Archive for April, 2009

it's official

Yes, you read it folks, right here. Erica Durance is now officially the best Lois Lane in the history of all women who’ve played Lois, and that’s saying something. I’m not ashamed to say I grew up watching Teri Hatcher attempt to woo Dean Cain, or that I had a crush on Margot Kidder when I was eight. (She’s the original Alive-Again Avenger, if you count her return after ol’ Supes spun time backwards.) Sorry ladies — Erica Durance could spank you like stepchildren. Doesn’t hurt that she’s a Calgarian.

All this week I’ve been burning the candle at both ends trying to get out the latest version of tradigiTOOLS. I hear that Maya 2009 support is going to make an appearance. (I can neither confirm nor deny those rumors.) I will say this: nothing makes me miss gcc like programming for Windows. I hate Visual Studio. I think I’d be okay with it if it stuck to just being an IDE / code editor for writing software — as an editor it excels. The code prediction is nice and it mostly stays out of my way; if I could find an ActionScript 3 language syntax highlighter, I might even consider doing more Flash development on my Vista 64 box. (Although, FlashDevelop is sexy enough on its own.) But man, if this whole “solution” versus “project” thing doesn’t cause issues. I had to rebuild all the project files the old programmer left for me, for a number of reasons, and for whatever reason VC thinks that opening a project file means it should open a solution that lives on a drive that doesn’t exist. Stranger still, there’s no mention of this .sln file inside the .vcproj file. Madness. Give me makefiles or give me death!

I actually tried a bunch of different methods for doing cross-platform compilation, but none of them satisfy me. CMake is woefully lacking in how it handles building Mac Universal Binaries. Regular makefiles don’t really have the syntactical sugar needed to easily process the files in the directory structure that was set up. I suppose I’m going to be looking at Scons next, but in the end on the Mac side of things I broke down and just wrote out a full makefile by hand, then used it as a template to make all five builds of tradigiTOOLS on Mac. (Which is actually more than five, since 8.5 and 2008 have PPC and Intel versions that require special handling.) I think once all this is finished and the new version of tradigiTOOLs is out of beta, I’m going to write a post on how to build Maya plugins from the command line on both Windows and Mac. You’d think it’s one of those things that would have extensive documentation online, and yet, all anyone ever says is “use the IDE.” It’s like Children of the Corn.

Now I have to ask you (yes, you) a very important question: have you played Braid? I’ve been following indie game development more and more lately, mostly because it seems that only solitary coders in their garages are able to produce anything genuinely surprising. I suppose that’s sprinkled with a bit of nostalgia as well. Braid is an excellent example of both game design and workflow. Every puzzle is different, even the ones that at first look the same. There are five worlds (marked Two through Six, with something at the top of some tower I haven’t yet reached — I’m only halfway through world six). There’s a really interesting, minimalist story going on the background. Every world has a different element of time manipulation, starting with just rewinding (a la that Prince of Persia game, or Blinx the Time Cat) and moving to other stuff that’s cool enough for me not to spoil. Bottom line: it’s $15, it starts up quick, and you can play it for only five minutes a day if you really want to. Oh, and it works with the 360 controller for Windows. Just don’t install it when your system locale is set to Japanese.

If I survive tomorrow, a new suit is my reward on Saturday. I should also finish off: Dimos rocks my world. You know, in a manly way.

Wait, that sounded bad.

random updates

The WordPress app on my iPhone seems to be well and truly dead ever since I upgraded it– it just sits in an endless loop, attempting to contact my blog. Apparently this is a known issue. As much as I move around, this has made it harder again for me to keep posting. Luckily the Evernote app was also recently upgraded, and now has the ability to create and save new text notes right in the phone. (This filled my need for a syncable text editor that is free and doesn’t suck, a need that should not have been so hard to fill.) So for now it appears that mobile blogging will have a few steps added to the process. At least it’s still doable. I need something to do on my commute in between episodes of the Stanford iPhone programming podcast.

It’s been two weeks for me at March Entertainment now, and I’m having a great time. It’s nice to actually be able to animate, to apply what I’ve spent the last year and a bit learning at Animation Mentor. Things aren’t quite settled there yet– we had hardware upgrades done on Friday– so next week is when things will likely hop into full gear. We did get to see the latest cut of the movie this week, so everyone has a better idea of how our work fits into the whole.

Outside of work I’ve actually managed to sleep, a bit. I keep having wickedly strange dreams, some of which have guest-starred people I haven’t thought about or talked to in years. The one about the truck-sized turkey still takes the cake, but there’ve been others that came close. I think that as much as I say I don’t get stressed, I’m only able to dream when work gets out of my subconscious’ way. I guess that means I’m feeling pretty relaxed right now.

Oh, I wanted to mention the latest album by The Dears, Missiles. There’s a song on it, Crisis 1&2, that I heard on the CBC Radio 3 podcast. Soon after it finished I rewound and played the song over again about a dozen times. It’s been a while since I was hit that hard by a single piece of music. I highly recommend you head out and find it. The rest of the CD isn’t bad, but that one song is transcendant.

Hmm… One more thing. Anybody know of a good, easy-to-understand tutorial on Direct X shader programming? I have a feeling I’m going to need it soon.

catching up

Lots of things going on, but I didn’t want to talk about some of it until the details were more concrete.

The first big news is that I’ll be starting a new job with March Entertainment this Monday, as a CG Animator. Apparently there’s some difference between “CG Animator” and “Character Animator” that I was unaware of, where CG Animators deal with more parts of the pipeline, so I’m expecting to have as much fun on the projects coming up as I did at Rover. Bonus points: I get to work with Dimos again. Nothing like doing a project with people you already meld with. Anyway I’m animating on the first project, which excites me a lot.

Ever since Ollie finished I’ve basically been on an enforced vacation. I say enforced because I generally don’t do the relaxing thing — traditionally I use downtime to learn or catch up on personal projects. But instead of doing that this time around, I’ve been doing absolutely nothing. For a few days I sat on the couch and caught up on DVR’d TV shows, especially Heroes and Chuck. I bought and played through most of Prince of Persia on PS3, which surprised me — unlike the last three, the fighting is great and doesn’t detract from the game at all. In fact, I’d say the balance is perfect. Story’s not bad either. I’ve also been going through Final Fantasy XII. I never had a chance to finish it after I bought it a year or two ago and it’s been waiting on me all this time. It’s also quite good. It’s the first FF I’ve enjoyed this much since FF7, and that’s saying something. The voice acting is superb, the plot is great, the writing / translation is well above the normal level, and even for a PS2 game the graphics are extremely well done.

Not that I haven’t been studying up on things. I’ve been doing some rig tests in Maya, working out some issues in Blender, and learning waaaay more than anyone should about using cloth sims as rigid body generators in Cinema 4D than anyone should.

I’ve also been framing through the Bolt Blu-Ray, as I have time. In the disc extras they mention how they simplified the paint on the backgrounds to keep the focus of each shot prominent, like the old 2D cartoons used to do. You don’t notice it unless you look for it, but it’s everywhere throughout the movie. Certain things are rendered in high quality. Others are so simplified that when you pause the movie you can barely tell what they are. Paint strokes are visible everywhere. If you’re an animation geek and are interested in seeing this, check out the distant skyscrapers in the city. Also check out the scene where Buttons is looking for something to bash Bolt over the head with, when they’re both in the moving truck after leaving NYC. That particular scene really shows what’s going on. It’s amazing I watched through the movie and never noticed it, not once.

What else… A lot of Papervision playing. I’ve had a look at all the 3D engines for Flash and out of all of them I like the way Papervision renders triangles the best. A lot of the other engines have issues with gaps between triangles and quads, and none seem to have any serious benefits over PV3D. There are a few limitations that I’m still trying to get over, especially with the limit on the number of triangles. It’s a bit like the DS, which can’t draw more than 2000 triangles per frame. (Or faces; I’m not sure which.) Even on my dual-core laptop the number of triangles you can use is pretty limited. Note that I don’t say limiting — a ceiling on the number of triangles you can use just means you have to be creative in your use of them. There’re also other things to speed up how the system works — anything I do in PV3D will used baked lighting, for example. I also plan on being very aggressive on keeping poly counts down. I’ve also been reading up on BSP tree creation (finally understand how portals work).

That is, if I use PV3D.

I’ve had enough time to think about games I want to make, and what I would need to know in order to get them made. I know that everything has to be done in stages, and that to make the game I really want to make, I have to build a better foundation. I need to build something small and simple to see the extent of what something small and simple takes, in order to use it as a lens to look at a larger project. Kind of like how doing a short film is like a microcosm for a feature, or even a TV show.

Every so often when I’m really bored or full of insomnia I’ll hit up The Video Game Name Generator and write down some of the best ones, like Go Go Basketball Gladiator or Nuclear Transvestite Experience. I write down the ones I love for possible future games (or domain names). One in particular would be good for a short game. We’ll see how that goes. Either way, I’ll probably end up using Unity. 2.5 just hit, and I could make web versions of the game just as easily with it as I could do something up in Flash.

Oh, and I rewrote the first chapter in my book. I don’t talk about the book on here hardly at all, but it’s something that’s always going in the background despite everything else I’m doing.

Heh… I guess I didn’t do “nothing” per se, but I do feel a hell of a lot more relaxed. Oh, and did I mention that I did a quick redesign of my main site?