Archive for the ‘PERFORMANCE’ Category

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.

Saturday, February 28th, 2009

Alchemy is going to shake things up a bit.  As witnessed before from Quake running in flash and now ODE compiled to run in flash using Alchemy (LLVM based). It is an early test but shows what could be possible.

Mihai Pricope has a post with sources on how he got the ODE (Open Dynamics Engine) a great open source physics engine for 3D, running on the AVM2 Flash Player virtual machine.

I’ve took Alchemy for a test and decided to compile ODE (Open Dynamic Engine). Just to add yet another physics engine to the Flash World. It was a hell of a ride but I finally got to produce some bouncing balls :). For a still unknown reason some as 3d libraries have been very slow to render 6 translucent walls and 2 balls. Papervision3D seems to move quite decent.

You can download the ode sources from here. To recompile them do (you need to have the Alchemy environment turned on):

Flash 10 will become mainstream shortly and with that the possibilities of using Alchemy in your projects is becoming a reality for production.  But what specifically can you do with Alchemy, a project that helps to compile C/C++ code into AVM2 capable files?

Alchemy described from Adobe:

With Alchemy, Web application developers can now reuse hundreds of millions of lines of existing open source C and C++ client or server-side code on the Flash Platform.  Alchemy brings the power of high performance C and C++ libraries to Web applications with minimal degradation on AVM2.  The C/C++ code is compiled to ActionScript 3.0 as a SWF or SWC that runs on Adobe Flash Player 10 or Adobe AIR 1.5.

Alchemy is based on the LLVM Low Level Virtual Machine that allows new levels of code translation.  Maybe this can lead to more effective and performing code to run on the iPhone with flash player 10. Or some type of system that allows flash developers to code in AS3 or take projects and get them ready to run on the iPhone much like some of the Java to Cocoa compilation systems and Unity3D using mono to compile down to iPhone capable code.

Thursday, December 4th, 2008

Nicolas Cannasse is at it again.  This time with a PBJ (Pixel Bender File) binary file reader and writer in haXe and Pixel Bender Assembler tools. What this can do is create and decompile PBJ files with haXe, the possibilities are limitless to how this is used including dynamic pbj file creation.

The latest haXe file format library contains complete support to read and write PBJ file, enabling you to write Pixel Bender assembler directly in haXe, then compile it on-the-fly into PBJ bytes, which can then be saved on disk or loaded directly in Flash.

I plan to have much more on Pixel Bender (shaders in flash) and Adobe Alchemy (compile other languages to which is a very cool technology that involves LLVM that Nicolas also has lots of great input on.

Friday, September 26th, 2008

If you are exporting from blender to actionscript directly so you can get your models into flash as script you can use the Blender to .as3 exporter which so kindly supports all flash 3d engines currently Away3D, Papervision3D and Sandy3D.  Dennis Ippel made the Blender exporter a while back but the update supports papervision 2.0.

The benefits of COLLADA are nice but there are so many differences that you can run into trouble.  With the exporter it is a direct faces and vector export without all the bloat of DAE/COLLADA xml.  This works if you are only developing for flash and dont’ need to use the models in other platforms/systems/engines that aren’t in flash.

Wednesday, September 24th, 2008

I have been doing lots of Papervision 3D for a project recently and needed to debug some placement and camera issues.  I did a quick search and found PV3DDebug by Jason Bejot and it worked out great and is a pretty sweet utility I thought I would mention when you need to debug Papervision or even for inclusion as a debug console in all your papervision apps and games. It is a good base for your own consoles or debug panels. It is also a great tool to help out with focus and zoom issues and understanding with camera placement.

The code is really easy to drop in and you can get lots of info on the PV3D scenes and camera manipulation.

Saturday, August 2nd, 2008

Making great games, applications and tools using flash, silverlight or other tools that are emerging such as Unity3D takes great style, effort and knowing your target. We need to know what the end-user machine has at hand.  The Unity 3d guys put together a great post on the capabilities of casual gaming machines. With all the talk about flash 3d, unity3d and silverlight what level are you targeting and what group of people can actually PLAY your games as you envision.

Pretty much everyone knows Valve’s hardware survey – it’s a very valuable resource that shows what hardware the typical “hardcore PC gamer” has (that is, gamers that play Valve’s games).

However, the “casual gamer”, which is what Unity games are mostly targeted at, probably has slightly different hardware. “Slightly” being a very relative term of course.

Lo and behold – we have a glimpse into that data.

How? First time the Unity Web Player is installed, it submits anonymous hardware details (details in the EULA). This happens only once, and contains no personally identifiable information. It’s much like visitor statistics trackers on the websites that gather your OS, browser information and whatnot.

Remember, all this data is from people who installed Unity Web Player (most likely because they wanted to play some Unity content on the web). Hardware of standalone game players might be different, and hardware of your game’s players might be different as well. The data set is well over a million samples at the moment.

Check out the full stats here.

The most interesting stats to me:

OS Platforms

Windows 96.8%

Mac OS X 3.2%

CPU Core count overall

1 54.7%

2 44.1%

4 1.1%

8 .1%

Wow this one is surprising, but with the type of gamer that will play and download a quality new plugin to get to a game, maybe not.  They need to have the latest and greatest.  Multi-core processors have been selling for about 2-3 years so this is a continuing trend that will make Flash 3d and even plugins like Unity 3d better over the short term.

Also when you check it over at Unity Blog note the top cards, it is a bit painful if you are a casual gamer developer.  Not a decent card in the top 10-15. But that is changing rapidly over the next 1-2 years in this regard. But this also vyes well for flash based games that rely on dual core software rendered results right now as a decent constraint for developers to keep content painfully accessible to all states of machinery out there.

I wonder if this information is available on the flash player and public? This is specific to the Unity 3D plugin that is also a bit of a different market that is willing to install a plugin for better experiences.  With Flash it is usually preinstalled or auto updated for a casual user and might be different as Flash has a 98% penetration rate.  Or for that matter the Director users which would be more gaming focused which amout ot about 40% of internet users.  But as with the case of Unity it is specific to games right now and a small penetration rate, Flash is also apps, ads, tools, demos, interactives in addition to games.  Having this information on Flash or Director would be nice.

Tuesday, July 29th, 2008

I rarely mention stuff I have worked on here but I got a chance to use APE and AS3 on the online Plinko game at the site for the Price is Right videogame for the famed pink Plinko Board.  Who doesn’t love Plinko?

I did the programming on this back when I still worked at emarketing/prizelogic.

I will be featuring a small iteration to APE with draggable particles and how I did it.  In the end I didn’t use the draggable particles but they are fun (i ended up changing my collision/border particles after testing).  I ended up controlling the drop location by swapping out a wheel particle after they dropped it.  So that it got the famous Plinko disc bounce and roll.

Why did I use APE? Well it is the least complex physics engine.  I started off with Box2dFlashAS3 and will post that one maybe as well but ended up going with APE mainly for integration it was easier that it was a less intensive codebase.  Box2DFlashAS3 can scare non C++ coders with it’s style let alone AS2 coders moving to AS3.

It is slower with all the other animation going on in the site but you can also play on my server here just the Plinko part.

Can you get 10,000?

Saturday, June 21st, 2008

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YEM-XAeY4K0[/youtube]

3D models from basic video… This can be huge in all sorts of ways.  For exponential growth you need to go virtual.

  • This is a technology called VideoTrace from Australia
  • The Siggraph paper describing VideoTrace is available here (pdf 6MB)
  • Larger videos available here, with a more compressed version here.
Saturday, May 17th, 2008

I have been consuming all the great additions to Flash 10 this weekend and one that really jumps out after you get past the visual, text and sound features (which are spectacular btw and most of what the community was asking for). But one feature snuck by, this is the one that ByteArray (Thibault Imbert) mentions/pointed out for managing files directly within Flash.

File Reference runtime access — Bring users into the experience by letting them load files into your RIA. You can work with the content at runtime and even save it back when you are done through the browse dialog box. Files can be accessed as a byteArray or text using a convenient API in ActionScript without round-tripping to the server. You no longer have to know a server language or have access to a server to load or save files at runtime.

This greatly lowers the bar to using Flash as a photo editor, document manager, customized application experiences, marking up content and saving locally, all without the need for server side script. I am a big fan of server side technologies and develop with them but even for bettering performance this could be huge.

Scenarios where this might be useful is editing applications, note taking (download a book with your notes), editors for docs/games/3d/textures,,, the possibilities are endless really.

Flash 9 just got mainstream and production ready (flash 9 penetration) at the tail end of last year but there are so many great things in the new version that I hope it comes out very soon. Flash it turning into quite a platform.

Alternativa Platform also has updated their engine for Flash 10 already (they must have had some inside early accessibility to it) and there are great possibilities here.

It is only beta (Flash 10) but there are great market opportunities to prepare for when this launches. Keep your eye on where the puck will be, not where it is currently at. I was concerned when Adobe bought Macromedia and the future of Flash but it appears they are taking this bull by the horns.

If you are ready to play with Flash 10 here is Flex and FlashDevelop updates to help you get started.

Also here is some code posted at ByteArray from Pleh for testing the new FileReference runtime access, usage is extremely simple and rests on this

var data:ByteArray = fileRef['data'];

/*
  FileReference Load Example By Pleh 17/05/08
*/

package {
	import flash.display.Loader;
	import flash.display.Sprite;
	import flash.events.Event;
	import flash.events.MouseEvent;
	import flash.net.FileReference;
	import flash.net.FileFilter;
	import flash.utils.ByteArray;

	public class Flash10Test extends Sprite
	{
		private var fileRef:FileReference;

		public function Flash10Test()
		{
			fileRef = new FileReference();
			fileRef.addEventListener(Event.SELECT, selectFile);
			fileRef.addEventListener(Event.OPEN, openFile);
			stage.addEventListener(MouseEvent.CLICK,stageClick);
		}

		private function selectFile(e:Event):void {
			fileRef['load']();
		}

		private function openFile(e:Event):void {
			var data:ByteArray = fileRef['data'];
			var loader:Loader = new Loader();
			loader.loadBytes(data);
			addChild(loader);
		}

		private function stageClick(e:Event):void{
			fileRef.browse([new FileFilter("All Formats (*.jpg,*.gif,*.png,*.swf)", "*.jpg;*.gif;*.png;*.swf", "JPEG;jp2_;GIFF;SWFL")]);
		}

	}
}