comic book naturalism

Spider-Man
 

Steven Spielberg years ago had bought the movie-rights for the adventures of Tintin. He held them for some time, then gave them back, without ever having made a movie from them. Word has it that he meanwhile simply deemed it to be an impossibility to make a movie out of those comic books. The major problem with transposing characters and narrative content from one medium to another, e.g. from comic books to the silver screen—no matter if animation or meatspace-acting—is the imagination of the audience. For example, while reading a comic book you involuntarily give your own voice to the main protagonist, the one the reader identifies with. Now, if the protagonist’s voice in a movie based on a comic book doesn’t match your imagination, suspension of disbelief comes to a grinding halt, you immediately drop out of immersion, mental reflection sets in, and you start to hate the movie.
 

The Incredible Hulk
 

During the last years I several times made the opposite experience. Movies based on my kidhood’s cherished super hero comic books perfectly matching my fancy, especially concerning motion and animation. I just love Spidey swinging through the Big Apple’s canyons, The Incredible Hulk fighting helicopters, and Transformers folding and un-folding, navigating through urban landscapes so well-known to us. All this came to my mind again when earlier this week I watched the trailer for Transformers (2007), and wondered why I was so excited by those moving pictures. It is because the motions of the super heroes on the silver screen exactly match my imaginations of their motions while I read the according comic books. Quite analogous to the issue of the voice. You look at a graphical representation of e.g. Spider-Man in action between skyscrapers. The drawing doesn’t give you the motion, it only hints at it, it only becomes alive within your mind. With all the recent super-hero movies I now can see my imaginations on the screen. The visuals exactly match the visions in front of my mind’s eye—the same experience Philip K. Dick and William Gibson had with Blade Runner.
 

Bonecrusher
 

Of course today there are the technical possibilities for naturalistically rendering animated characters, especially the advancements in computer graphics are to be named. Well, that’s the necessary basis, for sure, but not the decisive element, I think. Crucial is that the people creating those visuals have the same imaginations as I, and hundreds of thousands of others have … because we all are of the same generation! No matter if raised in the United States or in Europe, we all were socialized during the same epochs of an already almost global popular culture. Our imagination became synchronized to a certain degree—we collectively share a culture.

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beauty and the beast

Beauty and the Beast
It’s been quite some time that we hung out together in Second Life (SL) for longer, so it was high time to do it again. Accordingly last weekend Miss Audrey Hepburn and me went to (SLurl:) Sphynx, a classy ballroom with a bar and a restaurant. The latter feature of the place was our incentive to go there, as you actually can sit down at laid out tables and watch your avatar eat—at the sight of this I, for approximately the third time this day, nearly spat a good portion of coffee over my keyboard. Halfway through dinner Audrey wondered if Detect Surface‘s piece of art, the mighty Kravatac, could actually sit down at the table. The result was the 21st Century reenactment of “Beauty and the Beast” you can wonder at above.
    After dinner we went over to the ballroom’s main attraction, the dancefloor, and had a healthy dose of Waltz and Tango. Although being an absolutely charming person, a real sight, and a movie legend, Audrey was forced into the role of the invisible girl. the dancing robot-giant was the talk of the whole place, people approached, stood in front or beside me, took or had taken their souvenir picture with the huge Kravatac, and I got literally bombed with IMs.
    Getting into talking with people is integral part of the core of the anthropological approach. In the case of attempting to do online-fieldwork within SL, I only can recommend getting hold of one of Detect’s Cyvers. Believe me, people will start talking to you—the rest is up to your individual conversation and multi-tasking skills.
    The regulars and staff of Sphynx were very friendly, enjoyed the spectacle, and we had a great time. Later we went to (SLurl:) Phat Cat’s, maybe the most known ballroom in SL, to repeat the show there. But staff asked me to change, as my appearance was not deemed to be appropriate. Well, I complied, and immediately got an IM from some other guest: “Can you put that on again for a moment, please?!?” I replied: “Sorry, they don’t want it in here—robot racism …”
    [The true reason behind their asking me to change, I presume, is a technical one. Phat Cat’s is very frequented, and they have big problems with lag anyway. The Kravatac is a complex construction, quite prim heavy, 1200 plus, and I guess they simply fear it to slow down the region drastically. If they’d have a glimpse of the things Detect is creating right at the moment, they’d drop dead instantaneously.]
    Besides being tremendous fun, and a didactic play on getting into contact, I hope it was also an inworld promotional success for Detect’s wizardry in, and out of (SLurl:) Sector 13. Happenings ;-) like this may well complement Web-publicity like Wagner James Au’s recent write-up on Detect’s work and the City of Abaddon. [Do you read my blog, Wagner? ;-]
 
Detect Surface's line of Cyvers
Some day I will convince the Sector’s posse to don the whole Cyver series and go on a night-out tour through SL’s most frequented clubs and ballrooms together …
 
Beauty and the Beast

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id tech 5

John Carmack
 

Yesterday Engine John himself appeared at Apple’s WWDC07 and for the first time presented his next generation wizardry id Tech 5. Carmack showed off a short technology demonstration—allegedely handling some20GB of textures—, but didn’t say much beyond the official press release:
 

The ground breaking technology unveiled today will power id’s new internally developed game and will be available for licensing to third parties. The new id rendering technology practically eliminates the texture memory constraints typically placed on artists and designers and allows for the unique customization of the entire game world at the pixel level, delivering virtually unlimited visual fidelity. Combined with a powerful new suite of tools designed to specifically facilitate and accelerate this content creation process, id Tech 5™ will power games that contain vast outdoor landscapes that are completely unique to the horizon, yet have indoor environments with unprecedented artistic detail.

You can watch the complete WWDC 2007 keynote address [Carmack appears at around 12min], or watch Carmack only, filmed from another angle, at YouTube. Things to remember are, that there is a new id game in the making, and that game modding sooner or later will have a new Carmackian engine to prey on.
 

John Carmack at WWDC 07
 

tnx to 2R
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windy city of abaddon

City of Abaddon
 

Yesterday Linden Lab released a new “First look Viewer” for Second Life (SL) [they call the SL-client a “viewer”], a new test-client. With the WindLight First Look Viewer: 1.16.0.62469 you can regularly log on to SL’s main grid, and experience a new technology integrated, namely windwardmark interactive‘s WindLight, at the heart of which “is a physically-correct model of how light actually behaves in the outdoors. […] WindLight takes into account over twenty lighting parameters, each of which map to real-world light contributors in the Earth’s atmosphere. […] Any time of day, from dawn to twilight, can be represented […] Detect already had the test-client installed yesterday, messed around with the newly added settings options, and came up with a series of pictures of his Sim, the (SLurl:) City of Abaddon. Today I tried it, and have to second his opinion—it really is an improvement to SL. In the “World” drop-down menu there has been added “Sky Settings,” just beneath “Force Sun.” Clicking on it gives you a window with three tabs containing all in all 50 sliders to control the atmosphere settings. Furthermore there is a drop-down box with preset settings to try out—do that, as the default preset is, well, … not so good. After having seen the presets, hit “New” and go havoc with the sliders in creating your own preset. The best thing to me is the “Day Cycle Editor,” which allows to save changing atmosphere settings for a whole SL-day (currently 4 hours). This allows e.g. the owner of a Sim to define a whole day’s sky and atmosphere matching the ambience of the Sim’s theme. The picture above is a rendition of the nighttime for Detect’s upcoming combat system “Final Days”Blade Runner worthy in my humble opinion. The next thing on this line which will be integrated into SL, is Nimble, which creates volumetric clouds, and “allows the user to fly up, over, and through multiple cloud layers with full density and vision occlusion, all in realtime. […] Wind control, density control, pattern attributes and coverage are all interactively modifiable by the user.” It seems that, after Newtonian physics, meteorological and celestial phenomena are the current trend in bringing more naturalism into spaces created by game engines. Watch the trailers of Alan Wake for that.
 

The Dojo
 

Bar Substance
 

Results of my fooling around with the atmosphere settings in SL. The pictures were taken in Abaddon City—the upper one is outside the Dojo Detect has newly built, the lower one is on the street in front of Bar Substance. Detect’s pictures and the two of mine also were taken having RenderGlow activated, which makes inworld light sources glow. To activate it go to “Client” → “Debug Settings” and click the drop-down box. A huge list will appear, scroll down to “RenderGlow”, click it, and set it “TRUE”. You can also mess around with “RenderGlowResolution”, “RenderGlowSize”, and “RenderGlowStrength” a bit, if you wish. No “Client” in your menu bar at the top? Hit Ctrl+Alt D to add “Client” and “Server” menus. You’ll need those anyway when you decide to hang more in SL, you geeks.
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second life creation

a guide to in- and offworld online resources, or:
avatar customization 101

 

A main factor contributing to the attractiveness of Second Life (SL) is the possibility to modify and create content—up to the never-seen-before. I have to confess that during my first weeks inworld I tremendously misunderestimated [neologism by George Walker ;-] the capacities of the built-in editors and the general potential—the interpretative flexibility SL-gamespace grants is huge. The environment allows creativity and innovation to bloom. Of course there are limitations, as SL is not to be confused with e.g. standalone professional 3D-visualization software like 3ds Max or Maya. The following should and can not be understood as a kind of technical documentation of SL—there are shortcomings and may be errors in it. This write-up is the result of my exploratory wanderings, sporting the fused gaze of a game modder and an anthropologist. But if your longing is to create content within SL, in one form or another, this heuristical guide will be of help. To avoid misunderstandings and grief I am trying to set all of it on a sound basis by starting with an appropriate vivisection of SL. By brachiation from branch to perch we will reach our goal—hands-on know-how about building in SL—as quickly as possible … or by scrolling down :-(
 

game modder’s anatomy of SL
 

Unless you are ‘playing’ SL by means of some freaky force-feedback device—and I never heard about that being supported—the triggers of your experience consist of information, delivered by your computer, streaming to your mind via two sensorial channells only: seeing and hearing. Pictures and sounds, nothing more. Allow me to mainly deal with the visual aspects, as I am not at all into sound or music—I can’t even read sheet music.
 

When you have your SL-client running and are logged in, your screen potentially displays a plethora of things. There are toolbars and menus, head-up displays (HUDs), text overlays, windows for chat, IM, pictures, written information (notecards), script code, and your inventory folders. Presumably the most important thing to you is the threedimensional view of SL-space. It shows you your avatar, other avatars, vehicles, furniture, buildings, landscapes, the sea, the sky … the ‘world of SL’. That sounds to be quite a lot, but technically there only are the sea and the skybox (things of their own), particle effects, and 3D-meshes.
 

We can neither tinker with the sea nor with the sky (grapevine has it that Linden will improve the sky soon), so let’s forget them. But we can tinker with particle effects and with 3D-meshes.
 

To my understanding there basically are thre classes of things in SL which technically are 3D-meshes: Terrain (landscape), Characters (Avatars), and Objects.
 

I do know close to nothing about terrain, as I do not own a single square meter of land in SL, and haven’t yet asked anyone about modifying terrain. But I know, that if you buy a whole island from Linden, you can furnish them with your own terrain file, and they will make your island out of it. So let us allow the terrain to join sea and sky in killfile oblivion, as only few of you, esteemed readers, will be owners of whole islands, and hence won’t be much interested in modifying terrain.
 

modifying the avatar
 

It’s a completely different thing with avatars, as everybody in SL has one—at least one. The avatar is a full-blown 3D-character-mesh as known from ‘real computer games’. It has a bone-rig and can be animated, it has several layers for textures on its surface, and a list of defined spots where objects can be attached. But, unlike to modding ‘real computer games’, you can not import your own character-mesh or even bone-rig (god forbid!) into SL. You have to deal with the avatar you were given—you can change its shape, its surface texture, you can attach things to it, and you can animate it. Let’s start from the inside out.
 

There is no direct access to the bone-rig possible, as far as I know. But you can modify the size and shape of your avatar to certain limitations by using the integrated appearance editor to run havoc with the mesh. Go “Edit”, and then “Appearance” and make yourself familiar with the 150 or so slider controls.
 

Once the shape is to your satisfaction, you will want to customize the looks of the surface of your avatar, give it human (or non-human) skin, and clothe it. You want to apply textures that means. For that end your avatar is equipped with a row of texture layers, from the inside out, and from top down: skin, skin tattoo, eyeball texture, undershirt, shirt, jacket, gloves, underpants, pants, skirt, socks, and shoes. Each of this layers you can texture independently from within the appearance menus. By default in the library folders of your inventory there already are some matching textures, which you can apply. Then of course you can grab free textures inworld, get some as presents, or buy some. Furthermore, and now we get close, you can make your textures yourself outside SL, preferably by using Photoshop (PS), and then import them.
 

By far the best way to learn to achieve this, is reading Robin “Sojourner” Wood’s tutorials, and to use the tools he provides. Besides of his website Robin also maintains an interactive inworld course on the topic (SLurl:) at his place.
 

Once you are familiar with the techniques, and if you are good at PS, you can achieve truly dazzling results. But mind, you are ‘just’ messing around with texture layers, that means, all the clothes and even shoes made that way, are painted flatly upon the shape of your avatar, you created. No fancy shawl flapping in the wind, no plushy, swaying skirts, no hat, and no cyborg arm possible that way. To get this, you have to create objects and attach them to your avatar.
 

creating objects—’building’
 

A cigarette, sunglasses, an airplane, or a house in SL are technically all the same: single or linked-together groups of 3D-meshes. The latter are called “prims” (short for “primitives”) in SL-jargon, meaning basic threedimensional geometrical shapes like e.g. a cube, a sphere, or a torus (which is the builder’s friend ;-). SL features a limited (compared to ‘real 3D-software’), yet powerful and quite intuitive interface for creating, manipulating, linking, and texturing those prims.
 

As a start I recommend Xah Lee’s Second Life 3D-Construction Tutorial. Once familiar with the interface you may proceed to the category Build [Tutorials, Techniques, etc] in Natalia Zelmanov’s Second Life Diary, which is a treasure trove of easy to follow step-by-step tutorials—not only leading to immediate results, but also gradually to an understanding of the how-it-works. A good pick for the beginning is her trilogy on creating ‘prim-shoes’: Creating Prim Shoes Part 1 (Sandals), Creating Prim Shoes Part 2 (Heels), and Creating Prim Shoes Part 3 (Texture and Sexy Walk). Mind that, as ‘everything is the same’, the principles you learn there do not only apply to avatar-modding, but also to to e.g. building houses or vehicles … with the exception of the ‘sexy walk’, maybe.
 

To get the full dose of how-it-works from scratch on, and of what-is-possible with SL’s building interface, you can go to the (SLurl:) Library of Primitives inworld and do the interactive tutorials.
 

With today’s client-release, a new feature has been implemented, so-called sculpted prims. I have no experience at all with those, didn’t ry on beta grid, and Detect just a second ago said to me “they’re crap Zeph lol,” which immediately sparked a lively discussion among those present, which is going on right now :-)
 

particle effects
 

In striving to emulate a ‘real computer game’, SL, like the ‘real games’, uses particle effects. Particles in this respect are two-dimensional animated images that always face the viewer. Smoke, explosions, rain, fire, or soap bubbles in SL are all particle effects. I guess all there is to know about particles in SL, you can learn interactively inworld at the (SLurl:) Particle Laboratory. There are also free particle-script samples you can grab for free, modify and use. E.g. the blue, irregularily pulsing light in my right cyborg eye is a modified script from there.

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cyver

Abaddon City
 

Gritty streets, rundown facades, a torn slip of a propaganda poster flapping in the wind, a buzzing larger-than-life screen showing off animated Coca-Cola logos, graffitti on the walls, freshly lit, but orphaned smoking cigarettes in ashtrays on barcounter tops … everything overtowered by a high-tech skyscraper reminiscent of the Half-Life 2 Combine Tower—must have been a lot of work to get all that right, to finally create the real thing in Second Life (SL). Most of the island of Merricks Landing 2 is covered by Sector 13 of Abaddon City. To me the most perfect cyberpunk ambience in whole SL … and I already have seen Devil’s Moon, Nexus Prime, Shalida Bay, and the post-apocalyptic landscape of The Wastelands. Geometry and textures are gamelevel-designer standard, not a notch below. The architecture, the furniture, and the countless details are pure class. Effects and scripts as well. When you are desperately seeking for the experience of flying through a large window pane, the shattering shards flying around you, then go to Abaddon, enter Bar Substance—the place’s Gentleman Loser, where hard men fight in pubs, get mixed up in a brawl, and there you go. But there are also way more peaceful delights at Substance, like dancing to the tunes of the jukebox, your avatar moved by high-quality motion-captured animations.
 

Sector 13
 

Sector 13 is the work of Detect Surface, who really knows his stuff. Go and check out his weblog, and you will know what I mean by ‘the real stuff’, seen from the perspective of a game modder. The place is also home of Detect’s shop D&D Creative Labs, where you can buy his amazing creations like the Kravatac at bargain prices.
 

D&D Creative Labs
 

Let’s listen to Detect himself:
 

The first ever Cyver Armour to appear, was the highly detailed Kravatac unit. Crab-like in appearance, bulky turbines attached to his shoulders and a tiny robot in his stomach area. This would soon spawn a trend that kicked off a whole line of creations that came under the same name.
 

As a kid, I was influenced and inspired by the series, Guyver. A manga animation that was highly popular all over the world, that gave birth to various movies and maybe 10 years later, a 3rd series in Japan. To me, the whole idea of a bio armor was very interesting and to say the least, very cool lol.
 

Guyver kicked ass as a kid…
 

So that really gave me the idea for the name, Cyver. The units I created, were not bio boosted, nor did they hide somewhere in the 20th dimension, tapping you on the back now and again, asking “Can I come out now? I wanna kick ass!”. The Cyvers are basically armor that push the boundaries of SL when it comes to design and texture.

Bar Substance
 

The Kravatac is the first thing in SL I am longing to buy. While I am writing this lines my avatar dances his ass off on the other screen—earning money, just 125 L$ to go. People tell me that the “Refract” suit is the best Detect Surface has made so far, both mesh- and script-wise. Furthermore I heard through the grapevine that Detect is about to release yet another “six huge things.” Things to come. Furthermore, if, and I say if, I ever will be ready to rent a space in SL, it will be the appartement above Bar Substance, because that’s the kind of people you meet downstairs:
 

Battlesuits
 

Android
 

And then there is yet another strange thing. Whenever I visit Merricks Landing 2, the map shows me two other people, always at the same spot. I wandered through all levels of the building there, even went below, to the sea’s surface, as I suspected some underground system, looked for a skybox above (there is none), and never could find anyone at the spot the map indicates … ghosts in the Sim.
 

D&D Creative Labs
 

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xah toll

Xah Lee
 

I ran into him in The Future. Xah Toll aka Xah Lee is a professional programmer who was brought to Second Life (SL) by his friend Seifert Surface aka Stanford-mathematician Henry Segerman. The latter is the creator of the famed crooked house—which was a key motivation for my coming to SL—, and of most of the stunning things in The Future. Xah himself is another of those math wizards, fond of the works of M.C. Escher, and creating things in SL that make you hanging on the edge of your seat. If you want to see unending symmetry tiles (as seen in Escher’s work) in 3D, then go and watch Xah’s renditions at The Future, (250,250,506) … that’s cheaper than flying down to Spain and visit the Alhambra. Drenched with hacker ethics—all people who do the ‘real thing’ online are—Xah has put up a Second Life 3D-Construction Tutorial. Although work in progress, it already is quite substantial and a must be for everybody wanting to create the real thing in SL. But there is way more at his site. The Photographic Tour of Life in Second Life is a kind of heuristical geographical and ethnographical overview, showing off a lot of places worthwhile visiting, and never missing giving the SLurls. I especially dig mathematics in SL and mecha in SL. But before diving into those, have a look at Xah’s introduction to SL, and navigate through his website a bit more, there are a lot of goodies to be discovered, like the full text of H. G. Wells Time Machine. Notice his down-to-the-basics technical and visual style of the website—real programmer’s habitus :-)

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