Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Tactus develops Tactus demonstrates physical button technology for touchscreens

Consumer Electronics Show, CES, 2013. Tactus technology unveiled a touchscreen panel that has the ability to extrude physical buttons when needed. 

It uses a microfluidic technology that enables the buttons to be 'summoned' when needed, for instance when writing a message, and vanishwhen not in use.

Tuesday, 29 January 2013

A real way into a virtual world

A short documentary about the use of avatars for virtual meetings, conferences and trade shows all at the comfort of the computer screen. Please click the link below for the video:

Saturday, 19 January 2013

London 3D printer show

Came across this video in this article. They are claiming that 3D printing is to change the world as the internet did in the 1990s. The 3:49 - 4:34min portion of the video shows a house designed by a computer algorithm with minimal user input.

Monday, 14 January 2013

Game Space[continued...]

 First picture shows one of the environment the player is going to get involved in and the second image gives an over view of one of the 'levels' of the game.

Game Space

Renders from the games engine showing the game space or game architecture.

Saturday, 12 January 2013

Video Games as an E-Sport

Found this article in the latest NewScientist magazine: video gaming as a professional sport, or e-sport and the crowd it brings with it making it a spectator sport.

Thursday, 10 January 2013

The Mars colony mission - and other new plans to explore space

Ever since Nasa’s final manned mission to the Moon 40 years ago, our hopes of further human space exploration have somewhat dwindled.

But a recent recruitment drive for colonists of Mars – launched by maverick Dutch space experts – has rekindled the debate about how far we might dare to go.

Here, are five planned missions that aim to 'boldly go' beyond the confines of our Earth - some sooner than you might thinkBut which is most likely to succeed? Our (unscientific) ratings are below.


Mars One, a Netherlands-based organisation, is planning to send humans to Mars by 2023 in order to build a colony there.

They have already started to recruit 40 astronauts – of whom only half will settle on the planet 140million miles away.

Organisers hope to provide most of the funding through a global reality TV show.

However, aside from the unrealistically low £3.7billion they need to put the first four astronauts on Mars, they also face problems making the nine-month journey.

Mars One is relying on a relatively untested private California firm, SpaceX.

A lot rests on the first test of the launch vessel, Heavy Falcon, which is due to take place later this year.

Living on frozen Mars is likely to prove an even greater headache.

Likelihood of success: 4/10


Nasa chiefs are considering returning men to the moon by 2025. It would be the first time since the Apollo 17 mission of 1972.

Last month’s announcement comes after the agency’s success with the Mars Curiosity Rover and President Barack Obama’s 2010 commitment to manned space exploration.

On the plus side, Nasa have a proven track record with making the three-day, 240,000-mile journey to the Moon.

Trips to the International Space Station also demonstrate humans can live beyond Earth’s orbit.

The key factor on whether the mission takes place or not will be cost.

Will debt-burdened America and its polarised politicians be willing to spend an estimated £25billion? Not unless a different Congress is elected.

Likelihood of success: 6/10


Nasa have long planned to send a manned space shuttle on a 23million-mile journey and let astronauts fly by the planet Venus.

It cancelled a proposed 13-month mission to begin in October 1973 after the Apollo 13 disaster in 1970.

Since then the plans have stayed on ice.

But there still remains an interest by many Nasa experts in orbiting the hottest planet in our solar system.

Unfortunately, despite the opportunity for an epic human achievement, it would have relatively little scientific merit.

Sending a robotic probe would probably glean more information and, for £1billion, cost around a quarter of the price.

 Likelihood of success: 3/10


Last year Nasa began training astronauts – including Britain’s Major Tim Peake - to land on an asteroid.

The biggest-yet manned mission, which echoes the movie Armageddon, would require travelling up to 3milllion miles to a space rock by the end of the 2020s.

Once there, astronauts could take samples and carry out tests that would help scientists better understand the risk they pose to Earth.

Although the £2billion cost of the year-long journey is somewhat prohibitive during the current climate, it is one of the cheapest projects being considered.

It also mixes a useful scientific enterprise with an awe-inspiring human endeavour that has been strongly supported by American politicians.

Likelihood of success: 8/10


The most ambitious manned space journey envisaged by scientists would be to Alpha Centauri, a star system 4.3 light years away from our solar system, that may be able to sustain life.

Geoff Marcy of the University of California, Berkeley, suggested that it might be possible to begin the journey by 2100. It won't be a short trip, though - at 25.6 trillion miles, it would take current manned craft more than 100,000 years to get there.

The plan would require a purpose-built ‘Generation Ship’ - because several generations would die during the trip.

It's also not clear how the journey would be fuelled. 

Also, there would be few people willing to take the risk travelling to a destination that, despite having the right energy levels, may not be hospitable.

Likelihood of success: 1/10


Wednesday, 9 January 2013

Kinect tech demo turns your entire living room into a video game

Microsoft may not have an official presence at CES 2013, but the company just showed some new Kinect-powered technology that expands video game graphics beyond the boundaries of the television. Called IllumiRoom, the proof-of-concept from Microsoft Research combines Kinect and a video projector to amazing effect.
A demo video of IllumiRoom shows how a Kinect for Windows camera scans the geometry of a room and tailors visuals projected outside the television to complement what's happening on the screen. The system, Microsoft Research says, "can change the appearance of the room, induce apparent motion, extend the field of view and enable entirely new game experiences."
Microsoft says the effects shown in the IllumiRoom demo are rendered in real time and captured live.
Additional IllumiRoom details are promised at CHI 2013, which runs April 27 to May 2 in Paris.

Are Yearly Releases Sucking The Life Out Of Gaming?

Check any gaming related message board, and chances are, you will find at least one topic slamming the most recent Call of Duty release for being exactly the same as the last game, accusing Activision of milking its most productive cash cow, and blaming gamers' lack of imagination for stifling creativity. Despite this, the Call of Duty series consistently scores highly on reviews, sells an absolute ton of copies and is played for hours upon hours by some of the most dedicated gamers. So why the backlash? Aside from Activision’s questionable business practices (which is the subject of another discussion entirely), one of the main reasons you find for the hatred of the Call of Duty series is due to the fact that the games are released frequently (by gaming standards), with the second or third week of November of each year seeing the release of another game in the series.
While Call of Duty may be the most prominent example of the ‘frequent releases’ stable, outside of sports games, it is far from the only title or franchise that operates on this system. It is also far from unique in being lambasted for this practice, with franchises such as Assassin’s Creed and Guitar Hero also in the firing line for gamers’ ire. With millions of sales each year, countless numbers of fans, and loads of money pumping into the companies that release them, are yearly releases really such a bad thing for the industry?
On one hand, you have those who love a particular franchise and can never get enough of it.  They eagerly snap up each new release, regardless of the length of time between each title. On the other hand, you have those who argue that this practice is ruining gaming by stifling creativity amongst developers and publishers, merely serving as a vehicle for publishers to make an easy buck. 

Perhaps the best comparison that can be made to the topic is that of a television series. A season of a typical TV series is 10-20 hours in length, similar to the amount of time spent with most games.  If successful, the series will be renewed each year, with a premiere in September, shows aired once a week though until March or April, and then a hiatus until the following September, when the cycle starts again.   Yearly game releases follow a similar schedule. Using Call of Duty as an example, the game is released in November, gets played to death for a number of months, and sometimes has a selection of extra content released in order to keep the game fresh until the release of the next game in the series. The difference here, however, is that a television series does not experience complaints of ‘milking the franchise’, cookie cutter storylines and being exactly the same as the last season but in a different setting...unless it’s Heroes.
Even movies get in on the practice, and have been for years. Back to the Future parts two and three were released a year apart, as were the second and third Pirates of the Caribbean movies. No one complained that this was over-exposure to a franchise, and both were successful at the box office. If you have a story to tell, people don’t want to be waiting years for some form of resolution. Take Half Life 2: Episode 3/Half Life 3 as an example, a missing entry in a series that left people on a cliff-hanger back in 2007. For a high concept narrative like Assassin’s Creed, the ability to keep people interested in a story and not have them waiting too long for the next entry is crucial. Hell, people got mad when baseball playoffs interrupted the flow of Fringe or Lost for a couple of weeks.  Could you expect viewers to cope with a gap of a few years?!
The strongest argument in support of yearly releases comes when we start getting down to the meat and bones of the gaming industry: review scores and sales figures. The most recent releases in the Assassin’s Creed and Call of Duty franchises, and even FIFA 12, NHL 12 and Madden 12 all have a Metacritic average of 79 or above, hardly poor scores for games which supposedly haven’t changed since previous iterations. What’s more, Modern Warfare 3 currently holds the record for most successful entertainment launch of all time, selling 6.5 million copies in the US and the UK in its first 24 hours of sale.  Assassin’s Creed: Revelations has become the most successful title (sales-wise) in Ubisoft’s history, and the EA Sports series of 2012 games have sold almost 10 million copies between them. These are some of the strongest sales and review figures in the industry, which shows that yearly releases can be a viable business model if handled correctly.
However, when a game is being released as frequently as once a year, you run the risk of boring your target market, alienating them from your product with overfamiliarity and the rising cost of keeping up with the release schedule. The highest-profile failure of this strategy is without a doubt the Guitar Hero franchise (ironically, another Activision franchise), although it can be argued that Guitar Hero operated over and above even yearly releases. The first Guitar Hero title launched in 2005, with a yearly release schedule operating until 2008, when FOUR Guitar Hero games were released. Four Guitar Hero games were again released in 2009 to much outcry.  Falling sales saw 2010 hosting the final release in the series (to date). Following this, the franchise, as well as its spin-offs, DJ Hero and Band Hero, was placed on hiatus. Guitar Hero is a prime example of the dangers of operating a yearly release schedule: oversaturation of the market which brews apathy from consumers and plummets review scores due to a lack of originality. Although marketed as an entry in the ‘casual gaming’ genre, Guitar Hero simply didn’t offer up enough changes with each entry to maintain a viable sales base.
It is this last point that worries gamers so much when it comes to yearly releases and their continued successes. Take a look at the campaign modes from the recent Call of Duty releases, for example. If you were to take any game in the Modern Warfare series, pick a level at random (ignoring the story), you would have difficulty in telling which game the level came from, as the gameplay and atmosphere are incredibly similar throughout. Sure, it’s the same trilogy, so some similarity in atmosphere is expected, and when it comes to FPS’s, gameplay is pretty much written in stone, but it’s not difficult to see why the accusations of ‘cookie-cutter’ gameplay originate. As for Assassin’s Creed, the addition of a well-received and unique multiplayer component ensured that players were kept on their toes, but with minimal changes in evidence from Brotherhood to Revelations in both single- and multi-player, Ubisoft will have to stay one step ahead of the game to avoid similar accusations to those currently being levelled at Activision.
Whilst gaming is becoming increasingly mainstream, there is still an evident divide between those who play games ‘casually’ and those who play ‘seriously’. What is interesting is that these yearly releases seem geared more towards those who play casually than those who play seriously. I know plenty of people who label themselves gamers, yet play only Call of Duty and sports games, the two main examples of yearly releases. In the case of these players, Call of Duty and say, FIFA or NHL may be the only two games that they buy all year, whereas for a more ‘serious’ gamer, an average year may see a purchase record of 15+ games over a variety of genres, offering a variety of experiences. Through their eyes, playing a repeat of the same game from a year ago is pointless, because creativity and innovation drive the industry, rather than simply sales and review scores. For the more casual gamer, however, as long as they can play online with their friends, enjoy an experience they feel comfortable with, and blow shit up, the gaming industry, in their eyes, is exactly where they want it.
This last comparison drives the insecurity surrounding yearly releases. We already see more sequels than fresh IPs, and the number of ‘HD’ or ‘Remastered’ remakes of last generation games is growing at a worrying rate. Sure, it’s nice to be able to replay a game you enjoyed when you were younger on your current console, but wouldn’t you prefer a fresh experience? I guess what I’m most worried about is that gaming will head the way of Hollywood, with constant re-releases or remakes  of old movies, and that the traditionally strong fall season of gaming with begin to mirror the summer season of movies, with a series of cloned experiences offering similar storylines, just with slightly different characters and environments. Gaming needs to be kept fresh and innovative, or it will stagnate as an industry. If those offering yearly releases can keep an experience varied and exciting year-on-year, then I will happily buy their games as regular as clockwork. But if they start repackaging the same game in a fancy new box, then I fear for the future of our passion. We just need to try and figure out a way to tell the guys who sign the cheques that sales aren’t everything and that innovation matters. That shouldn’t be too hard, right?


Tuesday, 8 January 2013

The 10 commandments of PC games

Picture this for a second: you just unpacked the latest PlayBox 720-X blockbuster game, Gran Gears of Duty Fantasy XVIII. It's a game so juicy and dreamy that it'll send you flying into all the colors of the rainbow, twitching and jerking with pleasure-induced spasms just from looking at the loading screen. Let's assume for the sake of argument that said game is a first-person shooter, like, oh, about 135% of recent releases. You insert the Megaray disc, go about the installation process, and merrily start to play.
All of a sudden, you notice the left stick is used for switching weapons. The right stick moves the character, and shooting is only accomplished by pressing it. The camera is moved with the directional buttons, and the triangle, square, A, and B buttons are used for your character's smartass quips. You enter the menu to change the controls, but you can only navigate them using the motion sensors. After five minutes of furniture-dusting motions, you finally enter the options menu and find out there are barely any options, and none that matter. Frustrated, you throw the TenAxis controller at your 4D TV screen and take the shiny disc out of the console to find out whether it will blend.
Now you see what us PC gamers have to put up with.
Let's make one thing clear: this is not meant to be any sort of attack on consoles—and yes, trolls, that means you can all go back under the bridge now. What you've just read is merely an analogy for what's been happening in the PC gaming world in recent years. The underlying reasons merit another discussion altogether (and a lot of violence inflicted on dead horses, I might add). This post is a filing of complaints—a request for a redress of grievances. My intention is plain and simple: to tell game studios how they're doing it wrong. 
No comment. 
I. Thou shalt not shun thine player's mouse
See this nifty thing called a "mouse pointer"? It was invented quite a few years ago, and it's positively great for, you know, pointing at menu choices and item lists. Thanks, Captain Obvious, you're my hero! So, pray tell, how come I have to press keys and/or gamepad buttons in your game to select options and choose the color of my character's underwear? Why do you have to add insult to injury by choosing menu navigation keys other than the arrow keys and then not letting me know what they are—or, alternatively (and this is my personal favorite), showing me which Xbox 360 controller buttons to press? Dude, come here for a second and look at this box I have with cables coming out of it. It doesn't have a red ring of death at the front, now does it?
The shop and inventory interfaces in Borderlands are good examples. Pointing at items? Psh, that's too old-school. Mmmm, arrow keys—let's have arrow keys for nearly everything. Hit a button to compare guns! Back in my day, we had to point and click to dress our characters... and it took a tenth of the time.
On that note, Burnout Paradise, son, come here. Now, explain to me whose idea it was to make me press F1 and F2 (of all keys) to go back and forth between menus. You can speak up son; no one's going to hurt you. Yet.
II. Thou shalt not accelerate mouse input
This issue mostly affects shooters, but it's one of the worst and most widespread—and it's actually a show-stopper in a number of so-called "triple-A" titles. Maybe it's the proliferation of Unreal Engine-based games, but it seems like having mouse acceleration enabled has become the default for many titles. Yes,Mass Effect 2, it's your turn on the chopping block. ("Game of the year," my shiny metal bottom.)
Mouse acceleration is a good idea for moving an on-screen pointer, but it's not such a good idea when the mouse is controlling a camera or an aiming reticle. Games that have acceleration enabled can sometimes end up totally unplayable with a high-sensitivity mouse. Usual symptoms include overly fast movements, headaches, nausea...
III. Thou shalt not make a mockery of third-party controllers
You know a game like Gears of War has problems when my most vivid memory involves my character swirling around after the game first started. I actually sat and waited a bit for the cut-scene to end... until I got motion sickness. I finally caught on that it wasn't a cut-scene, and after spending the better part of 10 minutes quitting, restarting, and reconfiguring the game, I finally realized what was happening. One, you had defaulted to use my joystick (yes, my joystick, not my gamepad) as the default control input method. Two, it didn't even work, and I had to disconnect the joystick just to be able to play.
Bad Company 2, I was hoping to use my joystick when playing you. Too bad you're somehow too thick to notice my joystick's throttle function, and the best that you can come up with is half-baked joystick controls with the configuration file editing du jour. Even then, the throttle still won't work.
Street Fighter IV, you bring a real challenge. I'm not talking about Zangief; I'm talking about getting past your thrice-damned gamepad configuration. You first assume that I have an Xbox 360 gamepad, which I don't. Then, you let me map the buttons on my gamepad... to the Xbox 360 buttons. That's right. I can't map a button to "heavy kick". I have to map a button to "X" outside the game and then map "X" to heavy kick in the game. I actually had to draw out a little chart of the mappings so I could play without having the "guess-the-button" minigame thrown in. Hey, maybe they did this on purpose—a new concept, mixing Excel with a fighting game. Yes, this is the game that some people lauded for being such a great conversion. Capcom's marketing spin sure got a victory there.
The puzzle game for the controls in SF4 is quite annoying. They should have left it out. 
IV. Thou shalt not mix thine bindings
Bad Company 2, trust me on this one. I really don't need "reload" and "use" actions bound to the same key. I absolutely love trying to disarm a bomb only to keep switching guns with the dead guy on the floor like I'm some clothes-switching fetishist. And you, Borderlands, sonny: even though I love playing with you, reloading my weapon every time I want to pick up an item (like, say, ammo) makes me want to slap you hard enough to knock your teeth fillings out.
V. Remember thine user-interface conventions and keep them holy
Human beings tend to have short memories for important things, and some game developers seem to take that trait to a whole new level. By that I mean they willfully and blissfully ignore nearly every single UI convention in history. Icons, drop-down menus, combo boxes, modifier keys—they've all gone right out the window and are raining down on the unsuspecting hobo below.
Have you ever seen the convoluted, unintuitive mess that is the Unreal Tournament 3 menus? The game doesn't even have that much stuff to customize, yet you can easily get lost. Back, forward, oh wait, I want multiplayer... gah! Another example would be the menus in Bad Company 2, which were apparently designed by a sadist with little to no regard for organization.
Another common infraction includes the curse of the Huge Text of Doom. Apparently, developers expect PC gamers to sit half a world away from their 22" displays. Even when playing console games on the TV, the huge text in games like Fallout 3 seems to serve only as some sort of legal protection against lawsuits by near-sighted people. (You can't trust that bunch—I was one of them until I got my eyes lasered.) Now, here's a scary bit of math: a 22" screen viewed from two feet away has roughly the same visual viewing angle as a 100" TV at 8.5 ft. Didn't that just blow your mind?
VI. Keep thine configurations options exposed
PC gamers are used to be able to configure things. That comes from both necessity and whim, and while one doesn't necessarily need to cater to the latter, the former is a must. Games don't have to expose a 1000-line menu for every conceivable detail level on the torches of King Whatever's castle entrance, but we'd like at least some amount of granularity. A pet peeve of mine is the lack of anti-aliasing options in graphics-intensive games. Even recent heavy-hitters like StarCraft II lack proper AA support. There are old technical reasons for this, but come on; we're in 2011.
If your game has VoIP, letting us pick different audio devices would be a nice touch, especially given the proliferation of USB headsets and other assortments. Mr. Developer, just sit with us for a second, play the game, and think about what you would like to see. It's not that difficult.
More often than not, you're pretty much guaranteed to have to dig into some stupid configuration file just to tweak games to your liking. It's a good thing online tutorials are around, too, because most of those config files tend to be so convoluted that you don't know where the spaghetti ends and Cthulhu's barbels begin.
VII. Thou shalt allow players to host dedicated servers
Even though the amount of PC users playing the latest Call of Duty undermines this point somewhat, I'll put it plain and simple: we like dedicated servers in multiplayer games (where applicable, of course). We really love them. First, we can actually have people administering them (and dispensing righteous fury on the hecklers). Second, they often have customizations or improvements we've grown to know and love. Third, we get to pick where we play, which both makes it easier to gather friends around and lets us get optimal ping times. This functionality has existed pretty much forever, and stepping away from it is stepping back.
VIII. Enough with the save points already!
Once again, there are historical reasons for a poor or otherwise lacking feature: back in the early days, console games couldn't count on having much storage space, so they had to be stingy with saved games. But, once again, it's now 2011! Consoles and personal computers have gigabytes of storage at their disposal, so I can't really comprehend why you insist on having very defined places where progress can be saved. Even worse are those titles with auto-save checkpoints. Thanks, saving right as I run out of ammo or walk off a cliff is really helpful.
Granted, there are games where saving the progress at every millisecond might prove tantamount to cheating, but allow us gamers to be the judges of that. If you really must block us from saving in a few spots, at least minimize those. Let us play your game our way.
IX. Thou shalt not worship false gaming services
Ah, Games for Windows Live. Glad to see you've joined us. It just so happens that you're really late to the party and so many dollars short that I wonder how you managed to pay the cab fare. Got ID? Sure, you can get in... just come here for a sec and I'll let you in on a little secret: everyone hates you.
Steam is the proverbial 800-pound gorilla in the realm of online game services. Other than sheer weight, there are actually pretty good reasons why it's so successful. One of them is that, for the most part, it stays out of our way—unlike you, GFWL. When all I want is to play Street Fighter IV, you insist on making me create a profile. Without that profile, my unlocked characters won't be saved. Just brilliant. Did I mention the GFWL log-in screen also pops up after you purchase the game on Steam? 
GET... OFF... MY... GAME! 
X. Honor thine modders and mod communities
Counter-Strike. Even though I'm not into it myself, that's surely the gift that keeps on giving. I'm also pretty sure every game publisher on Earth would love to have a product that successful. For those who don't know, Counter-Strike started as a mod for Half-Life, and that mod wouldn't exist if Valve hadn't provided gamers with the necessary mod tools.
Not every game benefits from mod support, mind you. When they do and the tools exist, however, the result is almost invariably a much bigger and more pervasive community (especially on the multiplayer front). That, in turn, leads to a constant stream of sales. It truly is a win-win situation.
Of course, making mod tools in the first place is neither simple nor free. I am no stranger to software development, and I realize homegrown software tools tend to be quite quirky and lacking in features. Still, a small investment in polishing and releasing them to the public can pay off big time.
Although I've mentioned a few titles by name, I don't hold a grudge against any of them. I love games. However, I've started to feel like I'm being punished for daring to buy, play, and attempt to enjoy games on my platform of choice. I get the distinct feeling that, when targeting the PC market, game studios are a bit passive-aggressive. They seem to be hell-bent on doing everything they can to annoy their customers, and when we complain, then they show us a bewildered face of incomprehension or turn on the waterworks about piracy or whatever the magic eight-ball came up with that morning.
I just don't get it, guys. This is first and foremost a business, so why can't you just sell us what we want? Maybe, just maybe, you'd sell more games if you did. It's that whole tailored-to-the-market thing your marketing folks love to talk about.
A handful of the problems detailed above have been fixed with patches, and you'll notice that many of them can be circumvented by the judicious use of game mods and configuration file changes. I don't want to do that, though. Sure, being able to tailor my experience is part of why I play games on the PC, but that doesn't mean I have some ingrained desire to do it without a really good reason. First and foremost, I want to pick up a game, play it, have fun. In this day and age, that's becoming difficult. Not providing a good out-of-the-box experience is what drives the average gamer away from the PC in the first place.

 — 11:05 PM on June 13, 2011