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

Lightrocker on Facebook

I recently created a page on Facebook, where all new blog posts will be published too. And I am planning to do something interesting in spring.

Category: Common / Author: Lightrocker / Date: 2014-01-14 - Tuesday / Comment(s): none

Lightrocker has moved…

This private weblog migrated to the sub-domain Lightrocker.Lightrock.biz, so our game development label “Lightrock Entertainment” gets the top addresses www.Lightrock.biz and www.Lightrock.de .

Category: Common / Author: Lightrocker / Date: 2011-05-27 - Friday / Comment(s): none

Driving Simulator for Caravan Trade Fair

 

Category: Common / Author: Lightrocker / Date: 2010-08-25 - Wednesday / Comment(s): none

Lightrock Entertainment is coming back!

For the upcoming release of Media Seasons “Driving Simulator” the title Lightrock Entertainment is being reactivated as a consumer label for entertainment software.

This also means that this weblog is being moved to a sub-path of www.lightrock.biz. Stay tuned…

Category: Common / Author: Lightrocker / Date: 2008-10-27 - Monday / Comment(s): none

Six days of congress and trade show

From Monday until Saturday I participated in the “GCDC” and the “Games Convention“.

The developer congress was very interesting and partially educational. For me the most entertainment lecture was the keynode by David Perry, who had integrated a lot of photos and useful statistics (Sony has lost more money on the Playstation 3 than they had earned with the Playstation 2 while its five year peak before), and the most valuable speech was “Driving DirectX in a parallel World” by Leigh Davies.

About future gaming graphics Making of Gears of War 2

At Wednesday evening I went to see “Video Games Live“, which was the official opening concert for the “Games Convention” trade show this year. It was very entertaining but I had seen nearly all available recordings of former concerts on YouTube before, so that I already knew most of the show components. Unfortunately that led to a reduced amount of goosebumps.

Games Convention 2008 Games Convention 2008 Games Convention 2008 Games Convention 2008 Games Convention 2008 Games Convention 2008 Games Convention 2008 Games Convention 2008 Games Convention 2008 Games Convention 2008 Games Convention 2008 Games Convention 2008 Games Convention 2008 Games Convention 2008 Games Convention 2008 Games Convention 2008

From Thursday on I have been on the trade show and had a look on a lot of coming games: “LittleBigPlanet“, “Fallout 3“, “Mirror’s Edge“, “Far Cry 2“, “Star Wars: The Force Unleashed“, “Command & Conquer: Red Alert 3“, “Sonic Chronicles: The Dark Brotherhood” and so on. And I had many meetings with different technology vendors to inform me about new ways for our development future.

Category: Common / Author: Lightrocker / Date: 2008-08-24 - Sunday / Comment(s): none

Games Convention 2008

Maybe it will be the last time the “Games Convention” will take place, definitively it will be the last time in its current shape… for now.

The German association of entertainment software industry leaders called “BIU” has decided to support the Cologne Trade Fair from next year on. The show is named “GAMESCom“, because Leipziger Messe GmbH is holding the rights for the name “Games Convention” and has keenly announced to continue to bring them into line. But without the industry leaders it will not be the same. And so it will depend on the success of the successor, if the BIU will come back to Leipzig. I doubt a clear failure, so this year will be the last for the established trade show.

In 2008 I am going to attend the “GCDC“, which is the developer conference right before the trade show. Keynode speakers are Michael Capps (Epic Games), Cevat Yerli (Crytek), David Perry (Acclaim Games) and Chris Taylor (Gas Powered Games).
Mainly I will visit programming and developing lectures like “Driving DirectX in a parallel World”, “COLLADA – An intermediate format for game developers” or “Practical use of Screen Space Ambient Occlusion”.
Unfortunately the conference is taking place from Monday, 18th until Wednesday, 20th, which is also the trade visitor day for the show. At that day you have the best chance to play all the future games because of the missing public visitors. So I have to try it between our business meetings from Thursday on: “Fallout 3“, “Star Wars: The Force Unleashed“, “Mirror’s Edge” and many more… I am coming.

Category: Common / Author: Lightrocker / Date: 2008-08-10 - Sunday / Comment(s): none

I am back, again!

After nearly one year without any new post this blog is being revived. The last months has been very stressful for me both job-related and personal.

We (Media Seasons) developed a new version of the TigerHeart engine including core, 3d graphics, GUI, scripting and runtime functionality. Beside the scripting part everything else has been built from scratch. And also a new TV analysis tool for soccer, which based on the recent TigerHeart engine, was evolving. Major improvements compared to the old one are support for animated scenes, HD output and drawing elements.

There is also an unannounced soccer project, which will soon result in the first product.

The third project is a consumer driving simulator, which should be published this Christmas season. And last but not least there is also a real game under way. It is a casual one, programmed using XNA, and based on a popular board game.

More information will come later…

Category: Common / Author: Lightrocker / Date: 2008-08-01 - Friday / Comment(s): none

Games Convention 2007

The time has nearly come… again. In one week our city becomes the center of computer gaming.

It starts with a get-together of famous and common game developers at the “GCDC” from Monday, 20th to Wednesday, 22nd. Well-known speakers are Bob Bates, Julian Eggebrecht (Factor 5), Peter Molyneux (Lionhead Studios), Mark Rein (Epic Games) and Bruce Shelley (Ensemble Studios/Microsoft Game Studios) this year.
At Wednesday the exhibition “Games Convention” opens with a Trade Visitor and Media Day for professional attendees. From Thursday, 23rd to Sunday, 26th also consumers are coming to visit edutainment, video and PC games, which will be published in the next months and year. The trade fair expects over 200,000 private visitors this year.

“Media Seasons” is represented as part of the new “GamesNetwork.LE” at the “Games SupportNet Mitteldeutschland” booth in the Business Center. A short trailer from us will be running within the “Games SupportNet” showreel.
Personally we will have meetings with publishers and service providers, catch up on new games and enjoy the entertainment.

Category: Common / Author: Lightrocker / Date: 2007-08-12 - Sunday / Comment(s): none

COLLADA – A powerful file format for digital content creation

COLLADA is an XML file schema, which allows users to exchange 3D assets between various DCC applications like “Autodesk® 3ds Max®“, “Autodesk® Maya®” or “SOFTIMAGE®|XSI™” and other interactive 3D applications. It was originally initiated by Sony Computer Entertainment® America (SCEA) to create a development format for “PlayStation® 3” and “PlayStation® Portable” projects and became a standard of The Khronos Group, which also holds the OpenGL standard.

There are a lot of problems to transfer data from one 3D application to another, because every software uses proprietary file formats, which are optimally suited to the features the application supports. Most programs also support other file formats like “Wavefront Object“, which however can only store a small set from the features list. That way it is often only possible to convert model data like polygon meshes with a single texture coordinate set and more complex data like multiple texture sets or animations get lost. Even commercial converters are not able to translate every asset completely.
So for realtime 3D or game development programmers were forced to abstain from features, which were not supported by the file formats their team was using but which became more and more important with increasing game quality. Or you had to write an exporter or importer for every 3D application, which the artists were using. Just a single im- or exporter can be a lot of work.

A solution would be a standard file format that every application can read from and write to. The first attempt was “FBX®“, which is now owned by Autodesk®. It became free to use but a long time it does not solve important issues like exchanging multi-textures between programs because the existing plug-ins were not able to do that, even though the format itself could handle it. And there is no source code to extend the plug-ins by yourself. You still had to write your own for every application.
Today “FBX®” is the most common format for asset exchange between DCC applications but not important for game programming.

In October 2006 the COLLADA format had been published. It was and is open source, easily readable XML and extendable. But there were no plug-ins and no programming kits. Because “FBX®” has got a C++ SDK it was easier to write im- and exporters for that format than for COLLADA at this time. Fortunately some month later a SDK was released and the first plug-ins for programs appeared. Today many 3D applications support the format but not all major ones like “LightWave 3D®“, which we are using. However native support is announced unofficially for the current main version.

We have already implement a COLLADA file loader into a character animation plug-in for “Viz|Artist 3.0™” called “Action Model“. And currently I am using COLLADA as standard development format for “TigerHeart” II projects.
Files are being read using the SDK and converted to “TigerHeart” objects. These can now be modified using C++ and will also be changeable in a editor later. After that object data can be stored back without destroying original COLLADA data that was not converted or modified. In doing so multiple applications can access a COLLADA file, modifying its data without loosing something that was useless for a program. A sound editor may use some 3D data for setting effects but it cannot utilize textures. Although it does not destroy those texture objects by overwriting the original file at export time, because only new and modified data is updated to the COLLADA file database. That is no standard behavior for the COLLADA runtime but can be easily integrated using the SDK.

COLLADA has got also disadvantages. Because the format is very flexible, diverse programs can store their data differently. The programmer has to adapt his software for every utilized application. And even then an update of an application or its plug-in can force him to change his code. But this is being done lots of times faster than to write an im-/exporter for every proprietary file format.
Many common file formats have got the second downside. They are very slow to load and save because much data has to be interpreted multiple times. It does not really matter at editing time but loading time is essential for interactive programs and games. Programmers are able to accelerate reading texture file content using an own format and they also are able to do it with all other data. Generally speaking it is important to convert as few as possible and often to minimize bandwidth.
COLLADA files and other development assets could be converted before they are regularly used by the project or when they are finalized. That depends on the time you are saving during the development. In any case they should be converted before the product is delivered to the customer.

I believe that COLLADA will become the standard game development format one day, if no other competitive format occurs. Currently it is already utilized by some big names like Sony®, Google™, “3ds Max®”, “Maya®”, “Unreal® Engine” or “XSI™”.

Category: Content Creation, Programming / Author: Lightrocker / Date: 2007-07-27 - Friday / Comment(s): none

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