Lubuntu

I had crossed paths with Linux before. It had appealed to me on several levels. One of them was simplicity. The other was the potential of understanding deeply the tools that I would be using. At one point I dabbled with OpenSUSE, Ubuntu, and a few other distros that had been personally recommended to me. But for years I had put off learning it because I had many good reasons to: work, personal projects, so many other applications or tools to learn.

Some years ago I retired my old MSI GX620 laptop running Windows XP. It was a great performer — still think it is — being a gaming laptop and the fact it was running the venerable XP. When I recently needed to install Linux (Ubuntu) to view an OpenFOAM source, I felt the keen desire to dive back into it again.

I tentatively chose to run with Lubuntu simply because of the LXDE; I wanted to make most of my older hardware. With nothing concrete to do in Linux, I went on a installation journey to find all the possible apps that may be of some use to me: GIMP, Blender, FocusWriter, XnViewMP. Installing packages seemed easier with these package managers. I had been clueless the last time I used Linux and was never really aware of them. It almost felt like I was being cheated from a true Linux experience. I did experience a missing library error installing XnView, which prompted me to read about how to properly fish for them. FocusWriter used a PPA that I had to learn how to install as well.

So far it’s been fun learning simple stuff. But I still don’t know what to do with it. I want it to play a bigger part on what I do and if I don’t find something worthwhile, I may never learn it deep enough.

Commercial: Telecom (Jeff the Lizard)

Click to play video.
Click to play video.

This is a very old (almost 3 years) project. This was a series of animals being interviewed: a lizard, a hairy pig, a sheep, and a possum. I had worked on the lizard, and the pig, too. We said, “just shoot a pig without hair; pigs don’t usually have hairs anyway”. Then, of all the kinds of pigs to shoot — man alive — they had to shoot a hairy pig. Just brilliant.

For the lizard, I had gone to a recce earlier to the owner of the lizard, and shot my reference photographs there. The reference photographs were primarily used to construct the head model. It was partly used, in combination with the actual graded footage, to texture project back to the model. The lizard was straightforward enough to do, helped by the fact that it wasn’t fidgeting around.

But, on the other hand, the pig, for some reason or other, was being fed by the trainer while shooting — perhaps to keep it from going nuts — and thus kept chewing; its head kept bobbing around. Not that it was an issue of object tracking, but the fact that the pig was supposed to be talking. It was not possible to remove the bobbing even after the mouth was replaced, so the net effect looked like the pig was suffering from some uncontrollable spasm during its interview. I can’t find the video anywhere online; it would have been a good laugh.

Furthermore, because it was a hairy pig, projections didn’t completely do the trick. Poly planes were used to create hairs and break the silhouette to make it work. In my opinion, however, it wasn’t that effective. Unfortunately, there was no time to get into it. I think I spent a week per character and sleeping at the office for several nights.

In this project, we decided to let one artist handle one or two whole characters, as opposed to multiple people going through each animal. However, if memory serves, I did all the head object tracking. And then for the rest, we concentrated on our assigned characters: modelling, rigging, animating, texturing, etc. We also did our work comps, but it had ultimately gone to the Flame suites to be graded in.

Commercial: TAB (Rollercoaster)

TAB_thumb_1
Click to play video.

The ad was shot on several locations; an amusement park called Rainbow’s End, in Fort St in Auckland’s CBD, and in the company’s car park set up for greenscreen.

One of the more exciting bits of this project is that we employed a drone (carrying a Blackmagic) to shoot the rollercoaster when it was doing its slow climb. I helped advise the drone pilot and cameraman on the storyboarded shots. It was quite cool to see a custom drone in operation, to hear the pilot talk about his work, admire the tech and engineering.

So when it was time for the CG to start, it felt a bit boring.

Same ol’, same ol’, as I always say. Yup, someone modelled the rollercoasters; yup, someone modelled digital doubles; yup, I matchmoved; yup: I texture projected a set; yup: they pixel-fucked every frame in the name of Continuity. “Give me a reflection pass, please!” I’ll give you a reflection, all right.

A job is only interesting if the subject matter is worthwhile, or if it’s a technical challenge. Apparently, this was neither. But something’s got to pay the bills, eh?

Unity: Waypoint Scanning

waypoint_scanning

First stages in implementing the waypoint scanning behaviour in waypoints. The idea is when a waypoint is reached, and this waypoint instructs the robot to scan, the robot picks up the waypoint’s scan points. Any number of ‘scan points’ can be specified by parenting transforms under the main scan point object of that waypoint.

The scanning movement is handled by the RobotMovementClass, not the RobotGameClass, though I’m still feeling it out whether that’s the best solution.

On another note, I’ve modified the Game Pause/Unpause behaviour by using SendMessage to NavMeshAgents instead of using if() conditions on their Update() callback; this is mainly because NavMeshAgent functions like Resume() are unintentionally getting called when they’re supposed to sit still!

3400AD: Lookups

So I had been working in Open Office Calc recently, something I didn’t expect to do more than just table up some values and do simple additions. In fact, I got a little deeper than I thought I would.

Normally, I would weigh up the worth of learning something new with the practicality of getting stuff done. Furthermore, ‘getting stuff done’ is about keeping the flow of the work going so that I don’t get stuck, don’t procrastinate, don’t lose my train of thought. So it’s more than just producing new code, or new assets; it’s about striking when and where the iron is hot.

I had been working on tables in Calc because I use lookups for system rolls such as chance-to-hit and defence. Up to this point I had been simply inputting the values by hand (temporarily hard-coding it in Unity). But I realised that I wanted a way to visualise skill improvements as the player levelled up and apply this visualisation to the actual values. This visualisation was simply being able to draw a curve that represents increase of values over another value (eg skills).

2015-12-03 23_52_32-DisguiseStealth.ods - OpenOffice Calc

The basic premise is that I define a curve, whose Y value is from 0-1, and whose X value represents a real number, which, in the case I had been working on, skill level points of the player. (Thinking about it now, I could have further made the curve generic by using 0-1 on the X as well and interpolate the skill points on the table.) When the curve is defined, I take the min/max values that are pre-defined, map the inbetween values using the interpolation code, which derives itself from the curve.

This was just as much to do with automation as it is with experimentation and balancing; it would take too much time to keep tweaking a list of skill values vis a vis a corresponding item for that skill value (eg “how much disguise bonus do we award a player who wears a hoodie at a given skill level?”).

Linear interpolation is quick and dirty, but is simply a compromise. I could have compromised and put more code into Unity to interpolate internally, but that’s just putting more code than required.

So I turned to Calc’s cell formula functionality. I have no deep understanding of Calc, so I relied on someone else’s example to learn from. Though this was not the first time I brushed with polynormals, coefficients, and plotting curves, I’m math-stupid, so it takes me some time to figure it out. This kind of math is something that always interested me, but interest and talent are two different things. I wish I was smarter in math; it would make my life so much easier.

Anyway, after 2 hours looking into the math, I figured out what the example was getting at. With this technique sorted, it frees me up to implement more lookups that require curve interpolation. It’s easier to see what’s going, instead of just looking at numbers. Also, it’s much easier to tweak the system, to balance the game as I continue to develop.

3400AD: Player character models

ninja_suit_2015_12_01_1 trenchcoat_2015_12_01_1 hoodie_2015_12_01_1

Been doing some modelling over the past few days as a break from coding. Actually, I didn’t really want to break from coding, but I felt that I wanted to go back to visualise the game again.

I have to admit that I don’t have a strong theme; I do have a certain style I know I want to hit, but the define ‘style’ is more specific than talking about theme. The game is set it some futuristic landscape but I still have this Bladerunner/Strange Days/Neuromancer grungy cyberpunk idea that keeps me from getting too slick, hence the hoodie and trenchcoat. But the cute little characters provide a contrast that I’m not sure is good or bad.

The ninja suit is a Clancy thing, I think.

Unity: ScannerClass

ScannerClass in action. Robot is targeting the player; green line is where the robot is facing; the red line is the centre of the scan direction, and the blue line is an indicator that robot has a positive LOS on its target. Note that when player beyond maximum scan angle (ie red line is limited to a certain angle), LOS is still positive until it goes beyond the field-of-view of the scan direction.

This class was a functionality that I deferred when I was creating the robot’s ‘game’ class. Originally, I had simply used a Raycast to determine LOS; I knew a scanning behaviour was needed, so I coded the robot generically in that respect.

The ScannerClass is attached to a scanning object that is parented under the the robot’s root transform. The behaviour is that it scans around (oscillating pattern or full revolution) using the parent transform as its base direction. The class itself rotates the scanner game object for (my) convenience.

When the RobotGameClass asks ScannerClass for LOS to a specified target (usually the target that attacked it), the scanner will determine at that time if the target had been found; if so, it locks on to it. The RobotGameClass, meanwhile, instructs the RobotMovementClass to face and move towards target, making the the scanner face the target naturally. If the target gets lost out of sight, the lock is broken by the ScannerClass itself and it goes back to scanning, and based on the RobotGameClass AI, it will either reacquire or not.

What I learned from the coding the ScannerClass was more awareness of how rotations — expressed in Quaternions — and vectors are translated to and from each other. Because the scanner is controlled by a ‘scan angle’, which is a float, I needed to make a procedure to translate target vectors to Quaternion rotations to get to the Euler angles. It sounds a bit convoluted, but I think to keep the simplicity of the driving values, which is where the source of the confusion often is, the messy bit had be sorted out that way.

Commercial: Dilmah Green Tea

Click to see video.
Click to see video.

This is the first project I ever done for my current company (as a freelancer). My contribution, simply, was the RF fluid sim at the end. Dominic wanted to simulate the twisting shape that forms usually at the nozzle of a spout or tap, so he twisted his golden ribbon. I couldn’t get RF to sim in that way, so I let RF run normally and used Maya’s wrap deformer on top of the RF bins. Quite a simple solution, which I liked.

Commercial: Wattyl (Armada)

wattyl_armada_thumb_1
Click to play video.

The original project had already been completed by the time I got called in; it was for a ‘redux’ version of the ad. In this version, I simmed rocks rolling along the surface of the monoliths (in LW), and helped fix and set up the Maya scenes for render.