Archive for March, 2009

Saturday, March 28th, 2009

Away3D was updated to Flash 10 earlier this month.  Flooded with final semester, massive workload and all the conferences #swsx, #gdc, #mix09 etc I missed the announcement.  

It is looking pretty sweet with this mustang demo showing off the update.  Pixel bender has provided a performance update for effects that shows nicely here.

The above demo shows some of what is possible with the update: normalmapping with ambient, diffuse and correctly normalised specular shading, without the need for layers. As if that’s not enough, a further Pixel Bender shader is applied to the view to create a HDR (High Dynamic Range) effect on the highlights, something usually seen in much more 3d-rich console games. Special thanx go to Eddie Carbinfor donating an excellent normalmapped mustang model, and David Lenaerts for writing the HDR filter.

Airtight Interactive did a comparison a while back where FP10 rendering was faster against the olde version of Away3D, this update may change that will have to take a look.  All away3d needs is a designer :)

Saturday, March 28th, 2009

 Director 11.5 was quietly released last week at GDC with a few nice upgrades.

  • The sound library is updated to Dolby surround 5.1. 
  • Director 11 now supports ByteArray and binary data handling. 
  • It also states support for Flash 9 swfs. Previously Director 11 did not work well/atall with AS3/Flash 9 swfs which made it nearly useless.
  • Streaming support for audio and video with RTMP (red5, flash media server, etc)
  • Updated video support
  • Bitmap and audio filters for video

I still think Director is on decline unless they open up the development platform, lose Lingo and allow a real IDE to develop with. So frustrating being restrained to that IDE that is not very flexible and cumbersome to extend and code in when you compare it with cutting edge IDEs like Unity3D or open source flash IDEs like FlashDevelop. It has been completely removed from our workflow for some time due to new Flash 2.5D engines such as papervision 3d, away 3d and sandy or for more immersive hardware rendered 3d, unity3d. 

 

Adobe Director version comparison chart
Product features Director 11.5 Director 11 Director MX 2004
Support for 5.1 surround sound Yes No No
Real-time audio mixing Yes No No
Audio effects and DSP filters Yes No No
H.264 MPEG-4, FLV, and F4V video support Yes No No
Streaming support for audio and video with RTMP Yes No No
Ability to apply audio filters on a video Yes No No
Ability to apply bitmap filters on a video Yes No No
Google SketchUp file import Yes No No
Enhanced physics engine with support for dynamic concave rigid bodies Yes No No
ByteArray datatype for binary data handling Yes No No
Multiple undo/redo for text editors Yes No No
Text rendering and performance optimization Yes No No
Cross-domain policy support for Adobe Shockwave® Player Yes No No
Mac OS X Leopard support Yes No No
Unicode support Yes Yes No
Microsoft DirectX 9 support Yes Yes No
Advanced physics engine with included NVIDIA® PhysX™ support Yes Yes No
JavaScript dictionary Yes Yes No
Code snippets Yes Yes No
Bitmap filters Yes Yes No
Microsoft® Windows Vista® support Yes Yes No
Support for Intel® based Macs Yes Yes No
Cross-platform projector publishing Yes Yes Yes
Web publishing with Adobe Shockwave Player Yes Yes Yes
Support for more than 40 video, audio, and image file formats, including SWF Yes Yes Yes
Tuesday, March 24th, 2009

AngryAnt brings us a nice library for pathing and behavior trees in Unity3D with excellent editor integration. Path library I reviewed and is an extremely deep and complete library with autocomplete node collections from colliders, ability to connect different networks and detection from mesh as well as GUI tools using Unity3D editor scripts. The release is solid with documentation, video samples and is very easy to integrate. If you have a need for AI, bots, scripted animations or other madness in your game be sure to check out the pathing library and or the behave library from AngryAnt to implement or research.

Path Features

Specs:

  • Available for unity indie as well as pro licensees
  • Can run in webplayers as well as stand-alone
  • Requires no additional installations

Features:

  • Easy to use editor interface
  • Navmeshes
  • Waypoint networks
  • Cached pathes
  • Distributed processing using coroutines
  • Tag-filtered pathfinding
  • Hierarchal “grid network” pathfinding
  • Auto-recalculate on runtime network changes

Tutorials

I recommend you study the “Editor demo” unity project available on the Path download page. This project will be used in the tutorials below and contains an example Path setup.

Tutorial 1 – The basics

Runtime reference

The Path project comes with a small, but effective runtime API. The following links list the classes herein and their methods / properties.

Path unity package

Path package
The Path package contains all you need to start using the Path editor and run-time components in your project.

Demo unity project

Demo project
The Demo project is a complete unity 2.5 project with Path already added, a sample Path collection set up and example scripts requesting path calculations and following them.

Behave Features

Specs:

  • Available for unity indie as well as pro licensees
  • Can run in webplayers as well as stand-alone
  • Requires no additional installations at runtime

Features:

  • Implements behaviour trees
  • Re-use common behaviour by reference
  • Drag and drop editor interface inside the unity editor
  • Simple connection to character actions via C# interface
  • Designed trees are built to .net assembly code for maximum performance
  • Runtime debugging features
  • Powerful stand-alone editor – including web version

Behave unity package

Behave package
The Behave package contains all you need to start using the Behave editor, compiler and run-time in your project.

Behave 0.3b hotfix

Behave 0.3b hotfix
This hotfix solves a few critical issues with Behave 0.3b and unity 2.5. It’s still quite buggy and I’m working on a more extensive rewrite. Stay tuned.

Demo unity project

Demo project
The Demo project is a complete unity 2.1 project with Behave already added, a sample behaviour tree designed and compiled plus an example script showing how compiled behaviour trees are integrated with unity MonoBehaviour scripts.

Behave builder application

Behave builder
Behave builder is a stand-alone application offering the behaviour tree editors (excluding the compiler) outside the unity editor. It is currently OS X only. This application is also available in an online version – check it out in the “Preview” section of this page.

Example library

CitySimulation.behave
CitySimulation.behave is the library used in the demo project – saved as a Behave builder file. You can use this file directly in the online and offline version of Behave builder or import it to a unity project via the Behave “Assets” menu.
Tuesday, March 24th, 2009

It appears Torque3D is going to compete with Unity3D in a browser based 3d plugin front with a Torque3D toolset and pipeline that target the web.

They announced this on gamasutra recently on how instantaction and torque3d technology is similar yet different. InstantAction is an engine wrapper where the web plugin for Torque3D is more tighly coupled with the Torque3D engine. Instantaction.com technology allows you to wrap an existing game engine for the web which is a competitor with the gaimtheory engine that is used on quakelive.com.

I have been a garage games torque developer and member since 2003 and worked/bought with each engine they have put out from the old school Torque Engine, to Torque Engine Advanced for various game development projects and now they are throwing in on what appears to be based on their instantaction.com technology but using the Torque3D engine. This is very interesting, they might even have a channel/appstore to release games on instantaction.com?

Unity3D has recently taken my time in the full immersion 3d for the web space, the mono engine that runs the scripting is a huge feature. Coding in C#, Boo and javascript is great, and the pipeline for Unity3D is unmatched.

A bit of history, I have been interested in this since Director introduced 3d in director 8.5 in 2001 (how was that not a major revision I don’t know) and the killer Havok 3d physics engine within it. Way ahead of its time. But Director 3d was extremely limited with w3d (not even a decent blender exporter) and it literally has not advanced since that time in terms of ability to develop better for it and the IDE. It was trapped in this little IDE and quirky Lingo language. They tried to save it with javascript, a valiant effort but it still withered due to lack of openness of development for the player (a mistake they aren’t making with Flash now at Adobe). So making full immersion 3d games was not really ready for the web, Director was notorious at crashing browsers and took way too many broken plugins to get a basic engine.

So I went to mods in HL (quake 2 engine), Unreal and when I realized there was no way me or my friends could foot the license fees of either engine we went to Torque in 2003. It was great, large terrains and highly compact engine because it had to run Tribes with 64 players years before anyone else approached 64 players and arguably still played better than 64 player fps now. It was affordable. I have been interested in the movements to make torque an active x control in 2005/6 and Think Tanks did just that. It was very nice, I thought soon after it would be everywhere. But it has taken until now and a new engine called Torque3D before this has been realized years later. This is hard stuff to get right creating a plugin that works cross browser and performs well (browsers had to catch up as well). The culmination of that technology progression has happened and 3d on the web for game development appears to be bigtime in 2009.

Unity3D meanwhile since 2005-6 has gotten it nearly all right so far for a few years now, especially the pipeline and the webplayer. Torque has always had an poor pipeline, not as bad as writing your own engine from scratch and all the tools but in the early days pretty close. Proprietary formats like dts for models made finding the right exporter tasking. There were just so many walls in what was supposed to be a pipeline, largely due to support for formats that were small enough for slower networks and machines of the past. Unity3D gets all this right from the start, pipeline is not an issue. Torque3D seems to address this with their new tools, support for Collada, but unfortunately still scripted with TorqueScript. If Torque3D could wire in Mono and the capability to code in Javascript, C#, Boo or other Mono languages this would have been cool, or at least a semi-standard scripting language like Javascript, Python etc that would be great. TorqueScript was a big feature and UnrealScript is very similar in how it interacts with the engine, but these days we want standard languages that have engine features built in. Maybe this will happen down the road, but the format support is very nice.

For 3d, prior to Unity3D, the web was still owned by Director but that has changed in the last few years. It won me over for immersive 3d games that are web capable and able to port to other platforms and markets. Casual is still done with Flash and mobile space is targeting iphone. Unity3D can run on web, iPhone, Wii, desktop. Torque3D can run on web and also has paths to desktop, iPhone, Wii, XBOX360. You see what is happening here? It is very cool indeed. No doubt the competition in this area is getting to a point where some good innovation and happenings are taking place, what are you going to do with it?

Sunday, March 22nd, 2009

Here is a video with more information on Silverlight 3 Beta features that are matches of the latest Flash killer features in pixel shaders, 3d planes (ability to create pseudo-3d engines like papervision3d), local saving, pixel operations/bitmap handling, local messaging (silverlight to silverlight – like localconnection), out of browser desktop running ability of SL3, SEO and search indexing capabilities / deep linking navigation and more.

Video of the features of SL3 Beta, Demos, at a Slow Pace from #mix09
Get Microsoft Silverlight

A few points after the video and taking a tour of the features.

The pixel shaders are written in HLSL (shader 2), however they are compiled to byte code and do not currently use the gpu for rendering. While the pixel shaders are very cool and the language to write them is standard pretty much for shaders in HLSL shader model 2 DirectX-based (the other is GLSL OpenGL based) they have not allowed this byte code to run on the GPU… yet. Here Flash and Pixel Bender actually are ahead there.

Although there are 3d planes which is very exciting, no good pseudo 3d engine exists yet matching the 3 in flash (papervision3d, away3d, sandy). When SL3 comes out I am sure we will see a few emerge or build them ourselves because this iteration of SL3 looks pretty fun.

Pixel based operations will be a huge advancement much like it was in earlier flash versions as it adds some demo scene type abilities and experiments with pixels that are fun.  This also lends to doing cool things like shaders, effects, AR, face recognition, motion detection etc.

Effects like Blur and Drop shadow are good and the ability to add custom ones, great. However currently they are pretty performance intensive.  They are also in Flash but there needs to be some refinement in SL3 effects before launch.

Desktop runnable apps in out of browser will be nice and this is a direct compete with Adobe AIR which was a surprise.

Local Communication supports desktop to browser communication.

Isolated storage (similar to shared objects) supports 1MB in browser, 25MB out of browser defaults.

This version of silverlight is really a 1.0 version as typical with most software.  Version 2 or version 3 is usually what the initial design goals pan out.  Much like the latest unity3d version (2.5) that has windows support and the iPhone SDK 3.0 that both came out this week, even actionscript 3 compared to earlier versions, these toolkits are finally iterated enough that they are really solid platforms for building cool stuff on and become platforms.  The next version of all these could be very, very dangerous.

Huge missing features:

Although there are some great features in SL3 beta, it is still not done and it is still missing some key components that Flash has which make it very attractive in the interactive space.

  • Camera and Microphone support - Macromedia hired one of the smartest dudes around in Jeremy Allaire back in flash 6 days to help add support for Flash Communication Server (Flash Media Server now) Camer and Microphone support.  One of the best R&D periods at Macromedia. SL needs this soon.
  • Printing support – what was long a problem in Flash is so in SL, there is no good printing support
  • No GPU usage for Pixel Effects/Shaders – (neither flash nor silverlight support hardware accelerated shaders in PixelEffects/Pixelbender – Pixel Effects/Shaders need GPU support (see Kevin Goldsmith’s article on GPU mixed with CPU and how this may or may not be good. However processors are speeding up and multi-core helps software rendering, the quality of GPU is well beyond what software rendering can deliver for a few years to come at least while architecture advances, probably more like 5-10 years.
  • No UDP plans yet - Adobe has RTMFP, SL sockets has no public plans for adding UDP that I have seen
  • No Alpha Channel in Video - You can do this with a shader though but not supported by default.

Silverlight 3 Video

Flash has the upperhand in video and probably will still even though SL3 has H.264.  Flash added this at the same time and though they still have FLV which revolutionized web video they are now much broader in support in video than SL3.  Silverlight has H.264 and VC1 support (their own FLV like codec).  Still pretty cool a couple years ago there was no HD on the web now everyone has it in H.264 video support.

Currently nothing innovative, mainly catchup still, but here are some options

Silverlight 3 beta and the video below the features and highlights will look very similar to flash and flash community advancements over the last couple years.  There is no innovation just yet.

But where that could happen is in socket support with UDP. Flash has moved on this in RTMFP and the beginning of larger scale networking support with UDP with samples like stratus.  This is a huge differentiating feature for what I think will be game changer on the web (it already is on desktop mmos) in real-time or closer to real-time support for larger sets of users in online games like MMOs or virtual communities, even tools to make request based real-time sites like micro-blogging faster and able to handle more users (right now it is very linear if users get many followers, UDP will allow a better distributed framework for messaging).

Local Storage

Silverlight and Unity3D all need this, Flash could use better support for this.  Local saving of a files for cache beyond the internet cache and greater than the 1MB/25MB limits of SL3 IsolatedStorage.  This is an issue when you are making large scale games in that you need to save lots of assets to a client but to make it economical you want ot save more than the default internet cache amount. Flash Shared Object (Local) allow you to do this somewhat but it would be great to have a way to just download files for cache (upon user agreement) to store assets in bulk of allowable types (images, video, models, bundles) to the file system.

Hardware rendering for 3d support and UDP support will put Flash and SL3 on par with the killer Unity3D kit for making online web games and other activex/plugins like instantaction that allow you to do these things already.

The one thing SL has over Flash

Flash and Flex are great. But there is this massive division in the community and marketing of Flash. Silverlight is entirely unified and this has much to do with starting clean at a time that interactive development is heading more into a technology and developers control. Flash and Flex need to bring it together. AS3 has been out long enough that the people with skills have hopped on and taken it to a new level, mainly from programmers. If Adobe created a version of Flash that was a new IDE and consolidated Flex and Flash into just Flash, made the IDE as powerful as FDT or FlashDevelop3 there could be hope to bring the platform together. I understand they had to work it in slowly because it was a designers platform really (even though coders still pushed the limits in games and apps built on it) so they had to tip toe carefully on this to not alienate people. But now I think the division is a serious problem with the platform and must be addressed, noone expected Silverlight to be this quick on at least SL3 features. And even though the initial approach might have been bad as SL1 was a huge letdown, Microsoft does not give up and you can see in the XBOX360 and DirectX that they are very pursuant. DirectX really didn’t become huge until version 7 so these guys won’t relent.

I am not a huge fan of using the proprietary tools. Even in Flash I use as much open source as I can even though the player is locked, but Moonlight is something that trails Silverlight development and is a very unique thing in both open source and cross platform/multiplatform development. It is a clear relationship and aims to make Silverlight run on multiplatform mono including Linux. This could win out in the end who knows.

Futures

Great iterations of software happened this week in the latest unity3d version (2.5) that has windows support and the iPhone SDK 3.0 and now SL3 is quite a surprise in feature set.

I have been really busy this week just delving into all them and hope to start making more cool and useful projects in them.  The best part is right now is great to be an interactive or game developer as all major software companies and markets are focused on retaining good developers.  I don’t’ recall a time other than the beginning the the web virtual land rush that has so many options and markets that skilled developers and designers can choose from.  Good times.

Wednesday, March 18th, 2009

The interactive space is blowing up with releases of really good iterations of software.

Just this week the iPhone 3.0 SDK was announced and available for download for developers, Unity3D 2.5 was released with a windows development capability (was previously mac only) and now Silverlight 3 is making some waves as it was released at #MIX09 (with the Moonlight open source mono version hopefully not too far behind…).

There are a few things that piqued my interest in Silverlight 3 beta notes and that is hardware acceleration on video, 3d canvas and pixel effects (unclear if these are hardware accelerated like shaders or pixel bender) similar to filters and with the possibility to write effects similar to shaders or Adobe’s Pixel Bender pbx shaders.

  • Support for Higher Quality Video & Audio. With support for native H.264/Advanced Audio Coding (AAC) Audio, live and on-demand IIS7 Smooth Streaming, full HD (720p+) playback, and an extensible decoder pipeline, Silverlight 3 brings rich, full-screen, stutter-free media experiences to the desktop. New and enhanced media features in Silverlight 3 include:
    • Live and on-demand true HD (720p+) Smooth Streaming. IIS Media Services (formerly IIS Media Pack), an integrated HTTP media delivery platform, features Smooth Streaming which dynamically detects and seamlessly switches, in real time, the video quality of a media file delivered to Silverlight based on local bandwidth and CPU conditions.
    • More format choice. In addition to native support for VC-1/WMA, Silverlight 3 now offers users native support for MPEG-4-based H.264/AAC Audio, enabling content distributors to deliver high-quality content to a wide variety of computers and devices.
    • True HD playback in full-screen. Leveraging graphics processor unit (GPU) hardware acceleration, Silverlight experiences can now be delivered in true full-screen HD (720p+).
    • Extensible media format support. With the new Raw AV pipeline, Silverlight can easily support a wide variety of third-party codecs. Audio and video can be decoded outside the runtime and rendered in Silverlight, extending format support beyond the native codecs.
    • Industry leading content protection. Silverlight DRM, Powered by PlayReady Content Protection enables protected in-browser experiences using AES encryption or Windows Media DRM.
  • Empowering Richer Experiences. Silverlight 3 contains new 3D graphics, animation features, hardware accelerated effects and text improvements that enable designers and developers to create next generation Web visuals. Additional features include:
    • Perspective 3D Graphics. Silverlight 3 allows developers and designers to apply content to a 3D plane. Users can rotate or scale live content in space without writing any additional code. Other effects include creating a queue in 3D and transitions.
    • Pixel Shader effects. These software based effects include blur and drop shadow. In addition, you can also write your own effect. Effects can be applied to any graphical content. An example would be to make a button appear depressed on rollover you could use a drop shadow effect on the pressed visual state.
    • Bitmap Caching. Silverlight 3 dramatically improves the rendering performance of applications by allowing users to cache vector content, text and controls into bitmaps. This feature is useful for background content and for content which needs to scale without making changes to its internal appearance.
    • New Bitmap API. With Silverlight 3, developers can now write pixels to a bitmap. Thus, they can build a photo editor to do red eye correction, perform edits on scanned documents or create specials effects for cached bitmaps from elements on the screen.
    • Themed application support. Developers can now theme applications by applying styles to their Silverlight 3 applications and changing them at runtime. Additionally, developers can cascade styles by basing them on each other.
    • Animation Effects. Silverlight 3 provides new effects such as spring and bounce. These make animation more natural. Developers can also now develop their own mathematical functions to describe an animation.
    • Enhanced control skinning. Silverlight 3 provides easier skinning capabilities by keeping a common set of controls external from an application. This allows the sharing of styles and control skins between different applications.
    • Improved text rendering & font support. Silverlight 3 allows far more efficient rendering and rapid animation of text. Applications also load faster by enabling the use of local fonts.
  • Improving Rich Internet Application Productivity. New features include:
    • 60+ controls with source code : Silverlight 3 is packed with over 60 high-quality, fully skinnable and customizable out-of-the-box controls such as charting and media, new layout containers such as dock and viewbox, and controls such as autocomplete, treeview and datagrid. The controls come with nine professional designed themes and the source code can be modified/recompiled or utilized as-is. Other additions include multiple selection in listbox controls, file save dialog making it easier to write files, and support for multiple page applications with navigation.
    • Deep Linking. Silverlight 3 includes support for deep linking, which enables bookmarking a page within a RIA.
    • Search Engine Optimization (SEO). Silverlight 3 enables users to solve the SEO-related challenges posed by RIAs. By utilizing business objects on the server, together with ASP.NET controls and site maps, users can automatically mirror database-driven RIA content into HTML that is easily indexed by the leading search engines.
    • Enhanced Data Support Silverlight 3 delivers:
      • Element to Element binding : UI designers use binding between two UI properties to create compelling UI experiences. Silverlight now enables property binding to CLR objects and other UI components via XAML, for instance binding a slider value to the volume control of a media player.
      • Data Forms. The Data Form control provides support for layout of fields, validation, updating and paging through data.
      • New features for data validation which automatically catch incorrect input and warn the user with built-in validation controls.
      • Support for business objects on both client and server with n-Tier data support. Easily load, sort, filter and page data with added support for working with data. Includes a new built-in CollectionView to perform a set of complex operations against server side data. A new set of .NET RIA services supports these features on the server.
    • Improved performance, through:
      • Application library caching, which reduces the size of applications by caching framework on the client in order to improve rendering performance.
      • Enhanced Deep Zoom, allows users to fluidly navigate through larger image collections by zooming.
      • Binary XML allows communication with the server to be compressed, greatly increasing the speed at which data can be exchanged.
      • Local Connection This feature allows communication between two Silverlight applications on the client-side without incurring a server roundtrip: for instance a chart in one control can communicate with a datagrid in another.
  • Advanced Accessibility Features. Silverlight 3 is the first browser plug-in to provide access to all system colors, allowing partially-sighted people to make changes such as high contrast color schemes for ease of readability by using familiar operating system controls.
  • Out of Browser Capabilities. The new out of browser experience in Silverlight 3 enables users to place their favorite Silverlight applications directly onto their PC and Mac, with links on the desktop and start menu—all without the need to download an additional runtime or browser plug-in. Further, the new experience enables Silverlight applications to work whether the computer is connected to the Internet or not—a radical improvement to the traditional Web experience. Features include:
    • Life outside the browser. Silverlight applications can now be installed to and run from the desktop as lightweight web companions. Thus, users can take their favorite Web applications with them, regardless of whether they are connected to the Internet or not.
    • Desktop shortcuts and start menu support. Silverlight applications can be stored on any PC or Mac computer’s desktop with links in the start menu and applications folder, and so are available with one-click access.
    • Safe and secure. Leveraging the security features of the .NET Framework, Silverlight applications run inside a secure sandbox with persistent isolated storage. These applications have most of the same security restrictions as traditional web apps and so can be trusted without security warnings or prompts, minimizing user interruptions.
    • Smooth installation. Because Silverlight applications are stored in a local cache and do not require extra privileges to run, the installation process is quick and efficient.
    • Auto-update. Upon launch, Silverlight applications can check for new versions on the server, and automatically update if one is found.
    • Internet connectivity detection. Silverlight applications can now detect whether they have Internet connectivity and can react intelligently including caching a users’ data until their connection is restored.

The great news is we have all major companies about software, mobile and the web are focused on interactive development. If you are an interactive developer with programming skills and design skills, this is the time.  Adobe, Microsoft, Apple, even Google with Chrome (javascript engine ineteractive focused), and others are all on development that suits needs and requires skills of people that know the interactive and web platforms and are able to develop the best solution with the best technology for that solution. The programming depth is getting deeper (Adobe’s Alchemy, Silverlight/Moonlight/Mono/C#/Unity3D) but the capabilities are growing exponentially with what you can do with these new markets.

There are so many new, emerging and re-newed market forces in interactive development that things are going to shake up a bit and there is plenty of opportunity no matter what platform you might be locked into.  However I recommend not locking yourself into one platform and exploring, but specializing in what you do best. There has never been a better time for developers looking to take the web to the next level with cooler game development visuals, more immersive virtual spaces and applications that have usabililty and design in new ways and mimic the great usable design of the iphone; for developers going mobile or specializing in web game development this is a good time to be in the game.

Wednesday, March 18th, 2009

This is fantastic news!  Unity3D 2.5 has been released a bit early before GDC and it includes the game changing windows build environment and IDE.  This now opens up the Unity 3D market by a huge factor and Unity3d will find its way into many gaming companies that are heavily invested in Windows. We should see the amount of unity 3d players and content ramp up quite a bit this year.

Dont’ get me wrong I love my Mac Book Pro and continue to use it for development in Unity3D, iphone sdk etc.  But being able to use my windows machine as a dev box is great and I know this will be huge for many windows users not wanting to shell out the $1500 for the unity license AND $3000 for a decent macbook.  The cost wall has been lowered and it is a great investment if you are an indie game developer or a large game developer.

I usually only get excited about open source tools on this blog because they help everyone with skills have access, I hope one day there will be an open source 3d browser based engine as well.  Right now though there is nothing price competitive other than maybe torque instantaction plugin or the gaim engine (quakelive) that comes close with hardware rendering and none of them beat Unity in ease of pipeline.

One thing about Unity3d is it was a game engine from day one, it is only a game engine.  It isn’t like Director or Flash that are also application development kits, rich internet application kits etc.  This is pure game engine baby with hardware rendering for the win. Also, if you want to make 3d games for the iPhone without going hardcore OpenGL ES you can do so with an additional license that opens up your distribution channel to the iphone, flash can’t do that currently unfortunately.

And so it begins… GAME ON!

Monday, March 16th, 2009

Libspark from Japan is a treasure trove of great flash advancements, they seem to realize the great things that can come from porting in existing solid libraries from C/C++ etc into flash and have been scoring lately including augmented reality in flash porting the ARToolkit to FLARToolkit.  Recently a port of openCV for as3 called Marilena was found and it is for object detection and decent facial recognition (it is a computer vision library from intel) considering the processing power needed to do this.

Face Detection: Here is the sample included with Marilena showing facial detection on an image.

marilena1

Lots of recent action has blown up on this front from Mr doob, quasimondo (optimizing the Marilena classes for better performance) and Boffwswana. Also there is a kit called deface by sshipman that is the first foray into this a year ago doing similar things but it was just a bit before it’s time and a bit slow in previous versions of flash, it performs decent now in this sample. Flash 10 performance of the AVM2 and future directions with Alchemy will lead to more interesting stuff just like this.

Mr. doob head tracking sample, be sure to check lots of other examples there

mrdoob_facedriven3d

Boffswana example of head tracking Johnny Lee Wii style with only a webcam and flash, no wiimote needed since it uses facial detection to check where you are and how close you are in the screen and then moves accordingly.

bofswana

This is stemming from the recent explosion of the FLARToolkit and augmented reality in flash as well as the gimmicks used by Nintendo with the wii and Johnny Lee’s great head tracking advancements. Porting great libraries to flash seems to be the phase we are entering now judging by the recent excitement around Adobe Alchemy and the LLVM along with the lead from the libspark.org contributors. We have also seen this heavily last year in ports of Box2D for 2d physics and other toolkits using established working code and porting that to flash now that is is mostly capable of handling the performance.

OpenCV (Open Computer Vision Library by Intel) is quite a powerful platform that allows you to do all this and now it is available in flash. There are other great libraries for nearly all platforms now. I have done some previous work with Aforge which is also a port of OpenCV mainly for motion detection. This was always around but not until the recent performance updates and the innovation that has come with Alchemy and the thinking that goes along with that (porting in libraries to flash from C/C++ etc), has allowed this to flourish in flash and thus the web.

The amazing new things we can do with flash by porting in existing libraries is only going to get more intense as alchemy and flash 10 are even more mainstream.  It is almost as if Flash will eventually just become a web renderer and simplified front end to many great toolkits that exist in more native environments like C/C++ but with the speed and distribution access of the web with Flash.  Exciting times ahead.

Friday, March 13th, 2009

Polygonal labs, maker of some of the best demos, information and tools for AS3 since inception updated the killer AS3 Data Structures for Game Developers and ported it to haXe.

Of course along the way making many improvements and showing great information on how and why the haXe version is faster which mainly boils down to a more strict virtual machine but flexible still with generics.

haXe is fast because it is a very highly optimized virtual machine language with compiler (and could be called a virtual machine to target other VMs similar to LLVM with the ability to target the Neko VM, AVM2 or Javascript, it is more than just a language) by Nicolas Cannasse that may one day overtake directly coding for the AVM2 or maybe we will even see haXe have more influence on flash soon for performance gains.  Some of the Alchemy LLVM virtual machine work is similar in nature to what haXe does and helps the language become an abstraction and translates into highly optimized code from very powerful and productive language syntax.

Anyways, I ramble, be sure to check out Data Structures for Game Developers by Polygonal Labs now ported for haXe as hx3ds if you are doing any sort of work in AS3 or haXe for AS3 it will be worth your while and provide a very common and useful data structures capabilities into your production that is highly optimized from one of the best AS3 developers.

As the name suggests, hx3ds is a port of as3ds for haXe and is now available at lib.haxe.org. hx3ds only supports the flash player 10 target, as it makes extensive use of the Vector class. If you need data structures that compile across all platforms, take a look at colhx instead.

Here’s a list of new features:

  • orders of magnitude faster
  • collections now support clone() and shuffle() operations
  • object pooling framework
  • revised graph, tree and linked list classes
  • memory manager for the virtual memory API (more on this soon)

The Structures Included

Multi-Dimensional Arrays

The library contains a two-dimensional and three-dimensional array. They are both implemented by a single linear array rather than nested arrays. This is the fastest method in flash to simulate multi-dimensional arrays and outperforms the nested array method because multiple array lookups are slower compared to one lookup combined with a simple arithmetic expression (which you can also often precompute in the outer loop). The most obvious application would be a tilemap in 2d or a layered tilemap in 3d.

Queue

This is also called a FIFO structure (First In – First Out). The queue comes in two variations, which have the same methods, but differ in their implementations: There is the arrayed queue, which obviously uses an array internally, and the linked queue, which is build upon a linked list. They are both very similar, except that the arrayed version has a fixed size and is faster.
A common application would be a command queue – imagine you have a unit in a strategy game and apply many commands which the unit should follow. All commands are enqueued and afterwards dequeued and processed in order.

Stack

Also commonly know as a FILO structure (First In – Last Out). Like the queue, this comes in two flavors: arrayed and linked. A stack is often not used directly, but a very important concept in programming. Please note, that a queue and a stack are not real structures, because they just define how data is accessed rather then stored.

Tree

A node-based structure. Every tree starts from a single node, called the root node. The root node can contain any number of child nodes, and every child node can again contain children. A tree node with no children is called a leaf node. In fact if you draw the nodes of a tree it looking like a real tree with branches. The AS3 display architecture is also a tree structure, so you could use this to manage your display objects and update them by traversing through the tree. Also, this is useful for decision trees, BVHs, storing a plot line or storing data recursively by applying the composite pattern.

Binary Tree

This is just a specialized kind of tree where each node is only allowed to have up to two children, called the left and right node. Binary trees are very often used for parsing input data, for example arithmetic expressions or when building a scripting system.

Binary Search Tree (BST) and Hash Table

Both structures store data that can be retrieved quickly by using a key. The method however differers greatly: The BST uses a recursive approach to split up large amounts of data into smaller sets. A hash table stores sparse key-based data using a hash-key in a small amount of space.

Linked Lists

A linked list is similar to an array. The main difference is that in an array, each cell contains just the data and is accessed by an index. A linked list consists of several node objects, which in addition to storing the data, manage a reference to the next node (singly linked) or to the next and previous node (doubly linked) in the list. Think of it as a more natural approach to work with sequential data.
Other benefits are that you can insert and remove data quickly by just calling the appropriate method on the node itself – you don’t have to manage array indexes. Also in AS3 object access is faster than array access, so it competes very well in terms of performance when iterating over the list.

Heap and Priority Queue

A Heap is a special kind of binary tree in which every node is bigger than its child nodes. Whatever you throw into a heap, it’s automatically sorted so the item with the ‘most significant’ value (depending on the comparison function) is always the front item. A priority queue is build upon the heap structure, and can manage prioritized data – which can be used in limitless ways.

Graph

A graph is a loose node-based structure. Nodes are connected with arcs, and every node can point to any other node. They can also point to each other creating a bi-directional connection. It is essential for path finding, AI, soft-body dynamics with mass-springs systems and a lot more.

Bit Vector

A bit vector is some kind of array in which you can store boolean values (true/false – 1/0) as close as possible without wasting memory. I currently can’t think of a reasonable application, because usually you should have enough memory – but it’s nice to have because it shows basic bit masking operations.