Augmented reality is quickly becoming a useful way of providing a more intuitive means of interacting with 3D content. All one need do is move the marker (rotate it, bring it closer to the camera etc...) and the change in orientation/distance is reflected on screen. I'm currently running a few experiments with this in Unity and hope to publish a browser-based version of my results soon. Publishing to Android is also possible, speaking of which I hope to release a non-AR game on the Google play store in late February.
I leave you with a few results of my AR experiments, so far I've based the code on the work of the Augmented Environments Laboratory at the Georgia Institute of Technology School of Interactive Computing.
Click the image to enlarge
NVIDIA are better known for their focus on creating cutting edge graphics cards but in recent years they've started to branch out into CPUs by way of the Tegra range. These components feature quite prominently in some of the more recent smartphones with the affordance of the Tegra processor being that it integrates the role of the CPU and GPU, saving space and power.
Normally, the closest that graphics cards manufacturers come to developing gaming consoles involves selling their devices to the respective companies. Indeed, the Xbox used an NVIDIA chip and the Playstation 3 is also making use of the brand. In the early days, the two big graphics card manufacturers were 3DFX and Power VR, the latter being used to power the Sega Dreamcast.
It might seem odd, then, that NVIDIA have taken it upon themselves to enter the fray with an entire console device. Rather than use a bespoke operating system, the new NVIDIA 'Shield' will make use of the latest version of Android Jellybean. This gives users access to a wide variety of titles though, from a developers standpoint it's not much of a boon. Titles on the Android store (Google Play) are very low in price compared to games which are developed for specific hardware devices like the PSP or Nintendo 3DS. It's all about how to cater to the largest volume of users and while the "Shield" may indeed use the latest Tegra 4 processor, not many people will be able to take advantage of its power until later as it becomes more widespread. The real discussion to be had around this is how the gamepad will facilitate control schemes for Android-based games.
Time will tell.
Hardware specifications follow:
Custom 72-core NVIDIA GeForce® GPU
Quad-core A15 CPU
5-inch 720p retinal multi-touch display for high fidelity visuals
802.11n 2x2 MIMO game-speed Wi-Fi
Android Jelly Bean is the OS
Much to my dismay, a service I have always associated with quality and convenience has let me down this morning, badly. For the first time since the inception of Skype, years ago, my account has been accessed by an unauthorized party who has made a series of phone calls to Taiwan, for which I have been charged. I have a credit card and a PayPal account linked to my Skype account for convenience. These are set up so that, should my account funds become depleted, it will automatically top itself up from one one of those sources.
Why is this appearing in a virtual world blog you ask?
I've used Skype for presentations in various virtual worlds, mainly Second Life. The circumstances are such that a speaker may want to attempt giving a talk inside the virtual environment but, for whatever reason, they just can't get comfortable with it. What I tend to do in these circumstances is log in on a specially made avatar and phone the speaker on their land-line number, after which I use a virtual audio device to pipe their talk into the virtual world. For this, it has worked wonderfully.
I have also taught students over a distance using Skype. Using the screen-sharing functionality, the receiver would project my computer onto a classroom wall and I would proceed to give a lesson to a group of students in another country. They would take turns to walk to the front of the classroom to ask me questions individually, which I would then answer for the rest of the group.
This unauthorized user changed my email address without Skype seeing fit to supply me with some sort of readable notification. I did receive a notification but, you see, it was in Chinese. I managed to jump on this about 30 minutes after the suspicious activity began and changed my password in addition to removing my credit card and PayPal information from my Skype account.
Upon further investigation, this is a problem that hundreds of other users are having. I did manage to get a full refund, described as a 'one time courtesy'. Happily the amount withdrawn, in my case was only £30. That was because I noticed the problem so soon. In many other cases, people have been cheated out of hundreds of dollars.
Skype does not monitor suspicious account activity and may not keep information secure. I am reasonably confident that the two machines on which I have Skype installed are secure, one being behind a rigid university staff network and the other being my own personal computer.
If you use Skype for free internet telephony/VOIP and video chat, then you're most likely safe. If you use it in a funded capacity, be aware that trouble may come knocking on your bank statement.
It's time to unveil something I've been working on for a while.
In my spare time I've managed to put together a resource for sharing Unity3D files (browser-based interactive 3D content). All you need to do is sign up for an account and I'll give you the go ahead if you want a place to share your work.
You can access the site by clicking here.
First entry in a while so let's get down to it!
As readers will know, I'm an advocate of Google Sketchup. I think it's one of the better 3D editors due to its ability to take an otherwise complex authoring process (the creation of 3D geometry) and make it simple. It manages to do this without sacrificing a great deal of control or even putting developers out of pocket. Indeed, students are able to download a copy of the professional version for free (allowing the export of a mesh to multiple industry-standard file formats rather than just the proprietary Sketchup extension/skp).
The reason it's seen as taboo when it comes to the development of real-time 3D assets is because it doesn't really provide the user with a proper means of optimizing the geometry, we're talking about the number of triangles here. This 'economy' is all-important in the gaming industry where the idea is to use as few of them as possible to maximum effect. Granted, 3D hardware has come a long way and, more often than not, you'll have excess processing power to make up for a poorly made model - but that thinking isn't going help you understand the best practice.
To my pleasant surprise, I have been asked to write a small review of a book detailing this very same subject.
So what does the book "Google Sketchup for Game Design" - [Packt Publishing] do for us?
The book describes itself as a beginner's guide and opens with an explanation of the philosophy behind Sketchup, that it is made for speed. It acknowledges that other authoring environments, by way of Maya and 3D Studio Max, are made to do more than most developers care to explore. Upon reading that I sighed in relief, I was afraid that it might attempt to take on those giants and claim some sort of overall superiority, but it didn't. That's a good sign of objectivity and puts the book in context, it provides a very 'real' way of looking at things. It doesn't make false promises and sticks to giving the learner practical information while addressing common misconceptions.
The game engine recommended by the book is none other than Unity3D, which comes as no surprise to those of us who are currently using it as our main piece of kit. Unity, like Sketchup, comes in multiple forms - free and professional. In addition to teaching the user how to use Sketchup, it describes the workflow involved with getting your creations into the game engine and seeing your results. It focuses, primarily, on environmental art, again taking advantage of what Sketchup was originally designed to do. It does discuss the problems of creating acceptable looking human meshes and how difficult this can be for beginners, it is even so good as to suggest an alternative means to save time.
Makehuman is the suggested means by which the student acquire their 3D human models. It's appropriate that this piece of advice appear in the book as, only by declaring it, can the experience be deemed complete. It shows you how to create an urban environment, build a vehicle and make all of it usable. Up to that point it doesn't mention the creation of a usable human mesh because it is far too complex a process to burden the mind of a beginner with. The book is very encouraging for those just starting out and does its best to help you achieve the fastest possible results.
The industry is changing, it is getting easier to develop 3D games and teams are a fraction of the size they were a few years ago. It is entirely possible to work as an independent professional but it takes time to learn the ropes, time which very few people have to spend on trial and error. This book will show you 'the way', it will save you the hell of stumbling alone in the dark by explaining how to do things properly in the shortest amount of time. Everything from conceptualisation to implementation is here in an easy to understand format.
Most, if not all, of my work in Unity3D involves using Sketchup at some point. The book actually frightened me at first as it was making known what very few of us are aware of. Niches only last for so long before they grow into something huge, this is probably the last chance to get in on the ground floor of the coming era.