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GDC 2009: Day 3

March 26th, 2009 · No Comments

Geek mob Wednesday marked the beginning of the main part of the conference, which also means that the population density surged significantly! The local cell grid also took a serious hit! Service for me was spotty all day long. 20,000 geeks all trying to hit the same cell tower all at once probably had something to do with it. ;) The crowds will likely thin out over time as people sift their way out into the city to explore inbetween session. Its still likely to be crowded tomorrow, though, …and Friday.

GDC Keynote Stage
The day started off with a keynote address from none other than the president of Nintendo, Satoru Iwata. Last time I was at GDC, the keynote was done by Shigeru Miyamoto, and it too was fantastic. Is being a dynamic speaker a requirement for employment at Nintendo? Russ, Robert, and Richard waiting to see Satoru Iwata. Needless to say, the queue to get in was LONG. At least we got there early enough to only be a block away from the front door. At any rate, Mr. Iwata’s talk was fantastic and started with a discussion what makes for a successful personal and business philosophy with respect to project development. The traditional “deadline” model tends to lead toward decay in what Iwata called a “death spiral”. I can see his point to an extent, but as cool as free-form and open-timeline development may be, business loans, rent, and other bills DO have a deadline. Point taken, though, that short deadline times do lead to shoddy development and inferior products, which lead to weak sales and poor growth. The last half of his talk was spent pimping Nintendo and some of the new stuff that’s coming. There are some upgrades for the Wii that will allow it to use SDHC cards which will benefit those who’ve already filled up one 2GB card and their main Wii Menu. Free Rhythm Heaven He also introduced the new version of their handheld console, the DSi, which incorporates an SD reader, and a built-in camera that performs much like the EyeToy for the Playstation. Best of all was a new game that gets released in a little more than a week, Rhythm Heaven. However, I won’t be waiting in line for it, nor will my colleagues. We already have a copy! At the end of the keynote, they gave away copies as we were headed out the door. w00t! …and no, I don’t have an extra!

There were two fantastic talks today. The first being Real-Time Deformation and Fracture - Finite Element Simulation and its Use in STAR WARS: THE FORCE UNLEASHED. In most engines, the fracture points for an object are predetermined when the artist creates the asset. This can lead to a simplistic and roughly believable behavior, but James O’Brien of UC Berkley and Eric Parker of Pixelux demonstrated a method for determining fracture and deflection behavior used for the Force Unleashed game that makes use of a more physical representation of the material properties with the stress tensor. It was a very cool formulation, and I’m looking forward to getting their slides once they’re available.

The last good talk of the day was an introduction to the Kaboom code from Intel, Kaboom: Real-Time Multi-Threaded Fluid Simulation for Games. This system for modeling fluid dynamics permits a more physical treatment of the fluid than typical SPH used for gaming environments. Kaboom includes enough detail for changes in temperature to affect the density, dynamic pressure and bulk flow of the fluid. This results in very effective modeling of hot smokes and cool fogs. Best feature of all is that this code is being made public by Intel. Its not out yet, but look for it soon at Intel’s Visual Adrenaline site.

IGF Awards Show

The last event of the day was the annual Independent Games Festival Awards and the Game Developers’ Choice Awards. This is a fantastic event! You can see all of the finalists, and play a demo of the games, for the IGF awards from the IGF website. Sadly, PixelJunk Eden received no awards, despite being nominated in three different categories.

Game Developers' Choice Award

Although Fallout 3 won the Game of the Year award, it was really a big night for Little BIG Planet. LBP took home three separate awards: Best Debut, Best Technology, and Innovation Awards. It was a bit funny when the developers came up to accept the Best Debut award. The first comment when they got to the podium was, “Best debut? We’ve been doing this s*!^ for 20 years!”

Tomorrow is more Expo goodness and swag gathering.

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[Action Alert] Poker Players: The White House Is Taking Your Questions (03/25/09)

March 25th, 2009 · No Comments

*** Please Forward, Post, or Blog Information to Interested Audiences *** As President Obama continues to promote his proposed budget and efforts to fix the American economy - the White House has launched an “Open for Questions” feature on www.WhiteHouse.gov. This feature allows the American people to ask questions about the economy - [...]

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GDC 2009: Day 2

March 25th, 2009 · 2 Comments

We’ve been very lucky this week. Its been sunny and warm every single day, and is likely to remain that way for the duration! This also means that there’s been some terrific lighting for pictures in the morning (the one time I’ve actually been free). Here’s a picture of the Moscone Center where the conference is being held.

Moscone Center in the Morning

Moscone Center in the Morning

Today was hit-n-miss. Some of the talks on physics as applied to game programming were very good, others were so much chest-beating and not so informative. Most of this morning was spent discussing methods of collision detection. The talks had lots of good information delivered by really bad speakers in many cases. Guys, this is why they made us take Public Speaking! At any rate, good collision detection can make or break a good physics engine, and its more than just detecting and preventing object penetrations. How an engine responds to a collision is equally important. The two main speakers on this issue were Gino van der Bergen of DTECTA and Erin Catto of Blizzard.

Gino’s discussion on collision detection led into a seriously deep discussion of the GJK Algorithm and how useful and robust it is for detecting collisions via Axially-Aligned Bounding Box (AABB) trees. Very neat stuff, but it makes use of configuration space, which I still don’t fully understand. I need to spend a lot more time looking at this formulation. Fortunately, Gino’s slides are online at DTECTA.com, so I can go over them later.

The next really good talk of the day unfortunately straddled the lunch hour. Erin just started to launch into a great discussion of Jacobians and Lagrange multipliers when we broke for lunch. Fortunately, he did spend some time after lunch going back over the formulation leading up to where we were at the break. The end goal of Erin’s discussion was to arrive at a good method for treating and evaluating constrained motion without inducing instability or jittery response. Very cool stuff. Check out his slides and demos at Gphysics.com.

The last worthwhile talk of the day was by Kees Van Kooten of Virtual Proteins. He described a particle-based method for modeling fluid dynamics. Its actually a very slick and effective method, although there were many times during the talk that I had to bite my tongue a bit. I have to keep reminding myself that the intent is to arrive at believable behavior, not physically and thermodynamically correct behavior. As my old adviser is fond of saying, “perfectionism is the enemy of good-enough,” and this method is certainly good enough. The method is called Smoothed Particle Hydrodynamics, and can be used to model fluids in a very physically accurate way. Its a great tool for space plasmas, in fact! The basic jist is to smooth each particle with a kernel function, model the nearest-neighbor interactions to determine the internal pressure and viscosity forces, then apply the external forces to the system, and grind the particles through an Euler-style integration. To render the fluid, a mesh wrapper is applied around the particles (metaballs). Sadly, the slides from this talk aren’t up on the net yet, but in about a week, they should be available at EssentialMath.com.

Well that’s it for the two-day Math and Physics tutorials, now on to the rest of the conference. Photowise, there will be less purely architectural photos since Wednesday beings the main part of the conference and the huge onslaught of attendees. For comparison, here are two pics I took today. The first is of a recessed area just off of the main classrooms on the third floor of Moscone West, and the second is of the Intel Booth. Tomorrow I’ll take pics from the same two locations to highlight the serious increase in the mass of people.

Negative Space

Negative Space

Intel Booth on the 3rd Floor of Moscone West

Intel Booth on the 3rd Floor of Moscone West

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GDC 2009: Day 1

March 24th, 2009 · No Comments

Spending all day in one room, one very bland room, was tough! At least the seats were comfortable. A serious letdown and change from previous GDC events was the lack of any breakfast snacks! In the past, there had been stale bagels and muffins, but this year nada. Fortunately they did have coffee or there would have been a very angry mob of undercaffinated programming geeks!

Lecture room for Mondays talks.

Lecture room for Monday's talks.

Day 1 lectures started out pretty basic with a “This is a vector” type of presentation, but it rapidly became more interesting later in the day. There were some really good talks and explanations of quaterions, affine transformations, and splines. Most of the slides for these topics can be found at James Van Verth’s site Essential Math. It was all good stuff, and the topics were very well treated. I’m probably going to end up stealing most of it for the Math and Physics for Games class next year.

The most interesting topics for me came toward end of the day. Physics Formula Sheet Shirt Marq Singer, who has the best physics t-shirt ever, gave a very good introduction to collision detection. This is probably the most important, the most difficult, and the most computationally expensive thing that one has to do when modeling the world. His slides are on the Essential Math website as well. Christer Ericson of Realtimecollisiondetection.net gave a really great overview of floating-point arithmetic and some of the ways that misunderstanding how floating-point numbers work can result in either non-functional or dysfunctional code. You can view his slides on the Publications page of his website. The last presenter of the day talked about one of my favorite computational topics, integration methods! Erin Catto of Blizzard showed the advantages and disadvantages of a variety of first and second order integration method, mainly centered on variants of the Forward and Reverse Euler Methods. You can view his slides and demos at his website, GPhysics.com. Although I didn’t really pick up and truly new information, it was nice to get affirmation of what we’ve been pushing in the classroom: floats are the standard, not doubles, and Euler is good enough for modeling game physics.

With the day so full of mathy goodness, there wasn’t much time to take photos, but I did manage a few that you can see on my GDC09 set on Flickr.

Networking during breaks.

Networking during breaks.

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GDC 2009: Day 0

March 23rd, 2009 · No Comments

For the record, the Boeing 717 sucks! ok, ok, ok, probably it was just my seat that sucked, but here was the view out of my window.

717 Starboard Engine

717 Starboard Engine

All was good when I got to the hotel, though. Hotel Union Square is fantastic! Its close to everything, with an easy walk to the Moscone Center, Johnny Foley’s, Chinatown, and the BART station! Even the walk up the room was really cool. The hotel has a really hip decor. Although small by mid-western standards, its bigger than the room at the Straton last time, and I even have a desk and free wi-fi! These are big improvements.

After checking in and dumping my stuff off in the room, I met up with my fellow GDCers from JCCC and headed to lunch at Johnny Foley’s Irish Pub. It’s not quite the Claddagh, but its still really darn good. mmmm…. fish-n-chips and Guinness! Is there any better lunch than that?

Johnny Foleys Irish Pub

Johnny Foley's Irish Pub

After lunch, we still had some time to kill before registration, so we walked up to Chinatown (the touristy one, not the real one). Its nothing but one giant tourist trap, but its still cool. We looked around for Wang’s restaurant, but not luck. :( At least we didn’t have any run-ins with the Lords of Death or creepy guys with lights coming out of their heads.

Chinatown, SFCA

Chinatown, SFCA

Check-in was quick and easy, and now to get ready for tomorrow: Math for Game Programmers.

You can view more of my pictures at my GDC09 set on Flickr.

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Important Upcoming Public Hearings to Discuss Poker Legislation in SC

March 19th, 2009 · No Comments

*** Please Forward, Post, or Blog Information to Interested Audiences *** We need as many South Carolina poker players as possible to attend two upcoming hearings on legislation important to all South Carolina poker players. Senate President Pro Tem Glenn McConnell will be holding two public hearings to discuss S535 a bill that would legalize home [...]

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Ulysses Update

March 8th, 2009 · No Comments

The Ulysses spacecraft is slowly dying, but its not quite finished yet! Its demise was slated for July 1, 2008, but even without its primary X-Band transmitter whose heatsink doubles as the heater for the fuel lines, its been surviving. Here’s the latest update on the health of the only spacecraft ever to explore the polar regions of the Sun.

Dear Ulysses colleagues,

Yesterday was mission day 6712 and we surpassed 400 days of S-band mission operations. Given that we thought the spacecraft would only survive a few months after the X-band transmitter failure on 15 January 2008, that’s pretty good going! The last month or so has seen a dramatic increase in data return. This is due in part to a request by NASA HQ for additional DSN coverage and also due to the fact that we can record and play back data again on board the spacecraft. That’s possible because the spacecraft-Earth distance is low enough to support a 1024 bps telemetry data rate at the moment (this situation will last until sometime in mid-March). I’ve attached a plot of our weekly data return percentages which clearly shows the recent improvements.

As far as the hydrazine is concerned, it’s obviously not frozen yet, but there can’t be very much left. Our estimate is that we have almost no fuel left even using our best-case estimates. However, it’s very difficult to get an exact figure of fuel usage over the mission given that we have had about 3 years of closed-loop conscan operations to control nutation when the spacecraft fired the thruster autonomously. During those periods, we had to estimate the number of pulses fired by monitoring the increase in catalyst bed temperature after each period of thruster activity which is not the easiest thing
to do. So the bad news is that we don’t have an exact estimate of how much fuel is left but the good news is that it’s still above zero! We hope that the data returned is continuing to excite you as the solar activity slowly begins to increase.

Best regards,
Nigel


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First Quarter Moon

March 5th, 2009 · No Comments

Here is a mosaic of the first quarter moon taken this last Wednesday, March 5th. The individual images were collected with a Nikon D90 threaded to the Meade 12″ SCT. The separate images were then assembled using GIMP, an open-source image manipulation program.

The first quarter moon shown in its correct orientation

The first quarter moon shown in its correct orientation


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Solar Mosaics

February 27th, 2009 · No Comments

Here are two mosaics of the Sun stitched together with images collected on Wednesday afternoon. These images were taken with a Nikon D90 through a 12″ Meade SCT fitted with an H-alpha filter. The first mosaic is of the full disc of the Sun. There are some details, but the glare of the photosphere, even through the very narrow passband of an H-alpha filter, limits what can be seen in the chromosphere and corona. In the second image, the transfer curve for image was manipulated to eliminate the photosphere and highlight the chromosphere and corona. Notice on the lower right portion of the limb, there is one small, bright, prominence, and several faint and larger prominences. (since the image is inverted, this would be the north-eastern side of the limb.

Full disc mosaic of the Sun in H-alpha emission.

Full disc mosaic of the Sun in H-alpha emission.

Full-disc image of the chromosphere and lower corona in H-alpha.

Full-disc image of the chromosphere and lower corona in H-alpha.


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New Sunspots!

February 25th, 2009 · No Comments

Ok, it’s not the greatest picture, but we still are dealing with the wind shaking the telescope. You can see a couple of sunspots from, though. These are spots associated with the new solar cycle, #24. Note their latitude. Sunspots early in a solar cycle will form at high latitudes at first. Later in the cycle, these spots will appear at lower and lower latitudes as the Sun’s magnetic field gets more and more twisted. More Sun pics are coming, but it will take me a while to work through the processing.

Sunspots from Solar Cycle 24

Sunspots from Solar Cycle 24


Faint prominences hovering above the chromosphere.

Faint prominences hovering above the chromosphere.


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