains and buses. The speed is normally awful with high latency but this will improve over time. One thing mentioned in the book regarding this however is the lack of privacy when accessing the oasis over public networks. Privacy online is currently a very hot topic in the press and in  government discussions. We’ll either see the government make the right decision to only snoop on users with good reason, or we’ll see a huge rise in the use of vpns and use of encrypted browser connections!

Online shopping
Wade has all his food delivered online in order to never leave his apartment. This is very much a real thing already. In a way it feels sad that you can live without any human interaction if you wish.

Intelligent computer generated characters
The oasis contains many NPCs (non player characters) that can be interacted with using voice alone and also without having to use special commands. There is a lot of research in this area for improving peoples interactions with things like mobile phones. The advancements over the last decade have been staggering, with mobile phones now able to act as virtual assistants merely by talking to them. Integrating this technology with a virtual environment should be no problem at all.

Online school

Pilotless planes
Airliners today can pretty much fly themselves. Right from leaving the date at the airport to landing and parking at the destination. So the idea of removing the pilot altogether isn’t a big stretch of the imagination.

Facial expressions
Characters in the book have the ability to show their facial expressions from real life in the virtual environment. This is mentioned when Wade is arguing with a classmate at school early in the story. There’s a project on kickstarter right now called FaceRig which uses your webcam to map your facial expressions into a virtual avatar. This is exactly how it works in the story except it’s the visor watching your face. Using something like the Oculus rift would make mapping facial expressions more difficult as much of your face is concealed. However this could be overcome by cameras inside the rift watching around your eyes and a camera on the bottom watching your mouth and chin.

 

So if you have any further thoughts on this, or want to point out some products coming out soon or already available that would contribute to creating the Oasis experience described in the book, let me know in the comments.

I posted on my other blog about visiting the Cambridge museum of the history of computing. But I wanted to talk as about it from a personal view point now, why I think it’s so important and my ideas for their future.

When I went to visit I immediately thought it was amazing. Having all these computers and consoles in one place that you can sit down on and play. They really focus on making everything interactive where possible which is brilliant. Just having them in display cabinets would be really boring, but actually being able to sit down on a C64 and play old games is great and really helps to make you understand how the technology has changed over the decades.

The thing I did keep thinking though was how they can split games from applications. Right now the majority of the hardware is showing old games and not much in the way of applications, so maybe they could split applications into a separate area. This would allow for an Amiga in the games area with a flash drive loaded with old games, and then a separate one in the applications area running Deluxe paint or Octamed (music tracker software).

I also think it would be cool to have screens above each systems showing videos of all the best games on them and more in information on how each system has been used in the past (such as the Amiga being used to generate the 3d effects in the Babylon 5 TV series)

And maybe when you walk in, there could be a timeline on the floor that you follow with the exhibits on either side of you going through the decades. So the PDP 1 showing space war would be at the entrance ending with a PS4 at the exit of the main room.

Then maybe in a side room, there could be a “future of computing” exhibit, showing things like the oculus rift headset for visitors to try out and interviews showing on video screens with developers and hardware designers talking about the future of computing.

That’s just my thoughts anyway. I’d love to hear from anyone else who’s visited the museum and tell me what you think. And what would be your ideas for a fun and interesting computing museum?

A new mini documentary just popped up on Youtube for the museum:

You can find my original post on the museum here: http://coffeeinduced.wordpress.com/2013/10/29/centre-for-computing-history-review/

Towards the end of the last decade it was looking like only large development studios with huge budgets had a chance of releasing games that could become popular. Fast forward a few  years and look how the situation has changed. The most popular game on android and possibly PC too is Minecraft, written for the first few releases by a single developer. Thanks partly to YouTube it exploded overnight and sold millions of copies directly from its website.

Does Minecraft have amazing graphics? NO
Does it have great sound and voice acting? NO
Does it have tie ins with movies or sports? NO
Did it get advertised everywhere? NO
So why did it sell so well? It was FUN? And introduced a little originality which the other big games weren’t doing.
You only have to watch a few minutes on YouTube of mine craft to see it’s all about emergent gameplay and not AAA quality graphics and movie quality storylines and acting. It allowed players to shape the game world how they wanted and to play with each other in their own worlds without any dictation on game rules or monthly subscriptions. In a similar way to how “cat and mouse” became such a popular made up game mode in Project Gothem Racing on the Xbox.

This was written by one person and there no reason more and more future hits came be written by either individual or very small groups of between two and five people. The internet allows these people to work completely remotely and the current crop of game engines available like Unity allow for the team to focus purely on gameplay and content without needing engineering and maths degrees to get a decent engine together first. The cost of development has also dropped drastically too, android games can be developed for free as can PC and Mac games. Even the iPhone only has a small cost of entry to submit apps (assuming you already own a Mac and iPhone/iPad that is).

That raises another point. The market for phone games is huge, and looking at them, there no reason most of the big hitters like Candy Crush Saga, or any of the angry birds games  couldn’t have Bern written by very small teams sitting in their bedrooms, in all likely hood some of them might have been!

My advice if your thinking of writing games but are worried about finding a job with an established developer is to simply do it yourself! There’s never been a better time since the mid 1980s to be a bedroom based programmer, so get on with it!

I just finished reading “Just a Geek” written by Wil Wheaton. The very same that played Wesley Crusher in Star Trek the Next Generation.

Third book came out quite a while ago now. Around 2006 I think.  He spends a  lot of time going over his  feelings after leaving star trek, how he hated the way the writers treated the Wesley character and the abuse he got from fans for the storylines he had to act out but got no say in.

He talks about auditions for films and TV shows, becoming a writer and his association with non Hollywood work like the Video toaster device that worked with the old Amiga computers.

It’s a really interesting book for anyone wondering what happened post star trek and worth it just for reading how star trek conventions work and the behaviour of the organisers.

He’s done a lot since the publication of “Just a geek”, such as voicing the joker in the batman cartoons and appearing on “The big bang theory”,  so I’m sure they’ll be a sequel soon enough.

A good read well worth the effort to find a copy.

The original Xbox was the first games console to come with a built in hard disk and network adaptor. This should have made for some very special features the PS2 couldn’t match.

The first game I ever played on an Xbox was Mechassault at a friends house. He was playing it over Xbox live wearing a headset and fighting against eleven other players. I could immediately see the graphics were superior to the PS2 and the online part was amazingly smooth with no lag in games and matchmaking that seemed to work great.

The Xbox was released as a first entry into the home console market by Microsoft and as a competitor to the PS2.  Hardware wise, it was estimated to be about twice as powerful and I’m some games this showed quite clearly, such as in the GTA series. There was also a release of doom 3 and half life 2 which the PS2 couldn’t hope to come close to doing justice too.

Aside from games, what am I posting about? Well, several years after seeing the Xbox for the first time I discovered modding.

Modding allows for some pretty amazing functions on the Xbox. Such a accessing it from your PC, installing games onto the hard drive, running emulators, and streaming videos and music.

Basically Microsoft could have had something like the Wii’s virtual console on the Xbox, they could also have released an iPlayer app, and had a streaming TV/movie service like Netflix, over ten years ago!!! Now I know the hard disk was only 6 gigs but the controller ports were based on USB, so a small adaptor cable could have easily allowed for an external drive to be connected.

The Xbox was also very close to being a PC, CPU architecture wise, so they could have easily written a visual studio express edition to let indie developers write games for it, then use XBox Live as the marketplace, but they didn’t do this till the 360.

What else? Well many European readers won’t know this but the Xbox was HD capable, and in the US, a number of games could be played at 720p resolution. Making better use of this in Europe would have been awesome and really shown off what the system was capable of, maybe it could of even upscaled DVDs to 720p quality?

Basically what I’m saying is everything the 360 did was possible on the first Xbox and Microsoft would have blown Sony out the water, but they didn’t.

And now they’re failing to beat Sony with the Xbox one…. Will you never learn Microsoft?

Oculus Rift at CES 2014

Posted: January 9, 2014 in Uncategorized

I’ve been reading all the news updates online about the new Oculus Rift prototype being shown at CES in Las Vegas this month.

This headset was first down more than a year ago and went on to have a very successful kickstarter campaign. But the latest prototype names Crystal Cove is almost ready for release. Its high resolution, has position tracking and they’ve got rid of the blur you can see when turning your head quickly.

Many games including half life 2, team fortress 2, minecraft and even the upcoming Elite dangerous game have support for it either officially or by mods.

You can buy a developer version now that runs at a lower resolution and doesn’t have position tracking at http://www.oculusvr.com now.