What did I do since 2008?

Five and a half year have been passed since the last real content appeared here on the blog. Ok, there was video post in between but that was 2010. Now we have got the year 2014, time elapsed so fast and I had a lot to do along the way. In 2008 and 2011 two daughters were born and children are very engrossing you. Because I am entrepreneur my profession is also very time consuming, so a lot of spare time jobs like this weblog had to be missed out. Today I will try to outline some of the interesting things I did in the last years.

Driving Simulator 2009 cover Tow Truck Simulator cover Driving Simulator 2011 cover Driving Simulator 2012 cover Driving Simulator 2013 Edition cover Camper driving simulator

As you can see at the video in “Driving Simulator for Caravan Trade Fair” I had something to do with simulation software to virtually drive cars. Originally developed as a driving school product for the end-user market, the “Driving Simulator 2009” had been completed as a casual game simulator, because after the first “Farming Simulator” the popularity of that genre was growing fast… at least here in some parts of Europe. You could choose between three car type and drive them free through town, a village or over high- and freeways or solve missions in various story lines. With free DLC we enhanced it by two new cars, a race circuit and some technical improvements. One year later a simulator, in which only tow trucks can be used, followed. It was the idea of our publisher Astragon and the complex interconnected physics of the crane, which were really simulated using PhysX like the driving, too, turned out as the highest difficulty in that project. The game generated random jobs, which put on weight later, and you could earn money for successfully completing them. But you have to avoid damage and pay attention to traffic rules. With enough wealth you are able to purchase better trucks. The game was situated in a complete new city and could be enhanced by the scenery of the first product. For 2011 we went back to free driving, predefined and randomly generated mission and included certain vehicles for special jobs like police, ambulance, truck, motorbusses, racing cars and a third diversified town. In 2012 we added off-road vehicles and a suitable pit. Furthermore all previous sceneries were bundled into one package. The 2013 edition closed the circle and incorporated practical driving school lessons and a district for compact exercise possibilities. All routes were created dynamically, so one or more repetitions of a lesson do not result in boredom. A theory test was also included in the German version.

 

As much as it may sound I only worked a few months of the year on every game. Mainly I spend my office hours on projects for television and sport events. We created a second soccer analysis tool, which later had been named “tvSOCCER” by our client company Swiss Timing. At the UEFA Euro 2008 it was used by the Austrian broadcaster ORF to show virtual frozen shots or animated scenes from matches in the break or the debriefing. Until 2009 the software had been enhanced by the ability to cut out real players as cardboard figures from one or multiple camera images of the same time. The leftover was projected onto the playing field or being replaced by a virtual stadium. And in the resulting model the camera view could be modified and animated, explanatory drawings could be displayed and figures could be moved. At first those features were used by the public German broadcaster ARD and subsequently by the German and Austrian Pay TV channels of Sky. With the addition to show interactive player lineups our program was brought into operation at the 2010 FIFA World Cup for the ORF, again.

Around 2010 we wanted to enhance “tvSOCCER” by automatic camera and player tracking. A lot of code had been developed and the camera detection functionality could already be used but it was not already real-time optimized, when our client decided to shift our right evolved image processing power to new fields. First we had to create a generic runtime solution, which is able to perceive the camera movement between video frames. That was done on GPU using CUDA.
Afterwards we continued with the detection of athletes in alpine skiing and at last with curling stones. The skiing project had already been tested but the curling one was actually on duty for the OBS at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.

Curling stone dection preview of the runtime Operating curling stone tracking

And there is another large project. It is the one, which claimed most of my time in the last two years and its name is still not official. So I will only call it “scoreboard system”. What does it do? It is a system, which has the ability to show scores on a board. That doesn’t sound sensational, does it? Well… And it does not look spectacular, too. Ok, it is a little bit more than it may sound. It is very flexible. It can receive data from various sources in various formats and the output can be automatically animated, if elements are changing or a time line is advancing. Videos from files and streams can be integrated. Photoshop files can be loaded as dynamic elements, where texts and image are being swapped and moved. Other than that there is an editor to create and manipulate layouts and connect elements to data inputs. And all of the two-dimensional stuff is computed and rendered in 3D space so the layouts or effects can easily be upgraded to the next dimension. In addition many, many small things have to be done and the system should run days without disruption.

Scoreboard at World Games 2013 in Cali   

While I primarily did graphics programming and some mission scripting in the “Driving Simulator” series, I was the main architect and implementer of “tvSOCCER” and the “TigerHeart” engine. I also created the first working application framework of the scoreboard system and now I am still responsible for visualization and runtime code and the basic integration of many new features. For the tracking projects I am also architect of the runtime and its external connections and I am porting Java to C++ code and optimizing the results for realtime usage afterwards.
And there were and are other projects, in which I have only small stake like the board game conversion of ” Hey, That’s my fish!” for Xbox 360 and PC: “Pingvinas“.

"Pingvinas" on Xbox Marketplace

Category: History / Author: Lightrocker / Date: 2014-02-24 - Monday / Comment(s): none

Back to television

In November 2005 we received an interesting request. A graphical artist, who once worked for Steffen Kleinke, was engaged at a company called “WIGE” in Munich. He phoned Steffen, because his employer was looking for team, which could realize a special real-time 3D live broadcasting project. “Media Seasons” was not the only studio in Germany with the ability to do it but we had luck. “WIGE INNOVATION” was the subsidiary company with the relating area of responsibility for such projects and fortunately situated in our city.

Get the Flash Player to see the wordTube Media Player.

 

The project definition was to build a tool, which can be used to view a soccer scene from television with 3D models from any perspective. The most important point was that one operator is able to adjust the camera placement, ten player poses and their texture setting from a frozen image in ten minutes. That tool was used in the live shows at the “2006 FIFA World Cup Germany™” by the German television broadcaster “ZDF” and the Austrian “ORF“. At that time “WIGE DATA” and “WIGE INNOVATION” were bought by “Swiss Timing“, which is part “The Swatch Group“, and renamed to “ST SPORTSERVICE” and “ST INNOVATION”. “ZDF” and “DSF” are still using our application called “tvVAT3D”.

 

ZDF Arena at Sony Center, Berlin tvVAT3D tvVAT3D

But before that happened we were asked at the beginning of December 2005 if we can develop a program that brings a virtual animated ski jumper into a real “ORF” studio for the “Four Hills Tournament“. The event was taking place between December, 28th and January, 6th in 2005/06. Although we had less than one month time, only a basic understanding for ski jumping and some new technologies like tracking of a real camera or outputting the graphics using the SDI ports of a “NVIDIA Quadro FX” card to integrate we accepted and mastered the challenge. We repeated the success one year later but used another software technology that time.

Category: History / Author: Lightrocker / Date: 2007-05-07 - Monday / Comment(s): none

Games made by Media Seasons

The first games, which we developed under the label of “Media Seasons“, were completely self-financed casual games based on bowling, Skat (a card game, which is very popular in Germany) and air hockey.

Uli Stein - Summer Games Uli Stein - Summer Games Uli Stein - Balko Uli Stein - Balko

In spring 2005 we created a summer sports game with characters by the most successful German cartoonist: Uli Stein. The game had been presented at the “Games Convention“, which is Europe’s most important computer game exhibition and fortunately situated in Leipzig, later. At the same time we had nearly finished an adventure game based on a television series named after his leading character “Balko“. Both games were made on order.

Category: History / Author: Lightrocker / Date: 2007-04-29 - Sunday / Comment(s): none

The fall of “LightBrain” was the rise of “Media Seasons”

Right after “BomberFun”, which was completely financed by “LightBrain” and its holding company “agens Consulting“, the development of a new game was started. We produced a prototype, which should help an agency to find a publisher for the game. That time the publisher would have to pay the bills. Unfortunately the agency was unable to locate such a publisher and “LightBrain” started to run out of money. They had to quit co-operation with the artists under the direction of Steffen Kleinke and reduce the amount of money they could spend on me. As a last resort they returned to “BomberFun”.
There was a chance to adapt the game for an arcade machine called “FlexArcade“. My scope of duties increased, so I did most of the programming and we got a really working system. But a few weeks later “TLC Industries” placed a lot of obligatory features we should also add. Because it was not declared before we didn’t do it and “TLC Industries” never published a “BomberFun” game pack.

BomberFun Tournament BomberFun Tournament BomberFun Tournament BomberFun Tournament

But “LightBrain” still was not capitulating… not yet. We started to enhance the game by a lot of features like multi-player game modes, GameSpy support and a better graphics engine. After that the game had been republished using the title “Bomberfun Tournament“. However the streak of bad luck continued and the product did not even reached the attention of the first one. In my opinion the largest mistake was the lack of new graphics or at least new levels.
The manager of “LightBrain” returned completely to its other company called “TOP TECHNOLOGIES CONSULTING” and the remaining employees had to follow him. I was the only survivor and should try a new way: advertising games. First I had to create a video trailer, which was a perfect task for me. But I should also make acquisitions afterwards and that was never what I wanted to do. My work for “LightBrain” ended and the company was practically not existing anymore.

Some month before a new co-operation between Steffen Kleinke and me was born: “Media Seasons“. He is Managing Director, also responsible for the art pipeline and I became Development Director. My domains are programming, being the link between art and technics and preparing products for release. The end of my engagement at “LightBrain” represented the beginning of “Media Seasons” growth.

Category: History / Author: Lightrocker / Date: 2007-04-17 - Tuesday / Comment(s): none

How my professional career started

The year 2000 marked the beginning of my professional career in the games industry, because I started to earn money from the games I was developing. “Space in Motion: FutureTrade” found its way into some stores in Germany, Austria and Switzerland in May. It was not a lot of money that was flowing back to me but I was proud that my first product was professionally finished and could be bought by consumers.
Some time later a fellow student at the University gave me a tip. He said something like this: “There is a company, which is developing a ‘Diablo‘ clone, in Leipzig”. So I presented myself to that ‘company’. It was not a complete company but a graphics studio, which held an exclusive partnership with a developer in Berlin called “Silver Style Entertainment“. So the partner in Leipzig got the name “Silver Style Studio”. And they were not really developing a hack and slay game like “Diablo” but a real RPG called “Gorasul: The Legacy of the Dragon“. I introduced myself as a potential programmer because that talent was and is better then my artistic one. Because the studio was ‘only’ producing graphics and some web sites they could not hire me instantly. That situation last until spring 2001. At that time I had got two opportunities: First I could went to Austria to develop the AI of “1503 A.D.“, which was the the successor of the best-selling game in Germany, or I could stay, become self-employed and work as a freelancing graphics programmer at the project “BomberFun” for the new company “Lightbrain” from Hamburg. I decided to do the second one because 3D programming was much more interesting than AI for me and I could work from home. The manager of “Silver Style Studio” quited the partnership with “Silver Style Entertainment” and founded an own studio, which was completely responsible for the graphics in “BomberFun”. As graphics programmer we had to operate closely in conjunction and so our solidarity was increasing.
That led to a game, which we produced independently from “LightBrain”, at the end of 2001. It was called “Winterspiele 2002” and was a winter game, which had only been published in German speaking countries.
“BomberFun” reached its final state in summer 2002 and received an award from gamershell.com. Unfortunately the game was much more played than sold.

Category: History / Author: Lightrocker / Date: 2007-04-16 - Monday / Comment(s): none

Regional television

It was the year 1998, quite after I had started to study computer sciences I also begun to work for a regional television broadcast station as a freelancer. The name of the station is “Nordsachen TV” (translated: North Saxony TV). It was situated in Eilenburg, which is the neighbor town of my home town Delitzsch.
At that time the editor was using analog equipment even though they had already bought a digital system. It was a DraCo made by MacroSystems with a 30 GB SCSI hard disk and it was my first mission to get it known and to educate the editor afterwards. Because the computer had only got an AMIGA processor it was very slow at computing effects compared to PCs of the same time but it was very good at getting your video done a fast way if you could abstain from transitions and effects. You had to use hard cuts, which are fortunately the most professional ones. After I referred my knowledge to the employed editor I got the chance to become a supporting one. Every Monday I was cutting articles considering the specifications of our journalists.
After a while I said the business manager that I would like to make some animations. He gave me the chance and said analogously: “Try if you can create an advertising character to represent our TV channel.” I was doing so but the result did neither satisfy me nor my boss because it was my first attempt on characters. Luckily enough I got a second chance later. It was the opportunity to revise the introductory, the news and the promotional animation. I combined filmed clips with computer generated images and the results were much better than the originals.

I was slowly evolving away from the broadcast station with my second semester, in which I had not enough time anymore to work a whole day. Someday someone, whose name I only knew from advertisements, was calling me. He said that “Nordsachsen TV” was sold to a new group of business people and he is one of them. They changed the graphical design, relocated the station to Delitzsch and hired new workers. A lot of investments were made and new animations matching the new design were being required. So I came back in, drafted some of my ideas and got green light to realize them. Now I was also director, who instructed a camera man to get my visions to tape. Because of the large amount of animations I had work for some month. Here you can see one of the results: News.

Category: History / Author: Lightrocker / Date: 2007-03-04 - Sunday / Comment(s): none

My self-eduction

While I was going to school I started a few projects, which I never have finished. Here are the largest ones:

  1. “FutureTrain”: Because I liked the concept of “Railroad Tycoon” by Sid Meier I decided to develop a clone taking place in the future. But I stopped the project because I could not reach the quality to satisfy me. I realized that my knowledge was insufficient at that time.
  2. Inspired by press preview of the game “Outpost” I created a similar looking title. At that time it featured wonderful hand-made SVGA graphics motivated by screenshots of the coming “Command & Conquer: Tiberium Dawn“. In the prototype it was possible to scroll the view and to build a small town. There was also a complete animated introduction in SVGA.
    I only used “Turbo Pascal” to program it and an painting tool, which was delivered with “SoundBlaster 16 ASP” and could handle 8 Bit graphics.
  3. “EarthDefense” (“EDef”): First I created an introduction animation using “Raytrace 2.0” and programmed software to compress and play these video. I also did a lot of research and drafted much artwork but I never really started to program the game itself. With the time my capabilities raised and I wanted better videos. So I recreated the intro using “Monzoom” (formerly called “Reflections”) and with more spectacular content.
    At that time I started a new project, which was only planned to be a two-month-production but the duration increased to four years and took all time from “EarthDefense”.

Up to now I can call it the longest project I ever worked on. At the beginning I attended the eleventh grade of the german grammar school and was seventeen years old.
Initially the game should only use 320×200 VGA graphics with small pre-rendered images but later I advanced it to 640×480 SVGA full screen backgrounds. I also improved the visual appearance of the map from a two-dimensional top-down view with color variation for different height levels to a textured, illuminated and dithered rendering from a bird’s eye view (also called “2.5D”). The game also got an original soundtrack and special sound effects.
Despite all regenerations I managed to get the game finished and published to retail stores in the year 2000, when I was 21 years old. At that moment I was studying computer sciences at the University of Leipzig but I realized that my “real” education has reached the level, which made me ready for a job. And so I discontinued my studies.
The name of the product is “Space in Motion: FutureTrade” (details are coming soon). In the production time I also graduated from school and served my military service in the “Bundeswehr“.

Category: History / Author: Lightrocker / Date: 2007-01-08 - Monday / Comment(s): none

The beginning

In my boyhood I programmed a lot of applications and games, which I have never completed. After the “C64” I got a “Commodore 128DCR” and the some time later the matching monitor. At that time my best project was an own “Indiana Jonesadventure game for the “C64”. I was twelve years old and did not realized the legal issues using such a brand but this has not become a problem because I lost interest and never finished the game. With the help of magazines I was able to combine graphics and text mode but could not show sprites at the part of the screen, where the graphics were being displayed. In addition I was too young and unexperienced for such a large project.

At Christmas 1992 my parents bestowed me my third computer: It was a “Amstrad” PC with “Intel 80386SX“-CPU running at 20 MHz and equipped with 4 MB RAM and a 80 MB hard disc. The software contained “MS-DOS 5.0″ on three and “Microsoft Windows 3.1” on seven 3,5″-floppy-discs.
At the long vacation in 1993 I developed my first game, which I had finished and wanted to sell as shareware: “Antarctic City”. It was a hybrid of interpreted “QBasic” source code containing the game logic and “Turbo Pascal 5.5″-compiled executables to load bitmap files, which I had created in “Paintbrush for Windows“. Because my first contact with the Internet should not be until five years later I had no idea how to distribute it. I gave the shareware version to some class mates but never got a response. Probably I had thought not entrepreneurial enough at that age and so I focused my mind to next projects.
The following years I switched completely from “BASIC” to “Turbo Pascal”, from VGA to SVGA graphics, from PC speaker to “Sound Blaster“-compatible sound and started to work with ray tracing applications. So I was acquiring a lot of game development knowledge but did not finished a single product. That last until the year 2000…

Category: History / Author: Lightrocker / Date: 2006-11-15 - Wednesday / Comment(s): none

“Nu, pogodi!” or: First contact.

Seventeen and a half years ago Germany was divided in two parts. West Germany had democracy and a social market economy. But I lived in East Germany, which was ruled by a kind of dictatorship (even though the official name was “German Democratic Republic“) with a centrally planned economy. The computer technology in our country was at least a decade out of date and a home computer cost triple the monthly income of one of my parents. So I had no chance to get my finger on one.

On my birthday in 1989 a Russian tele game had been given to me. A friend of my farther, who was working in the former Soviet Union, brought it along. The handheld was only able to let me play one game but at that time I was very happy. In the game you had to catch the rolling eggs from four sides. When a egg pitched onto the ground you lost a life. The game characters based on a famous Russian animation series called “Nu, pogodi!“, which was also known in East Germany. That was my first contact with electronic games.
In the November of the same year the “Berlin Wall” had fallen and the inner German border was opened. A half year later the GDR still was existing but a lot had already changed. Nonetheless I met the Hare and the Wolf again being on holiday. There was a arcade gaming machine called “Poly Play” with different games. The funniest of all was a “Pac-Man” clone starring the characters from “Nu, pogodi!”.

In the summer I was attending a computer club, where I got in contact with the “Robotron KC 87“. There I programmed my first game. You only had to hit a key on right time to shoot a rocket, which had to strike a car driving from the top to the bottom of the screen again and again.
With the “German Reunification” on October 3rd, 1990 my parants were able to bestow me my first own computer at the following Christmas: A “Commodore 64“. At that time I was eleven years old.

Category: History / Author: Lightrocker / Date: 2006-10-20 - Friday / Comment(s): none